Monday, February 15, 2016

On Therapeutic Supersomatics

The following refers to Thomas Hanna's conception of somatics. Read about it here:
Organismic bodies, that is, those which are capable, in their immediate environments, of producing 'copies' (or 'versions,' iterations) of each of their volatile parts, that is, those which are expended in the motion of life. This notion of indeterminate 'immediacy' tends to inform the perception of a "body as a dynamic whole" strongly; ultimately, we expect every organism to die, so its historical wholeness is not complete in the sense that it will forever continue to reproduce its vital elements.
We seem to have come upon a choice in possible delineations of "bodies," in the sense relevent to this piece, i.e. the every day somatic sense of one's whole body, referred to both in theories of dance and in pop songs. One branch leads towards a focus on the immediacy of the organism's capability to reproduce itself, taking into account energetic and geometric/functional aspects of its whole home. It happens to be that for most life, whether autorophic or not, the limit of production is ultimately the sun's power output, or perhaps more precisely, the flow of energy that occurs when sunlight filters into chlorophylous bodies (again bodies, but of far less complexity than human ones). We can then speak of the "immediacy" in terms of daily power throughput.
Another branch is to mention the expected eventual death of the organism, which has a certain theoretical elegance over the other branch; there is no need to awkardly wield traditionally set-theoretic math by relating an organism to its "total free energy" whether or not it is measured by any organism in the system. Mentioning the organism's historical partialness does not however make the resolution sharp; it just reminds us that there are some components in every organism currently being used/expended that may never be replaced or resynthesized.
These two branches may be travelled freely back and forth as anyone sees fit, to form a shifting description of organismic life.
All this theoretical biology behind, we can define a "superbody" as simply many organismic or subjective bodies which acknowledge one another in some way. It is a literal "coplex" in that it is an evolving system of contacting parts, their motions mutually affecting one another. However, it is not again a "body" in the sense just described. In fact, when organisms "wear out," there is no necessity that they will be reformed, that is, that "new versions" will replace them due to the whole motion of the cosmos. Species go extinct; genotypes disappear from living motion. The structure of DNA does not engender itself; life does that. Furthermore, we have absolutely no basis on which to assume that the whole of the biosphere will die, the way we do with organisms. Indeed, it hasn't yet. It takes much more sophisticated and precise theory about cosmology to predict the eventual exhaustion of all living motion. To see this: For if we don't refer to that theory, what's to say Earth won't just head down some wormhole into another universe which is "less advanced," in the sense of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and to continue this reincarnation eternally? We must look farther out into the cosmos than Earth to predict complete death.
We have then, no reason to assume a subjectivity emerges from the coplexity of superbody in the same way it does from the coplexity of the body. So whatever theories and practices of body we have discovered and used, ways of generalizing them to superbodies are not clear, and we should first examine what aspects of the body are involved in control of it. Perhaps it'd be advantageous to find a relation between the mathematics of the organism, and those control schemes that have been observed in social organisms. A monogamous, two- or three-child family will be large enough to form a clear model.
The subject necessarily occurs on a sort of "surface" of the whole organism. Awareness feels itself as an interface with the "outside." There is, too, the possibility of interfacing between insides, at least in big mammalian bodies like ours, which become aware of bodies-within-the-body, that is, organs, such as the beating of the heart, or the use of the tongue, the grumbling of the stomach. These are again felt as closed surfaces, that is, geometrically without border. [And here, classic modern topology has suddenly become of great use: The project of a complete classification of such surfaces, up to deformations which preserve access (and inaccess), was completed long ago. We can notate them using just two integer parameters. In fact, the actual bodily situation is simpler, because algebro-topological torsion is completely foreign to somatic experience. The ocular mind, of course, finds non-orientable geometries amenable and harmonious, having been made familiar with the phenomena of optics, but the motions implies by torsion connote bodily pain. It seems to me this is a consequence of the geometry of the universe, the fact that there is no plane of complete reflective symmetry; at least I have not come into contact with one. Projective geometry would be appropriate for somatics along that plane in such a mirrorsphere, as one would experience the right and the left parts as precisely one part. Here I'm referring to the third person as well: "what went in to the plane of symmetry as left and right" become one in the first person. Multiple subjectivity is likewise foreign, as would occur as the subject moves out of the mirror. The basic intuitive objection to torsion in bodily homologies is the distinction between left and right sides of the body, or any of its chiral parts, at least in bilateral somatics]
Losing focus on these inner bodies, or parts, one experiences the body as an undifferentiated whole, a "simple extended substance," as philosophers used to like putting it. Focusing first on the mouth, then anus, and tubing in between, one finds oneself a torus, corresponding to a gastrocentric mode of somatics.
