2004/12/31

The exponential rise in scientific imaging. (2) MICRO

On December 30, 2004, I indicated the 3 paths followed by the imaging revolution:
- towards the microscopic
- towards the macroscopic
- towards mathematical abstractions
Today I'll concentrate on the path toward the microscopic.
______________________________________________________________________________

To observe the very small scientists basically use lenses, light and cameras. From those 3 elements they derive multiple techniques. For example: Scanning Electron Microscopy, Translational Microscopy, Magnifying Microscopy, Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy, etc. A good introduction to all those techniques is available on the site "Molecular Expressions" a treatise on optical microscopy. Olympus America Inc published another very useful pdf document "Basics and Beyond" by Mortimer Abramowitz Fellow, New York Microscopical Society.

In the “Eye of the Beholder, wonders under the lens of the optical microscope” by Emily Harrison, an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN of December 2004, we read: “There is infinite beauty in the world, if only we find the means to see it. And when it comes to seeing more, science holds a marvelous tool chest of techniques. With materials that may be as fundamental as light and lens, the art of scientific observation expands the visible world far beyond the depths and distances our unaided eyes can access. While optical telescopes extend our view deep into space, to distances billions of light-years away from the eye’s everyday demesne, optical microscopes turn our vision inward, taking it to deep inner space. They resolve slivers of the world as small as a wavelength of light, 1,000 times as small as anything we notice in the macroscopic world.”1

Describing their philosophy, the members of the “Eye of Science” state: “Our commitment is to the evidence of scientific investigation but also to the use of color as a creative and harmonious tool to achieve beauty. In the combination of the aesthetics and the science we hope to inspire the public. Day by day, in a world beyond human vision, we explore fascinating forms and structures.” 2




(1) American scientific Magazine. January 2005. In the Eye of the Beholder by Emily Harrison.
(2) In "Eye of Science"

2004/12/30

The exponential rise in scientific imaging. (1)

The 20th century visual art world has been characterized by trials and essays at surpassing the limitations artists felt landscapes and portraits, those first degree images that project on the retina, were imposing on their creations.
Different schools of thought and style succeeded one another presenting an evolving landscape of the visual arts and eventually the adventure concluded with the death of painting around the 1980th when the art world lost complete conscience of its historical functionality at diffusing the visual signs of the worldview of the day.
Coinciding with the death of painting an imaging revolution was slowly put in motion in the world of science:

- in the underground of university laboratories scientists coupling lenses light and cameras were trying to render in visual images the infinitely small in biology chemistry physics in order to advance their knowledge. The visuals of the infinitely small were so surprising that they appealed to the artistic sensitivity of scientists and artists alike.

- space endeavors, pursued in the footsteps of earlier observations by astronomers, returned to earth a myriad of photographic images from the macrocosm going back in earlier times. The farther the distances the longer those images take to reach earth and it ensues thus that the farther the images have to travel the older will be the reality they represent.

- visual representations are behind our thinking mechanism, deriving the idea that natural phenomena were ordered according to recurring patterns, scientists developed mathematical formulas to give visual representations of such patterns. The visuals resulting from those formulas were so appealing that a scientific tool was born for artists to play with.

2004/12/23

What is art. A summary.

Since the beginning of mankind, as far as our eyes can see, that means as far as human history goes, art has been at the service of society. Art and most importantly visual arts acted as diffusers, as spreaders of the worldview of society's "men of power and men od knowledge" towards the members of society at large.
One could somehow think of visual arts as acting in a way very similar as optical devices that distribute the light of a lamp or baffles that distribute sound waves evenly in a room.

  • in animist times, shamans, sorcerers or whatever they are called were the ones who shaped the worldview of the members of the group. Their vision of reality was that the sun was at the heart of life, a male (yang) power of creation to be revered. Animals and plants used as forage in everyday life were respected for their power of maintenance of human life. Art served to illustrate those ideas. We moderns have come to call this form of art "primitive arts".... it flourished for tens of thousands of years but has completely vanished lately at the contact of greed that has been unleashed on the remaining animist societies by marketization.
  • in religious times, I mean the historical phase of human development that comes after animism, humans revere gods (in the 3 religions of the word a unique god). The men of knowledge, in those societies governed by religions, are the priest, the monks or whatever they are called. They study the religious creed in their teens to diffuse it to all in their adult life. Art in that period illustrates the stories of the creed and gives images of the gods and their inner circle. Religious art flourished for hundreds and in some religions for thousands of years. It is still practiced nowadays but its influence over societies has been largely marginalized by the new ideology of capital, I mean the rationality vehiculated by the logic of capital.
  • starting with early capitalism in Europe around the 16th century, power in society shifted from the clergy to the new rich merchants and the entrepreneurial aristocrats. Richness in terms of gold and silver possessions are now what procures power. The search for more gold and silver gradually shapes a new worldview made of the ideas of material possessions, private property, individualism and ever increasing rationality... By the end of the 15th century, art starts to represent landscapes and portraits and by the 16th and 17th century, those subjects represent the majority of all art productions. This goes on and on and is still appreciated today by many people but something fundamentally new happened in between that relegated landscapes and portraits as art forms of a past worldview.
  • After mid-nineteenth century:
    • under the impact on one side of new technologies and more particularly new techniques of transportation introducing the notion of speed,
    • under the impact on another side of social changes relativizing the certainties of early capitalist forms, some artists are driven into changing their style of representation of portraits and landscapes. Van Gogh, Gauguin are the best known precursors of this stylistic change. The impressionist movance, later the expressionists, the cubists, the futurists and other schools continue to depict portraits and landscapes, or to say this otherwise, they continue to depict "reality" or at least what is considered as being reality in their days, this first degree image that project on the retina.
  • sometime after the 1st world war, here and there artists begin to question the wisdom of that reality, they think, they write about the need to reject that vision for something new. (Breton, Duchamp, Ernst, Miro, Masson, Chagall,...) This debate and trials at painting something different will go on from the 1930th without interruption until today.
  • the approaches in creation after the 2nd world war can best be described as a search for individuality. Everyone tries something different, originality takes central stage and very fast "what has not been done before" becomes the sacred grail of artists. BUT in this process total confusion becomes pervasive. Everything has been called art, has it not, from a slashed canvas to a toilet seat.
  • starting around the year 2000 (very arbitrary dating) some artists begin to express the need for a return to SENSE in visual arts. Debates are going on but no firm conclusions have been accepted yet. Those artists are laboring toward early postmodernism.

