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Only Disconnect


John Commonplacebook discusses Alan Moore, who’s just been named our “greatest living writer” by Salon.com. Along the way, John quotes Moore on the proper attitude toward information overload:


Connection is very useful; intelligence does not depend on the amount of neurons we have in our brains, it depends on the amount of connections they can make between them. So this suggests that having a multitude of information stored somewhere in your memory is not necessarily a great deal of use; you need to be able to connect this information into some sort of usable palette. I think my work tries to achieve that. It’s a reflection of the immense complexity of the times we’re living in. I think that complexity is one of the major issues of the 20th and 21st centuries. If you look at our environmental and political problems, what is underlying each is simply the increased complexity of our times. We have much more information, and therefore we are much more complex as individuals and as a society. And that complexity is mounting because our levels of information are mounting.



Personally, I’m much more impressed by John’s response to this quotation:


I was thinking about something like this the other day, but I came to a different conclusion. With the astounding proliferation of information around, we have essentially looped back to where we started from, i.e., with very little information that we don’t really know how to interpret. Consider the sheer amount of worldviews available to us: we could be Marxists, feminists, Buddhists, occultists, libertarians, cognitivists, Reform Jews, Wiccans, etc., etc. Which doesn’t even account for the variations in those worldviews themselves: what kind of feminists should we be, or Marxists, or occultists? There are variations within variations, a network extending to infinity in all directions. This is complexity so extreme it reduces to simplicity just as a lot of little pen-lines crossed will look at a distance like a black mark. We don’t know anything.

Exactly!


Thanks to mass communications, we emerge from the birth channel into a position of Socratic skepticism. I have high hopes for the “Internet Generation”. Moore, David Icke, Fritjof Freakin’ Capra, et al–these guys are still playing by the old rules, assuming that the people need a Shaman to drape the blanket of “coherence” over their scared little bodies, when in fact we are more and more comfortable at the room temperature of “particularity”. We are living through a second Reformation my friends.



The “ooh, there’s too much information–the sheep are confused” take on postmodernity (for Exhibit A of this line of reasoning, as it pertains to the tiny little world of comics criticism, see Heidi MacDonald) is the pathetic last gasp of would-be experts in a world in which “expertise” has been exposed for the chimera that it always was. Even God would be incapable of following every conversation on the Web. The internet is a powerful telescope zeroed in on human individuality itself. At long last, the dots have overwhelmed the lines that would turn them into false constellations of “meaning”–and the story of the 21st century will be the rise of intersubjectivity at the expense of Moore’s “connections”.



Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

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14 comments

  1. Oddly enough, I’m reacting to this professionally, as a librarian, and not as an amateur whatever-I-am.
    My reaction? There’s -always- going to be experts, intelligence/knowledge haves and have-nots. The mass of people I deal with professionally just don’t grasp (and don’t want to grasp) the complexity of the infosphere. Most people don’t know how to analyze information and don’t want to learn. Folks like us, who know how or want to learn how, are always going to be more capable than the <>hoi polloi<>.
    This may be too much of a Fans Are Slans kind of thing, but mine is at least grounded in personal experience.

  2. I disagree with Jess, but then again, I would: the whole premise of what I do is predicated on the idea that there’s a constantly expanding informational framework (i come back again and again to Bohm’s implicate order because I really dig it) that we can tap through associations… know this, and eventually you can know that, too. Information analysis is less important than information synthesis: syncreticism is the wave of the future, making new out of old.

    And I do believe anyone can do it, if it becomes habitual.

    — Matt

  3. Heh, I guess I’m somewhere between the two extremes. Synthesis is good, but if it can’t explain or account for the details, then you have to decide of what use it is. Having expert knowledge is good, but if all that ever allows you to do is self-reflexive mental masturbation, you’ll have much fun playing narcisitic intellectual parlour games with your peers in the ivory tower and have no releveance to any broader social-interactional context…

  4. “I disagree with Jess, but then again, I would: the whole premise of what I do is predicated on the idea that there’s a constantly expanding informational framework (i come back again and again to Bohm’s implicate order because I really dig it) that we can tap through associations… know this, and eventually you can know that, too. Information analysis is less important than information synthesis: syncreticism is the wave of the future, making new out of old.

    And I do believe anyone can do it, if it becomes habitual.”

    I think most people -can- do it. I don’t think most people want to, though. The public I deal with professionally aren’t interested in broadening their viewpoints, or challenging their own <>amours propre<>. They don’t want their horizons shifted, they want them ossified. I think that’s human nature, and I don’t think that’s changing.