Relax and lose focus, be present with your self, and allow the hole to fade.
We can now notice our nostrils, fusing continuously into our whole ventilation system between the lungs and open air. It is only by third person inspection of lungs that we find a branching pattern of tori with increasing numbers of holes as we branch our awareness further towards the inner surface of the lungs, though our nervous system does not penetrate far enough to put more than 1 or 2 handles on the "normal whole" bodily sphere. Discounting the septum and closing the mouth, one finds still just a sphere, ultimatley, with the lungs a cup depressed within the open nervous dermis.
Lose focus and come to wholeness. Now we focus on our skin to the edge of available ocular resolution, to reveal that "all flesh is like grass." We imagine millions of pores and cracks in the skin-matter, making it seem rather inaccurately conceived of as a sphere. Indeed, we can now postulate the body as a many holed torus, "in truth." It is not, however, the case that these cracks can be felt; touch a finger to your skin, or something smaller. Move the point of contact the smallest amount you can visually confirm. Was there a gap of sensation as the motion occurred? No. The quality of contintuity will most certainly vary with the nerve density of the tissue, but the continuity does not "rip" anywhere. It is also not the case that there is a true figure-ground dichotomy of body-matter and "hole matter," and in fact we find that these visual complements are formed alike by patterns of clustering cells, which again would appear, under microscope, as little bodies, also with porous surfaces. Assuming a sequence of finer resolutions approaching quantum mechanical limits, we find that this roughness of the imaged "body surface" never disappears, only morphs into fuzziness at atomic scales and below, the common ground being emergence of geometrically "sporadic" phenomena.
Relax and let a deep breath out. Come away from the cosmic, back to wholeness.
The point I'm trying to focus on here is the point of focus: where you focus it matters. When we are least focused on any part, and the whole coheres as a "simple whole," we can focus on the quality of wholeness. Re-focusing elsewhere, we find this same quality is present at every point of focus, ocurring as the somatic ground for parts to emerge upon, or in. The body partitions itself not by dividing and destroying the whole, but by resynthesizing the whole-as-part-collection using an abstract framework - specifically, it is focus on many points of focus in parallel - "This hand-figure on everything-else, AND/OR this otherhand-figure on everything-else, AND/OR these foot-figures on everything-else, AND/OR ... " etc. Such expressions fit poorly in linearly ordered text, for the claim is that there is no order to their expression.
Every way we can partition ourselves, it would appear there is some definite volume involved. Yet every partition only adds subinterfaces to the whole, hence does not allow a continuous 3-dimensional reality to form. Closed surfaces are only ever turned into many "smaller versions of themselves" in mutual contact, at least insofar as they remain closed compact surfaces.
There may indeed be some "inner dimensions" of feeling, such as those apparent when sensing warmth or tension emanating from within. However, it is not clear how far these sensations are hooked up to any regulatory apparatus, as is this obvious case in the dermal sense-motor network, and even the awareness along the surface of the esophagus. Lacking this clear and persistent self-feedback, such "emanating" or diffusing sensations can be distinguished from somatics as explored by Thomas Hanna and myself. Somatics is not a complete theory of consciousness.