2004/12/22

On Postmodernism, Summary.

1. Seen from a historical perspective, modernism appears as a blimp on the time span of human culture and postmodernism remains till largely absent from the history of human culture. Dates are given as indications of each period's time relativity.

- animism: (BC 50,000-0, ...) : primitive arts.
- religion: (Europe: AD 400-1700) : religious art
- modernism: (1500-2020/2050)
........ * early modernism: (1500-1900) : landscapes, portraits
.........* modernism: (1900-1980) : rejection of the first degree image that projects on the retina
.........* late modernism: (1980-2020/2050) : total confusion
- Postmodernism: (2000-... )
.........* early postmodernism: (2000-2050/2100) : trials at making visual sense
.........* postmodernism: (2050/2100-.... ) : the visual signs of a new worldview


2. Visual arts have been imposed by the men of power as illustrators of the worldview of the men of knowledge along all of humanity's cultural history, albeit for the last 100 years.
By the end of early modernity, the men of knowledge were losing the help of the men of power in imposing their knowledge upon all and they had more and more to compete with all kinds of charlatans to find the attention of all members of their societies.
Entering in the modern age, under the influence of new technologies that were introducing the notion of speed and under the influence of new scientific ideas, visual artists rejected the idea of reality as being this traditional first degree image projected on the retina. They were on a mission to find the visual signs of a changing worldview but newer changes were always emerging that annihilated the results that they had aleady attained. The intensification of changes in the second part of the century, kind of, broke the artists' compass. Losing the traditional socialization function given by the tandem men of power-men of knowledge, artists were plunged in a foggy thunderstrom. Groggy at the loss of their traditional function of illustrators of the worldview of the men of knowledge they fell under the influence of men of greed and marketization finally landed the visual arts in confusion land.


3. On Postmodernism.
Groggy and frustrated by the superficiality of arts at the hands of the managers and institutional bureaucrats of the art world, visual artists feel a deep need for rediscovering the sense of art in their works and they tumble upon this discovery that the world has changed a lot.
They discover that nowadays artists have not only to master a technique of representation as was the case during the past tens of thousands of years, they now also have to come up with their own content! They need to master their technique in order not to be burdened by technical matters but it is content that finally finds central stage in artistic creation and "beauty" or "ugliness" relates more and more to the content of a work.

- A new understanding is starting to shape in the visual arts that without technique an artwork seems inachieved and without intellectual content it is as if it were shallow.

- A new human age is shaping from the maturation of 2 trends that grew out of modernity:
......* science and technology
......* globalization

Science and technology are developments emerging out of rationality and rationality is the philosophical worldview that has been imposed on all by the logic of capital.
By the end of the 20th century, science entered a new stage of its development. All phenomena were reduced successfully into combinations of digits and this led to the revolutionizing of all spheres of knowledge: information, biology, physics, chemistry and the expansion of scope from nanosciences to macrosciences...
From the intereaction between those sciences and its integration in system theory, is emerging a radically new understanding that is invalidating most of our past accepted truths.

Science and technology are central in the invalidation of past truths but they are unable by themselves to forge a new worldview. This can only result from the interaction between science and philosophy. In this age of building the global village it appears more evident every day that the belief system of the 15% of the world population who live in the affluence of the rich countries of the North/West shall not be the only philosophical guide of humanity and that other traditional systems of belief shall eventually supplant the western system.

Reality will not be conceived of any further as the straight line trajectory starting with god's creation that ends in a paradise of all goodness. Reality will be seen more as a process of multiple complex systems interacting between themselves and integrating in larger complex systems with change seen as reality's temporal trajectory. In summary, humanity went from an animist worldview towards a religious worldview then towards the rationality of the logic of capital and it now for the first time in human history is taking the road towards a truly global worldview:
- integrating all of humanity on mother earth.
- integrating a systemic model of understanding derived from the confrontation between science and philosophy.

The sheer size of the sea of changes in our newly shaping worldview is difficult to grasp. I think that, in the future, it shall be seen as the most profound cultural leap in all of humanity's history. It should thus not come as a surprise that our societies will be more and more in a dire need of cohesion building instruments and the creation of the visual signs of the emerging worldview shall I believe re-establish itself as a leading instrument of cohesion building.

Painters at your brushes, the world awaits your visual signs of the new worldview in the shaping but please remember that your content is a direct reflection of the quality of your knowledge base.

2004/12/11

On Postmodernism (5)

Looking at present day visual arts productions, I can't miss to see an extreme variety of styles and there are definitely some works of extremely good quality out there. This does not mean that the art market has already discovered those present day pearls and their creators. Art merchants and critics have still to stick their heads out of the confusion that reigned master in the late 20th century. But let me be unambiguous. What I discern is a profusion of approaches as we never have seen in all of our history. "We're living in an extremely fruitful and exciting time for those captivated by contemporary art" says Dan Cameron, senior curator at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art. "I've been in the trenches for 20 years, and there's more good art being produced in more places than I can remember at any one time. We're in a sort of Golden Age."
Is this for real? "In other words, is the new painting more about nostalgia - a throwback to a time of greater stability - or is it vital and original, shaking up one's assumptions and forcing the viewer to feel and think about the present?"
All I write here is about that question and my answer is unequivocal. We are entering a period of extreme depth of content and of technical excellence.
Is this going to last?
I have no clue about that, too many factors are presently at work: climate, globalization, social dislocations, scientific leap, cultural homogenization and political and cultural craziness, much will depend on the ability of the "world societal system" to stabilize and to integrate with the system of Gaia.

