Digital Digital Burgess Conference Follow-up:
Oliver Hockenhull
Conference was held August 29-September 1 1997, Banff Alberta, Canada

The relationship of the arts/humanities and evolutionary theory

There has not been alot of discussion concerning the relationship of the arts/humanities and evolutionary theory on this list so I have cobbled together some thoughts from a previous essay on the relationship of writing and evolution that maybe of interests to some. Please accept them as preliminary notes, staccato shots, and insights, and apparent misdirections all aimed to further discussion.

The comments are written in light of one of Bruce Damer's opening questions:

"What are the fundamental sources of the aesthetic that can spring from nature or a digital ecosystem."

"If you want me to show you the vicinity, you must first climb to the roof." Goethe

The presentation is littered with quotes, ambiguous delectations, reflections, evocative of the stakes at hand, pointing to the necessity of an ecological/evolutionary and therefore ethical/political stance for a full application of the new medium - the digital realms.

."All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns." Gregory Bateson

By way of a quote from Gregory Bateson I want to emphasize the importance of new patterns of thought being born by an apparent confusion of signals.

The symbiotic nature of the conference seems to me to invite a reliance on the core to evolution - the creative capacity- and that the creative is of necessity a leap of faith, ultimately unsubstantiated, into the void of pure meaning/survival. Meaning goes back to the word "to moan"- meaning is the noise of our survival.

Though there has been some conceptualization concerning the evolution of design in the arts, Steadman's critique of the fallacy of the organic analogy comes to the fore, there is little discussion amongst the intellectual elites of the art world concerning the importance of evolutionary theory as a model for artistic production or social critique.

However, the most remarkable insights into the capabilities of the mind, and of 'the mind of nature' are discovered through a traditional 'artistic' approach to the question. In other words it needs to be emphasized again and again that the imaginative synthesis of concerns, and areas, lead to the most fruitful, long-term and evolutionary results. That it is in an ecology of ideas that development takes place.

"Evolution and revolution are the result of the creative integration of noise into the system as a memory trace." Anthony Wilden, "System and Structure"

This quote by Wilden signals the importance of the mutational. The mutational and the digital are closely related because the digital is first and foremost only a transform. As such it is close to the essence of 'things'.

"There are no boundaries in things. Laws try to impose some, and the mind cannot bear it."- Pascal, Mathematician and philosopher (b.1623-d.1662)

Advancements in cultural tools, and that is what we are talking about with the digital realm, is an opportunity to affirm and to further the Socratic injunction of knowing ourselves. For it is in our tools, in our technology that we learn to become humans, to enter culturally with one another in discourse, in democracy, and in expressing our continuity with the beauty and uncanniness that is the cosmos.

Knowledge is not merely a record of the past but the mark of the present understood towards fulfillment's in the emerging future. This is the work of 'informed' artistic practice, - a strategy employing the technological, the sociological, the personal, and the transcendental, - the 'not-yet' utopian - a manner of reflective projection and synthesis that sparks delight and recognition.

"Tools are artifacts, but they are not in essence objects. Since they qualitatively increase a species possibility of organizing and controlling the matter-energy in their ecosystem, their primary characteristic is that of information. They are forms that inform; they are informed because they remember the past and make possible new types of projections into the future." Anthony Wilden, "System and Structure".

The primary tool of the human - symbol making-is the essential mnemonic mechanism of human evolution and ecology. "It" is not only the bees that pollinate the gardens of our minds, but 'it' has and will continue to have a mirroring correspondence to the potential uses of our minds ways of understanding.

Advances in digital (including AI) and telecommunication technologies, allow for (but do not in any sense guarantee) an increase in our ability to be communally responsible for our ecology - and especially our 'social mind' ecology. Not being 'one way', Information technologies can be professed to increase diversity thus allowing for greater mutational and imaginative solutions accelerating our responses to crisis. However it is the inflexibility and archaic entrenchment's of our central institutions - especially our financial and educational institutions - that simply use the tools- without an appreciation of their cultural-artistic value - their evolutionary potential- that hamper the democratizing speed of the new tools.

Ecology is not a homeostatic operation but the observance/engagement of the inconceivable complex dynamic of evolutionary and syncretic potentialities, - this is also a description of art.

by Oliver Hockenhull, August 27th, 1997

Recent film: Aldous Huxley: The Gravity of Light

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