Revisited: Technology, Space and Reason

14 Nov, 2016

Revisited: Technology, Space and Reason

Miyoko Conley, a BCNM Designated Emphasis candidate in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, recaps Bernard Stiegler’s History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series presentation on "Technology, Space and Reason: Infrastructures of Knowledge in the Anthropocene", which took place on October 13, 2016.

On October 13, BCNM, in partnership with the Townsend Center, the Dean of Humanities, and the Department of Rhetoric, hosted French philosopher Bernard Stiegler for the second installment of the 2016 History and Theory of New Media lecture series. Professor Stiegler is head of the Institut de recherche et d'innovation (IRI), at Centre Georges Pompidou, the founder of Ars Industrialis, a political and cultural group, and the author of countless books, particularly known for his Technics and Time series. The lecture entitled “The New Conflict and the Faculties and Functions: Quasi-Causality and Serendipity in the Anthropocene,” stems from his latest intellectual enquiry into the reconfiguration of infrastructures of knowledge in the digital epoch.

Though multilayered and nuanced, Prof. Stiegler’s lecture revolved around an idea that is at the center of his recent book La société automatique (2015, French): that the current system of the internet is an entropic system. It is a closed system, which thrives on a data economy that is based on a generalized calculability that ever-more predicts and controls our behavior. It disperses information (not knowledge), and prevents singularities from occurring. The current system is at odds with what Prof. Stiegler sees as a component of the web that has been present from the beginning, but is currently overshadowed by the entropic system: the negentropic system, which allows for unexpected events of bifurcation and diversity.

Another important point from his lecture is the distinction between information and knowledge. For Prof. Stiegler, information is the opposite of knowledge, in that it is a function that loses value over time. The more it is diffused, the less value it has, and must be replaced with new information, which could be exemplified in the news cycle. As Prof. Stiegler said, with information, “everything is the same, and everything goes.” Information tends toward equivalence. Knowledge, however, builds on itself. The theories of Einstein are not replaced by Newton, but are enriched by each other. Knowledge does not lose value over time.

Prof. Stiegler provided a potent example to illustrate his concepts, and how one could possibly provoke a negentropic situation on the web. While surfing the net, searching via the Google search engine, it is possible to come across something completely different than what one was looking for, and by browsing something different from what one was expecting, a little “accident” (or event) occurs. This accident comes along to disturb an existing system (the person), and since the person did not foresee such a possibility of an event, can learn something from the unforeseen. During the Q&A, Prof. Stiegler clarified that while the Google algorithm is calculable, and therefore not very unexpected, a person can always negotiate the system and provoke these kinds of events. He ended the Q&A by saying that he felt it was the job of academics must transform the system; to not merely adopt practices, but change the organization of academic institutions themselves, in order to move from the current anthropocene into the what he termed the “neganthropocene.”