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Image by Benjamin Blättler


Lab Author: Edward Keller

At certain scales [the very small and very large, the very fast or very slow] the rules we have found to normally govern space and time start to misbehave, to interact in foundational, constitutive ways, intertwining and mutating.  Can we model the original, catalyzing ruleset for our universe at the very smallest or most distributed levels as a graph, a network, an evolving and interlaced filigree? Which nodes or bifurcations on this graph determine a future?  Which nodes open up heretofore unknown and unavailable pathways to the past, casting us into a new templexity of present moments and emergent futures? Is the most complex labyrinth a garden of forking paths, or a straight line embedded in a radically curved universe?

Stephen Wolfram, Spatial Hypergraph Space Network, 2015

Example: Stephen Wolfram’s work on physics, math, and computation spans many decades. His [and his son’s] work on the film Arrival [Villeneuve, 2016] is perhaps less known and is an interesting addition to help us in reimagining what the relationship between ’space’ and ‘time’ might be, and how an advanced civilization might operate by accessing a much more complex, networked model of spacetime. 

Image by Benjamin Blättler


Humanity can trace its history back more than 45 thousand years. If we use one second as a baseline, 10 to the 11th seconds = 3169 years: roughly speaking, the bulk of well documented human history. And 10 to the 12th seconds = 31690 years, a terasecond: the outside edges of recorded human art/history- the Chauvet cave paintings are in this time period. We continue to discover and attempt to interpret these artifacts. But cosmological time spans billions of years: what if we decide to leave a marker, a monument for a civilization that might come millions of years after ours? What technologies might we need to develop to build such a ‘funeral pyre beacon’?  


Mauricio Salazar, "Milky Way Over Uruguayan Lighthouse"

Image by Benjamin Blättler


There are many factors to take into account in the design of a technology that might reliably carry the history of humanity forward, millions of years into the future. How to store information such that it will endure? How to re-project images, sounds, language, spaces, living systems, cultures? How to translate all of this for an alien civilization that might not have eyes or ears, but would still be curious to learn what we were, what we knew, how we thought, and what we loved? 

Example: Unsurprisingly, Stephen Wolfram has devoted substantial, lucid thinking to this question--for further reading:

additional resources on the concept of the funeral pyre beacon: ; ;

Image: ALMA telescope, Atacama; still from Nostalgia for the Light [Guzman 2010] 


ALMA telescope.jpg
Image by Benjamin Blättler


What can we learn from the extreme landscapes of our planet which can give us insight into that which is lost in the depths of time; and then by extrapolation, perhaps understand better a set of universal principles or laws of life, system organization, and physics which would apply to both terrestrial and alien systems? And what ethics and aesthetics might we build out of this reframed placement of the human not just as cause of the Anthropocene, but against all planetary systems and ecosystems? Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation, and the film adaptation by Alex Garland, is one work which takes on these questions. In the lost reaches of time past and time future -alien time- there may be unimagined universes…

BBC EARTH: ‘People and animals have been buried in permafrost for centuries, so it is conceivable that other infectious agents could be unleashed. In a 2011 study, Boris Revich and Marina Podolnaya wrote: "As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th Centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”’

Image: Annihilation, Garland, 2018

‘The darkness drops again; but now I know 

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? ‘

Image by Benjamin Blättler


In his novel Schild’s Ladder, Greg Egan imagines a future posthuman civilization based in quantum computers. In their ongoing quest to understand the fabric of space-time, a researcher travels as a signal, 370 light years to a spot in space called the Quietener: so called as it is the most silent site to test the limits of physics within humanity’s reach [for someone willing to wait hundreds of years to get there]. When she wakes up and pitches her experiment, the researchers at the station assess and agree to run the experiment. They also propose to her that as computational entities, they may observe the experiment by running themselves on subatomic computers- giving them access to ultra micro time slices. 

(To Be Continued)

Image by Benjamin Blättler


(continued from above)...

