“Man is the permanent organizer of a society of technical objects”, (Simondon, 1980, p.4).

Ways of Thinking Technicity II: More Thoughts on Simondon

Here it goes some notes on the ways of thinking technicity from the concept and forms of appropriation of the term to the philosophical explanation of technical objects. What follows is a detailed appreciation of the term, which composes part of my ongoing research. This introductory text is divided in three parts:

Ways of Thinking Technicity I: The Philosophers of Technique

Ways of Thinking Technicity II: More Thoughts on Simondon

Ways of Thinking Technicity III: Framing Social Media

Let me then introduce some ways of thinking technicity (part II), in particular Gilbert Simondon’s original philosophy on technical objects .

+ Philosophical explanation of the existence of Technical Object +

‘On the mode of existence of technical objects’ (Du mode d’existence des objets techniques) was the complementary thesis of the French Philosopher Gilbert Simondon (completed in 1958). In the preface of this peculiar work, John Hart explains that Simondon presents a new way of understanding technology by the philosophical explanation of “the humanity contained in the machine”, and “with the same proximity to the technical object”  (Simondon, 1980, p.i). Following the preface written by John Hart, I would like to address an introduction of Simondon´s thought, starting with the substantial influence of Jacques Lafitte and his philosophy of technique on Simondon´s Work; the importance given by both authors to the technical object lies in the same plane. In addition, there are difficulties concerning the language adopted by these authors (find here a short list of Simondon´s vocabulary). Second thing to be said (or shown) is how the French edition of Simondon´s work was organised:

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-16-58-05
Based on John Hart´s preface (Simondon, 1980)

This latter structure will not be developed in here, since I am now compromised with exploring the essence of technicity and its general concept. A third point that caught my attention on John Hart´s preface relates to his effort in telling the difference between Mechanology [1] (or science of the machines) and Cybernetics;  system is the central notion in Cybernetics added to the concepts of feedback and information (there is also a plea to return to interdisciplinary studies); in the meantime, soma turns to be the central notion in Mechanology. The science of machines had two different moments (or groups of people): one took technology as a discourse on technics, here technical operation were taken as objects; the other moment, which is anticipated by Simondon’s thoughts and perspectives, there were the “possibility of encorporating the machine into the family of things human as part of a global cultural renaissance” (Simondon, 1980, p.ii).

John Hart well explains Simondon´s thesis of the mutual interdependence owned by technical objects and humans, asserting that the value of technical objects depends on whether they are attached to ‘intentions’ – meaning technical objects can either alienate or combine ‘human hope’.  Hart also says:

“It is the human body with its balance, its rapport, and its emanations which gives to technology a degree of universality which put it into legitimate comparison with the broad extension of science” (Simondon, 1980, p.vii)

To Simondon (1980) the human individual neither dominates nor is dominated by the technical object, they both enters into a kind of dialectic or a (sort of) somatic reality. In this way, technical objects will correspond to the human dimension.

+ Being aware of the significance of the Technical Objects +

The main purpose of Simondon´s doctoral (complementary) thesis is to “stimulate the awareness of the significance of the technical objects” (1980, p.1). Simondon defines technical objects as “a method of concretization”[2] and “functional process over-determination”, meaning they are not mere utensils, they are undertaken “as the object of an assessment of values” (op.cit., p.8).

The introduction of On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (Simondon, 1980) presents Simondon’s principal concepts and assumptions, and the first statement concerns the placement of technical entities as part of culture and mediators between man and natureHowever, in the author’s view, “culture is unbalanced” (op.cit., p.2) because culture recognises aesthetic, but banishes technical things [and recognition here is placed in the worlds of meanings]. The second statement is an explanation of culture’s contradictory attitudes towards technical objects. On the one hand, technical objects are treated as “pure and simple assemblies of material” [there is a lack of meaning/they only provide utility], on the other hand, these objects are taken as robots that “harbour intentions hostile to man” or “represent constant threat of aggression for man” (Simondon, 1980, p.3). Basically, Simondon says that “culture strives to prevent the manifestation of the second” and the way to prevent such rebellion is to put the machines in the service of man. Such cultural contradiction arises from “an ambiguity in our ideas about automatism”, and, in explaining automatism versus open machine [3], Simondon  introduces his third statement; man is the permanent organizer of a society of technical objects” (2009, p.4) (or socio-technical society).

“The most powerful cause of alienation in the world of today is based on misunderstanding of the machine. The alienation in question is not caused by the machine but by a failure to come to an understanding of the nature and essence of the machine, by the absence of the machine from the world of meanings, and by its omission from the table of values and concepts that are an integral part of culture” (Simondon, 1980, pp.1-2).

