Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Fri, 18 Apr 1997 22:44:58 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> Is Reality Constrained?


>Mark, why do you think that I'm unsure? I don't feel particularly confused
>about "what is human," do you?

I'm sorry Jon, you are correct -- as far as I can tell.  What you aren't so
sure about is what sort of life you are affirming, not what constitutes
human life.

Since I've written a great deal about "images of humanity" in various
locales where you hang out, and I've just posted a note that contrasts
Leibniz and Locke (among others on the subject), maybe you wouldn't mind
telling us what you think it means to be human in terms of the appropriate

>Humanity may not be socially constructed, but human reality is inherently
>socially constructed, but again, my meaning differs from yours if you think
>'socially constructed' means 'plastically altered.'  We're talking about
>interpretation, not altered. 

Thanks for reminding me.  When I challenged John Perry Barlow's statement
that "reality is just a matter of opinion" he attacked my nose with a pair
of pliers.  Man, that was fun.  But was it "interpretation" or plastic
surgery?  Where is that techno-utopian, Hippie Trilateral Commission
scoundrel nowadays?  (See, how polite I've gotten since I called him a
"human prophylactic.")

Sorry, reality is objective not subjective and, you are wrong, we *are*
talking about altering not merely interpreting reality.  This exchange is
at least partly in response to my "Strategy . . ." post as indicated by
Pit's reference to "millenial paranoia" in his intro. to "Constrained
Constructivism" and your own "optimism" post. Furthermore, Hayles
repeatedly draws our attention to the political *need* for her
epistemology.  She tells us in her dramatic closing that she is "renouncing
omniscience and coercive power" and she is clearly engaged in altering the
world -- as are the rest of us.  The only question is where are we taking
it.  In particular, are we trying to liberate us from the necessity of
being human, as her entire corpus implies?

>You seem to hold the view that
>phenomenological reality is clearly knowable, and that our "knowledge" is
>no way constrained (that word again, in another sense) by perceptual or
>experiential limitiations.  This is absurd.  

Yes, the idea that we have no limitations would be absurd.  Such a view
would make us God.  The hideous mistake we are discussing here is the
presumption that since we are demonstrably not God, that the only other
alternative is sense-certainty.  I have illustrated the absurdity and,
indeed, intellectual dishonesty and bare-naked arrogance of this aspect of
Hayles' "interpretation" in a number of ways through out this exchange. 
Succinctly put, you don't need to *be* God to know reality, only made in
the image of God.  On such ideas, civilizations have been built.  And, you
know, it might even be true.

>And I'm not sure who these
>utopians are that you're referring to, but my thrust is neither dystopian
>nor utopian.  It's more a rejection of each shaggy apocalypse
>story....which is not to say that the stability of the phsyical world or
>humanity are any way assured.  I just don't see the same certainly of
>collapse that you're seeing, and I'm not sure I would interpret 'collapse'
>in quite the same way: i.e. 'the end of the world *as we know it* is not
>necessarily the end of the world, if you know what I mean.

Gee, who am I talking about?  Let's ask the "Church Lady."

As I have publically stated on many occasions, I appreciate your
willingness to engage in this dialogue and, as you have reciprocally noted,
I don't doubt your sincerity -- i.e. I don't consider you to personally be
a utopian at all.  All that I'm trying to illustrate is the connection
between ideas and actions.  In particular, belief in "social construction"
of reality leads directly to utopian actions.  Indeed, the *purpose* of
this belief system is to rationalize utopian social engineering.

As you wrestle with the question about the "image of humanity" above,
consider what kind of world each "image" implies.  Then add into the mix
the absolutely technically-feasible-within-our-lifetimes reality of being
able to manufacture "humans" to more-or-less conform to specification (i.e.
your chosen "image") and the severity of our current situation might become

>Technology as a general concept is neutral. Specific technologies may not
>be neutral, as they are defined by their uses. Big difference, I think.

All technologies are specific and they all have a purpose.  That's all I'm
saying.  Since, I don't shun technology, it is my judgement that at least
some of that purpose in some of the technologies is healthy and helpful for
humanity.  On the other hand, some of it threatens to end this world and
humanity with it.

>Is this the world she is talking about? I'm sorry, but I don't get that at
>all. I think she's talking about acknowledgment of human limitation, not
>alteration of human design.

If acknowledging human limitation were her "project" then I suspect she
would have better spent her day staying in bed.  She is *not* doing this at
all.  What she is doing is trying to restore some limited access to
objectivity specifically for political purposes.  She is trying to add to
our capacities relative to her interlocutors (remember she didn't write
this for nettime) by rescuing a "limited objectivity", not to subtract from
those capabilities.  To wit:

"Constrained constructivism has this double edge: while it implies
relativism, it also indicates an active construction of a reality that is
meaningful to us through a dynamic interplay between us and the world."

Yes, she does tend to quote Haraway and Levine (who are presumably her
political superiors), but what she's up to -- and, I have to guess, why Pit
posted the essay -- is affirming that "construction" *is* alteration of
reality, as the active nature of the term implies. She desperately wants to
do it; albeit in a constrained way.

>What technology are you designing, then?

I'm building technology who's purpose is repairing the artificial split
between reason and faith and, thereby, stimulating a new renaissance which
might end up giving humanity one more chance, as I have discussed on
various occasions.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City
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