What is Science, Technology and Society (STS)?

This essay is a brief presentation of Science, Technology and Society (STS), which is my natural research area and whose topics are at the core of my philosophical reflections. This short and synthetic text aims to popularize the discipline as such, as well as to offer a simplified outlook of its object of research. As the text emphasizes once and again, the discipline is worth nothing besides its practical orientation. This is no other than to improve the comprehension of science-and-technology related activities, understood in a broad sense, and from a (trans-?)humanist approach that takes particular interest in the role of users, consumers and laymen in the processes of absorption, use and enhancement of technoscientific products.

You can download the essay here.


Technology and intersubjective donation of meaning

Technology and intersubjective donation of meaning

This is a draft of the paper I am working in at the moment. It should be published  by June or July.




Cybernetics (II): synchronization and resonance. Application for the study of social dynamics.

Following his discussion on the mechanism of Ashby’s homeostat –or thermostat- and from his own investigations on self-regulating machines, Wiener emphasizes the close link between the feedback mechanism and the pursuit of purpose, of which the homeostat is an extremely simple form. A simple description of the device can be found in Pickering:

Each homeostat was built so that if its needle departed too much from its central position a relay would trip, and the device would randomly reconfigure itself.(1)

That is, the thermostat works with a negative feedback (see the previous post) (2) and its needle is normally confined between two operating limits. If the needle stays within the operating zone, the feedback makes it search the central position; but if it overshoots, the feedback is no longer operative and the homeostat goes unstable. Therefore, it is necessary to provide the machine with a decoupling device that takes the system back to equilibrium –by taking the needle back to the operating zone-. This work is carried out by the relay.

Right away, Wiener makes a biological analogy by assimilating this feedback and purpose-correction operation to kinestheses of the living body. Etymologically, kinesthesis is the “feeling or perception of motion” (3): it denotes the sensations that an individual experiences as a result of the coordination of several communication processes taking place between all nerve endings, tissues and nodes of the nervous system of that individual. Kinestheses provide the individual two types of sensation: about its being in equilibrium or “interoceptive” and about its being in motion, postural or “proprioceptive”; through kinestheses, the individual perceives its own balance and attains unified perception of its environment, as well as unified perception of its moves in it. (4)

Kinesthesis is, therefore, a communication process that brings into play and binds together the nervous and the locomotive system, all the senses and the human brain through a specific logic, with this system becoming, thereby, a coordinator of the experience that the individual -in Wiener’s example, the human individual- realizes of itself and its environment. Against the manifold forms of appearance of inner and outer things and objects, kinestheses organize human experience so that the human being perceives himself as an individual and, at the time, as part of a world where external multiplicities reveal an overall consistency of the world containing them.

This way of organizing or stabilizing experience has been specifically addressed by various philosophers. Kant offers the first and best known study of kinesthesis and, shortly before Wiener’s work on the subject, Edmund Husserl points at kinesthetic mechanisms as fundamental processes for the sensory coordination of individuals. Processes which, from a perception of multiplicities, organize experience around “purposeful centers” (5) by providing a sense of balance and consistency to the human immersed in its environment, or man-in-the-world. In words of the German philosopher:

Previously our gaze was directed at the multiplicity of side-exhibitings of one and the same thing and to the alteration of near and far perspectives. We soon note that these systems of “exhibiting of” are related back to correlative multiplicities of kinesthetic processes having the peculiar character of the “I do,” “I move” (to which even the “I hold still” must be added). The kinestheses are different from the movements of the living body which exhibit themselves merely as those of a physical body, yet they are somehow one with them, belonging to one’s own living body with its two-sided character (internal kinestheses, external physical-real movements). If we inquire into this “belonging”, we notice that in each case “my living body” requires particular and extensive descriptions, that it has its special peculiarities in the manner of exhibiting itself in multiplicities. (6)

However, this sense of validity and consistency provided by kinesthesis is not permanent, but subject to displacement and correction, a process that Husserl calls “alteration of validity”:

In continuous perception a thing is there for me in the straightforward ontic certainty of immediate presence— though I must add: normally; for only when, giving my kinestheses free play, I experience concurrent exhibitings as belonging to it is the consciousness sustained of the one thing in actual presence, exhibiting itself in manifold fashion as itself. But if I ask what is implied in the fact that the thing-exhibitings belong to the altering kinestheses, I recognize that a hidden intentional “if-then” relation is at work here: the exhibiting must occur in a certain systematic order; it is in this way that they are indicated in advance, in expectation, in the course of a In a continuing perception, one thing is there for me in the clear ontic certainty immediate presence, although I must add: usually, it is only when, given the free play of my cinestesis, I experience “presentations” competing as belonging to it, is then sustained the consciousness of a factual thing in his presence, exhibiting herself as such in its various forms. But if I ask what is implied in the fact that the “presentation of things” belong to the changing cinestesis, I recognize that a hidden intentional relationship “if-then” at work here: the “presentations” must occur in a systematic order; is this form that are given, in expectation, in the course of a harmonious perception […]

Often, however, a fracture occurs in this harmony: it is transformed into illusion or just be-doubtful, be-merely-possible-likely be be-after-all-not-fully- illusory, and so on. The illusion is shattered by the correction, through a change in the sense that the thing had been received. (7)

In Ashby’s thermostat, the relay recognizes the state of instability and generates random outputs until it takes the needle back into its operating zone; it works just as our intuition when, groping in a dark night, we try to correct our ways. Instead, a thermostat without relay would operate, according to Wiener, as a person sick of tabes dorsalis. This syndrome, caused by syphilis, disables for locomotive or kinesthetic or coordination. As a result, a patient with tabes finds it almost imposible to grab a pencil, for example, and if he or she misses the first attempt, will be unable to hit upon the following, and will even swing further and further away with respect to the pencil (8). That is, the kinesthetic system of the tabes patient is unable to alter the validity of his –her- outputs (maneuvers) ensuing from his first outputs. As Wiener explains, his –her- kinesthesis lack a proper feedback mechanism and, when she system overshoots, oscillations grow beyond the control of the individual, rendering impossible the return to stability -unlike epileptic seizures, for instance, where instability is only temporary-. We would say, then, that the tabes patient lives, permanently, groping in an impenetrable darkness; his perceived world is, in some sense, completely illusory, since he –she- is unable to attain operational focus and to give unity to his-her perceptions in a harmonious and stable way.

Let us now turn to the sensory logic that manages to realize what we have been calling kinesthesis. We should expect, from our own experience and after reading the excerpt from Husserl above, that the different senses, nerve reception centers and locomotive system would function in a coherent, stable and coordinated way. For they show us these external and internal multiplicities as arising from something consistent, something that definitely is. This organization of perceptions is described by Wiener along his neurophysiological research as a process of synchronization or correlation of distributed frequencies. This is, the various nerve communication systems appear as a uniform distribution of frequencies that, in the human being, is housed around the band of 1/10 seconds (or ten cycles / second), which is the alpha rhythm of the brain.