Having framed organisms as surfaces, it's now natural to think of superorganisms as "products of surfaces," but not just abstract products, rather multiple distinguished surfaces situated within a larger structure to begin with. Placing the environmental structure as ground for the figures of the superorganism's constituents, we can consider the combined surface with an abelian algebraic framework, so that the number of subjects is equal to the first Betti number. Assuming subjects don't "cross," and are sufficiently aware of one another, we have this as a superorganismic invariant across the perspectives of the subjects involved. When organisms stay in contact but their subjectivities disappear to one another, a "rip" occurs in the cybernetic structure and the former superbody "breaks." Note that such traumas in no way alter the raw coplexity of the system; it merely becomes less aware.
The natural economic topology of bodily motions then suffices to determine how mechanical control is exerted by the superbody participants upon one another. "Raw" classical mechanics can in no way predict the whole evolution of the system, but can completely describe each interface action to the participants, up to the limit of resolution. You can see this by meditating upon how you learned to type. The keyboard has a very static resolution built in, so that any forceful enough depression upon the "surface" of the board will result in a linear symbol sequence which can be translated between machines and organisms, a faithful recording of the motion of the interface. Many more examples can be thought of. Whenever material is organized into human useable products, somatics is ultimately involved, allowing construction of narratives solely in terms of tangible and abstract efforts, and it is by tracing the somatic history that we abstract "economic actions" and their resultant tangible-abstract "products." Automating the processes of organization blurs such histories, which may have profound cybernetic implications in itself.
We have a way to think of one another, as surfaces within a common surface, and a way to think of how those surfaces "touch." The superorganism emerges as clearly as this continued touching tends toward some "function," a phenemenon whose presence at least can be agreed upon by all participants, out of sheer necessity: it is in some way powerful, potentially useful or dangerous. A military victory is an obvious example of such functions: All the soldiers, whether victorious or defeated, agree out of practical necessity on the outcome of the battle, if not the fate of the war.
A less violent and more fundamental example is the "function" of a family. To cite an empirical example: family roles are iconized in American and British (at least) television sitcoms, and through their fictional coplexity, the family is hyperrealized as a persistent superorganismic entity. In these family sitcoms, the camera always orients itself around the main web of tensions and accords that arises between regular characters. This shifting web "is" the superorganismic "soma," in reality a plurality of minds acknowledging one another and coplexing.
In the same way as we can consider the control we exert over our individual physiques, we can ask what control we exert over the collective physique. The essential logic of therapeutic somatics is unaltered, so long as we phrased as it only in terms of signal and response. If I have tension in my neck and can't fully relax it, I have lost some amount of control there, or perhaps never had it. If somebody holds my arm down, I have lost some amount of control there. If my nervous system degenerates, I lose control. If people tie me down and give me depressant drugs, I lose control.
It is clear that human superorganisms can sustain only so much violence before they stop functioning as superorganisms, rather devolving into a mere population of (perhaps hostile) coinhabitants. Hence one's control over the collective physique does not increase forever with one's willingness to use force on coparticipants. It is also clear that control is completely lost if one has no will to use force at all, as in the typical organismic case (although "will" is applied awkwardly to plants, it does mechanically analogize).
Therefore signal languages, the corresponding cybernetic schemes, thoughts and emotions must be taken into account in supersomatics, as these tend to have irreducible roles in the methods of control. A modern example is the boot camp drill sergeant. The psychomechanics simply don't work the same if he or she doesn't keep up a certain veneer of strictness.
In the same way then, as we can seek to come to a desirable understanding of our bodies, we can seek to come to a desirable understanding of the superbodies we participate in, so that their quality is good for all subjects, so that "function is enhanced," to speak with the modern jargon.
This practice may scale up arbitrarily with the underlying logic, as one can proceed to find biological coplexes at all scales up to the whole planet. We see that this action of "scaling up" provides an ecosomatic understanding of the biosphere, as interfacing beings within a matrix of their own arrangement, the "whole Gaian superbody." I again stress my opinion that the whole biosphere is indeed not a subject, not a "true organism," as Lovelock would have it. It can, however, be understood as a "true" superorganism, to the extent that its pieces are aware of one another and exert mutual control.