Something does go wrong with the experiment, but the researchers all hold on to a small shred of hope- as they are running as quantum minds at the subatomic scale, there are literally billions of other versions of them, all observing, all watching the experiment become a galaxy-destroying catastrophe, and all of them working in the picoseconds remaining to them, to come up with a solution…

Quote: 'In the beginning was a graph, more like diamond than graphite. Every node in this graph was tetravalent: connected by four edges to four other nodes. By a count of edges, the shortest path from any node back to itself was a loop six edges long. Every node belonged to twenty-four such loops, as well as forty-eight loops eight edges long, and four hundred and eighty that were ten edges long. The edges had no length or shape, the nodes no position; the graph consisted only of the fact that some nodes were connected to others. This pattern of connections, repeated endlessly, was all there was.' -- Schild's Ladder, Greg Egan

Image by Benjamin Blättler


What would active time be?  How could a single person access it, or a small group, or a huge population? What would its ties be to consciousness? How could we compare pouvoir and puissance in time by distinguishing between agency and freedom?  Ethical frameworks emerge FROM the world, as self organizing systems- rather than existing as a priori conditions in the world given by immutable and divine laws.  The simple possibility for an ethic, in fact  for awareness at all- resides in the ability of systems to develop points of contact with other sytems, for the turbulence and delays that emerge in those points of contact to become formalized, and for the intensification of connexions that emerge out of that noise to provide multiple possible futures. 

A Deleuzian Analysis of Tarkovsky’s Theory of Time-Pressure, Menard

Image by Benjamin Blättler


One of the core problems in developing viable CETI [communication with extraterrestrial intelligences] is the challenge of translation to a radically alien mind and cognitive system. Alexander Ollongren, a prominent developer in the research field of ‘astrolinguistics’, has suggested that human music, annotated with metadata, might be as viable a mode of realizing message transmission as any other.  But we might choose any other information rich system- pictorial, linguistic, sonic- and annotate that information package, to convey to the alien intelligence that there are layers of information to be unpacked. One significant hurdle is of course that we do not know the location- yet- of alien life. The choice of destination is a giant hurdle. A more impassable challenge is the distance. Sending a message to a nearby star system- say Gamma Leporis, 29 light years away- would require at least a 58 year round trip. Conversation in interstellar time frames will be iterative, contemplative, and fraught with uncertainty.

lagoglyphic image message, Eduardo Kac

Image by Benjamin Blättler


This is one of five lagoglyphic interstellar messages transmitted to the Lepus Constellation (below Orion) on March 13, 2009 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Based upon its stellar characteristics and distance from Earth, the Gamma Leporis star (part of the constellation Lepus) is considered a high-priority target for NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. The transmission was accomplished through satellite broadcasting equipment and a parabolic dish antenna. Gamma Leporis is 29 light-years from Earth. Kac's messages will arrive in 2038.'

'Lepus is most often represented as a hare being hunted by Orion, whose hunting dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) pursue it. The constellation is also associated with some lunar mythology, including the Moon rabbit. Four stars of this constellation (α, β, γ, δ Lep) form a quadrilateral and are known as ‘Arsh al-Jawzā', "the Throne of Jawzā'" or Kursiyy al-Jawzā' al-Mu'akhkhar, "the Hindmost Chair of Jawzā'" and al-Nihāl, "the Camels Quenching Their Thirst" in Arabic. '

lagoglyphic image message, Eduardo Kac

Image by Benjamin Blättler


The genesis of an individual, a population, a species, is ineluctably bound to the parameters of the material systems it/they inhabit, gestate in, consume as food, emerge from. Material systems index the relationships each creature builds with its world- its umwelt- and provide multidimensional, temporal maps of the time spent living in the system.  


‘“There is no route out of the maze. The maze shifts as you move through it, because it is alive.”

PARSIFAL: " I move only a little, yet already I seem to have gone far."

GURNEMANZ: " You see, my son, here time turns into space."