This data has remarkable ontological consequences. The alpha rhythm of the brain is something like a “sweep rate” that leads the brain to receive and send pulses about every 0.1 seconds. The brain appears to act as a resonator that operates at a certain particular pace. But the key point is that, far from achieving this synchronization or correlation through the imposition of a frequency pattern from a central agency (i.e., the brain itself) synchronization occurs through the interaction between different rates, or rhythms, from different nervous subsystems:

Consider the possibility that the brain contains a number of oscillators of frequencies of nearly 10 per second, and that within limitations these frequencies can be attracted to one another. Under such circumstances, the frequencies are likely to be pulled together into one or more little clumps, at least in certain regions of the spectrum. The frequencies that are pulled into these clumps will have to be pulled away from somewhere, thus causing gaps in the spectrum, where the power is lower than that which we should otherwise expect. That such a phenomenon may actually take place in the generation of brain waves for the individual […] is suggested by the sharp drop in the power for frequencies above 9.0 cycles per second.

[…]The pulling together of these short-time oscillations into a continuing oscillation has been observed in other bodily rhythms, as for example the approximately 23.5-hour diurnal rhythm which is observed in many living beings. This rhythm is capable of being pulled into the 24-hour rhythm of day and night by the changes in the external environment.(9)

What Wiener is presenting here, as we just said, is an ontogenetic theory, at least a partial one. Or otherwise, the description of a mechanism of constitution of life processes. According to Wiener, the individual’s kinesthesis operate since the synchronization of rhythms from different perceptual subsystems, each one functioning at different rates. This is a process of mutual assimilation, by which these perceptual subsystems enter codependency, leaving their operating frequency to cooperate with others, and forming a larger unit. This is the organization of a resonator, a device that pushes the operating frequencies of different subsystems to a central frequency, around which the total power of the coordinating system is accumulated, resulting in the joint operation of the system around that central frequency. But if we picture the brain as such a resonator device, then the brain appears to us as a place of synchronization, not an actively synchronizing center; center where the codependent subsystems resonate, not a hierarchical center to which the manifold subsystems are subdued through a preset frequency (as would occur, for example, with the soul or with a Cartesian pineal gland).

Thereon we may conclude that the operating condition of the system consists in operating around a center frequency, and not beyond a certain cutoff frequency (which, in the case of the nervous system would respectively be 10 and 9 cps). Diseases such as tabes dorsalis could then be understood as a decoupling of the subsystems with regard to this pattern of operation: failure occurs in one or several of the feedback mechanisms that keep the various perceptual subsystems bound to this pattern; when this happens, those particular subsystems overshoot, unleashing these dynamics in the whole system and dragging other subsystems into overshoot as well. Say, then, that rules are broken, and besides in an irreversible way.

This in regard to the construction of kinestheses, or coordinated system of perceptions of an individual. But nodoby builds his experience in isolation. Indeed, our perceptions are constantly mediated by our environment; their validity is more and more altered in contact with others. Perceptions are exchanged, negotiated, imposed, denied. As Husserl explains it:

But in living with one another each one can take part in the life of the others. Thus in general the world exists not only for isolated men but for the community of men; and this is due to the fact that even what is straightforwardly perceptual is communalized.

In this communalization, too, there constantly occurs an alteration of validity through reciprocal correction. In reciprocal understanding, my experiences and experiential acquisitions enter into contact with those of others, similar to the contact between individual series of experiences within my (one’s own) experiential life; and here again, for the most part, intersubjective harmony of validity occurs, [establishing what is] “normal” in respect to particular details, and thus an intersubjective unity also comes about in the multiplicity of validities and of what is valid through them; here again, furthermore, intersubjective discrepancies show themselves often enough; but then, whether it is unspoken and even unnoticed, or is expressed through discussion and criticism, a unification is brought about or at least is certain in advance as possibly attainable by everyone. All this takes place in such a way that in the consciousness of each individual, and in the overarching community consciousness which has grown up through [social] contact, one and the same world achieves and continuously maintains constant validity as the world which is in part already experienced and in part the open horizon of possible experiences for all; it is the world as the universal horizon, common to all men, of actually existing things. (10)

It follows that the operation mechanism of the resonator, postulated by Wiener as a model for understanding the coordinated kinesthetic mechanisms of the individual, follows laws very similar to those of the formation of opinion in the intersubjective level, which happens within the community. Things appear to us initially in its most exuberant multiplicity; they are first filtered and organized by the individual, resulting in a coordinated scheme of perceptions that, coming from different subsystems, operate in synchronization around a central frequency and not beyond a cutoff frequency; these perceptions are pooled and follow the cybernetic mechanism of feedback and correction. Thus, one is not free to express his –her- own opinion, as it can be believed in complete naiveté, nor does he –she- perceive things simply according to his –her- senses or as dictated by his –her- understanding, but this opinions and view are modulated by social interaction. The effect of public opinion is, therefore, to drag “frequencies” (individual views, opinions, beliefs and wishes) to a central frequency around which a normative region or territory is created –this territory of public opinion contains perceptions and opinions that are closer to those the perceiving community feel as “normal”. But the absolutely normal opinion, the central frequency, does not have to be occupied by anyone. In fact, it precisely happens that experience changes its status, and now comes to be considered, according to Husserl, “appearance of”:

If one attends to the distinction between things as “originally one’s own” and as “empathized” from others, in respect to the how of the manners of appearance, and if one attends to the possibility of discrepancies between one’s own and empathized views, then what one actually experiences originaliter as a perceptual thing is transformed, for each of us, into a mere “representation of” [“Vorstellung von”], “appearance of/’ the one objectively existing thing. From the synthesis these have taken on precisely the new sense “appearance of,” and as such they are henceforth valid. ‘The” thing itself is actually that which no one experiences as really seen, since it is always in motion, always, and for everyone, a unity for consciousness of the openly endless multiplicity of changing experiences and experienced things, one’s own and those of others. (11)

Representation is, thus, an empty or virtual place which works as a reference for individual opinions, that are invited by, and attracted to representation. The central opinion, public opinion, is then the attractor or “representative” of the community: its “attractive force” is inherently conservative. We will say that this force is caused by the very desire of belonging to the community; this desire, constantly combined and in interaction with individual desires, is the ultimate reason for the raise of representation and public opinion. In turn, public opinion stands as the basic and decisive element in a social organization. It exists in every community, as the first crystallization of the desire of making community: just as Ortega highlighted (12), the rest of institutions, interactions and social customs are nothing but attachments that channel, enhance, distort, alter or impose such public opinion in relation to purposes intended – by the whole community, as an aggregate of the individual purposes of the members of such community. Public opinion, oriented to goals and desires created collectively, is the bare form of all social organization.

