Feelings Are Always Local
On Friday November the 12th, 11AM, the two-day symposium themed 'Feelings Are Always Local' was opened by V2_ director Alex Adriaansens. He pointed out that the different intellectual languages and methodologies might lead to some confusing, interesting and productive misunderstandings. To avoid serious misunderstandings, Manuel DeLanda was invited to moderate the symposium as a guide who knows the different intellectual languages spoken during the symposium well enough. Being the moderator DeLanda was loaded with the task of introducing all the speakers and to seamlessly knit the highly diverse topics together. DeLanda extensively introduced the public to the main theme of the symposium by addressing the moral problems that surround the terms 'open' and 'closed'; we have to deal with our tendencies of attributing absolute moral values to each of the terms (i.e. openness is a good thing, closure a bad one). This happened to be the main strand around which the panel discussions and questions from the audience were centered.
Day one: fear, interactivity, bio-mass and gravity
In his own clarifying way, DeLanda explained how we can think of open and closed networks in general and how to apply the concepts in the diverse domains that the speakers represent. Starting with the interpersonal domain, intimate networks like networks of friends can function as networks of empowerment. The level of empowerment depends on the degree of interconnectedness, the density of the network. The stronger the links between the nodes (i.e. the friends) in the network, the higher the force of empowerment. In this way 'solidarity' can be seen as an emergent property of a network. This is where the ambivalence comes in: we tend to think of solidarity as a good thing to pursue, but in order to establish solidarity, local norms need to be maintained by closing the network to outside forces. A closed network allows for diversity to persist within the network, while diversity in open networks gradually vanishes. Here DeLanda already shifted paradigms: he started by talking of interpersonal networks, being a social network. While explaining though, his terminology gradually turned into that of evolutionary biology, the discipline in which 'diversity' is a common and important term. DeLanda referred to a prime example of these benefits of closure in the upcoming talk by biologist Tijs Goldschmidt on the persistence of diversity in the 'closed system' Lake Victoria. Re-addressing the question of a 'cost-benefit' analysis of openness and closure, DeLanda added that we should take into account on what time-scales changes occur. This is as much an important factor in biology as it is in neurology. Memory, the faculty of the brain that is able to capture occurrences mentally, has a neural network as its very substrate. This idea testifies to a new viewpoint in neurology: memories are no longer stored, they're rather patterns of activation resulting from dynamic interactions between several layers in the brain. When the brain is considered as an open network it is conceivable that false information enters the network, resulting in false memories. This, by contrast, is not possible in the open artwork of Seiko Mikami and Sota Ichikawa Gravicells; what enters in this case are human bodies. Mikami's and Ichikawa's project deals with the audiovisual representation of gravity and resistance. In terms of the festival's theme, it represents the influence of bodily mass in the open interplanetary system.
Neurologist Karim Nader's excellent talk "Understanding Memory: Lessons from the Brain" was focused on memory systems in general and fear systems in particular. Memory systems, whether conscious or unconscious, define us but they can also change, thereby effectively changing the person in which the memory system is located. Nader's own research is focused on the hypothesis that 'reactivation of a consolidated memory can return it to a labile, sensitive state - in which it can be modified, strengthened, changed or even erased!' In his work, Nader aims to show that stored, or consolidated memories can be prevented from being reconsolidated by blocking the production of new proteins. The protein synthesis that takes place is a crucial systemic occurrence that helps memories to reconsolidate every time they're being reactivated.
As an introduction to the field, Nader described the very renowned case in the study of memory, patient HM. To cure HM from epilepsy seizures, the medial temporal lobe was cut out. Surprisingly, HM only lost his faculty to remember; he could acquire and process information but it wasn't 'stored'. Even more surprisingly was the fact that once acquired skills persisted after the operation, although HM didn't remember that he possessed the particular skills. This points out that while one mode of memory no longer functions, others still do, a view on memory that is called the Multiple Memory Systems View of the Brain. In the case of HM, the memory system for learning skills was still intact as a form of bodily memory, as opposed to conscious memory.
