Thursday, 5 March 2009

Digital Metempsychosis

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the last blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Click the title to go there.

In investigating HD technology and aesthetics I have had to examine the digital realm and try to understand how resolution is formed from a set of under-the-bonnet-technologies, this need has itself created an inevitable spill over into an investigation of the deeper construct of digital technology itself.

Necessarily, standard and current academic theoretical understandings have come into play and ideas like Remediation and Convergence have had their sway with me but I’ve always felt that these ways of looking into the subject are themselves boundaried by a set of limiting characteristics that have had their part in disguising the real nature of what is going on. I recently said in writing to a friend: 'We are investigating what we think is a hat and may later come to find out is a pair of shoes'.

I’ve been watching the development of digital innovations, from interactive telematic spaces to 3D printers and it seems to me that the paradigm change from web 2 to web 3 has already happened. In fact it’s bigger than that. The concept of numbering developments on the web is almost Victorian in its obsessive compulsive indexing and cataloguing of change. The 17th century Enlightenment project has had its day. Now we need different tools for a different terrain and it is called the Digital Domain.

We take stabs at understanding it and come up short because we’re using a language designed for something else to try to name it and it resists being named because it is substantially and qualitatively different from prior technologies.

The ‘Digital’ is a technology of the imagination, not the material realm. It is true it utilises some physical means – pathways and voltages and resistance and ohmage and optics etc. But they are the transportation system for the wavelet transform mathematics that power our current change of paradigm - and that mathematics was born 200 hundred years ago in a pre-Victorian age as an late-enlightenment gesture. We will of course develop new mathematics to do the rest of the job.

So I have come to the conclusion that the time of Convergence is nearly over and the time of Integration has begun.

Integration is fundamentally concerned with overcoming the idea of latency. Latency is the function within a system where nothing can be truly instantaneous. Of course – you can’t press a button in the UK and have an instantaneous event happen in Australia. Light and radio waves travel at a certain speed – not an infinite speed which is why the signal will have some latency.

Integration is about removing the gap – or at least creating the experience that there is no gap. Touch a telematic wall in Tokyo and your dance partner in Vancouver then touches your hand on their telematic wall and an event, an animation of a butterfly say, is generated on the wall in both spaces. What is important is that this cannot be instantaneous but it can be made to seem to be instantaneous.

I am in a sense making this up and in another sense I know that this technology can be achieved not only right now, but actually several years ago.

Taking another route to establishing the idea, think of Adobe CS4 which has Encore, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Premier, After Effects etc in its package. Each programme is now designed to stimulate all the other programmes from their programme interface. The day will come when (As with Maya) it’s all there in the same programme interface. They will al become one. And not only that. The idea of distinct programmes will have to go. As will the idea of distinct national boundaries. That’s what the credit crunch was about. A backup in the system that rendered it as destructive as it was aiding us. Ivan Illich studied the idea of a system and realized that with health for instance, there is the idea of iatrogenesis. This is the function where allopathic health treatment cause as much illness as the cure. Don’t trust me on this. Look at the figures.

So the idea of the system per-se is bankrupt. It is a medieval view of the world where as Newton inherited, everything is supposed to work like a machine of finely manufactured wooden cogs. It has its limits and in this sort of wooden design, friction is the problem. To push the analogy, friction and latency are the same thing.

So ideas around web 3 and integration have to get beyond the remediated language that recognises latency as a problem.

How do we get beyond the apparent problem of latency ? Heisenburg spotted the problem of the observer. You can know the position but not the velocity. You can know the velocity but not the position. I can’t remember the name of the Indian Mathematician working with Nasa but this man proposes the idea of observing an experiment and creating change when the experiment is viewed at the same time in another location by another observer and comparing the results later. The comparison will then develop a Morse code of fluctuations that both ends can use at the time of the observation thus eliminating the time delay. They will have their Morse code reference book and be able to see what the communication is – plus or minus its probablility which is chartable.

It will not be long after that to travel from the telegraph to the web real time viewing of the image of another as we speak together – over vast distances. Earth to Mars, Earth to Andromeda. Etc. Distance will be eliminated as a problem of latency.