This normative center is, originally, everyone’s and of no one, and its emergence involves the creation of a stable region, which reaches up to what we can call social cutoff frequency. This stable region has, thus, the semblance of a territory, with a central key site and limits around him; just as a cell membrane, this limits permeate what is or is not permitted in the community. Cannot we call this center “community values ​​and beliefs”, since they are the reference and the starting point of community life? And the cutoff frequency, this bordering region of the territory, does it not look like our morals and laws? For it is when a invididual, or a part of the community, are beyond morality, or beyond the law, that (s)he or they endanger the community fate and, of course, themselves.

Taking the basic functioning of the nervous system to an analogy to social systems, as we have seen with Husserl and will soon see with Simondon and Bateson, does not the brain appear as the site of a power vacuum (meeting place for inter pares) where the construction of the opinion of the individual takes place? Does not the brain make up the perfect image of the agora, the town square? Do we not see the square, much more clearly now, as the nerve center of activity and communication of the city, and respect to which the physical and administrative centers, the palace or the central computer are ulterior construction, in all sense artificial and perhaps unnecessary? So often the town square was called the “nerve center” of the city: did this name not contain a social truth, so that any other historic form of the socius looks now as a distortion and perversion of the most basic one?

In another passage, Wiener speaks about the building of virtual generators in frequency from individual generators operating in parallel:

Historically it is interesting that in the early days of alternting-current engineering, attemps were made to connect generating systems in series rather than in parallel. It was found that the interaction of the individual generators in frequency was a repulsion rather than an attraction. The result ws that such systems were impossibly unstable unless the rotating parts of the individual generators were connected rigidly by a common shaft or by gearing. To use a biological analogy, the parallel system had a better homeostasis than the series system and therefore survived, while the series system eliminated itself by natural selection.(13)

We ought to explore the validity of an analogy that, as an immediate consequence of Wiener’s assertion, would establish the superiority, for the purpose of biological preservation, of a social system designed “in parallel” with respect to a “series” social system. In fact, it seems too tempting to identify the series system with a system of vertical organization, governed by the first element in series and needed of authoritarian deterrence to work, as opposed to a system of horizontal organization based on the principle of democratic isonomy, which houses the social power in equal distance from all citizens and needs no uncomfortable additions to run smoothly and harmoniously. Power that would be everyone’s and of no one, and that could be suggested as a place meant to be freed from being occupied by any person or specific organization.

Naturally, these considerations lead us to make social and political questions of all kinds, and to make interpretations of the most controversial phenomena, of which only a few have a place in the narrow format offered by a blog. For instance, do not the Emperor, the President or the firm manager appear to us as mere reifications of a virtual governor which, in any case, introduce redundancy in a social system? What distortions are caused by the introduction of such physical element in the system, of a governor made flesh, a governor working like a series system, a governor that only operates connected to an army or a bureaucratic machine? How can a person get involved in the struggle for power accurately, that is, in the benefit of the community? If one has the chance to non-mediated, peer-to-peer communication in its absolute purity and nudity, as it happens in a social network, or more particularly between true lovers or friends, does (s)he not experiment, with all lucidity, the immense power of this social mechanism of resonance? So much, in fact, (s)he does that, when being imposed a series scheme, if the natural parallel scheme is disabled or blocked, the frustration of the communicating person can be paralyzing. And yet, we get excited in a particular way when reading Habermas’ and Castells’ texts, that speak with amazement and overwhelming clarity about this mode of inter-subjective, parallel or network communication: it cannot be otherwise, as they are actually uncovering the ultimate reality of community intercourse, that in its primal form, should be deployed evenly among the citizens, entracing them in their quest for social resonance. And this is, likewise, the seductive power distilled by some moral or religious doctrines. The communication scheme by which each individual represents himself in a naked network, each of them free of distortions and redundancy, is dreamed by many with the nostalgic feel to the edenic, archaic past and, at the time, with the hope that sparkles in the promise of a golden future; promise whose fulfillment seems inevitable in light of the latest communication technologies.

But what if we were wrong? What if the apparently natural transition of social agencies, that spans from the band to the village, from the village to the city and the Empire, from the Empire to the Kingdom and the Liberal government, and from these to the network society, is not that natural? What if this transition was indefinitely blocked by certain reactive forces, forces that work aided by agencies and technologies of all types to prevent societies from the germination of open networks? One might also expect, for example, that such transition could not end in a network society as described, but rather continue relentlessly, perhaps reaching other forms, just not as alluring as a network society. Are we betting all our chips on the network society as a kind of actualization of a Christian parousia? It is necessary to unravel the role of communication technologies, like that of other technologies, in the construction and modeling of social systems: study to which we are dued and that we will undertake henceforth.

On the other hand, is there not a mechanism of self-censorship in any society? Against what? Obviously, against noise; all societies centralize information and create an normative territory to oppose to the entropic force that, in communication, we identify with the noise. For such a force can, ultimately, destroy a community. The community is a place of creation of order and, as such, it excludes states of its components (individual members) that could shake the foundations of communitary building. Therefore, we have to see morality as a safety belt that community builds for individuals, to prevent the community from an unbearable noise. Which, of course, does in no way mean that communities are static. Forms of communitary equilibrium are many, and only some acquire a relatively static appearance.

Take for instance a small, closed and traditional, a relatively static community: just as any other, this community builds a moat around its core values ​​– its moral normativity, which places limits for the unbearable, and produces its inhibitions and prohibitions over individuals. This self-censorship can acquire a “fortified” form inasmuch as the community is rather closed to other cultures. You can then speak of a secret, a core of experiences and assumptions about the world which is shared by all members of the community, while being impenetrable to the eyes of the stranger.

In contrast, in less ideal and more complex communities, as ours, the secret proliferates, rising barriers and creating specialized sub-communities, more or less closed, that operate with different rhythms and territories (lodges, sects, financial markets, local associations, government intelligentsia, etc.). . And so much pace and territory, in constant interactions of exclusion, overlay and fusion, are central to the construction of any biological community, that through using these concepts, we can come to understand a major part of Deleuze’s philosophy: it is desire, a central element of social and biologic becomings, which has to be encoded in rhythms and territories. Only this we need to understand tentatively: there are rhythms and territories in societies, built as encoded responses to individual and collective desires. And it belongs to societies, through interactions between their power networks, to determine how desires shall be encoded. To such a extent this is the core of social thought that, according to Deleuze, the one and only social problem consists in how to encode desire. For it has to be encoded in one form or another, social desire always is found encoded: desire will be encoded as fascist, rather than stay decoded (14).

What is, then, resonance or synchronization, but a mechanism which, in the social, produces encodings of desire from its nerve centers or organs of power, and which is mediated through various technologies and institutions? Technologies that can discipline or liberate, such as those discussed so broadly and beautifully by Foucault (15), but also technologies that strengthen links, open or enclose communities, create or reveal secrets, and use natural forces to satisfy desires collectively coded, organizing social dynamics around different rhythms and territories.

