I've been meaning for a while to write about this long rats nest of thoughts about some ideas around information; how the path and movement of information defines us. And the rats nest has started to build up and get kicked around until it basically looks like a kite string on the most unfortunate of adventures. So now I'm just going to plow ahead and get some of these thoughts down before they end up disappearing forever. But it’s pretty scary trying to write it all down, because once I start, I’ve started. You know? Like I can’t go back and do it again for the first time. Maybe that’s a different thing to write about…
Let's just take a quick aside to talk about the effect of writing down something for the first time. There is the sudden implication that only part of what I am trying to say will directly be said. Which means I'm relying on a large part of what I'm trying to say to come through tangentially through a certain ubiquitous understanding of how the world works. In a way, saying anything specifically is both impossible and also terrifying to try. For me, at least.
There's two starting points to this that began this whole direction of thought. One piece is the essay On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects by Gilbert Simondon (thank you, lovely human being with the most mischievous of smiles, for giving me this) and the other is an article which describes where corporate organizational charts were born: railroads. (We will refer to it further more as The Article, since I can’t track down the exact article I read, although I surmise it was from the New York Times, although a quick google of “organizational structure railroad”, comes up with some articles from Wired and Slate, which get some of the points across, but are a little brief. Also, I’m pretty sure the article I was reading was comparing company's organizational structures to what Zappos is trying to do with this whole Holocracy thing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holacracy), which is much more on point to what I’m talking about, since a main tenet of a Holocracy is the ability to cheaply and quickly share information with TONS of people)
Railroads, who were trying to organize the timetables of all their trains, thought that they had found an amazing tool in the advent of the telegraph since it would allow all the stations to communicate their timetables to each other over any distance. But what they found was that after a certain amount of distance, there were so many times/trains to keep track of, and only a certain speed to telegraph those pieces of information to different stations, that there was actually an increase of accidents/delays after the introduction of the telegraph. The fix to this was to create a reporting system, much like employees to managers in a traditional corporate setting, that allowed information to aggregate with a single person, who would then pass things on to individual railway stations.
What I find interesting about this is that trying to contain an information flow over a certain physical distance had an upper boundary that was imposed by how fast someone could click a little piece of metal. In a sense information, what information WAS and what it MEANT, was woven into the physical space where that information was trying to be used. This is especially fascinating when you consider new research that points to quantum entanglement as the cause of time (again… can’t find the article I originally read, but this one seems to talk about it a bit: http://www.nature.com/news/the-quantum-source-of-space-time-1.18797). This would imply that the ability to transmit information instantaneously, the entanglement of two particles, is the reason that spacetime has the curvature that it does; that it is the reason gravity exists and that time moves as we experience it.
If I think about this in a simple way (and pretty much un-scientific way, which would KILL a scientist friend of mine, who we’ll call Max, who basically has a conniption when anyone creates metaphors and analogy by using scientific results. “ABSOLUTES! ABSOLUTES! NOT THESE FUCKING GENERALIZATIONS!”. But that’s probably why he’s a scientist and I’m an artist.) it means that if you can only move information as fast as you can click a little button, you get a limited set of trains in motion. If you can move information instantaneously, you get spacetime. So what about all the in-between speeds?
And this is where the paper from Simondon comes in. It’s an expansive read, which I really recommend as it changed my perspective on how objects become parts of lives (and it elevated my thinking on the duel engendering that objects have with their creators), but it also, in the version I read, had a forward by John Hart, who wrote, “Once technical reality has become regulatory, it can be integrated into culture, which is itself essentially regulatory”. And the piece that stuck out to me was this idea of culture as regulation. And when I think about it, regulation is really just a set of instructions on how something will be done; regulation is a bounded way to share information. Dance, food, music, language, and even religion you can really think about as just different, pre-defined ways to share specific types of information. When that one 80’s song comes on and everyone in the bar starts singing along or dancing a certain way, aren’t we really passing information to each other about all kinds of things? There’s an internal piece obviously that we are fulfilling for ourselves, but there is a lot of information that is being flung out into the environment. We are an event horizon.
a side note on the event horizon of internal/external space
In the book All That is Solid Melts Into Air, there is the sentence, “The things he knows, he knows from being alone amongst others”. For me, this sentence really captures the idea of internal and external space. And I guess I relate to it, because I usually find myself to feel like an outsider, even when surrounded by people who all know me. I am excluded, while being included.
But why do we separate our experience into an internal and external one? Why a bifurcation of experience? I think as people we like to broadly categorize things as quickly as possible, because it saves us from the efforts of having to decode the continually new experience around us; continued decoding is exhausting. But if you think about all the information around us, and within us, like a large undulating surface, and you pick any point on that surface, from that point there are orthogonal directions that define the minimum and maximum curvature of the surface at that point. (That’s a differential geometry thing… those directions are called the principle curves: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal_curvature ) And I think we tend to focus on these min/max that a piece of information seems to illuminate. We bifurcate. We pick extremes as the options of what something can be. But that viewpoint changes if, instead, we think about not a point of information, but how that information moves from one place to another. The speed of that information, the channels that that information takes.
So I’ve been now thinking of channels of information. The roads that carry thoughts on things like if there’s a heaven, or whether Trish likes me, or weather that is a raccoon or a cat in that tree over there. And some of these channels exist only inside of myself. The information is being passed from different spheres of Self to add to some created manifestation of me. (I use the term “sphere” here in thinking about Sloterdijk’s book Bubbles, and his idea of the infinite layers that are contained within the Self, which we slowly descend into, until communication itself is no longer available to this Self examining Self. In a sense, he talks about the exact center of Self a lot like a blackhole, which meshes nicely with ideas of existence as just the aggregate of channels of information. Self and Death end up being the two blackholes that we circle around for our existence). And then there is the information that loops out from me to the environment, and subsequently gathers new information, or branches into a different channel, that then comes swooping back into my consciousness. Existence just becomes the aggregate of channels of information; of their limitations, their failings, and their unknown reasons for being.
In the book Varamo by Cesar Aira (here’s looking at you Aaron) there is the sentence, “He had developed a superstitious fear of the instant, that tiny hole through which all the time available to human beings must pass”. And in my current mindset this a beautifully succinct way to say all of the above. Our physicality, our mindset, our belief in who we are, is just the body that fits through this tiny hole: the moment. The moment: the collection of information that we can carry through a singular point.