Ursula Le Guin wrote about this in the Dispossessed,a novel that discussed the benefits of an anarchist society as opposed to a capitalist society. Her Theory of Simultaneity always struck me as being on the button – this is to be distinguished from Einstein’s Relativity of Simultaneity as published in his Special Theory of Relativity. With Leguin, everything everywhere is happening simultaneously, it is the inhabitance of a shell of a self-conscious entity that is placed within the space-time continuum that generates the idea that there is the apparent reality of ‘sequence of events’ and therefore latency. Einstein didn’t see past this and didn’t imagine the nature of a self conscious entity outside of a space/time continuum. LeGuinn realised that the self-conscious entity is a product of space/time but has ‘essence’ within non space/time. Essence is like probability. We can chart it’s marks in other media (space/time) and therefore know it exists. By extension, in a realm where everything is different an object (or a subject) with personal boundaries means nothing in that dimension. Nor does space, nor does time.

Looked at like this we can re-formulate what latency might actually be. From within the space-time continuum it looks like time is taken to do things. From the point of view of Simultaneity it is apparent that the idea of ‘distance’ is the problem. In this case of course, were one able to inhabit the simultaneous dimension, there is no time and there is also no distance of course. So we have to re-invent our understanding of distance so that there is no duration in it. Duration is a product of space and is called time – and vice versa.

Have I lost you? The thing is these words are in space/time so I haven’t got a chance to relay this insight when the description itself is undermined by a language generated that is obverse to the understanding – suffice it to say many people know this about the world. Now, within the period of Integration we just have to work out the ‘physics’.

A last note on this – a Victorian parlour game posited the idea of the Flatlanders, two-dimensional beings who perceived a three dimensional sphere moving through their two dimensional world first as a dot, then as a growing circle, then as a shrinking circle, then finally a dot, before it disappeared, To know higher non space/time dimensions take this metaphor and realise that an experience of a further dimension using your current senses which are developed and tuned for this dimension does not work. All understandings are therefore relative and limited. However, we have to keep our minds open to possibilities.

If I’m right then it will become inevitable that worldwide, each person will be assigned a code to register their individual existence and everything that I described above will become an available future.

This concept will inevitably raise the shadow of a familiar dystopia for us: for where there are possibilities for freedom there are also possibilities for repression and control. If as I stated that everyone has a code, then the first image my mind goes to is a bar code tattooed on the arm which is reminiscent of the treatment of the Jews in the Holocaust.

However, this is not a necessary outcome. For a start we were all born with a gene that makes some of us stand up and rebel. Don’t forget, the holocaust was not conclusive, nor was Cambodia, nor was Rwanda – a lot of damage was done, but these events eventually stopped.

The code is a way in which wherever you are in space/time you have a co-ordinate and therefore you can be mapped. If you carry two codes on two devices, then you can then be triangulated and it is triangulation that affords a 3d mapping of the world and your place within it and is key to the telematic realisation of space. Move an arm in the real world and your virtual arm will also be seen to move. What it does in that virtual world is then a matter of triggers and events and things then happening in the real world.

Integration is that realisation and then also of course its transformation into the beginnings of what could be called Web4….

But ‘web this’ and ‘web that’ are for consumers and the credit crunch gave us a way of disassociating ourselves from the raping of the wealth of the world by a few brigands in the higher hills of the data realm (known as money). These guys only did what they were trained to do and we have to re-invent what we ask of each other and what the base lines of automatic ethics achieve for the human condition. A lot of people say this cannot be so, ‘people are always going to be like this’. They often site the behaviour of chimpanzees being our nearest relative and exhibiting behaviour like rape and murder and that this somehow comments upon us. But the lie in that is that chimpanzees are not our nearest relatives, the Bonobo monkey is and it exhibits the kind of behaviours that if reflected and amplified in us would enable us to generate ‘web 3’. As John Lennon said, I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. One potent dreamer, infects the rest.

So we no longer need to characterise ourselves as murders, cheats, liers and worst of all, morality free consumers (it was getting very tiresome anyway). Instead we can begin to look into our future, which of course as post-consumers, we can be a part of making its description and realisation.

In terms of researching High Definition Imaging, everything above relates to this area. The question of veracity of experience opens directly into resolution because without enough resolution one is aware of the scenery and mechanisms that are used to construct the image or experience. We need resolution sufficient to the task at hand.

I believe that without funds I am fairly stuck though. My latest bid to the AHRC fell upon stony ground as I have to apply into a scheme that is not suited to Creative Research Fellows and I hope to get a hearing for this point of view – but that’s another story. I shall of course carry on my research in any way I can and I have a few projects that are happening within my portraiture series. The kind of invention I was describing above is on hold until I manage to get the funds to try to realise the beginnings of what I have described – and I maintain, everything I’ve described above is not only possible, most of it is happening anyway, and above all what I’ve described is probable within a reasonably short time.