Technological typologies reveal, through mechanisms of social resonance, the healthiness of the emotional and moral grounds of a society, and they do so through their management of desires, ie. through the codification of desire in particular and coexisting rhythms and territories. An open society, and such is the ideal of liberal societies, encodes desire in the multiplication and release of rhythms and territories, in the opening of the moral space, in the imperatives of tolerance, diversity and equality: its ideal is the all-pass transmission filter.

But obviously, the realisation of this purpose generates rhythmic and territorial tension, demanding substantive and continuous correction. Noise shows up everywhere in the form of multiplication of messages, that hinder a homogeneous communication such as it is required by the state apparatus (the power held by a central body). Manifold social filters are then required: hence the success of the technical-industrial capitalist apparatus, extensively used by the state to meet all conceivable needs, thus reducing the power of desires. Yet that is not sufficient in many cases, and a disciplinary apparatus is required; one way or another, every society needs to standardize, to control its territories, to mark its cutoff frequencies. And the society which needs it most is that which contains rigid central elements, that which has an absolute center and aims to become the absolute center of all societies, with specific and stable borders. The central power, as a rigid apparatus (a series system) does not interact, as virtual resonators do; it is reluctant to shifts and moves. It is a sort of black hole of the social: as the size of the power complex grows, it becomes stiffer and more and more it subordinates the society that it governs to its self-preservation. The central power hinders and distorts, it adds rigidity to a system whose origin and ability to survive resides in its flexibility, its ability to interact and constantly shift its boundaries.

In this post we have illustrated and given concretion to the findings of Norbert Wiener around mechanisms of feedback and purpose-correction. We have shown how his understanding of kinesthesis as a result of processes related to synchronization and frequency correlation, and what is called resonance, admits an analogy with the understanding that Husserl and Deleuze make of the mechanisms of codification of desire and creation of communitary experience. And we have discussed problems associated with this analogy, by asking questions that will continue to be discussed in the following texts.

The claim of validity for these analogies is based on a paradigm of thinking taken from the systems theory, which as we will see, leads Ludwig von Bertalanffy to admit the isomorphism between laws of different areas of science (16). This isomorphism in turn, does not lay on the simple desire to link mathematical and empirical results from some areas to assumptions or interpretations in areas where mathematical laws find no inmediate or easy formulation, such as social sciences; on the contrary , it is the tangible result of a fundamental ontological principle that Gilbert Simondon calls transductive operation, and that the philosopher describes as

[…] a physical, biological, mental or social operation by which an activity increasingly spreads within a domain, founding this propagation on a structuring of that domain which is operated from place to place: each region of constituted structure serves the next region as a constitutive principle, although a modification is gradually extended at the same time the structuring is being operated. (16)

We are now ready to plunge ourselves into Gregory Bateson’s thinking. As we intend to do, he establishes relations between seemingly distant scientific fields, aided by an effort of transductive thinking and motivated by the aim to theorize about social, anthropological or psychological issues that would otherwise look very difficult to solve. We will see, in particular, Bateson’s ethnological studies on Balinese society, which he contrasted to Western societies according to concepts and criteria inherited from cybernetics or game theory.


(1) PICKERING, Andrew. Cybernetics and the mangle. University of Illinois, 2002.

(2) https://mystssketchbook.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/55/

(3) http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=cinestesia

(4) WIENER, Norbert. Cybernetics or Control and communication in the animal and the machine. 2ª edición. Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1961.

(5) HUSSERL, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. 4th edition. Northwestern University Press, 1978.

(6) Ibid., p. 161

(7) Ibid., p. 162.

(8) WIENER, Norbert. Cybernetics or Control and communication in the animal and the machine. 2ª edición. Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1961.

(9) Ibid., pp. 199-200.

(10) HUSSERL, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. 4th edition. Northwestern University Press, 1978. pp. 163-4.

(11) Ibid., p. 164.

(12) ORTEGA Y GASSET, José. La rebelión de las masas. Alianza Editorial, 1978.

(13) WIENER, Norbert. Cybernetics or Control and communication in the animal and the machine. 2ª edición. Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1961. p. 201.

(14) DELEUZE, Gilles y GUATTARI, Felix. Mil mesetas: capitalismo y esquizofrenia. 5ª edición. Valencia: Pre-textos, 2002.

(15) FOUCAULT, Michel. Vigilar y Castigar. Madrid: Siglo XXI Editores, 2008.

(16) Von BERTALANFFY, Ludwig. Teoría General de los Sistemas. 5ª edición. Fondo de Cultura Económica de México, 1986.

(17) SIMONDON, Gilbert. La inviduación a la luz de las nociones de forma y de información. Buenos Aires: Ediciones La Cebra y Editorial Cactus, 2009. p.38

Cybernetics: the vital notions of entropy and information (I)

In 1948 Norbert Wiener published his book “Cybernetics or Control and Communication in animals and machines,” a treatise in which he postulated the creation of science Cybernetics. On the basis of Gibbs’ statistical mechanics, to which he attributes the revolution over Newtonian physics long before Einstein and quantum mechanics, Wiener compares the performance of self-regulating machines to that of living beings through the fundamental notions of information, feedback, homeostasis and freuquency correlation (or resonance), among others. Many of his results arise from the application of his knowledge of electrical circuits to the animal nervous system, others from the understanding of organic processes as schemes of self-regulation, translatable to automata. A number of technical challenges and the subsequent proposal of a new agenda of scientific problems were made possible through intensive collaboration between Wiener and experts from many different fields (biologists, engineers, computer scientists, anthropologists …), whose landmark were the conferences at the Macy Foundation between 1946 and 1953.

But Wiener, who knows if by reason of scientific modesty or prudence, was not quite precise when he called cybernetics as a new science. Because, rather than a new science, what Wiener, Bateson, Shannon or McCulloch were conceiving at the Macy Foundation meetings was a entire new form of scientific work, more interdisciplinary and concerned with the integration of knowledge, and with a new emphasis on organization and stability processes operating in bodies treated as closed entities, as well as on the relationship and communication between these very bodies, now open to their environment. Simondon, who would extend the cybernetic thought to his remarkable ontogenetic thesis on “Individuation in the light of the notions of form and information,” goes so far as to say that Wiener’s “Cybernetics and Control […] is a new Discourse on the Method written by a mathematician who teaches at an institute of technology”. Cybernetics promises a whole new generation of technical projects, and countless lines of scientific inquiry based on its principles and concepts. Simondon believes that cybernetics, for the first time in science, is capable of fixing the ends and simply proceed onto the execution of any concrete project. “Cybernetics gives to man a new kind of majority, which penetrates in relations of authority and spreads in the social body, discovering, beyond the maturity of reason, the reflection that gives, besides the freedom to act, the power to create organizations by instituting teleology”. Cybernetics can solve what used to seem unsolvable if it can understand the importance of relations, regulations and communication between people departing from its work in communication between the sets of machines (1).

