December 29, 2008
In Another city another me is writing; Another thought is unwinding
In Another city another me is writing; Another thought is unwinding.
When we think of minds we think of intentions. Intentions that lie behind acts, acts that unfold at the recourse of agents: agents with minds. In short, when we look out at the world we see objects that are acted upon and entities that do the acting. This clear cut distinction between the 'done upon' and the 'doer' appears stable, but it hides one of the mightiest constraints of our world view. A logical stand-off that threatens to undermine the logical systems upon which it is based.
In Another city all matter pulses like a living organ, where time imposes significance upon the most dilapidated dwelling or murky gutter.
Take this article, for example. It is an unwinding spring of phonic sounds, encoded into a series of arbitrary symbols, stretching from left to right within an imaginary frame projected onto the surface of your computer screen. Here lies the perfect example of an artefact with intention behind it. A series of artefacts in fact, positioned by my mind and placed within a certain context (i.e. 3QD: a fascinating and widely read blog). As a collection, as an article, its intention is easy to distinguish. I wanted to say something, so I wrote an article, which I hoped would be read by a certain audience. But what of the intention of each individual object within the whole? What was the original intention of the letter 'A' for example? Do we decide that the intention is connected to all speakers of the English language, perhaps? Or maybe all literate members of the human race? Or maybe the human race as a whole?
Another city begins at the out-stretched tip of a human finger and ends as artefacts gathered from the dust. It is a spider-web, a precious ball of dung, a bare and crimson backside glinting in the jungle sun.
It would be short-sighted to claim that the letter 'A' is intention-less. At some point the shape of the letter 'A' was attached to the phonic value for the sound 'ay'. At some point the letter 'A' was placed at the front of a 26 letter string of arbitrary symbols. A separate, but connected artefact, later to be called 'The Alphabet'. There was intention behind these acts, and these acts were perpetrated by people or persons who - we hope - believed that their decisive acts mattered. The difference between my artifact - the one you now find yourself reading - and the letter 'A' is one of time, distance and - most importantly - appropriation. The alphabet is omnipresent, it is everyone's. It has become disconnected from the very idea of mind and intention. We have appropriated it into our sense of what being human is; into the scaffolding of our reality. Of course we still have to learn how to read, whether it be with the Western syllabic alphabet or the Chinese pictographic/logographic system. But we treat our writing system as an extension of language, of ourselves, and we do this quite naturally. For not one second do we question the intention behind the alphabet, even less so the letter 'A'.
Another city is more than a place; a space; a vision. Another city is a mechanism; a grand technology; a thought unwinding. Where the sum of human knowledge may be travelled, mapped or conquered; where one may lose one's way.
The letter 'A' is part of the thinking apparatus of every person reading this article. It is a portion of every mind which understands in English, and countless billions of other minds for whom the Latin alphabet is their foremost mode of representing language. It is an artefact of our minds, our culture, of where the human ends and the world begins. Mundane artefacts such as the letter 'A', clothes or statues and more complex artefacts such as laws, dreams or cities are all becoming of our identities. Each artefact was manifest by a mind or by minds, and each artefact is incorporate in the pattern of our thoughts. To consider myself in a modern manner I usually consider myself as a free individual. One with rights, one whose separateness matters. But could I have conceived of this identity without the modern laws of the state? Without a law of human rights one has no apparatus upon which to consider oneself as capable of rights. Human rights were conceived of, they were drafted and manifested. Now they ebb and flow as part of our thoughts. They were thought of; they think us; we think through them.
In Another city thought is studied by cartographers, whose intricate maps plot out the lay of love and location of doubt. It is considered dangerous to daydream, in Another city, in case a highway transforms into a mountain, or a rail station folds away to reveal a giant oak - its roots impelled to strangle the loiterers on platform 13.
To grasp ourselves as composite wholes we need to incorporate our material culture inside ourselves. My mind may begin at the base of my spine - an emergent consequence of a four pound lump of inert matter encased inside a calcium shell - but it ends far beyond the limits of my body. I think with the Hubble Telescope's latest image, a foaming cloud of hydrogen gas 200 light years across and over a million light years away. I conceive with the substance of my DNA. A string of amino acids, conceived and mapped by computers, laboratories and a million scientists - their collective work affecting me from a past before my birth. The article I now write exists at the tethered end of my extended mind: a writing desk, a notepad, a computer, a piece of software and my fingers tapping the letter 'A', tapping into the material mind of my surroundings. How this article affects your mind depends upon the material world you encounter it through. The cultural and material world that made our minds now exists within them, and our minds, interacting with the cultural and material world, span outwards via every act we intend and every intention we act. Each artefact is a thought; each thought and act another artefact.
Another city has never been designed. It will never exist as a single place which one may visit. Six billion inhabitants move through Another city; six billion notions; six billion minds; six billion cities striving beyond the map towards the whole.
(At present) Western science and philosophy is limited by its own structure. In science every premise precedes a conclusion, every cause has its effect, every effect is - by definition - predictable. Yet to understand the realm of the atom science has had to break with its tradition, to posit a world where cause may have no effect; a world where intentions may change the very thing being acted upon. Quantum physicists speak a language of riddles, as regards the rhetoric of Western rationalism. The quantum physicist may peer upon one half of a pair of entangled atoms and instantly impact upon its other half: a separate atom located a thousand miles away. This kind of "action at a distance" appears to break the standard laws of physics (Einstein was famously flummoxed by it). Yet action at a distance is a consequence of the very sort of extended mind I have been talking about. A sort of mind that need only be considered in a slightly different way. A world full of artefacts that are always connected to intentions.
Another City speaks for all Other cities. It warns that one will always stand at the city’s centre; that to build the horizon is impossible. It begs its reader to consider every city a universe; to posit the universe itself as a vast metropolis without end. It asks that each imagined city be explored, not merely imagined. And that as each Another city is traversed, one must lay a golden trail of thread.
Posted by Daniel Rourke at 12:15 AM | Permalink