I think this stream of thought and feeling offers great promise. Starting from partnerships toward the family, and extending to so conceived political bodies to ecosystems, the logic of therapeutic somatics may have radical ability to alter the course of history, by tending towards blurring and eventually eliminating the lines between human identity and biological identity in general.

An interesting linear question ocurred while typing, when I couldn't decide on what verb to use when describing participation in somatics.
Does doing somatics involve thinking, or feeling? It doesn't delineate. There is an irreducibly unexplainable aspect to it, always. Don't waste your time trying to say "what it is," because it has already changed by the time you're done saying it.
"THE STRUCTURE. DOESN'T. DO THAT." The body doesn't delineate itself. Probably, nothing does or can; it has always been an idealistic pipedream. It does however, become ground for parts, which appear, visually, delineated in their form and function. There is a trope springing from explorations in visceral horror, which in some way relates to this. Each part appears as a powerful mechanism unto itself, but the whole network of control between them feels eerily uncertain. "What if the arm was left to its own devices? What if my constant exertion of force upon each part is the only thing that keeps them in check?"
The piece of mass media that inspired this particular entry was the sitcom "Good Times," the 12th episode of the first season. The relevant characters are mother, father, and children. The father has become stressed out and abrasive, to the increasing dysfunction of the family and detriment of the furniture. The mother and children form on one side, worried that he has hypertension. There is a chilling moment in which the mother experiences loss of control over the father, after which he continues to escalate in his rage towards interpersonal violence.  Finally, on the cusp of a further escalation, she yells in desparation, stop, and he stops. Soon, the father/husband reveals something of the psychospiritual knot he's in. This conduit re-established, and the signal having been allowed to propagate throughout the family, gradually the tensions begin to resolve, and the rest of the family is restored to their proper authority over the father. They get him to a hospital which allows a revealing moment of hyperreal cultural interface between the Black family and the white doctor, resolving in the reassertion of working class blackness upon the cinematic space. The doctor's ultimate advice was the imperative "relax." It occured to me at this point that therapeutic somatics might be extended between so conceived political bodies.
 An irreducible component in this fictional mechanical example is the mutual familial love on all sides. One thing I genuinely enjoy about family sitcoms is how little tendency they have to rationalize family dynamics. The best writers know when their audience will settle for sentiment.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Memetics and Mimesis: Turning McLuhan's tetrad upon social media

As the internet evolves, I become ever more fascinated by it.
Applying McLuhan's tetrad to social media, just to see what happens to the theory when its pushed beyond its historical limit. Textual hashtags and pictorial memes serve the media differently, the former being rather more concise and compact, but they represent a similar departure from the dominant 20th century media: Audiocast, cinema, telecast, comics, and printed periodicals of various periods. [Let me know what I'm missing].
The obvious qualitative difference is to be found in the distributional schemes corresponding to mass publishing and networks organized by hitting the "Accept request," "post," and "comment" buttons. One class of schemes strongly favors centralized economy, the other not so much: it has radically weakened the value of hierarchy in the publication process.
Let's examine the tetrad. This is only one way to focus the lens, however. I'd be interested to see any differing analyses.
1: Pictoral memetics enhances the everyday process of abstracting narratives, themes, and characters from our immediate surroundings. Even our most fleeting thoughts and impressions become the figure of social media.
2: The practice makes obsolete the format of scheduled entertainment. It's all just stacking up in your feed, waiting for you to look at it at your own pace, and it organizes dynamically into a continually shifting "whole" no matter the level of throughput. This flexibility and dynamism is the new "ground."