  5. Well, I just tried to defend Moore over at my journal by focusing on the political benefits of making meaning in the way Moore suggests we might. (As for metaphysics, well, who knows?) I hope it shows that making meaning is not incompatible with intersubjectivity. Let me know what you think.

  6. ok, I read your response John (commented at your livejournal), This is for Matt–I don’t know how much of Bohm (and Pribram’s) notions of the holographic universe/consciousness I would be able to accept as true. And I guess my skepticism is related to the whole issue at hand, eh? As much as the holographic hypothesis (I’ll just call it a hypothesis for now) that MAY be able to explain some of the troubling aspects of different types of consciousness (and by default, knowledge and cognition) I find myself looking at it as just the logical extreme of a cartesianism and the whol body/mind duality.

    The possibility of tranmission of anything without direct physical interaction has always been problematic for me–especially since it became heralded as the mode of tranmission for “memes” (“Lamarckian transmission should die a dignified death” should be the epithet on my tombstone)–it just seems too easy and mysterious a means of exchange (in a different way than, say, Bell’s inequalities implies).

    Needless to say–I don’t think we can ever get to a level of “complete synthesis” since even with partial synthesis some information is lost (I’m thinking about Complexity Theory here, ala Kaufmann and the Santa Fe troupe).

    I guess it really depends on whether, with a “complete” synthesis we can even talk about the lack of loss of information–I’m not so sure. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be analogous to talking about “the set of all sets” and other antimonies/paradoxes one finds at the limits of logic and mathematics in that you lose something at the top because “there can be no top to infinity” and therefore you can only come to a proof more modest claims.

    Anyway, fun discussion…

  7. Jess – good point there. Whether or not people WANT to achieve it is a whole new ballgame, and you’re probably right that many if not most do not. Still, I keep hoping.

    John – for me, I’m interested in the way the idea of holomovement has come up *again and again and again* in human history, and also how in the more extreme cases the *loss of information* actually becomes information transfer of its own. Part of this relates to the whole idea of inherent association, of course: I keep going back to Sheldrake’s idea of morphic resonance as the universe evolving, physical laws changing and developing as existence continues forward. I’m not talking about ‘memes’ or the hundred monkey effect so much as I am the idea that even subatomic particles behave as though they were connected on a high dimensional level: that there *is* a physical connection between all things for the purposes of information exchange (and, in fact, that it transcends ‘information exchange’ entirely) it simply exists on a level we cannot as yet percieve, only predict mathematically. Hoping that you’ll forgive me for my temerity in posting a link, I used the homepage URL link above to link to an old entry that gets into these ideas and explains them better than I’m doing now.

    I do agree that ‘absolute’ synthesis probably wouldn’t ever be possible. But a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, yes?

  8. Oh, and sorry about the ‘h’ in your name, Jon. I apologize profusely: my only excuse is that I know too many John’s and not enough Jon’s.

    Matt

  9. for me, I’m interested in the way the idea of holomovement has come up *again and again and again* in human history,<>”

    It is interesting, though I will admit I’ve been much more interested in how<> the idea has been described in various cultures and how that has shaped or inflected ways of knowing.
    and also how in the more extreme cases the *loss of information* actually becomes information transfer of its own.<>”

    Now this is something that I’ve really been trying to sink my teeth into lately, and on a related note, Hawkings has reneged on his the loss of information in blackholes.
    Part of this relates to the whole idea of inherent association, of course: I keep going back to Sheldrake’s idea of morphic resonance as the universe evolving, physical laws changing and developing as existence continues forward.<>”
    That is certainly becoming a big theme in Cosmological Theories in recent years.

    I’m not talking about ‘memes’ or the hundred monkey effect so much as I am the idea that even subatomic particles behave as though they were connected on a high dimensional level: that there *is* a physical connection between all things for the purposes of information exchange (and, in fact, that it transcends ‘information exchange’ entirely) it simply exists on a level we cannot as yet percieve, only predict mathematically.<>”

    Certainly it would transcend ‘information exchange’–and really all I mean by ‘information exchange’ in the previous comment was a little teleologically motivated…well, not really, but I was referring more about the idea of “knowing”–which doesn’t imply that there isn’t likely a whole shitload of information we may never come to know–or that might be impossible<> to know. And really, I consider mathematics as one of those things. For me, it’s merely a theory of quantification–albeit a very good one, but it “breaks down” rather easily at the limits of formalism which is an issue of its self-reflexivity, and at the level of Cantorian “infinities”. Whether or not this can be interpreted as evidence of the implicate<> order (I wouldn’t even begin to know how it might be interpreted that way) is a different matter so I think the jury is still out on that.