Fear is another mode of memory, it's part of the emotional memory system. Fear can be thought of as a system, hard-wired in the brain, that learns what outside occurrences are potential threats. A fear systems is an emergent property of the interaction between the medial temporal lobe and the amygdala. The fear conditioning in this system is accomplished by the amygdala, while the medial temporal lobe brings about the physical reaction to a potential threat. Evidence for this premise can be found in people that suffer either from a damaged amygdala or from a damaged medial temporal lobe. The former show no fear responses but do experience the events that contribute to the supposed fear event consciously while the latter show fear responses but cannot tell you what happened. When both components of the system function properly, emotional memories can be stored by way of specific changes in the amygdala. The amygdala initiates a 'program' that tells it to make more connections. This is in accordance with the notion of memory as changes in neuronal connections which was already prompted in 1894 by histologist Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Nader's key discovery was that for these connections to be made, new proteins had to be produced. In the act of remembering, consolidated memories have to be reactivated and even for the subsequent process of reconsolidating that particular memory, new proteins have to be produced. By preventing the proteins from being produced, and thus preventing new connections from being made, memories appear to fade away with time. In experiments, the proteins were being blocked by administering a drug on the amygdala of a rat.
The next speaker, media theorist Arjen Mulder, spoke of the consumption of art and its relation to notions of openness and closure. He regards his recent book Understanding Media Theory as a first step towards a theory of interactive art. Mulder first introduced the audience to the history of and key concepts in systems theory. Biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who is now regarded as the father of general systems theory, supported his own, very innovative view that neither reductionism nor vitalism as research methods are accurate. Instead, Bertalanffy proposed, we should implement a new method in research practices that takes the whole as the basic assumption from which all research start, consequently treating entities in reality as systems. What every discipline implicitly seeks is its own system to study, recognizing that each system has its own scale. Physics studies systems on a (sub-)atomical level, chemistry studies molecular systems and biology, the network in which 'bio-mass' circulates, studies phenomena on a cellular level. The systems of an even larger scale such as communities and societies studied by sociology were addressed the second day. To jump from one level to the other, one should look at what emerges on a particular level. So, to jump from the biochemical to the biological level, we should look at what emerges at the biochemical level. Mulder explained that the three emergent properties of biochemical systems, life, metabolism and both potential and essential transformation, emerge from certain interactions. This brought him to his ideas about interactive art and its prime logic, interactivity.
Mulder proposes a distinction between interaction and interactivity, the former being descriptive and applying to systems, the latter being prescriptive and applying to networks. The term interaction describes the way a system works, it is the mode of functionality. Interactive art, according to Mulder, is about systems aiming to become networks and inviting individuals to engage in the network. The conditional status of engaging in the network of interactive artworks is what's prescriptive about interactivity; without engagement there simply is no interactivity.
In his lecture 'Dramatic changes in a "closed" system', biologist Tijs Goldschmidt melancholically addressed the impact of opening up a particular closed system: the introduction of a new species into Lake Victoria. Biologists like to think of lakes as 'water islands'; this term both emphasizes the relative closure of the lake as a system and refers to the Galapagos archipelago where Darwin conducted his revolutionary research. Interestingly, when comparing the species that inhabit his 'own' water island (i.e. a type of fish known as 'cichlids') with the species of other water islands in the relative vicinity of Lake Victoria, Goldschmidt found that some kind of convergent evolution must have taken place. This is to say that, despite separation, species with similar qualities now exist. Given the fact that highly complex evolutionary processes like adaptive radiation and speciation are likely to give rise to the development of differing species, this was not likely to happen. Adaptive radiation, a process in which species further specialize into their own ecological niches as a result of intraspecific competition, leads to a new process of speciation. The process of speciation gives rise to an intensive evolutionary development of a species to such an extent that new species arise out of that very development. There are several types of speciation: allopatric speciation, typified by geographical isolation and sympatric speciation, typified by geographic overlapping, or, as DeLanda later clarified, by expressivity. By mentioning expressivity DeLanda referred to the general quality of being expressive. In the case of the convergent evolution that Goldschmidt detected, allopatric factors didn't seem to affect the separate process of speciation. The only evolutionary argument to defend this convergent evolution, is that the very process of speciation is an intrinsic quality in cichlids.
