On December 6 I held a presentation at the 3-days international Fak’ugesi Digital Africa Conference, organized by Wits – University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The presentation was in the same period and place of the PhD T-Node Winter Session, organized as a joint session between CaiiA and T-Node (I’ll go through it in another post). The conference was “aimed at creating a platform for research on technology, art and culture in Africa”, and presented “local and international research where technology as a convergent form intersects with socio-culture, development and creative practices”. It was part of a Festival, started in September 2014, aimed at coordinating and curating a number of stand-alone conferences, exhibitions, workshops, short-courses and other activities promoting the fusion of creative and technical development in Africa by “switching on the power” of digital culture.
I presented my paper in the session “Post Digital Organic”. The conference proceedings will be published in a special issue of the magazine Technoetic Arts (Intellect Books). Here a short excerpt of my paper:
Some perspectives about Nature and Life
My presentation is divided in three parts, three topics that I think deserve a reflection and that in the end will converge. The first one is about the digital.
In a comparison between an analog and a digital photography the first one is usually considered as “continuous” and the second one as “discrete”, because it is made by a number of pixels with a regular geometric shape (that is normally square). However, enlarging both pictures, they do not show continuity or regularity, but rather discontinuity. Both images show patterns of discrete, non-continuous configurations. The difference is that in an analog photography the form and the size of the silver salts grains that codify and compose the image vary all along the photosensitive surface, while in the digital photography the shape and the size of the pixels that codify and compose the image are the same all along the picture’s surface. Consequently “discrete” and “continuous” should not be considered as absolute values in differentiating between “digital” and “analog”.
What emerges from the comparison between an analog and a digital photography can be extended to a more general purpose: both “analog” and “digital” are discontinuous, discrete. We could name the “digital” as “discrete regular” and the “analog” as “discrete chaotic” or “unordered”.
The organic and life
The second part of my presentation is about the organic and life. The material dimension of the digital is very important today in its relationship with the organic.
On one side the scientific and technological evolution can be used to engineer the human body. Muscles, skin, bones, organs, brain, genes, can be cured, enhanced, modified, substituted, generating a sort of an expanded humanity (3D printed cells, 3D internal organs and body parts, implants, robotic exoskeletons, artificial tissues with nanoscale sensors, DNA modification, to give some recent examples). The human nature and condition, and many ideas that for centuries have been at the basis of the societies’ existence and structure, are put in discussion, redefining the meaning and the limits of “human” and “human culture”. Today this process is recognisable in the attention that is payed to the environmental issues and to the animal rights, and it is even more evident in movements like Transhumanism and Posthumanism.
On the other side the scientific and technological evolution seems leading to new creatures that are growing smarter and increasingly independent from the human control. They can be defined to a certain extent as “living entities”.
The Third Life
We are going to assist to an extension of the idea of life and of life forms from the organic realm to a complex panorama with organic, inorganic as well as intermingled life forms. This emerging forms could be called “Third Life”, being the “First Life” the organic life and the “Second Life” the life in the symbolic realm [Capucci 2009, 2013].
The double relativization process
The last part of my intervention will try to present some sort of – we could call it – a double relativization process.
Son of the Stars
Hence, on the one hand humanity has been ousted from being the first and higher living species at the center of the universe to a species among the others, with an analogue evolution, that lives in a remote part of an immense, dark and poorly known zone. On the other hand humankind seems increasingly involved in the whole, it is in all things and it is made of all things, of the common matter which every other living being is made of, it is inseparable from the whole and increasingly aware of an ever expanding consciousness.
Can these processes possibly converge?
“The baryons that make up your body have participated in this cycle for nearly 14 billion years; the matter within your fingernail could have formed in stars in other galaxies and then spent billions of years exiled in intergalactic space before coming to rest in our solar system.” [Geach 2011: 53]
A baryon is a composite subatomic particle made up of three quarks. Almost all the usual matter experienced in everyday life is baryonic matter, which includes atoms of any sort. To make this sentence clearer the term “baryons” can be replaced by “atoms”, or “matter”.
This article makes scientifically explicit what we probably already know. Obviously all the atoms that makes up the universe, and also Earth, Nature, living beings, artefacts and machines, must have a common origin. But I have to admit that sometimes recalling the evidence that we are made of the same basic matter of the stars can be profoundly inspiring.