3: Concisely, reality returns and supercedes hyperreality. The personal and subjective finds itself at last vindicated. From Vaudeville-infused stunts to mic'd and lighted studio (cybernetically transcoded, mixed and mastered by specialized labor force) to Hollywood spectacle in the cushioned, sugared, and perfumed theater, the trajectory towards the hyperreal has been apparent in cinema since the silent era.  Away from the tiny, neurotic, hidden being, and towards the iconic, bold, spectacular event. The trajectory is there in radio, television, even to some degree the popular song [culminating in the radio-rave anthem, think Swedish House Mafia, but that's another story], although this is hardly an innovation belonging purely to the machinic screen: Long before conservative Christians lamented Hollywood's lack of moral integrity in the era of the action spectacle, Plato lamented the psycho-social potential of reciting Homer in public. Odysseus is a hyperreal hero; no human, who works during the day and finds entertainment come evening, would expect to accomplish what he accomplishes. The referenced war had passed into legend by Homer's time, freeing him from any impulse to historical accuracy or realism. He is important to the audience not because he stands for the actions of an actual hero of theirs, but because he represents an ideal of heroism that any audience could learn about by watching: "he" operates on them by telling them the right things to do. Of course, adhering to rationalist aesthetics, we might find this thought objectionable. Morality must be decided upon according to principles, after all, not simply followed blindly!
Even in the most apparently mundane of genres, the family sitcom, we find not an actual family, but a hyperreal, aesthetic ideal of a family: Always cracking jokes and making fun of one another, ocassionally fighting about important issues but always coming back together at the end of the arc. They are an icon, economically, of stability and growth at once, psychologically of the pleasures of life itself, and socially, of all those qualities the hazily defined but nonetheless actual mainstream audience is supposed to judge virtuous in families. And this "supposed to" is at the heart of the modern paradigm: Supposed by *who*? By whoever prepares the media, of course, that specialized and rarefied class of professional entertainers and engineers. Though the sitcom family members go through life changes over the course of the series, their changes in situation are only used to more fully explore the persisent qualities of their character, which must be agreeable to the broader economic and psychosocial narratives. Anyone who wants to discover the true dynamics of bourgeois whiteness and color in America need only trace the history of people of color operate within the frameworks of the sitcom. At every stage, this must be lock step with the real interactions between subcultures, or the show will tend to be cancelled. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, for example, is about how blackness works in white space, and as such must bow to certain white ideologies, at least within the space of the explicitly given story. A book could be written on that show alone.

[Allow me a digression here.
The camera is more or less forbidden from depicting Smith's character in his native setting of the opening song, in a largely black and brown West Philadelphia neighborhood, presumably. I don't mean to say that the show is not conscious of Blackness, which it surely is. What I mean is that its events could plausibly take place wholly within the white imagination, without reference to the perspective of the Other. It uses the images of blackness that were familiar to average, NBC watching, middle class white audiences at the time. Seeing Will as anything but the black-one-out would detract from the show's exploration of its themes. This is not because black people had not been portrayed in sitcom before 1990, but because that is not an actual place in the canon of the show: The observed motion takes place only in white psychological territory. The entire account of his hometown given in the song would appear to symbolize white discomfort with urban black life, and the resulting tendency to understatement: "And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school. When a couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble in my neighborhood." [Compare to 19th century depictions of slaves as happy go lucky entertainers.] But Will's not one of *those* black people, that we hear about selling crack and packing heat on street corners: He only got in one little fight before his overprotective mother took extreme measures. Having removed him from the dangers of blackness and inserted him into bourgeois white society, we've made the actuality docile enough to laugh about in comfort. A similar narrative prevails over the life of his uncle Phil, which much more closely resembles the life of a historical person. At every bend in this fictional biography, Phil's blackness [activism, reading Malcolm, listening to James Brown] bows and bends one piece at a time to the prevailing white aesthetic bias, eventually giving way to an almost Uncle Tommish veneer: And what does the show say? Look: it worked for him, here he is with a manor in Bel Air, raising a good family, a secure and impressive sounding bourgeois job, all due to the merit of his hard work. The subconscious message received is to just give in, to cease to be Other, and the rewards of white privilege will be yours. Absolutely fascinating.]

In this way, sitcoms can be used as proxies for all sorts of middle class attitudes. Likely an even lengthier book could be written on the interaction of gender and sexuality within the sitcom.