In this post we will try to explain briefly some of the essential concepts of Wiener cybernetic thinking, contrasting its original formulations to their reception by Gilbert Simondon. All this will we done in order to prepare ourselves properly for the next post, which will elaborate on the translation and the use of these concepts in Gregory Bateson’s anthropological and social investigations. The cybernetic concepts to which we refer are given in pairs: feedback-homeostasis, entropy-information, and frequency correlation-resonance. Tentatively, we will also link up with the latter with the “cutoff frequency”, a very fertile concept which we introduced in the previous post. However, because of the need to limit the extension to each publication, we will now make a discussion only about the first two pairs, leaving the definitions of resonance and cutoff frequency for the next post.

Feedback and Homeostasis – Feedback is the way that a closed loop works when it transmits a sequence of the output information to the input, thus modifying the circuit input values according to the output. This principle was used by Wiener in building anti-aircraft artillery to defend the British in World War II. With the use of feedback in electronic circuits, these guns were capable of correcting its position parameters helped by algorythms that would predict likely paths of the German fighters; this algorythms were based on the computation of past experiences and technical details known from the German aircraft models.

Imagine a string of variables A, B, C, D … N, connected in closed loop, in such a way that A makes B to increase or decrease, and similarly with B and C, …, M and N, N and A. In a system with negative feedback, at least one of the elements of the loop will work in a way that X-1 will reduce X, and that element may be known as regulator or inhibitor. This was the type of feedback used by Wiener in the anti-aircraft artillery against German aircraft, and is the same function, for example, which is present in our thermostats, and also accurate to explain how our appetite is regulated by hormonal signals. This type of feedback is able to generate stability or homeostasis in a closed loop system (2).

In contrast to the negative feedback we have the positive feedback. In a positive feedback system, it could be said that all variables in the loop make the next to each to increase, lacking a regulatory or a functional inhibitor; or that the value of some variables -to the effects of the system taken as a whole- exceed a certain threshold which leads the system to an increasing oscillation, thus to systemic instability. An example of this kind of feedback is found in the imbalances taking place in the interaction between the hormones leptin and ghrelin in the obese, that cause the so-called yo-yo effect (3). Another notable example of positive feedback (of a nonlinear second-degree type) is what Korotajev postulates as a model for the relationship between technological development and population growth:

Relation between technological development and population growth

Relation between technological development and population growth

A more simplified scheme would look like this (4):

Relation between technological development and population growth

Relation between technological development and population growth

With regard to the concepts of feedback and homeostasis, Simondon believes that Wiener assumes too quickly the analogy between self-regulating machines and animal organisms, in particular between those machines and the human body. Firstly, Simondon understands that man is a perfectly concrete individual, whileas machines and technical sets always retain something abstract, yet to be concretized and individuated, and therefore they are subject to immediate change at any time.

Secondly, it might seem that, ideally, machines or technical self-regulated sets would function homeostatically just as the human body does. But Simondon understands that, for this analogy to work, man should be conceived as a Leibnizian monad, disconnected from its social and environmental outside, as well as from the pre-individual world from which he can experience; that is, humans should be reduced to the status of a closed-off organism, with no windows. And all of this would impoverish the concept of homeostasis substantially, limiting it to a few specific physiological functions. For Simondon, however, an exact analogy between the self-regulating machines and men should be more comprehensive of the notion of man as an individual-in-the-world, and would also require to conceive human communities that are perfectly regulated within its environment, as well as with its external relations -human, environmental, … – just as technical elements are smoothly adjusted to each other within a self-regulating system-. According to Simondon, social communities are long way behind the techniques with regard to notions of regulation, and that if humans should “make resonance” with the self-regulating machines or, as Deleuze calls “making machine”, “becoming machinic “(5) -, they would regain a cultural feature that was destroyed in the application of modes of social organization which are autocratic and enslaving both to machines and to humans, such as those characteristic of human societies during the nineteenth century, in the development of industrial civilization, and that are still working today.

This reshaping of culture, which proceeds by expansion and not by destruction, could restore to today’s culture the real regulatory power that has been lost. Foundation of meanings, means of expression, justifications and forms, a culture establishes between those who share it a regulatory communication; when leaving the community life, it encourages the gestures of those who secure the functions of command, providing them with forms and schemes (6).

Entropy and Information. Wiener introduces a definition of information which is restricted to the field of information theory developed by his colleague Shannon. This notion contrasts the sending of a message to the presence of white noise on the transmission channel, or an “entropy” -indiscernibility- present in communication. Thus, while entropy is a measure of the disorganization of a system, or of an amount of energy which is not transformable, information is just the opposite, a measure of their organization, “being one merely the negative of the other.”

But Wiener, from the very beginning, authorizes us to think the meaning of the binomial entropy-information in the broader context of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in which the entropy of an isolated system increases irreversibly with time, while in a local -and not isolated- system, just as it is the case of the earth, it is possible the propagation of information and its correlative contribution to the crystallization of certain physical and biological ordered patterns. Information is, here, possibility of order and organization.

From this vaguely ontogenetic conception of information on which Wiener relies, at least three key considerations can be highlighted for their future treatment:

  1. The cybernetists, system theorists and other scientists will hereinafter make the distinction between entropy and information- or chaos and order- the cornerstone of their ontogenetic considerations.

  2. Simondon retrieves and extends the value of the concept of information for in hisontogenetic theory, but he focuses the becoming of the being -and even its very essence-, in the more complicated notion of transduction, which must be explained, while Deleuze bases his philosophy of individuation on Simondon’s, supplementing it with new certainties and concepts from biology or geology, which he accomodates to his own understanding of becoming as desire.
  3. As it can be inferred from Wiener and Shannon’s mathematical proofs, the greater the likelihood of a message is, the greater entropic it will be; and the less likely message, the infinitely particular and original message is, reversely, that which contains the greatest amount of information. This opposition should lead us to an in-depth semiotic study, particularly over the flows of information in the Grand Event, understanding in this the ‘meaning-founding event’ (the Führer’s voice on the radio, the goal or the politic ceremony, the war trumpet, the sacrament), as the most massive and specific exchange of information-affection, the less likely and most outstanding in the higher order of the human-collective . Here, we can not ignore that it is precisely in the grand event where the a priori immediate contraposition between chaos-entropy and order-information seems to fail, since it is in these events where and when collective forces of such a kind are mobilized in such a way that the event, all too often, is destructive of order and propagator of chaos. We will try to ask ourselves how and why this happens; when an event turns from being a great creation to the most fabulous destruction; and, therefore, what status can the human creation claim about such and such limits, such and such features, contexts and settings, of the human sources of the grand event.