Looking at what's going on in the scientific world I see the same variety and richness as in the visual arts. I'm particularly trilled at the discoveries made in terms of the sciences of complexity for example. The sciences that study the emergence and transformations of life itself. The way I see it is in reality a convergence of modern scientific knowledge with the ancient Chinese philosophy of "transformation", of "change" that is bound to revolutionize our ways of thinking, our ways of understanding ourselves and our cosmos.
"Questioned on the future of time, the Belgian Nobel Prize of chemistry Ilya Prigogine tries to introduce the idea of uncertainty into the idea of time. This idea of uncertainty will perhaps be the marking fact of 21st century. Ilya Prigogine shows that the reversible laws of Newton relate to only one weak fraction of the world in which we live. (...) Do we measure enough the revolution which these discoveries introduce into the notion of time? Here comes the end of certainties: time does not have a future, but futures. Because nature is from now on unforeseeable: it is history".(1)

The future is the result of what we'll be making out of it. I mean that our inputs are making what we will harvest in the future. But what will be our inputs?
Surely not only the inputs of the western world only. 15-20% of the world population will not be at the steering wheel for eternity. The remaining 80-85% are knocking on the doors and making more and more vociferous noises. What I want to show is that the future can't be simply a projection of what is going on today in the West. It's a lot more complex than that and it definitely involves all the world, that means all the other cultures: Indu, Chinese, Arabic, ...

(1) "Jalons pour une ethique du futur. L'avenir du temps". Le Monde Diplomatique. Jerome BINDE. 03/ 2002. (translation, Laodan)

2004/12/10

On Postmodernism (4)

Let's come back for a while to this idea of a final outcome that is perhaps the most dominating trait within the Western worldview. While being absolutely out of sink with what is going on around the world at the start of the 21st century it nevertheless is still predominant.
This should not come as a surprise. The media with a world reach are all without exception controlled by "white" capital. Scientific research with a world impact is invariably done in "white" universities and research centers. Art and design is exclusively produced by "white" hands at the attention of "white" patrons. Speaking about "white" I mean from Europe and from all the European extensions around the world, that includes all immigrations among those as well as any apings of those.

In their view, life is like a trip on a road leading to a final destination that is given by their unique god (be it a god of religion or a god of capital). A kind of day-dream of the reunion, in an environment made of the search for love, of all those who were on god's side during their life. The foundational building blocks of the West establish the thirst from god's believers for his love and the desire that it induces brings his believers to act as god's arm in his fight against evil. This in summary is what has been transmitted generation after generation for so many centuries by the religions of the book to their followers and it remains fully at work even for those who abandoned religious practice. What is at work under this view is a dualist approach of reality: good versus evil, black versus white. The individuals and groups then chose one side of the duality, the side given by the authorities of the church or the authorities of capital as the side of their god.
Being on the side of good, one feels vindicated to eliminate evil.
The histories of the religions of the book, and of the countries where they are practiced, are tragedies that unfold along the lines of the fight between good and evil and the thirst for the love of good that is said to be god.

Our present predicament with terrorism offers us an ideal perspective to observe this mechanic at work.
Listen to Georges Bush and Tony Blair, they have absolutely no doubt in their mind that they are on the side of good and the terrorists are evil. From this certainty they thus derive that they have the right, they even speak of the obligation to destroy them. No question is ever asked about the reasons why the terrorists are willing to give their lives and to take the lives of others. No effort at understanding is undertaken and things have deteriorated so far that many in the West are now viewing with suspicion someone who is trying to understand what's going on. But listen to what the terrorists are saying. The west is evil that's why they have to destroy it.
The same infernal logic is at work on both sides!

The combination of an expanding post-modernist shock with the infernal logic of dualism could be brewing some very nasty surprises for all of us but this is the story of our future. Our present is the theater where our future is taking root. Wherever our eyes focus, we see confusion:
- According to scientists, we live in the 6th historical period of mass extinction and they are warning that it is the worst that ever occurred.
- Terrorism is shaking societal systems over all the planet.
- Globalization exacerbates the inequalities between regions of the world reducing more and more people to live into abject poverty, sickness and despair. Globalization of capital also displaces the sources of work to the cheapest and most politically stable regions leaving the populations of the industrialized world under severe stress.
- Mass extinctions also apply to cultures. Traditions are under attack the world over and the number of languages in use is dropping fast.
Much confusion and insecurity indeed all over the world.

We are assisting at something immense, a worldwide tectonic societal shift that will leave the world radically changed in terms of culture and also in terms of power.

Observing from another perspective, from the internal dynamic within the industrialized world we see also much confusion.
- Technological change is so fast that it becomes difficult to follow those changes and the impact of those changes on human behavior are absolutely unpredictable. What's clear is that all those changes are having a huge impact upon our worldviews.
- Our certainties are waning, doubts are instilling in our minds and without receiving satisfying answers doubts reinforce and lead the individuals to search wherever they can to find answers they will be able to share with others.

Artists are always the first to feel changes.
In the second part of the 20th century they reached maximum confusion and left it to be seen in their works. But it seems to me that something is starting to heat up nowadays that eventually will one day be brewing into something that could act as an awakener on humanity.