The whole landscape becomes indistinct. A forest ebbs out and a wall of rough rock ebbs in, through which can be seen a gateway. The two men pass through the gateway. What happened to the forest? The two men did not really move, they did not go anywhere, and yet they are not now where they originally were. ‘Here time turns into space.’’ -- from VALIS, PK Dick

Bark beetle.jpeg
Image by Benjamin Blättler


“At intervals along the sides of her tunnel she carves little alcoves, each a repository for an egg, and when she is finished ovipositing, she remains in the tunnel to protect her young and keep the tunnel clean (her offspring aren’t as tidy, and their tunnels are packed with frass (bug poop)). When the eggs hatch, the larvae chew outwards “with the grain,” at right angles to the maternal gallery, eating their way through the living vascular tissue (cambium and phloem) under the bark.  Unless population densities are high, larval tunnels don’t intersect, and as a larva fattens, so does the circumference of its tunnel.  It will pupate in the outer bark at the far end of its excavation.“

Image and Link:

Image by Benjamin Blättler


(PART 1)

The philosopher Michel deCerteau describes what he calls a ‘coup’ in time- which can take place in storytelling, or in everyday life.  Central to this coup- which could be the punch line of a great joke, or a perfectly sung note in a song, or a virtuosic gesture made high on a granite cliff- is the compression of memory on the part of the artist. As deCerteau points out, we are all born into a limited and ‘given’ world and the only way we can learn to navigate is by using our ever deeper memory across ever shorter periods of time.  Ultimately deCerteau offers this concept as a praxis which could lead- within political and economic worlds- to a form of radical freedom. 

Image: The Practice of Everyday Life, deCerteau

Image by Benjamin Blättler


(PART 2)

'Elsewhere, I have written about what I call savage practices. The savage is a precondition- or perhaps a result- of thirdness, and the establishment of complex time. I have suggested that through our conscious encounter with complex time a reconfigured subject may emerge. Cessation of habit critically deployed leads to a human constantly engaged in the production, the living, of Spinozist 'active affections'. To borrow a term from John Knesl, an encounter with complex time leaves us stuttering gods. To stutter, godlike, would be to be a god such as Borges has described in his short story 'The Circular Ruins': one who invents herself through dreaming, a constitution moment by moment of the body, the consciousness, intentionally... to establish a new relationship to fate.'   Ed Keller, Complex Time, Ethics and Invention, 2000

Image: The Practice of Everyday Life, deCerteau

unnamed (2).jpg


‘On a daily level, we constantly fluctuate between a stable, normative perception of ourselves and the world around us, and a much more dynamic and variable self- a distributed self, in which the body PERFORMS: as a 'smear'  in time, across spaces- where the perceiving self dissolves into a multiplicity of sentiments, directions, actions... The limit condition, as a moment where most people might encounter the inchoate- is produced  by any out of the ordinary experience...or any experience which may  be preconceived to be out of the ordinary.  It can be brought on by hunger, emotion, extremes of speed, fatigue, drugs, sex... at this moment, the individual may well be thrown not only out of language, but out of their routine, habitual ways of seeing, being, thinking and acting. The limit condition then takes on an active role in the dissolution of the self, in the setting up of opportunities for that dissolution to take place as well as defining the absolute boundary for each specific practice.’ 

Ed Keller, Savage Practices, ,1998


Deleuze describes this gap or rupture in his writing on Bergson:


  • ‘ is the whole of memory that descends into this interval, and that becomes actual. It is the whole of freedom that is actualized. On man's line of differentiation, the élan vital was able to use matter to create an instrument of freedom, " to make a machine which should triumph over mechanism," "to use the determinism of nature to pass through the meshes of the net which this very determinism had spread." ‘


Image: Blowup, Antonioni



'Habits begin to form at the very first repetition. After that there is a tropism toward repetition, for the patterns involved are defenses, bulwarks against time and despair. Wahram was very aware of this, having lived the process many times; so he paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular moment in his life. So often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set of habits. There was some searching to be done, in other words, some testing of different possibilities. That was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when one wandered doing things randomly. The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.'

