Monday, July 27, 2009

the morality of pure science

In late June, I went to visit Otto Rössler to talk about human scale in relation to the size of atomic particles. I also wanted to discuss the role that visualization plays in the experimental process. Atomic particles are almost exclusively data, generated by the invisible particle flitting through a sensor array. It is hard to separate the energy of the particle from the energy of the data, there is a lot of overlap of reality and simulacra in the visualization of particle physics, especially since the "reality" is generated though a controlled experiment.

I knew Rössler had more urgent matters to discuss, however. Besides being known for the eponymous Rössler Attractor, a formula used in chaos theory mathematics, Rössler famously has issued a public warning on Spiegel TV that the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN have a chance of creating stable micro black holes (mBHs) which could put the world at risk.
With his self-deprecating humour only barely masking his concern, he told me the chances were 1 in 6 the world would be destroyed when CERN begins operations again in September, Russian Roulette.

His claims have been solidly discredited by many eminent physicists, including Stephen Hawkings, yet, he says many also support him but are unwilling to do so publicly for fear for their careers. Indeed, I found at least one other prominent scientist voicing a similar warning.

With the date of the restart of the LHC approaching, Rössler is forcefully calling for a scientific safety conference to be held whereby the public can be informed of the true risk and the actions being taken to prevent any disaster. In the clip below, he relates a conversation he had with CERN physicist Rolf Landua where they discussed an experiment which could test whether Rössler's calculations were correct or not. Such an experiment would significantly postpone the riskier experiments for which the LHC was built. Claiming all he wants is to be proven wrong, Rössler seems to be employing a stalling tactic similar to that described by Leo Szilard in his "Mark Gable Foundation".

Szilard, with Einstein, one of the essential geniuses of the atomic bomb, had to watch impotently in horror as his brainchild was exploded over a civilian population, despite his and Einstein's protests to then President Truman. Szilard became catalyzed into an activist and writer, who worked to slow down the pace of scientific progress.

Rössler invokes the repented sins of Szilard, Oppenheimer and Einstein, and claims that the pursuit of the LHC experiments as planned, without additional safety considerations, would be a sin against science. Rössler might feel himself responsible for innovating some of the mathematics which have found their application in the LHC. Most poignantly, Rössler is calling here for what appears today an anachronistic sense of scientific morality, one that places the value of truth above all.

One look at the genealogy of today's technologies will reveal that business interests (or their national proxies, states and their militaries) have accompanied every technological discovery. There is no knowledge untainted by lucre, just as there is no literature and no art devoid of the existential realities of the material survival of the artist. It is time we acknowledge these concurrent forces in the works we admire and integrate these in our appreciation.

Can scientists be held accountable for the adverse realisation of their theories? We can see with nuclear physics, the research has provided the full range of effects from the beneficial to cataclysmic. Today we live in a world where not a day goes by without some global crisis over "Nuclear Proliferation". Science is the new god, providing for our wildest desires and deepest fears. But, as Bruno Latour pointed out in his book Laboratory Life , science is a social product, and scientific results must also be considered with attention to the contexts under which thy were produced.

In the next blog, I would like to explore the notions of absolute and relative good and bad in the frame of Derrida's discussion of Marx in "Specters of Marx". For now, I will leave you with the question. If we cannot determine good or bad, what does it mean to plunge forth unmitigated into post-humanizing scientific revolution? Rössler raises the same conCERN at the end of the clip above. If CERN goes online on schedule in September without additional safety questions addressed, it will be "a proof they didn't care about risk, even though they know it exists".

UPDATE: 31.07.09 Looks like CERN is experiencing more leakage problems with the cooling units which may push the start of experiments up to November or even later!

UPDATE 2: 4.08.09 New York Times reports today that, due to system electrical faults, CERN may not reach full operationality for years if ever!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book is Out!

My new book on Atropos Press "Gratitude for Technology" has started appearing on online booksellers today! Barnes & Noble was the first, so I am linking to them, Amazon should come online soon.

The book is the result of about two years of work trying to articulate the radical premise of my media art: in order to access more meaning in the technological surfaces all around us, we need to engage with the physical material of that surface, and trace back the historical processes of how it came into being.

If we look carefully, we will see that inside every technological surface are matrices of human relationships stretching back through history. These matrices of related activity formed the materials of the earth into the technological surface. If we can somehow find a way to model and manifest these webs of relationships, this utterly human cosmology, (we may need some quantum mathematics!) we will have something which we can use to develop a more substantial connection between our selves and the technological surface.