In this post we have introduced the reader to a handful of definitions of key concepts in the thought of twentieth century science, such as feedback, homeostasis, information and entropy. We have reflected on some of the points of contact between technological development, the qualities of self-regulating machines and the complex development of human communities. Meanwhile, we are trying to bring about some of the most appropriate reflections by Gilbert Simondon, a referent thinker in the philosophy of techniques, and through all this we are building useful conceptual networks for the study of specific social problems. We believe that, in the following, it will be possible to contrast these problems with further reads and studies, providing an understanding and a constructive treatment of technological and human problems with an holistic approach that bridges up cybernetics, philosophy and social sciences.


(1) Simondon, Gilbert. On the mode of existence of technical objects. 1st edition. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. p. 61.

(2) Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. 2nd edition. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1961.

(3) http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2011/01/10/actualidad/1294614004_850215.html

(4) Korotajev A., Malkov A., D. Kalthourina. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics. Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends. Moscow: USSR, 2006.

(5) Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 5th edition. Valencia: Pre-texts, 2002.

(6) Simondon, Gilbert. On the mode of existence of technical objects. 1st edition. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. p. 35

Limits to growth: the superhuman and the technological intensification

When discussing the relationship between limit and technology, one of the fundamental touchstones can be found in the theses of Marvin Harris, who in “Cannibals and Kings” makes a decisive step in linking technological development to the Malthusian problem. According to Harris,

The technologies of earlier cultures repeatedly failed and were replaced by new technologies. The limits of growth were achieved and transcended to be achieved and transcended again. Much of what we consider contemporary progress is actually a recovery levels already fully enjoyed during prehistoric times (1).

According to Marvin Harris’ theory, since ancient times we have seen an increasing centralization of power: that is immediately visible both in a global sense as in most nations and public and private organizations. On the other hand, civilizations facing Malthusian limits of declining efficiency have normally been forced to choose between the application of a “technological intensification” that push them beyond their limits, or to follow a tactic or strategy of enforced decrease, which means sticking to those limits.

Following Mumford’s terminology, the diagram of economic supply can be summarized in the linear and successive stages of conversion-production-consumption-creation (2). A technological intensification would manage to increase the share of energetic conversion (from nature to man) in parallel with the production share and in order to satisfy the growing demand of needs (consumption), what could lead to a collapse in the event that productivity and efficiency could not be raised; whileas a decrease scheme would attempt to standardize production and redistribute consumption rationally, and by doing so would avoid stressing productive forces, while providing comprehensive global coverage of the most basic needs.

A peculiarity of the process of technological intensification is that it reproduces and expands the pre-existing social setting: in a society of uniformly distributed economic-political power, it will tend to raise levels of access to power released uniformly (conversion energy, production and consumption power); in a society with an inegalitarian feature, it will inevitably lead to centralization of power, just as the frequency-cutoff electronic filters with quadratic amplification: frequency outage in the low-income, resource multiplication at central frequencies. According to Marvin Harris, this centralization of power is besides coextensive with an expansive or warrior ethos, which would ride on history transcending Malthusian limits by means of invasions, lootings, social stratification and surplus riddance, a practice that, of course, seems quite natural to those biologists who only recognize competition as a mode of spread of organisms. These dare calling the genes “selfish” while understanding altruism as a spurious result derived from the primal selfishness, obviating the fact that the mere attribution of such adjectives has already obscured the understanding of processes that, may these biologists like it or not, are ultimately codetermined, heads and tails of the superior and more complex joint becoming of life (3).

Anyway, if we should follow Harris’ deterministic criteria, globalization can be seen as the logical result of successive technological intensifications, increasingly accelerated under the aegis of the capitalist production system and marching towards the final gathering of Malthusian limits and the physical limits of the Earth. Extending the reasoning, Harris notes that

today we see how technology gained ground in the race against intensification, depletion and decreased efficiency. The industrial world used a huge new supply of cheap energy while was able to distribute welfare in a population that was increasing at a lower level than that of its reproductive potential. But the race is far from over. The advantage may be only provisional. We are slowly beginning to understand that a submission to machines that run on fossil fuels means a profound commitment to exhaustion, reduced efficiency and declining rates of profit (4).

This warning is already very familiar to us, as in its most popular version is one of the usual arguments of the critiques to unbridled capitalism. It would indeed be an interesting exercise to wonder whether the current limits of development of mankind shall be final, or whether they can be transcended by capitalism or any other kind of human civilization. But in this text we will not reflect more on this line of criticism: what really interests us here is that there are, as we have justified, strong bonds between technology and limit, or rather between a certain type of uses of technology, namely, those in the direction of an intensification of production, and the classical concept of hubris. But according to a certain interpretation of this problem, this should not frighten us, as

our whole modern being, in so far as it is not weakness but power and consciousness of power, continues to distinguish itself as sheer hubris and godlessness […]. Today our whole attitude towards nature is one of hubris, our violation of nature with the aid of machines and thoughtless ingenuity of technicians and engineers […] (5)

That is, admitting the tragic vision of the Nietzschean super-human as an overcoming agent of any equilibria or complexes of weakness, we could retrieve that famous sentence by Hölderlin

But where there is danger some salvation grows there too (6)

and, against Paul Virilio’s conservative interpretation of it (very similar to Heidegger), rather tending to reverse the terms (But where there is salvation, some danger grows too), affirm boldly and unashamedly

The danger is the salvation.

But, would we not, thereby, be denying that dimension of technological development which precisely leads to harmonizing technology itself with the environment and with the human doing, that which Mumford would describe as  “neotechnic quality” and that Gilbert Simondon renders inevitable in the process of “concretization” of the machines?

Paul Virilio or Herbert Marcuse pointed out in many occasions that it is not possible to analyze technology as a set of products separated from human culture, otherwise neutral. Against technologists and technocrat fundamentalists claiming for the impartiality of technology, and against technophobic views about its innate depravity, we declare that, in fact, each technology has its own ecology and politics from its conception and design, and, being a product of the  human doing, it will embed specific human values; values that might match with the natural evolution of a particular technical object, and therefore be positive for mankind and for the object itself; or also values which are extremely conflicting with the improvement of the technical object and its role in a complex operative environment; and even values that can be deformed in a direction that contravenes the indications that the particular technology suggests toward its improvement (or concretization).

We might then consider whether technologies can be evaluated in specific stages of their proliferation (conception, design, production, improvement, consumption) in order to strip them of contents and forms related to totalitarian or anti-democratic practices over society and the individuals, to plans of uncontrolled environmental destruction, and so on. In this sense, Gilbert Simondon’s analysis of technical objects provides us with a valuable starting point, plus several tools, toward an unbiased and rigorous study of technology.


