Friday, 12 February 2010

731 - Tough Questions

I'm returning to a book I started a year or more ago. Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf, is, in the words of its subtitle, "the story and science of the reading brain". It explores the evolutionary and educational changes our brains have undergone in order that we may be able to read text. It is a polemic too, in that it argues passionately that reading as a technology should not be undervalued or taken for granted. Not only does it allow culture to be recorded and passed on, but also explored and manipulated, which stimulates further neuronal development in the brain. It suggests that the shift to digital and image-based technology might cause the brain to develop in new and perhaps not entirely predictable ways.

That got me thinking. I'm fascinated by the process of writing, which seems to me the essence of technology, the tiniest impact someone can make on his or her environment at any given time, using the latest tools available, in order to convey the most precise meaning. Once we nudged pigment onto cave-walls; then ink onto parchment, and lead type and paper; then light onto film-stock; digital information onto computer screens, and now, even, ears onto the backs of mice, and flourescence into rabbits. I wondered, given the radical transformation reading has had on society over thousands of years, whether a similar transformation, driven by ICT, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Nanotechnology, Quantum Physics, Relativity might be starting now, and to take the thought further, just as writing and reading gave birth to great literature, these marks we make in the present might result in a whole new artform, an art, as well as a science perhaps, of identity at its most fundamental level.

The following are related thoughts I jotted in the margins of Proust and the Squid this morning. They don't flow - just a straight copy of thoughts, some wilder than others, as they arose. They widen the thoughts above further, but I don't have time to expand them tonight, so I risk sounding potty. Ce la vie. The references to washing machines and dreaming the future refer to incidents I've written about here, here, here, and here, and are what I wanted to interrogate yesterday, but have yet to do:

1. Beyond reading: that it might be possible to 'mark' oneself mentally, deliberately. To read oneself and others, and this mark to be a symbol (or symbol of a symbol? a chaotic system balanced on a chaotic system?).

2. What might such a mark look like? Must be beyond a dot on paper, though a dot could be the mark in one instance.

3. The science and art of infinite possibility, not simply an idea, but a technology. What virtuality gives us that books didn't - a gateway (the whole of virtuality is the gateway - it's not just that there are gateways in and into virtuality, but that virtuality is an arrangement of quanta which can itself begin to affect quanta, in and outside its obvious current realm).

4. If there is a beyond beyond this, I cannot imagine it (but interrogate the 'I', in case).

5. The drawing together of stars.

6. Somewhat scarily, the figure (story myth) that most embodies this technological capability for me is Doctor Who.

7. One must have a sense (sensitivity too) of multiplicity (even if one chooses a single identity) to develop this technology.

8. A technology that has no force unless it is democratic - an expression of life in all its fullness. The Kingdom of God. Moving the washing machine door. Dreaming out of time and space.

9. What does all this mean for human interaction?

10. Cancer as a signal from, eg., the future. Healing as a reply. The closer we reach the technology needed to heal/control the cancer, the closer we reach the technology needed to send it.

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