I access a wide variety of sources to explore my argument, philosophy, art, design, performance, science, contemplating the historical value of labour and the origin and structures of meaning. and more. I am very excited to finally put into book form many of the concerns that have been going on in, and unify my work since my feature film "Proposal for Dog Brain" was completed in 1995.

Now, as I start promoting this book, I have begun preliminary editing on the first installment of my video-performance series "A Political Economy of the Smallest Things" starring Paul Virilio and Otto Rössler and yours truly. This takes the themes from (especially the last chapter of) "Gratitude for Technology" even further into the infinitesimal production of leptons and bosons at CERN near Geneva. I will upload some short clips shortly, until then, please leave a comment and say hello!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Murderous Mineral Trade

I will be presenting on the deep-material relations in consumer electronics tomorrow at the University of Arts in Berlin. Did you know that the #1 industrial consumer of electronics is the game industry? Playstations, Wiis, Iphones and all sorts of contemporary comforts and enjoyments all need cassiterite, coltan, copper. The cheapest source of these minerals is, of course, Africa. Why is it so cheap? Because that is the value of human life in institutionally impoverished countries. yet they should be among the richest countries in the world.

Jaromil at transmediale a great presentation

It is officially illegal to source conflict minerals. Congo is prohibited from building new airports near Kivu province where the trade is going on. So... the airplanes land on the highway.

What to do? Be aware, make others aware. I think Jaromil made a great point when he described the problem as endemic in the product R&D cycle. If manufacturers have a problem, say they need smaller, more heat-efficient processors, they will research only far enough to solve the problem for the time being (in this case, the solution was Coltan from Congo) instead of looking at what would come next in terms of the life cycle of the technology and in terms of the possible repercussions intensive exploitation of the newly necessary resource would have on the local people/ conditions...

What does illegal mean? It means there is a lot of money to be made on the black market. In Germany, they like to say "Kein Mensch ist illegal" I think it was Beuys who said it first "No person is illegal". This is a battle cry of the immigrants rights activists in Germany. My cynical rejoinder is here "Kein Euro ist illegal!"

UPDATE: a new article in TIME today, linking to some previous one few paid any attention to. The problem remains urgent and unsolved... there is human sacrifice inside the screen we are reading this on right now.

UPDATE: 050809 An article in the New York Times today gives a dire picture of what is still going, seemingly unabated, in Kivu provinces of Congo. We can see here how any so-called political solution only seems to exacerbate the problem, and the victims are thousands and thousands of innocents who just happen to be living in the path of mineral money juggernauts.
Last year, this situation had already been going on for a decade, but the root causes are not addressed, so it continues. typical of the complicity of our 99.9% pure sold out mass media.

UPDATE: 120809 Hillary Clinton reportedly announced today a $17 000 000 (17M$) relief fund for rape victims in the Congo.

"But a real change in the political climate is needed if things are going to change for the citizens of the eastern Congo. ... electronics manufacturers must work with governments to end the trade in illicit conflict minerals, the way the trade in Blood Diamonds from Sierra Leone was squashed through coordinate international efforts. The war in Congo, brutal though it is, is not fought for no reason. A complex array of actors with various goals and allegiances are vying for influence, control, and for power. But the fuel feeding the conflict is wealth, and much of it comes from the illicit trade in Congo's natural resources. " - Charles London

Is the "fuel feeding the conflict" wealth? meaning no wealth no conflict?...hmmm... I would imagine that the fuel feeding this conflict in pedestrian greed but the atmosphere which allows the fuel to burn brightly is a general disregard for human life, where mega-profits, and, especially the luxurious lifestyle they afford, trump local and inter-human concerns. And we can see on MTV (and all mass media is becoming MTV) that this is definitely the case. Otherwise the article hits all the right points. Hopefully more people will feel implicated and get engaged.

Friday, July 3, 2009

a blog with a purpose

Hello and welcome to my blog about my forthcoming book on Atropos Press "Gratitude for Technology" in which I will explain why and in what respects I think we should be grateful for the amazing stuff this webpage, for example, is made of.

From the text on the back cover:

Gratitude for technology is not gratitude to something or someone in particular, but first and foremost, a simple conscious resonance of acknowledgement and appreciation for a history of collaborative human relations which has produced the support for the technologised lives we are able to enjoy today.

In this text, Gottlieb proposes a mimeolography, a syntax of human forms, as a way to convey, image and model these constellations of human interaction across history in an audio-visual media 'objet philosophique' for the contemplation and concentration of gratitude.

so, the book is theory and an art project at the same time...applied philosophy and philosophical applications. I'll be back here as soon as get some new about the progress with the printing.