(1) Harris M., Caníbales y reyes: los orígenes de la cultura. Salvat ed., Barcelona, 1986, p.3.
(2) Mumford L., Technics and Civilization. University of Chicago Press 2010.
(3) Dawkins R., The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press 2006.
(4) Harris M., Caníbales y reyes: los orígenes de la cultura. Salvat ed., Barcelona 1986, p.126.
(5) Nietzsche F., The Genealogy of Morals. Dover Publications, New York 2003. p. 80.
(6) Virilio P., El cibermundo: la política de lo peor. Teorema, Madrid 1996.

About limits and marginal approaches

It was our aim to deal with some aspects that intertwine the evolution of capitalism with that of technology.  To that effect, what  any more useful, any more tempting than flowing around diverse notions of limit pervading them; limits that capitalism, as technology, are to face. And, why do we choose a limit, a bordering insight? Due to the descriptive power of ecotones. We think necessary to throw light upon figures and processes from its edge, from the place where they stop being something and become another thing.

The biological richness of ecotones made us wonder. It is just amid margins that we can gaze, at once, the inner and the outer; on them, both the content and the expression of a culture reveal their potentials of change. Social concepts as fluxions, differentials; to steer problems in several directions. In the next writings we will isolate, thus, a range of problems, we will drive them toward the limits they suggest us. What does it matter if the resultant figure is amorphous, was it not already amorphous from the beginning?

“If becoming is a block (a line-block), it is because it constitutes a zone of proximity and indiscernibility, a no-man’s-land, a nonlocalizable relation sweeping up the two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other—and the border-proximity is indifferent to both contiguity and to distance.”

Delving for the locus of the cultural dots and moments, geometrizing cultures? That would be too pretentious (the program of the Enlightenment). Before that, we ought to find the lines by outlining the regions: tangents, lines of flight, asymptotes. And not following the line of statistic dots, as in sociology, but rather smudging the borders, discovering figures in their becoming.

Speak of force fields, of margins and limits. An economic-politic force, for instance, on the breaking-off motion of the relation between capitalism and democracy. Far behind us, already, that half a century of flirting with the society of abundance, in which capitalism had seen itself strengthened by the inconvertible material progress in Europe and North America, featuring a moderate social orientation and even standing proudly as the only alternative. We recall, we can recall, European democracies, the Welfare State as refulgent trophy and promesse de bonheur,  the cult of freedom as a moral guarantee to the individual. But this no longer exists. In fact, according to the economic and politic events in the last two decades, it would not be too adventurous to point out that capitalism is dumping into one of those limits to which Marx used to refer to.

We can number a range of elements that have conspired against this promise: the ongoing international aggressions, the progressive and generalized imposition of neoliberal policies by IMF and the World Bank since the seventies, the gradual industry relocation, the precarization of work. We have not found a better formula for synthetizing this process than Deleuze-Guattari’s concept power of deterritorialization:

“Today we can depict an enormous, so-called stateless, monetary mass that circulates through foreign exchange and across borders, eluding control by the States, forming a multinational ecumenical organization, constituting a de facto supranational power untouched by governmental decisions. But whatever dimensions or quantities this may have assumed today, capitalism has from the beginning mobilized a force of deterritorialization infinitely surpassing the deterritorialization proper to the State. […] Capitalism, on the other hand, is not at all territorial, even in its beginnings: its power of deterritorialization consists in taking as its object, not the earth, but “materialized labor,” the commodity. And private property is no longer ownership of the land or the soil, nor even of the means of production as such, but of convertible abstract rights. That is why capitalism marks a mutation in worldwide or ecumenical organizations, which now take on a consistency of their own: the worldwide axiomatic, instead of resulting from heterogeneous social formations and their relations, for the most part distributes these formations, determines their relations, while organizing an international division of labor. From all these standpoints, it could be said that capitalism develops an economic order that could do without the State. And in fact capitalism is not short on war cries against the State, not only in the name of the market, but by virtue of its superior deterritorialization“. (2).

Besides the military invasions, making goods of first order available to the industrialized areas in a first deterritorialization of goods, we have a second deterritorialization of the consumption markets (and of work); lastly, huge amounts of credit have been diverted from local investments to financial markets, in a third and definitive deterritorialization. The instant, “0ne-click” financial exchange, made possible by communication technologies, and its relentless war against the State, have completed the process of globalization and finally short-circuited the last bonds between man and land. Role of technology as a centrifugal tensor, as a vehicle of global deterritorialization.

In this context, countries like China, Brazil, India or the Asian dragons have founded their economies on a rhythm of production that can only be upheld through the conservation of a very high demand. So far, American and European middle classes seemed to be able to bear such a degree of consumption, but their unstoppable disintegration through the enforcement of neoliberal policies is destroying this possibility.

A major share of the Chinese awakening is due to their massive production of cutting-edge Technologies: while China is already the world’s leader in sales of equipment and consumption of renewable energies (3), the Chinese group Lenovo recently reached global leadership in PC sales (4),  thus redeeming their purchase of IBM’s PC division in 2005. This sensational economic uplift has not been performed on neoliberal policies -Prem Shankar Jha and others name the Chinese model cadre-capitalist (*)(5)-, but either ways it has triggered and multiplied social unequality, as it can be observed in the explosive increase of the Chinese Gine index during the last 30 years (6). So far, China has been able to keep up with its inner tensions, but this cannot last forever. The question about the features of this incipient Chinese middle class, born under the aegis of a colossal technological intensification and an authoritarian regime, must be tackled urgently.

On the other hand, it sounds a priori paradoxical that in the United States, the liberal-tradition and free-market country par excellence, the initial enthusiasm that the new generations of entrepreneurs placed on the Internet has been recently cooled down by the lobbying of the Entertainment and Information Empires. The SOPA/PIPA laws, created to tackle the massive exchange and reproduction of contents in the web, mean the enforcement of aggressive censorship policies that, before diplomatic lobbying by theUS, have echoed similar reforms in other countries, likeSpain(5). The penultimate platform toward social and economic dinamization has been thus purloined to free exploitation due to the lobbying of corporations that hold a supranational power.

On the light of these events, economic liberalism turns out to show itself as a short-haul ideology, meant 0nly to legitimate the pretensions of a dynamic, socially uplifting middle class (the middle-uppers).  Its vinculation with democratic ideals necessarily vanishes when reaching a politic ‘posición de fuerza’; when the economic power exceeds the control of the State, it will likely divert the performance of the last to actions that are, actually, anti-democratic. It must not sound strange, therefore, the foreseeable establishment of China as the first global power: it is, on the contrary, the proof that the most ruthless and efficient capitalism can only be run by an authoritarian government. Zizek: “the communists who are still in power run the world’s most ruthless capitalist system (China). The success of Chinese Communist-run capitalism is a sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce.” (7).

Tangible limits are being enforced to the exercise of human freedom in order to favour increasingly monopolistic corporative practices. Economic macro-concentrations, either statist or corporative, are exerting  their power through national and international institutions, in democratic countries as well as in countries with other political traditions. This is the reason why we have commenced our ‘marginal approach’ to the relation between capitalism and technology with a mention to the everlasting discussion about the limits of capitalism, and by illustrating one the most visible problems of limits in our days: the fight for freedom in the Internet, that anticipates a predictably long controversy and whose outcome will be determinant to the evolution of both capitalism and democracy in the next decades.