2004/12/09

On Post modernism (3)

Our world has entered a chaotic period of disorder resulting from the re-balancing of the economic forces around the world. But there is hope, for as science and the Chinese philosophy of change are showing, out of disorder comes order. The future truly global societal system will be integrating all the population of the world with their civilizational foundations and in the case of China those foundations are fundamentally intact.

Herein lies a radical departure between the present encounter of white men with their peers from afar and past encounters that white men called discoveries. In the present encounter, Chinese, Indian and other people have learned to play by the rules of the white men and they are beating them at their own game through the combined weight of their sheer numbers and the depth of their culture.
During the discoveries non-white men perished at the contact of white men... and the Arab men still have not recovered from their encounter with white men during the crusades. This time around, the "game" of white men is bound for a radical change and the beneficiaries of the encounter will not be the white men any longer but the ones they encounter and there is strong evidence that white men's societies will be shaken to their foundations as well materially as spiritually.

Post-modernism has to integrate this economic and cultural re-balancing act. But I believe that it would be unwise to project here on the paper the outcome of this act as it will occur along this century. We know that in the chaos, humanity will find many opportunities and possibilities and we also know that its future path is not to be determined by rational choices only, randomness, chance and unforseen events will also have their part. There is simply no way that a deterministic projection could be verified by future realities.

In Western societies the present stage of evolution, that one can call late-modernity or others call early post-modernity, is a historical process of merchandization. That seems to be a fact. After industrialization has been generalized, to continue to grow the market needed an internal expansion of demand and to make such an expansion of demand possible, the market was in need of a hegemonic ideology [in a Gramscian sense] in order for such an expansion of demand to become acceptable in the eyes of the populations.

For demand to expand, it was indeed necessary for all individuals to accept purchasing what they until then got free of charge from their daily ways of doing. Early industrialization had already taken from the families the free supply of vegetables from their gardens, eggs from their chickens, sweaters from their needles and so on. This later stage of market expansion was about commercializing absolutely everything: water, music, thinking and soon perhaps air to breathe. I'll come back on the ideology that permitted this jump in total consumerism in the next chapter, suffice here to remember that ideology has been actively pursued as a means to expand the market internally.

But this has not been the only strategy put at work under the logic of capital. Free trade was the other leg used to try to increase global demand and free trade has been over-successful those last 20 years in the sense that it unleashed an unforeseen dynamic of geographic re-balancing of economic power that, I think, is leading the whole world into chaos. Pain is felt in the South as well as in the North and gigantic restructuring efforts are already under way but one should be aware of the fact that the coming future restructurings will go far, far deeper. It will not be a question of political vision of how societies should evolve, it will be the world awakening to the principle of reality, awakening to changes that have already taken roots. I firmly believe indeed that changes are already taking place faster than our ideas can adapt to and the distance between the reality of changes and our capacity to perceive them is bound to continue to grow. This indicates the depth of the chaos that has been unleashed.

I believe that this expanding post-modernist shock is bound to surpass in importance the European Renaissance in Western history.
It will lead, I sense, to the emergence of a truly modern worldview shared this time by the world in its entirety.

It seems evident that such a new worldview can only emerge from a long process of interactions between new scientific evidence and past wisdom from all over the world and that such a unifying worldview will not be an end in itself, it will indeed permanently evolve at the rhythm of our new discoveries. Let's be absolutely clear here, humanity never will reach the end of the process of scientific understanding, there is no way for us, cosmic dust, to encompass infinity or what appears at our level as such. In this sense our scientific discoveries are bound to be endless and thus also the evolution of the "coloring" of our worldview. Let me explain what I mean by the coloring of our worldview. Our worldview is a question of culture, of philosophy rather than a question of science. Our civilizational founding blocks have to be readjusted at the light of our scientific knowings and in this process, traditional wisdom will reemerge as enlightening, In contrast with science, wisdom in the traditional or philosophical sense is all encompassing and thus gives us appeasement that brings peace of mind and acceptance of what is. Science for its part is focused on the understanding of parts which is an endless affair as we have seen. Thus we are bound to face new scientific discoveries ad-perpetuum or at least until we disappear which inevitably will happen without this impeaching the world and the cosmos to further evolve without us. Science can't bring us an all encompassing view or understanding, it only helps us shape images of the parts of the all encompassing and as such it colors our world view.

2004/12/07

On Postmodernism (2)

Post-modernism will see the center of capitalistic power shifting towards north-east Asia with China as its center. This process that is already at work should last some 50 more years at least and shall gradually pull in its track the emergence of Chinese culture on the world stage and in the process, I bet that Beijing shall impose itself as the world's premier cultural center.
But what does this imply in terms of content in the arts? Well, first and foremost we'll assist at the relegation to the dustbin of history of large swathes of so called "Western post-modern" visual productions. I don't think for an instant that this could be a loss since most of those productions are no more than garbage that only collectors' greed can establish as works of art.
I firmly believe that post-modernism will establish:

- the primacy of a new worldview resulting from the encounter of the knowings of modern science with traditional systems of wisdom as the Yi-Ching, philosophic Taoism, Buddhism... Spontaneous emergence, systemic self-organization, non determination of outcome will fuse with the teachings of the Tao to give us a worldview of life as surfing on the waves of changes toward our image of the future.

- personal visions of this worldview will take center stage instead of the visions of schools and that of their masters. Western individualism will mutate at the contact of Chinese individualism that exercises itself within the boundaries of "the way of things" and "the virtue of morality" that follows the way. Artists personal visions are thus not so much individualist endeavours but more like their visual particularization of the worldview at the attention of the individuals of the group they belong to.

- the primacy of the principle of rich intellectual content + technical skills that are so much absent of the Western visual art scene nowadays will come back with a vengeance.

