what kind of society might be formed by a collective of citizens evolving the capability to perceive the social organism, and the processes that shape it?
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By Jeffrey Gormly.
Not only is it possible to imagine a radically different society, it is possible to imagine society in a radically different way.
In fact, we seriously underestimate the role of imagination in understanding society now, or in any form it has held in the past or might hold in the future.
to perceive .. the social organism as a living being, to perceive its movements – to see what has been formed – in other words, to compare the contemporary shape and form of the social organism with its archetype. This is a sculptural concept… (J. Beuys)
Imagination has the power of creating a picture of things by organising, framing and shaping the data of our senses into patterns, procedures, and expectations. Imagination is a perceptual organ itself, and by reappraising our powers of imagination, we can give ourselves new power to invent, create, discover the future
Complexity, cybernetic and quantum theories centrally posit the idea of observer-entanglement, that the very act of observing creates change in what we are observing. This also implies that we can only have a limited understanding or perception of complex systems we are a part of, because we are ourselves inside those systems – there is no place of impartial objective observation.
Even the use of data to create objectivity is limited in that to precisely model reality would require computing resources and energy consumption greater than our finite world can actually provide.
But there are other kinds of technologies.
According to the principle of emergence, complex systems can and do arise from accumulated actions and interactions – in this model, mind is an emergent phenomenon based on the interactions between neurons and within and between nets of neurons; a hive is emergent on the interactions of thousands of bees, etc.
We can think of a future society as a social organism that is emergent on the perception and creativity of citizens.
In this radical thought experiment, our mode of perception is the technology and we are shifting the operating system for dealing with our environment from the level of the individual to the level of social organism or superorganism. Developing a sensitivity to how individual actions inflect complex systems will be one instance whereby humans will grow what Joseph Beuys refers to as “new organs of perception”.
In one aspect, this technology is ideological: how we frame our perceptions to recognise the processes and discern the dynamics of emergence, in order to be able to dance with those processes. This form of the technology has been called cybernetic epistemology.
This technology is also a kind of wisdom-knowledge practice for coping with uncertainty, emergence and creative process. It’s being in a state of dance, navigating the multiple choreographies of complex systems. Kirsi Monni calls this technology techne. I call it choreonautics.
Entering fully into this thought experiment will not only generate new thinking, it will cause the thinker to develop mental and perceptual flexibility; a new level of comfort with the unknown, uncertain, ambiguous; a deeper feeling of ease with creative processes; a new sense of optimism.
To sum up: what kind of society might be formed by a collective of citizens evolving the capability to perceive the social organism, and the processes that shape it?
Over the next few weeks imagine your self as an element of that social organism. How does your behaviour affect the larger organism, eg by reinforcing, confirming, conforming, inflecting.
Joseph Beuys – What is Art?
Jeffrey Gormly, Michael Klien, Steve Valk – Book of Recommendations
Kirsi Monni – Sense and Meaning in Dance
Peter Miller – Smart Swarms
Ernst Von Glasersfeld – Radical Constructivism