The system Lake Victoria was likely to persist as a system, precisely because it was closed for species other than the ones that had evolved throughout history. This closure guaranteed the diversity within the system, leading to an increased complexity within the system. The dramatic changes that occurred with the introduction of the Nile perch, an alien species to the system, show that openness itself cannot be regarded a absolute virtue to a system. If what enters has a poisonous effect on the system, openness may lead to a decrease of complexity, homogenizing the flourishing diversity.
In the case of the interactive artwork Gravicells: gravity and resistance by Seiko Mikami and Sota Ichikawa, attributing moral values to the openness of the system is not at stake. What enters in their installation are bodies that are by no means capable of not submitting to the physical laws of gravity. To put it in another way, precisely because all bodies are subject to gravity, it's by default impossible that any false, poisonous information enters the system.
What Gravicells aims to do is researching gravity as an interface of perception. Many linguistic concepts concerned with moral issues (for instance 'fall' and 'rise') are based on this gravitational perception. Also, gravity determines the way we direct ourselves within space; because our bodies are bound to remain contact with the earth's surface our automotive directions are limited to two dimensions. Openness, DeLanda explained in his introduction, prevents diversity from flourishing within any system, submitting all matter and energy within the system to homogenizing forces. Gravicells displays this very principle: in the open system that our planet is, all bodies are homogeneous in terms of gravity.
The discussion that took place after the presentations was dominated exactly by the topics that Manuel DeLanda brought up in his introduction. Probably the most accurate question was about identity preservation in the absence of an absolute moral framework. How to preserve one's identity and deal with the moral problems surrounding 'openness' and 'closure'? Our tendencies of attributing absolute moral values to each of the terms should be neglected. Spinozist experimental ethics can function as a useful guide; in making ethical decisions each case has to be examined separately in order to determine whether openness or closure is a good thing or a bad thing.
Day two: brown boxes, protocols and terrorist finance
The second day dealt with a larger scale of systems, the kind of systems that are studied by the social sciences. Just as is the case with the natural side of systems, when thinking about the technological and economical side, we should not commit to the fallacy of applying an overall theory. Rather, DeLanda again emphasized, we should again turn to specific experiments. Among other aspects, systems are about change and in what possible ways change is limited. When thinking of social change we tend to think in terms of heterogeneity versus homogeneity or openness versus closure. In practice, we are always dealing with mixtures. For instance, for law to be rightful it should treat every person equally thus exerting some homogenizing force. At the same time, law has to deal with the heterogeneity concerning aspects of religion, color, race and the like of the individuals that are subjected by the very laws.
This element of hybridism also goes for economic systems. DeLanda talked about three types of economy: economies of scale, network economies and economies of agglomeration. The first type produces wealth, and thrives on the logic of homogeneous actions and formats, i.e. routine and uniformity to sustain efficient and cut back the expenses. This involves some hidden costs though; next to ecological costs, homogenization in economies of scale also have an impact on creativity since the routine involved in jobs is suitable for unskilled workforces.
Network economies seem to emphasize design rather than costs as their prime factor of competition. Clear examples of network economies are the Mecca of computer companies Silicon Valley and the northern Italian region Emilia Romagna, in which many fashion-design companies flourished. These are economies that are relatively small and operate network-style. The turnover rate (i.e. how many years of their careers employees remain employed at one company) in network economies is much smaller than in economies of scale. The higher degree of mobility among workers results in the spread of knowledge throughout the whole region. Therefore, network economies are equipped with a much higher level of resilience compared to economies of scale.