What drives humanity over the long haul is not its economy, it is unmistakenly it's culture, it's ways of behaving, it's ways of interacting with the other species, the environment and it is evident that we are doing very poorly on that level. We have more goods than at any time in our history but the more our economies enrich, the more our cultures "empoor" and in this process humanity's chances of survival are thinning fast.
The coming cultural input of China could not be better timed.

I know that the conclusions that I express here are pole apart from the views and theories expressed by most recognized authorities on the arts in Western countries, from the left as well as from the right. But I have the weakness to think that both sides of the Western intelligentsia are wrong, I think that both behave as pure Westerncentrics.
They know that there is a world out there. They know that it is different from the Western world, another world that has another understanding of realities but that's about all they know. They generally know nothing about the ideas, the values and the ways of behaving inside that external world that, let's never forget, represents 80-85% of the world population. Could it be that 15-20% of the world population would have for ever in its hands the destiny of humanity?
Never, that's pure Westerncentric delusion.

One thing is for sure, our future can't be thought of as a simple projection into the future of trends observed today within the Western world. It is in that particular sense that I pretend that the present dominant description given of Post modernism shall be fast forgotten.

2004/12/06

On Postmodernism (1)

Post-modernism, I think, is vastly different from what Western, right and left, thinkers are making about it. Let's start with modernism, it divides roughly in 3 distinct periods:

- early modernity: from the renaissance till 1900 rejecting religious art painters will satisfy the demands of early capitalism for portraits and landscapes.

- modernity: starting around 1900, it corresponds to the radical rejection of the visual representation model of the first degree image that falls on our retina. Influenced by new technologies, the introduction of speed in daily life and new scientific paradigms in the forming, painters and thinkers are searching for higher level visual representations, they intuitively sense that there are other dimensions to reality than this first degree vision transmitted by the retina to the brain.

- Late modernity: after decades of searches and experimentations in visual rendering and two world wars that crudely exposed men's absurdity visual arts were declared clinically dead around the seventies. "Whatever" could now be presented as art by audacious merchant-artists and critics, curators, collectors swallowed the sham. Some initiated the concept of post-modernism, an approach that tried to put the existing knowledge into perspective saying that it was only the particular form of thought of the hegemonic culture of the day. This rejection manifested itself in minimal, conceptual visual forms as if its creators were announcing the end of times. Post modernism is kind of the product of a "intellectuel de chambre" and in that sense it appears as totally marginal on the world stage of real life.

Western thinkers are indeed privileging the Western internal tendencies to the point of blacking out all that may be going on externally in the rest of the world. They act a little bit as if they were thinking that they are the center of the world forgetting that a nation of a billion and a half who think they are the center of the world since 3000 years already is finally shaping itself as the next center of economic and cultural power in the world.

It seems to me that what is going on outside of the West is indeed bound to have gradually a decisive impact on the West itself. The awakening I believe shall be rude because there is no doubt that the foundations of our Western civilization are already crumbling. We are nowadays economically so totally dependent on science that the conclusions arrived at by scientists will, there should be no doubt about it, shake our certainties. There is indeed a convergence in the building between science and the foundations of the Chinese civilization which I believe is bound to lead to the most fundamental revolution in Western thought since the early days of Western civilization itself. A very readable account of what is going on in the scientific community is given by Mitchell Waldrop in his books "Chaos" and "Complexity", by Fritjof Capra in "The Tao of Physics" (1975), "The Turning Point" (1982), "Uncommon Wisdom" (1988), and "The Web of Life" (1996), by Ilia Prigogine in "Order Out of Chaos", "Exploring Complexity", "The End of Certainty, Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature", "Is Future Given?" , Dr. Chaim H. Tejman, "Grand Unified Theory: Wave Theory" and the many others.

I believe that the recognition of the principle of spontaneous emergence, systemic auto-regulation/self-organization and the theories relating to the macro reality as quantum physics, string theory, wave theory,... are engendering a what will be a whole new form of consciousness in the West.
When one couples this new scientific paradigm with economic globalization and the shock of philosophic wisdoms that will ensue, one gets a glimpse of what post-modernism will be all about in the realm of culture and one starts to understand the real illusionary nature of late modernism.

2004/12/05

Knowledge parts roads with power (4)

Mastering the various components of our future worldview in the making and producing visual signs of that worldview at the attention of all seem in my view to be the only wise choice that we have left as a specie.
What do I mean by that?

I follow Ilya Prigogine when he says "I believe that what we do today depends on our image of the future, rather than the future depending on what we do today. We build our equations by our actions. These equations, and the future they represent, are not written in nature. In other words, time becomes construction. Of course, we have some conditions that determine limits of the future but within these limits are many, many possibilities.
Therefore, since no deterministic prediction is likely to be valid, visions of the future--utopian visions--play a very important role in present conduct."


In the case of the re-balancing of the world economy some refuse even to consider the possibility of even the idea of Asia and particularly China becoming dominant because one is unable to imagine an Asian attitude that would be different from one's own. Even if one does not like to talk about it, one knows perfectly well what the Western attitude is all about and also what its application would be like in the future. So the projection on others of the knowledge of one's attitude in situation of power monopoly is building one's motivation to recourse to retrograde authoritarian policies in one's present internal policies and foreign relations in the hope to stop what one thinks will be an attitude as one's own at the hands of others.
Such unwise attitude is fraught to bring disaster.

Our future worldview in the shaping will shift radically from our present day deterministic view of some kind of historical straight line toward progress. Our future will be composed of novelty, of random change so trying to extrapolate what the future will be, from our present day worldview that gives us our perception of our present reality, is fraught to end in disaster.

Everyone on this earth will in the future undergo the influences of a new worldview that is starting to shape presently out of the confrontation of the fast growing body of scientific knowings with philosophic wisdoms and will thus be confronted with the feel of an existential obligation to make his this new worldview, be it consciously or unconsciously.