* * * * *

(*) The term cadre-capitalism “describes how China diluted socialism as the vast mass of the cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned into capitalists. State owned enterprises were privatised, a new class of entrepreneurs developed. Unlike in Russia and other East European countries where the collapse of state planning led to massive disruptions, in China communist party cadres turned into entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs joined the communist party.”.


(1) DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. One Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia.Valencia: Pre-textos, 2002. p.293

(1) íbid, p.476

(3) Anuario PNUMA: Temas emergentes en nuestro medio ambiente global. Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente, 2011.

(4) http://www.rttnews.com/1816340/lenovo-group-q3-profit-rises-54-on-improved-margins-sales-growth.aspx

(5) Gupta, A. The rise of predatory state http://www.idsa.in/bookreview/ManagedChaos_agupta_081209

(6) The World Bank. China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society. http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/SR4–293-390.pdf

(7) http://www.enriquedans.com/2012/01/la-casa-blanca-anuncia-que-rechazara-sopa-y-pide-reiniciar-los-trabajos-legislativos-mientras-en-espana.html

(8) Zizek, S. The violent silence of a new beginning.

Presentation and preliminary discussions

It is well known that capitalism has a strong dependence on technological development and, inversely, that thanks to capitalism, mankind has enjoyed –or suffered- the greatest technological advances in history. However, this relationship is not linear and balanced; it is not a simultaneous and natural disclosure of theirs, meant to reveal an ulterior mutual coincidence. It cannot be simply narrated, historiographically instructed as a collection of dots (milestones) whose co-determination is unmistakable.

The joint development of capitalism and technology cannot be captured in its full complexity if it is visualized as that of the parallel lines crossing in the infinite, fates attached before a blind evolution. That is the view inferred in those analyses that reduce, to a greater or lesser degree, the role of technology to a mere driving economic force, while capitalism is presented as the only social arrangement capable to give rise to the material basis and cultural values provided by current technologies. These visions flirt dangerously with essentialisms and reductionisms that usually lead to uncritical and positivist assessments of technologic development, or to direct and categorical condemnation of technology as a whole. Both stances, that we could call technomesianic and technophobic, refuse to carry out a philosophical, yet scientific, analysis of techniques, thus sticking to unconditional exegesis or radical rejection.

Throughout our research, we would like to show that this evaluative polarization of techniques, that prevents the founding of an objective critique with constructivist aspirations, is due to another polarization subtended to it: that which exists among the technical-productive and cultural spheres of society. This clear separation, professional as well as socio-cultural and academic, is a hindrance for technology itself, inasmuch as it is not grasped in its very being and it is therefore deprived of its potentialities as an instrument in the service of mankind and nature. Going further: both mesianic and apocalyptic views deny any kind of potentialities to technologies, that become pure act, mere given, religious mistery: self-realising prophecy. As Gilbert Simondon puts it:

Culture is unfair to machines not only in its judgments or prejudices, but also at the very level of knowledge: the cognitive intention of culture toward the machine is substantializing; the machine is confined to the reductive view that renders it perfect and fully accomplished in itself, making it coincide with its present state, with its material determinations. Toward the art object, a similar attitude would involve the reduction of a painting to a certain extension of dry paint, cracked over an outspread cloth. Toward the human being, the same attitude would mean reducing the subject to a fixed body of vice and virtues, or features of a character. (1)

For this reason, we would like to think of technology as a field of forces permeated not only by the human-present, but also by the varied latent arrangements of the humans, as well as the ecological environments in which they become or seek to become. We believe it is convenient to describe contingent technologies as materialities contrived by the combination of diverse factors that, triggered by the human-present, trascend and exceed it. In a sense, techniques developed by humans are previous to us, as manifestations of a reality that precedes us. They are only materialized –they concretize- according to particular directions accessible to humans; in this sense, in the field of potentials of a culture, specific technical forms surface, giving coherence to such culture. Techniques are created hic et nunc, among us; the promise of their feasibility is part of a larger process which is in no case exclusive to us.

Thus we mean that the existence of technical objects is due to potentialities set by, and widely spread throughout nature: these potentialities are developed within mechanisms that seem to us familiar to what Deleuze-Guattari call assemblage. But, what is an assemblage? We are yet to far away from understanding it. As a preliminary approach we will quote Deleuze: “The territory makes the assemblage. The territory is more than the organism and the milieu, and the relation between the two; that is why the assemblage goes beyond mere behavior”. The assemblage is “a semiotic system, a regime of signs”, by which an organism and the milieu it lives in constitute a territory. Changing from one territory to another will lead to a change in the assemblage (2).

We will return to these concepts later on. For the moment, it is enough to notice that some principles and determinants of the technical becoming can be traced in biology, and particularly in population biology (*). In future articles we will try to illustrate what we believe to be an analogical relationship between technology and the concept of assemblage, in order to shed light on the true significance of a term as fashionable as gratuitously used, like that of sustainability.

We believe that our understanding of technology is refractory to determinisms as it does not assume current technologies as preordained; on the contrary, it considers that cultural conditions of a concrete human collectivity seek to provide themselves with technical coherence, notwithstanding the occasional, and more or less fortuitous, arise of technologies which are incoherent with prevalent social and cultural forms.

After these introductory reflections, we understand that the question: what is the role of technology in culture?, cannot be easily dispatched (and less even, the question about an imaginary fate binding technology and capitalism). Yet we can foresee that technology is decisively sensitive to the different social configurations. Vice versa, technologies produced in such and such conditions advance various consequences. Beyond strictly material considerations, technical objects strenghten or distort certain relations, inscribe some values and break with others.

May these reflections serve as a presentation for our research, that we hope to extend subsequently, using this blog as a sketchbook to give account of our advances.

* * * * *

(*) We think that a case of assemblage, more accurately of a changing assemblage, might be illustrated by the recently reported investigations with super-soldier ants. Canadian scientists injected hormones to some larvae of a variety of Pheidole ants to obtain super-soldiers, a rare caste of giant soldiers that had not been previously found in that variety and which is only generated by some colonies before radical changes in their environment –what would stablish a new Deleuzian territory-. Thus, according to doctor Abouheif, it is worth noting that “a trait which occurs in very few Pheidole species, might nevertheless be ancestral to all of these species and that the developmental pathway is retained in all species, but shut down in most” (3)


(1) SIMONDON, Gilbert. On the mode of existence of technical objects. 1st Edition. University of Western Ontario.

(2) DELEUZE, Gilles y GUATTARI, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: capitalismo and schizophrenia.. 1st edition. University of Minessota Press, 1987.

(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/16424096