Where network economies introduce an alternative factor of competition, economies of agglomeration introduce an alternative to labor actions. Economies of agglomeration focus on skills rather than on routine. DeLanda suggested that historians should go back and study capitalism anew to see that other types of economy existed. From such a study it would appear that, for instance, economies of agglomeration bring about less hidden costs and provide benefits on top of that. Re-addressing Emilia Romagna, DeLanda stated that it, as an economy, managed to create a hybrid that mixes closure with openness. The practices of logistics, finance and marketing rely on the logic of economies of scale while the production of 'content' relies on the logic of network economies, favoring design and creativity over routine.
Another central issue in economics is resource management which DeLanda used as a bridge to the introduction of the first speaker Christopher Kelty. Resources in the case of Silicon Valley are protected by copyright law since source code is intellectual property. For the open source movement to persist, one has to neglect the legal limitations and disperse the source code you created into the community of creative minds. This community very much relies on mutual trust because a lack of trust can end up in what's known as 'the tragedy of commons'. DeLanda spoke of this phenomenon, to contextualize the recent development of Creative Commons. When commoners, in the sense of public landowners, all decide to share sources, they need to trust each other that they all share equally. When one commoner decides to exploit forty sheep instead of twenty, issues of profit maximization enter the venue; the other commoners will do the same, resulting in poor quality resources. Creative Commons offers a solution to this 'tragedy' in a hybrid way. Every Common has the opportunity to decide him-/herself what restrictions apply when using their intellectual property. Restrictions (closure) allow for the mobility and availability of resources (openness).
Just like Emilia Romagna and Silicon Valley, DeLanda likes to think of Creative Commons and even Linux as economical experiments, deliberately mixing between standard, homogeneous components of organization with flexible, heterogeneous types of organization. The hybrid type of organization of Linux actualizes itself in a formalized top region in which processes of decision making take place hierarchically, while the lower region is a network of creative minds.
A very common reward in the open source community is credit, the simple appreciation by fellow members of the community, other than money. Networks of trade and credit nowadays are situated all over the world and are in fact older than networks of production. DeLanda traced the rise of globalization as we know it today back to the co-existence of the trans-national trade network and the birth of the nation-state in the 17th century. The trading network, with Amsterdam as its center that existed in those days remained relatively invisible to historians whose research is focused on 17th century questions. Centuries of development gave rise, among others, to the birth of specific networks of credit and trade that underly terrorist activities that remained invisible as economical networks. This is what the research of Loretta Napoleoni encompassed, she traced the emergence of networks of credit and trade (i.e. drugs and smuggling) behind terrorism that remained invisible.
Christopher Kelty addressed questions of the configuration of different assemblages that produce knowledge and how they in turn format the very practices of science. In search for an answer to these questions, Kelty took as a point of departure the differentiation of questions about technical and scientific research from the means through which these technical and scientific researches are conducted. This then should start with the analysis of the infrastructure of scientific communication that became more visible due to issues raised by the free and open source software movement.
Throughout his talk, Kelty used a Latourian perspective for grounding his arguments. Bruno Latour, the famous anthropologist who claimed that "we have never been modern", studied scientific practices from an anthropological point of view; what is it that scientists do when they are producing truth? One important node in the network of tools that the scientists have at their disposal is the node of instruments of observation. The accuracy, or even the functioning of instruments like microscopes itself, is never challenged when drawing conclusions. It can even be stated that scientists don't have to know how the instruments work; they trust the specialists that the instruments they use are working properly. This also goes for animals on which tests are performed on: only experts know the details about the genomes. Because of this lack of knowledge on what happens on the inside, Latour dubbed this type of instruments 'black box'.