Looking toward the past is a feel good distraction that costs time and energy while looking toward the future somehow shortens the distance between now and the future.
As I wrote earlier, when this reasoning becomes crystal clear one feels the urge to do something about it.

Knowings: fast increasing scientific discoveries and knowings are the driving force of change in our economies and in our perception of ourselves and the universe. States are presently the principal financial backers (investors) and sponsors of fundamental science because the fact is that the nation of birth of a new knowing owns somehow much of the applications derived from it that will generate future incomes. This is a very divisive reality, it costs humanity much of its past conflicts and it will inevitably cost much future conflict. Would humanity not be better off if fundamental science was considered a gift for humanity instead as for the nation of its birth? I don't know what can be done about that, but I also don't understand why this should not become one of the most pressing questions that a globalized humanity has to face.

Knowledge: the rationality of the logic of capital has succeeded to impose itself over all aspects of human life. It is rational for the logic of capital so be it, that's at least how most of us think, and thus follows that any contradicting human thought should then logically be repressed.
Humanity follows a mechanic that is out (not in) of its own being, it acts as if it had been robbed of itself and, drawn and haggard, brainless it follows the movement. One can't stress enough this mechanical character of our collective behavior. The scientific concept of "singularity" goes even further that implies that humanity reaches fast a threshold in its chaotic development from which the points of bifurcation leading to our future are out of our rational grasp, meaning that we will just not be able to apprehend the consequences of our acts any further. After passing this threshold, humanity will be blind to the consequences of its acts but we know for a sure fact that science de-multiplied the power of our acts in such a fashion that we now have the power to blow up the principle of human life and more.
Here we are thus confronted with this singularity and the simultaneous power of our actions to destroy ourselves. One would think that the conscience of this enormity should bring us back to our senses and deliberately drive us to ask for the application of some knowledge in our actions but will this conscience crystalize in sufficient quantity for humanity to survive this dangerous path? Not sure. From a philosophical standpoint, I should add that the eventual disappearance of humanity is not important at all, indeed this disappearance would only be detrimental to humanity itself but not to cosmic harmony.
I hope that the conscience of this enormity gives us some dose of wisdom and understanding of the human need to confront scientific knowings with philosophical wisdom. The knowledge derived from this confrontation is our last chance to develop our postmodern worldview towards maturity. But one of our biggest problems is that knowledge finds only marginal respect in our modern societies, not being imposed any longer by the men of power on all the members of our societies, the men of knowledge are left to compete with all kind of charlatans for the attention of the citizens... not very encouraging indeed.

The visual signs of our postmodern worldview: art died in the last decades of the twentieth century. What is meant by that is that art lost total contact with its historical functionality and thus fell into the absurd, that is where art died. The century had nevertheless started with great questions and an ultimate rejection of the past but not successful at defining a sense beyond early capitalism art, modernity got finally stuck in merchandise, form had overtaken content and substance that had been trivialized and finally the absurd started to reign in absolute master of the visual arts.
I have the weakness to think that it would be kind of presumptuous and stupid for artists to reject the functionality that art served from its origins to 1900. What came after 1900 is only 100 years on some 50,000 years of human cultural activities, in other words, no more than 0.2 % of all the history of art. Today, right in the middle of humankind's existential void and the fear inspired by its future, the necessity for art to fulfil its historical role and societal functionality appears as if it was multiplied, never I think, has the necessity for art been greater in all of our history. Never has the need for visual signs of a worldview been so eagerly awaited by the citizens of a society than today. Mostly everyone is indeed on the outlook for sense.
But we should recognize in all honesty that artists have not really been prepared for such a role:
- where is the story to tell? In earlier times, the artists' job was to illustrate the stories at the hands of the men of knowledge in their times. Where are the men of knowledge today? Where are the stories of knowledge that artists should illustrate? Mum...
- where are the men of power who should help diffuse the signs of the worldview in the making? Even if contemporary men of power were willing to help in the diffusing of the visual signs, how would the selection operate of the signs to diffuse?
We are kind of stuck in a quandary: where is the knowledge, how to put the artists in the know of that knowledge and finally how to diffuse the visual signs? Viewed from this perspective, the task seems to be an impossible one.

Perhaps should we look at it from another angle. Perhaps should we need to go back at the origin of arts, what about looking at animist times as a model?
The artist would then need to become a man of knowledge or the man of knowledge would need to become an artist. It seems to me that this is perhaps the only feasible path in our days but it implies a revision of traditional roles. Artists at your books, scientists at your brushes!

2004/12/04

Knowledge parts roads with power (3)

In the last post, we came to the conclusion that power and knowledge had gone their separate ways sometime at the end of early modernity and the start of modernity, but was this really the real story?

Men of power were decidedly not in control anymore over men of knowledge as was the case in the past. The spirit of knowledge had fused with the rationality of the logic of capital but so it appeared had done the spirit of power. Thus the rationality of the logic of capital had succeeded to insert itself at the heart of knowledge making and also of power management. From this we deduce that power and knowledge were surfing on the same wavelength, they acquired a common language and they also started to speak about the same subjects.

In this process of parting ways softly, the men of knowledge have nevertheless lost the support of the men of power to impose their newly acquired knowledge upon all members of society, here lays I feel the major differentiation between modern societies and pre-modern societies.

Authoritarian imposition of worldviews has been broken down by democratization that resulted out of a double need experienced by the rationality of the logic of capital: survival of the State system through power representation and increase of demand for mass production goods. Democratization did not miraculously emerge as a human ideal of justice and equality, it is only the historical conclusion of a long process:
- by which the merchants and the “burghers”, the well-off citizens of the cities gained the power that the clergy and then the aristocracy were losing
- by which ultimately the rationality growing out of the activities of the merchants and the burghers tumbled upon the double need for political stability and increased economic demand.