The common thread is that whatever human question we wish to focus on through the lens of sitcom, we find the answers that come back are iconic and comforting, coming with all the same connotations as the concept "family friendly." This trajectory has everything to do with mid-century economics, which I will leave here undelved. By centralizing and forcibly collectivizing the answers to questions of family, the genre has become impotent to speak powerfully to the organismic reality of family.
Again, the comic book has branched out from voyeuristic, visuo-visceral delights to the full blown graphic novel, every bit as sophisticated in its conception as the Great Novel of modern tradition. This is the essence: A graphic novel of the stature, of say, Watchmen, cannot be undertaken in a merely whimsical way, simply because it takes too much work. Stick figure drawings are for whimsy; hyperrealist noir landscapes are for overhuman icons. It is simply too seriously undertaken a work to deal with issues at any other scale than the spectacular, in analogy to the development of the 2 hour movie.
What has been retrieved by pictorial memetics is the capacity for expressing the subjective over the objective.
4. We now come to the most remarkable aspect of pictorial memetics as pushed through the lens of the tetrad. Pictorial memes, when pushed to their technical and psychosocial limits, flip into *reaction memes,* which merely break the rules which has been adhered to. Turing-mechanical digital pictorial and textual memetics is a stable medium. That is, the medium is in some way a categorical limit. It is unique from the historical media McLuhan considers in that no line proceeds from it to some distinguished medium which rests on it in terms of technical abstraction. We have instead classical Turing computation as limitting the living interface with the medium, and instead must branch into entirely new philosophy, mathematics, and science to see new meme-media emerge: Quantum computing and biocomputing offer two possible places of departure. But it's not clear whether these modes will emerge as social network infrastructures unto themselves, or whether we will again re-route into the old structure, or stop using social media altogether relatively soon. Having never observed the flip from classical determinism into radical non-determinism on a societal level, we cannot even establish a probability distribution over these possibilities.
So we find the theory must dissolve itself when pushed to the limit. I think this is only another form of the intuition that Land called accelerationism, which appears more or less as an idea that Western society must ultimately force itself out of existence (and further, the '-ism:' what could be more just?). However, the supposedly inevitable singularity has not happened, and doesn't appear to be yet on its way at all. It has become less clear over the past couple of decades whether anything is accelerating at all, whether there is a tendency towards anything at all. There is intimate relation between the bursting of Land's philosophical bubble and that of the tech bubble, though it is too complex to delineate within the rectilinear confines of this blog. That seems to be the paradox of critiquing linear extrapolation using linear extrapolation: Using the theory itself, one can only say what it must be bound to do. But that was the trap we were trying to avoid! Clearly, Western rationalism is not its own solution.
You see, the above paragraph has become confused and only sporadically sensible to any audience of large enough size. However, it does deeply express thoughts and feelings that occur to me daily. This is because what I am attempting to explore and express pushes beyond the limit of the technology we are using: I am trying to refer to actual thought and feelings, which are poorly conveyed with this machinery. And we already know what plastic and metal do when they are pushed past their structural limits, without embarking on this analytic trip.
However better the 2-hour theatrically released movie is suited to conveying heroism, the economics and organization of such works prevents people from interfacing authentically with those heroes.
Posting pictures that directly reflect an abstraction peformed is a way of iconizing oneself and interfacing directly with the resulting "hero" or "idol" via comments, likes, shares, creation of reaction memes, or whatever else might happen in the social medium.

As a consequence, an older superorganismic mimesis returns, older than recorded history almost by definition, and of a far more radical sort than when an orator is situated centrally in an auditorium of designated listeners, allowing humans to simply regurtitate raw surface impressions "at random" without regard for any notion of ultimate meaning or any anxiety that every utterance must fit into an unambiguous, rationalized, linear historical narrative, ordered from beginning to end by the Western philosophical concept of causality. If it doesn't fit a form or sequential casual narrative, there need be no question of "what it is;" it "is" this: a continual motion in silica. Philosophy has dissolved; long live philosophy!