Monday, 10 May 2010

705 - Can Do

On the seat opposite me, a can of energy drink, empty. Could get stressed, but the branding grabs me. I've been thinking about the nature of humanity, and in cheap coke fashion, this captures the point.

First the name, which seems a bit overblown for a Red Bull substitute. I mean, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was sweat from the brow of Jason Statham. Carbonated. But we are a bit relentless, really. All drives: sex, hunger, status, vigour, nurture. Strangest of all, perhaps, a drive to create.

Creation is what the font says to me. It's a bit gothic, a bit spiky, somewhere between vampire and cyber punk. And it's a bit 'the force that through the green shoot drives the flower' (Dylan Thomas). Like our daily work is somehow driving a lifeforce through the aluminium can itself, causing it to curl out in fish-hook shoots and fractal serifs, a thousand memes lodging in our brains and into those we are hoping to pull.

Finally, completing the design, the logo is stamped against (into?) the anatomical drawing of a head. It's deeply corporeal, quite unsexy, unless you're catching what the drawing is hinting at: that this drink, this relentlessness, goes beyond the surface. It's non-dualistic in the same way that vampires are non-dualistic, because there's a spiritual edge to the relentless cadaverousness: the promise is that this drink, feeding your head-flesh, will directly inspire your thoughts. That's very, very now, psychologically. The curl of the aluminium, the tang of performance-boosting chemicals, joins with your body cybernetically, affording a glimpse of your transhuman future.

Which is what I've been reflecting on: the way that imagination, a tool, is also a sense, like sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, proprioception. Our vision, for instance, gives us the impression of three dimensions, but as Steven Pinker indicated in How The Mind Works, it's a bit of trickery: all we see are surfaces, and experience gives us the information to be able to round them into full and solid objects. By filling out what is insensible by other means, our imagination supplies vital information: it is the sense that senses the insensible. Because it is working with what is not directly there, it has to create - answers, perspectives, images. It reaches out of itself, to what is otherwise known, what can be supplied from sources, such as people, and sews it into new possibilities, creating technologies, art forms, cosmologies.

What is true for the rest of biology must also be true for the imagination. Just as sight has been honed by evolution, so too must image-making. And just as evolution suggests that sight contributes to our forward capacities for survival and reproduction, answering the 'where do we go from here?' questions as well as the 'where have we come from?' kind, so that we know that sight of a steep drop will induce vertigo, and a buxom or buff torso, sexual stimulation, so, we should expect, is imagination similarly directed.

In short, whatever we are able to imagine has evolutionary value, and should be treasured as such.

Something more. Imagination, reliant on shared information, has an intricate relationship with the objects we create - far closer, arguably, than the other senses with which we perceive those objects. It is imagination that puts the objects out there, or appreciates them when proferred by others. It is not, perhaps, too much of a stretch to suggest that culture, which is the combined results of human imagination, is itself a part of the imaginative sense - a collective tongue extended to taste the fall of future snows.

The minute we begin to think of our creations as a part of ourselves - and this implies a closer than conventional relationship with the tools we make, I'd argue, and a more open-ended, organic one - we are acknowledging ourselves to have evolved already into cybernetic beings. Perhaps the essence of humanity is our relentless pursuit of creative participation in the wider ecosystem. Perhaps we cannot understand fully our relationship with our ecosystem unless we appreciate that we are half-hardwired into it, and actively involved in increasing its and our diversity.

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