The present day idealization of democracy is no more than the transformation into ideology of the conclusion of a historical process, a long and chaotic historical road that was followed in Europe from the crusades till modernity.

Here we are now in modern societies: we elect our political representatives and we freely consume the industrial products of our choice but we have lost our ways, we surely can't say that we are happy, we seldom laugh, we seem to be in constant rush running after material possessions and illusory prestige. We have abdicated our free will and have become slaves of desire and greed, our new masters.

Having no worldview imposed upon us, everyone wants to give his own take on reality and explanations multiply, groups of belief, of opinion, form but short of knowledge much of the discourse is pure non-sense. Pre-modern societies were cohesive, all their members shared a common worldview and generally speaking, even if they did not share our level of material well-being, they appeared much, much more happy, they were laughing sharing their time with the others while we are crawling alone...

I'm not trying here to praise the past at the expense of the present, I just want to point to one of our modern societies shortcomings. Without a shared worldview, modern societies are atomizing, becoming more divided and facing ever more resistance against the evolving rationality emerging from a rapidly increasing body of scientific knowings. Our modern societies are faced with a dilemma:
- in the past, the visual signs of knowledge were imposed on all members of society which had the effect to cement all individuals into the unity of society. Nowadays everyone is free to believe what he wants but scientific knowings, as a consequence, only reach limited segments of our societies and even more limited segments are getting the chance to share in the knowledge derived from the combining of scientific knowings with philosophy.
- knowledge is growing and evolving faster and faster while in the past, knowledge was static or at least evolving over the long run.

Very few have the chance to share in modern day's knowledge and what is worse, modern day's knowledge does not have the benefit of visual signs that could spread the spirit of its essence among the population at large. What I mean here is that we derive our worldview from knowledge or from its visual signs thus I posit that in the absence of knowledge or visual signs about it, most of us are left free for sure, but absolutely ignorant about what our time is all about.

Fast evolving knowledge that is not shared by all is the best recipe for disaster. A society can't survive without a common worldview that cements it, it is indeed bound to atomize and then to dissolve and most likely before to dissolve, it will fall victim of last resort authoritarian impulses at conservation by some groups of interest that will want to preserve what they have, what they perceive as their privileges.

When this reasoning becomes crystal clear one feels the urge to do something about it.
It seems that I enter here in the most exciting part of this book. I have surely some ideas about what to do but I just don't know how the next paragraphs will come out in words on the white page.

The feel of urgency to do something to rebuild some cohesion in our modern societies is coveted with danger, one could indeed easily be led, for reason of one's so perceived truth, to justify what in normal conditions is not justifiable at all.
Let me be very clear, I do not believe one second that going back to the solutions of the past has any chance to solve our problems. Wanting to re-institute practices of the past is absolutely counterproductive. It can only lead a society to spend the energy of all in divisive debating while the real problems are left worsening. An authoritarian regime taking the power to impose a past worldview on all has no chance to succeed for this simple reason that it could only want to impose on the most advanced sectors of its society a stepping back from actions it already took to adapt to a changing worldview. How could such a society not land into trouble asking its most advanced sectors to step back from what it sees as the future?
Now what about an authoritarian regime that would want to impose a worldview in the shaping? There is just no way that men of power could master the knowledge derived from the combination of scientific knowings with philosophic wisdom and there is not an inch more chance that thinkers who, after much research and experimentation, landing on such knowledge would be willing to follow men of power in such an authoritarian endeavor.

2004/12/03

Knowledge parts roads with power (2)

Universities and the emergence of scientific inquiry has been reinforced by the sanctioning by capital of those who do not play according to its rules in bringing about changes in all aspects of European societies.
The integration of the principle of stationary perspective, along the 14th century, will command the visual arts as far as the end of the 19th century. Gradually, scientific studies will displace the traditional power of the church and opportunistic capital investors, confronted with mercantilist necessities, will integrate new technical ways of production helping them to displace imports and more traditional production methods.

Change will be gradual with periods of acceleration corresponding to the "great discoveries" and later the "industrial revolution" that brings about the greatest discovery of all, mass production of socks, yes it starts there.
Mass production unleashes the speeding of change: population increases, urbanization empties the countryside, salarization forces the acceptance of merchandization and the speed of changes accelerates.

One of the determinant factors of accelerating change is without any doubt the unprecedented expansion of demand that follows the reduction of prices following mass production. This movement will further accelerate by induction of new demands and the introduction of always newer products.
But this has only been made possible for the adoption of new techniques and technologies derived from the works of scientists. To impose its imperatives, along the 18th and 19th centuries, the logic of capital was pulling the logic coming out of the universities. Thereafter the child that was science would mature and as an adult, mostly unconscient for sure, he would be gained totally to the logic of capital. Indeed, where did the financing come from and what were the necessities or the urgencies that science had to find an answer to?
Gradually but with certainty, the rationality of the logic of capital was transferring itself into scientific and philosophic rationalism, a new worldview, modernism, was forming that would engulf the 20th century.

The men of power only imposed the worldview of the church as long as the church had the financial cloud over societies. The French revolution was the first clash, in Europe, between men of power and men of knowledge that put an end to the power of the church and that initiated the “enlightenment”. Other countries, as Britain, brought the church under the control of the State so that the worldview of that church could eventually be adapted to the need of the times. The enlightenment saw the men of power reject the clutches of the church's men of knowledge and go their own way as managers of the institutions of State.

For the first time the men of power did not make theirs a worldview to impose on all members of society, they were only preoccupied with the mechanics of their institutions.