By introducing this concept, Latour challenges one node in the network of tools that scientist use to produce truth. Kelty challenges another node, the infrastructure of scientific communication. The brown box, a term coined by Kelty, refers to the packages that circulate in delivery systems and it is this very box that functions as a metaphor for scientific communication; what is sent and by what means is it being sent? Besides this metaphor, 'the brown box' also touches on the notion of borrowed knowledge. While the black box involves specialist knowledge, the brown box refers to researchers borrowing knowledge from other disciplines. In this fashion, Kelty contested the notion that science has always been an open system, accessible for all. While science has always been internally open, external relations were dominated by closure for the last 400 years. With the emergence of the internet as the infrastructure of scientific communication this radically changed. Suddenly science is no longer self-evident, its openness must be asserted rather than assumed in order to be assured. Science as an open system is now scrutinized especially by the free and open source software movement. The scrutiny is mostly focused on the travel of facts through the infrastructure and how the facts were formed and deformed during their 'travel' by technologies, law and power in general.
To conclude, Kelty's contribution to the Latourian tradition of studying science from an anthropological point of view, relies on the study of the influence of the free and open source software movement on the (re-)structuring of the infrastructure of scientific communication through which research methods emerge and facts travel to and from different assemblages.
Alexander Galloway's lecture Protocol, control and life forms was built around a series of fragments all dealing with his main interest in networks of hard- and software. Some parts of the lecture are a result of his collaboration with Eugene Thacker, whose interest in networks is more related to biotechnology.
The main reason for writing a complete book on protocol is rooted in his own astonishment about the Utopian feelings surrounding the rise of the internet as a realm free of political preoccupation and economical exploit ten years ago. Galloway was astonished precisely because the internet gave rise to a new high in standardization developments; the TCP/IP protocol, regulating the traffic of packets of information over the net, was the world's first global standard ever. Because it was a standard it didn't mean that the protocol is a sole homogenizing force. Protocols, Galloway stated, also bear with them some virtues that facilitate rather than degrade certain aspects of freedom. Robustness, contingency, interoperability and flexibility are the four virtues that give protocol a hybrid status similar to the nature of the network Galloway envisions. Networks, according to Galloway, are always mixtures of centralization, decentralization and distribution. Drawing on these terms, the internet can be conceived of as a place where heterogeneity exists within the regulative power of a universal standard and although the protocol is universal, it still functions by way of negotiation (Galloway referred to the 'handshakes' servers or modems make when interacting with one another).
The RAND corporation extracted some abstract notions about the current asymmetrical war between hierarchies and networks. RAND assumes that hierarchies have a hard time fighting networks, that it takes networks for fighting networks and that the one who masters the network-style organization first, will prevail. Galloway explained that reality is already beyond this situation; we're already on the point where networks are fighting networks, the asymmetrical war has a new symmetry and now a substitute for the network has to be found. In politics, grassroots organizations started from the wrong assumption that the network is inherently destructive of political power. This view is no longer accurate since institutions that incorporate power increasingly organize themselves network-style. These ideas about the status of the network strongly relate to Galloway's disagreement on the tendency of seeing networks everywhere and, on top of that, seeing the network only as an abstract entity apart from particular instantiations. Note that this line of thought echoes DeLanda's remarks on the unproductivity of attributing absolute moral values to openness and closure, or in this case, networks and hierarchy.
In arguing that the debate on openness and closedness might be somewhat misleading, Galloway proposed to think about the difference between physical and social models of control. Protocol is a physical model of control because an IP header attaches itself to the packets of data that are being sent over internet. These function as alternatives of control which combine both the logic of open and closed systems, whereby open systems are yet another technique of control. Galloway quoted Gilles Deleuze to illustrate this idea: 'A control is not a discipline. In making freeways you don't enclose people but instead you multiply the means of control. I'm not saying that this is the freeway's exclusive purpose but that people can drive infinitely and freely without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled.' In this context the word protocol can be thought of in some other ways. By quoting Jon Postel ("be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others"), Galloway referred to the TCP protocol as a 'political machine of behavior'. Protocol, then, is a term that refers to some kind of principle of organization similar to the terms hierarchy and bureaucracy.