2312, KS Robinson

Image: Blowup, Antonioni



Energy availability in our universe seems to predestine us in an unavoidable predator-prey relation across every scale we know. But Freeman Dyson, physicist and mathematician, observes that within the gradients of gravity, the balances of energy produce variation and life; hurricanes, cities, ecosystems, living creatures all move upstream against the flow of entropy, against the arrow of time. The scales of time that each creature has access to and is formed by reflect both how it can survive, and also how far into the past [and the future?] it can reach. The history of certain cell structures in a living system can go back millions of years; in a way, this means that our present was, in some manner, already ‘present’ in the past. What moments of our current present will still be stable, in the future? What forms - of - life will be supported? What form of empathy functions across centuries, or eons?

Image: El-ahrairah, Prince with a thousand enemies, Art of Maquenda

maquenda prince rabbit.jpeg


"Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion with Mercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. "

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, PK Dick



“My body, in fact, is always elsewhere. It is tied to all the elsewheres of the world. And to tell the truth, it is elsewhere than in the world, because it is around it that things are arranged. It is in relation to it--and in relation to it as if in relation to a sovereign--that there is a below, an above, a right, a left, a forward and a backward, a near and a far. It is at the heart of the world, this small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their place, and I negate them also by the indefinite power of the utopias I imagine. My body is like the City of the Sun. It has no place, but it is from it that all possible places, real or utopian, emerge and radiate."

Michel Foucault; radio lecture delivered in 1966

Example: "PHILOSOPHER AI" is a GPT-3 based pocket philosopher that generates different textual outputs to different philosophical questions like "What would constitute a Cosmopolitical Gesture?"




For more than ten years I have quoted Primo Levi, using this passage as an example of a neutral or orthogonal cosmopolitics, but I've been leaving out the more important part of the quote for that decade-plus, so here I highlight the second half of the quote.

'...Every year that passes, while earthly matters grow ever more convoluted, the challenge of the cosmos grows keener and more bitter: the heavens are not simple, but neither are they impermeable to our minds - they are waiting to be deciphered. The misery of man has another face, one imprinted with nobility; maybe we exist by chance, perhaps we are the sole instance of intelligence in the universe, certainly, we are immeasurably small, weak and alone, but if the human mind has conceived Black Holes, and dares to speculate on what happened in the first moments of creation, why should it not know how to conquer fear, poverty and grief? '


First half of quote: 'We are alone. If we have interlocutors, they are so far away that, barring unforeseeable turns of events, we shall never talk to them; in spite of this, some years ago we sent them a pathetic message. Every year that passes leaves us more alone. Not only are we not the centre of the universe, but the universe is not made for human beings; it is hostile, violent, alien. In the sky there are no Elysian Fields, only matter and light, distorted, compressed, dilated, and rarefied to a degree that eludes our senses and our language. [...] '

Primo Levi

Image: Tarkovsky, filming of The Sacrifice




Example: Excerpts from Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice (MIT Press, 2020).

"But I intended to speak about myself, not about the species. I do not know where it came from or what caused it, but even now, after all these years, I find within myself that malice, as vigorous as ever, because the energies of our most primitive impulses never age. Do I shock? Over many decades now, I have acted like a rectification column, producing a distillate composed of the pile of my articles as well as of the articles occasioned by them—hagiography. If you say that you are not interested in the inner workings of the apparatus which I unnecessarily bring out into the light, note that I, in the purity of the nourishment I have vouchsafed you, see the indelible signs of all my secrets."

"The myth of our cognitive universality, of our readiness to receive and comprehend information absolutely new—absolutely, since extraterrestrial—continues unimpaired, even though, receiving the message from the stars, we did with it no more than a savage who, warming himself by a fire of burning books, the writings of the wisest men, believes that he has drawn tremendous benefit from his find!"

Time 21.jpg
Time 21.jpg
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