In national societies whose economies were massifying, the functioning of state institutions was under constant pressure to adapt, to canalize its social realities to economic changes and to help their economies develop so as to resist and possibly beat their national competitors. Without any legislation to harmonize the social relations between the entrepreneurs and their workers, by the end of the 19th century, Europe was mired into social conflict. Debates raged for some 50 years on how to handle the volatile social situation. Basically, the problem was twofold:
- How to bring the blue collar working class into accepting to eke out a living without endangering the competitiveness of their employers while assuring the survival of the institutions of State? After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 the central political problem was perceived as the saving of state institutions from a social revolution.
- How to bring the working class into the ranks of mass consumers so as to grow the volume of exchanges? Economic competition between nations States was so intense that it landed Europe and its colonial possessions in a world conflict. Economic competition was harsh and merchandization appeared as one of the best solutions for expanding the internal exchanges so helping grow the demand for mass produced goods became one of the central preoccupations of the State.

The new men of knowledge educated in universities were generally liberal progressives and in their eyes, the solution to both problems was to be found into freedom. Freedom to buy the goods of one's choice which led them to ask for decent wages for the working class and freedom to chose the politics and the politicians of one's choice. Reaction to such policies came from the conservative hardcore church believers and the entrepreneurial class, so decisions were taken one incremental step after another.
Following some 50 years of ensuing reforms, by the end of the 2nd world war, all European nations had finally established some kind of democratic system of representation, recognizing each individual over a certain age one vote, for designating the men of power. This was paralleled by social policies giving some basic rights to the members of the working class: minimum wages, unemployment benefits, pensions and medical care.

2004/12/01

Knowledge parts roads with power (1)

On the road that leads to rationality as we understand it today, we have to point to the crusades as an obliged starting point of any serious inquiry. Basically two factors are unleashed through the crusades: the plundering of Muslim libraries and later the trade between the Middle-East and Europe passing through the Italian city states.

Plundering and trade are different only in the manner but identical in the end, the consequence from both was that very backward Europe acquired the knowledge written down in books stored in Islamic University libraries. Arab universities had stored in their libraries translations of the Greek classics that were unknown about in Europe. Under the keywords "Medieval university" Wikipedia states "The development of the medieval university coincided with the widespread reintroduction of Aristotle from Byzantine and Jewish scholars".
But Arab universities had far more to offer than the Greek classics, Islam had indeed encouraged the search for knowledge in its universities.
Let's not forget that universities were something unheard of in Europe at that time, they started to be erected gradually after the return of the crusaders.

At its conception on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea which was the meeting-point of Greek, Persian, and Indian civilizations, "Much of the genius of the early Muslim intellectuals was grounded in their eagerness to understand and integrate the research already carried out in these disparate societies. Islamic leaders sponsored a vast project of translation, whereby key works by Greek philosophers were rendered in Arabic and so made available to Islamic scientists, thinkers, and engineers in the Arab world and Persia (present-day Iran). Thus supplied with certain philosophical foundations, these individuals were able to improve upon the earlier work and to develop original lines of inquiry. ...Islamic professors at European universities introduced their students to the astrolabe and the quadrant, instruments which Islamic astronomers had used to make their remarkable measurements..."(1)
The knowledge acquired by Middle-age Europe went far further than exposed in this citation. Let's cite among others geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant, and other navigation devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and later played an important role in Europe's age of exploration. Trade documents and other techniques of money management gave Europe the instruments to develop trade.
But one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of this knowledge transmission to Europe was the emphasis on knowledge, the obligation for all Muslims to learn that adopted by Europe will be leading directly to the emergence of the Renaissance."The learned ones are the heirs of the prophets. They leave knowledge as their inheritance; he who inherits it inherits a great fortune... Knowledge is maintained only through teaching."(2)
This message will resonate far and loud in Europe where let's remember only the members of the clergy could read and write. Plunder has certainly been a decisive factor in Europe gaining some knowledge about Islam's material and intellectual richness but the story does not stop there. Mechanisms of trade had to be adopted to establish a regular flow, from the middle-East to Europe, of goods that were highly demanded by the aristocracy and later the new rich merchants. Those mechanisms were the result of the maturation, the rationalization, along a long road of practice at the hands of the Arab merchants in their commercial endeavours between themselves and with the far East. (India, South-East Asia and China) Usage of those instruments has imposed huge changes in the attitudes, behaviors and worldviews of the merchants, the bankers and all those who came into contact with them.

The Greek classics + the knowledge acquired from Muslim universities' + the practice of the rationality of the logical of capital through trade activities, all those will be superposed to the internal development of markets and the medieval cities that has been intensively studied by Henri Pirenne, Fernand Braudel and others. It is not as if knowledge and rationality were introduced in a vacuum, they came and reinforced the development of medieval cities and markets that were already in the making. It is this superposition that is important because it will act as a multiplier.
Universities and the emergence of scientific inquiry will be reinforced by the sanctioning by capital of those who do not play according to its rules in bringing about changes in all aspects of European societies. The integration of the principle of stationary perspective, along the 14th century, will command the visual arts as far as the end of the 19th century. Gradually, scientific studies will displace the traditional power of the church and opportunistic capital investors, confronted with mercantilist necessities, will integrate new technical ways of production helping them to displace imports and more traditional production methods. Change will be gradual with periods of acceleration corresponding to the "great discoveries" and later the "industrial revolution" that brings about the greatest discovery of all, mass production of socks.Mass production unleashes the speeding of change: population increases, urbanization empties the countryside, salarization forces the acceptance of merchandization and the speed of changes accelerates.

(1) Islam in Iran. Hank Sims Humboldt State University.

(2) In traditional sayings of Muhammed Hadith, from the Jami of Muhammed Ismael Bukhari. (Cited from Wikipedia)