Galloway concluded his talk with a fragment on Universals of Identification which is, in Galloway's view the next step after the universal standards of the modern era. In this era universal standards of communication were invented for overcoming crises. The next century will be known as an era of universal standards of identification, thriving on technologies capable of locating all things at all times. This development implies technologies of identification as RFID tags and perhaps more important, the invention of new technologies in the course of 'the war on terrorism'.
Loretta Napoleoni held a rather personal talk about the economical study of terrorist networks she had conducted. She started investigating global networked terrorism and armed forces when she discovered one of her best friends happened to be a member of the Red Brigades. Networks of armed forces, like the Red Brigades, have a tendency to recruit two types of persons that are relatively close to themselves; family and best friends. This is where her research basically originated, she wanted to find out why she wasn't recruited.
When she conducted her research, she found out that it is difficult to operate outside networks. What's more, she had to 'infiltrate' in the networks of global terrorism to conduct her research. This is also why she supports the conception that the only proper response to global networked terrorism has to be a global one. The networks Napoleoni studied had a very particular configuration in terms of intellect and political engagement. As it appeared only the top regions of the networks, a handful of charismatic leaders, were the ones with clear, radical and distinctive political views. The larger amount of true followers obediently did what they were ordered to do. Furthermore, it appeared that the armed forces and their affiliates weren't fighting their own war but instead, they were being used as puppets, mere links in, for instance, the Cold War. Terror groups did manage to build their own states though. Napoleoni refers to these states as 'shell-states' because all there is to these states is the social economic infrastructure while severely lacking some form of national identity.
An economical analysis is quite a radical approach to terrorism, Napoleoni explained to the audience. Besides the fact that it is not a very common approach, it is also radical because it involves exact research on transnational flows of money, research on 'grey' economies and specific practices of money laundering. Her approach was much criticized because it obliged her to treat global terrorist networks simply as any other economical system, totally neglecting religious preferences and political goals. As her study progressed, it appeared that the terrorist economies, which she dubbed 'New Economy of Terror', is tightly interwoven with other illegal economies. Together these economies have a turnover of 1.5 trillion US dollars and this amount consists of three separate parts:
The most intriguing fact is that one third of the turnover of the New Economy of Terror is closely linked to own Western economical networks. In fact, those very dollars were raised in legal business. This is why her book Modern Jihad: tracing the dollars behind the terror networks wasn't received quite positively during the aftermath of 9/11. It presents the enemy as an economical network instead of religiously fanatic fundamentalists and on top of that, their economy is interlinked with US economy.
Banks in the United States started to advise their clients to invest in Euro's rather than in US dollars. This possibly points out a sudden awareness of banks that financially strong networks are an attractive climate for terrorism to prosper. This means that, once people start to invest in Euro's, the new attractive climate will have Europe as its center, resulting in the migration of terrorist networks. For several reasons Europe is now the most attractive continent for terrorist activities. First of all, it is a continent with many nations which means there is no homogeneous law. The second reason is geographical in nature: Europe is in the vicinity of Iraq allowing for closer cooperation with Middle Eastern armed organizations. This cooperation reportedly happens; Napoleoni told about Red Brigades members picking up weaponry from the PLO in the Middle-East and distributing it to members of the IRA and ETA.
Thus ended two days of lectures and discussions that brought up many interesting topics and particular instantiations of open systems and networks. 'Feelings are always local' is both the thematic approach of the symposium to the main theme of the festival and a statement that gives rise to discussion. The relatively heavy emphasis on moral problems surrounding questions of openness and closedness can be explained when the theme of the symposium is taken into account. In these days where we all lack an absolute framework of values, we need to continuously rethink the ethics that guide us through everyday life.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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