    Hoping that you’ll forgive me for my temerity in posting a link, I used the homepage URL link above to link to an old entry that gets into these ideas and explains them better than I’m doing now.<>”

    Not at all–I very much enjoyed the read–which is one of the reasons that I think I might enjoy your book…so…but I think I’ll save my responses to it for the comments section there rather than flood Dave’s comment section here.

    I do agree that ‘absolute’ synthesis probably wouldn’t ever be possible. But a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, yes?<>”

    Most certainly–very much so, as that’s usually the only way to push ourselves beyond what we might be able to conceive ourselves capable of doing!

    Oh, and no worries on the spelling thing-hell, I’ve been known to misspell my name myself…heh

  10. and damn…forgot to close one of the italic tags and now I’ve really screwed up this whole comments section…sorry Dave… 😦

  11. “At long last, the dots have overwhelmed the lines that would turn them into false constellations of “meaning”–and the story of the 21st century will be the rise of intersubjectivity at the expense of Moore’s “connections”.”

    Which may be glorious when approaching art or similar, but makes it a complete bitch when applied to geopolitics or science, where people have to actually make functional decisions.

    (I mean – comics are even *based* on the human’s ability to interconnect ideas. The closure between panels would be impossible with the most radical interpretation of absolute point-based subjectivity because you’d simply look at two pictures and note “There’s no necessary connection between here”.)

    Essentially, it’s a decadent philosophy, useless for anything bar sounding clever – because if you want to achieve something or turn critical theory into critical practice, you start drawing those lines again.

    To be honest, I don’t think Moore and you are as far apart as you’re pretending you are. You’re all about drawing lines between things which aren’t traditionally interconnected – which is pretty much what Moore is describing as Intelligence: not just to have knowledge, but to reassemble it in meaningful ways.

    You may being a critical consenseus of one… but that makes it no less of a critical consensus.

    KG

  12. Well!
    there’s a lot to think about in this thread, and I wish I had more time to respond…for now though, I’ll have to restrict myself to the political ramifications of the post (and John + Kieron’s comments)…
    of course, Kieron is right when he argues that, in life, we have no choice but to make decisions (and John cuts to the heart of the matter when he asks: “Don’t you eventually have to account for just who and what and where you believe you are?”), but I don’t think it follows that we ought to fool ourselves into believing that the lines we draw between observed facts are anything but “useful truths”. I’m not talking about Platonic “Noble Lies”–myths are bridges, not smoke screens! They’re routes on a map between nodes of subjectivity, to be travelled upon, never dwelled in–and they don’t disclose any “big pictures”…
    the only essential thing about me is my own inconsequentiality. Nothing I think up could ever count for more than the wonder of another person’s (and remember, for me, “people” is a term that includes animals) existence.
    So I’m skeptical of everything–except the “Not Me”. I believe in Other People because I feel their reality in a way that dwarfs anything I could ever feel about myself, or the little charts I make during the course of my sallies into the world beyond my own mind.
    Intersubjectivity is meaning–there’s no other kind!
    Thanks everyone!
    Dave

  13. “I don’t think it follows that we ought to fool ourselves into believing that the lines we draw between observed facts are anything but “useful truths”.”

    Agreed entirely – and I’m not sure that Moore wouldn’t agree with you either. I mean, the foundation of his philosophy – as far as I understand it – is (bad paraphrase) “The one place that Gods are certain to exist is inside our minds”. His entire cosmology is based on his own subjectivity rather than attempting to claim that it is “real”.

    (I mean, even empirical science doesn’t claim to offer anything other than useful truths. Empiricism shows that no matter what observations it gives, there’s no logical absolute reason it will happen the next time. Science isn’t reality, just a useful map of it)

    Essentially, I think, some truths are just more useful than others. The postmodernism condition, for me, is that I’m simply allowed to choose the best tools to suit my needs rather than having tools enforced upon me – not that all tools are equivalent for me.

    And if not all tools are not equivalent, the expert can’t die – if enough people find their subjective tools (false lines joined in useful ways) useful, they’ll continue.

    Er… my spelling’s shot today, and I’m writing as I cook so – er – sorry.

    KG

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