Simondon makes evident that machines are only perfect in the presence of man [4] who is the permanent organizer and as a living interpreter of the interrelationships of machines” (op.cit., p.4). The figure of the conductor is thus compared with the role that man plays in relating with technology:

“The conductor can direct his musicians only because, like them, and with a similar intensity, he can interpret the piece of music performed; he determines the tempo of their performance, but as he does so his interpretative decisions are affected by the actual performance of the musicians; in fact, it is through him that the members of the orchestra affect each other’s interpretation; for each of them he is the real, inspiring form of the group’s existence as group; he is the central focus of interpretation of all of them in relation to each other” (Simondon, 1980, p.4).

Simondon affirms that only “a complete culture” can enable us to understand that technical objects or technology itself are “indeed human” [5] (Simondon, 1980, p.1). In order to restore the general character of Culture, Simondon (1980, p.6) proposes a Cultural Reform by reintroducing an understanding of the nature of machines (which he claims to be the real regulating power of culture) and the values involved in their mutual relationship (machine-machine) as well as their relationship with man (machine-man). In other words, technologists should be side by side with psychologists or sociologists, and technology (e.g. causality, regulation or positive reaction) should be taught universally likewise the basics of literary culture (e.g. math theorems, history, physics).

How could a person achieve such understanding (and contribute to this Cultural Reform)? I respond this question with arguments based on Simondon’s philosophy, so, we should i) be aware of structures and functions of technical objects; ii) we must see machines in their own right; and, iii) take into account “the achievement of an organization engineer who is a sociologist or psychologist of machines” (Simondon, 1980, p.6) throughout a cultural reform; iv) and, ultimately, we must define the technical object as method of concretization not only as a mere utensil (op.cit., p.8).

Last but no least, envisioning technical objects as being an “assessment of values” (Simondon, 1980, p.8), they should thus be perceived at three levels:

1. [the machine as technical]  element; 

2. [the machine as technical] individual; and, 

3. [the machine as technical] ensemble. 

Simondon (1980) explains that “technicality tends to reside in ensembles”, the reason why “technicality” can became “a foundation for culture”.

Notes

[1] In 1932, Jacques Lafitte published Reflexions sur la science des machines (Reflections on the Science of Machines), in which the author suggested a classification of “machines”: passive, active, and reflexive (Monoskop, n.d.). John Hart explains this tripartite division or Latiffe´s basis of the mechanology of the individual technical object: passive machines are “devoted to maintaining a homeostatic technical object” (e.g. house, bridge), active machines operate independently (e.g.machine tools, satellites), and reflexive machines provide information (e.g. computer).

[2] Simodon (2009) describes concretization by using the GUIMBAL turbine example. At the first sight the idea of this turbine seemed absurd; the forced conduct of a dam was entirely held by an alternator with small dimensions, and it was precisely the small dimension that allowed “for the alternator to be lodged completely within the canalization, on the turbine axis itself” (Simondon, 2009, p.19). Four main objectives compose the turbine, they are described in its original patent:
[i]n a unit constructed in accordance with the present invention the turbine and generator are built together as a single unit for installation under water. The unit is preferably constructed for installation at the throat of a convergent-divergent conduit which conveys water to and conducts it from the turbine unit. An object of the invention is to provide a turbine and generator unit of the type described in which the space required is reduced to a minimum. Another object is to provide, in a turbine unit of the type described, improved means for preventing leakage of water into the unit. A further object of the invention is to provide, in a unit of the type described, improved apparatus for cooling and for lubricating the unit. A further object is to construct a unit of the type described which may be installed with its principal shaft either horizontal, vertical or at any oblique angle. (Guimbal, 1953, p. 4 apud Iliadis, 2015, pp.91-92).

In practical terms, “the alternator is putting in a casing filled with oil, which heightens the isolation and improves the thermal exchanges ensuring the lubrification of the different levels and preventing water from coming in”; here, the multifunctional character of the oil of the casing is the very schema of concretization that makes the invention exists, as a regime of functioning (Simondon, 2009, p.19).

[3] A “purely automatic machine” works under an automatism process or a predetermined operation [ensemble of closed machine] with fairly low degree of technical perfection”, meanwhile “machine with superior technicality” conceals a margin of indetermination [ensemble of open machine], and this machine allows sensitivity to information (Simondon, 1980, pp.3-4) or, better saying, machines are sensitive to outside information.

[4] To Simondon, man is the permanent inventor and coordinator of machines.

[5] Culture behaves towards the technical object much in the same way as a man caught up in primitive xenophobia behaves towards a stranger. This kind of misoneism directed against machines does not so much represent a hatred of the new as a refusal to corne to terms with an unfamiliar reality. Now, however strange this reality may be, it is still human, and a complete culture is one that enables us to discover that this stranger is indeed human. Still, the machine is a stranger to us; it is a stranger in which what is human is locked in, unrecognized, materialized and enslaved, but human nonetheless” (Simondon, 1980, p.1).

References

 

Simondon, G. (1980). On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. University of Western Ontario,at http://dephasage.ocularwitness.com/pdf/SimondonGilbert.OnTheModeOfExistence.pdf accessed 12 April 2016

Simondon (2009). Technical Mentality. Parrhesia Journal , 7, 17-27 at http://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia07/parrhesia07_simondon2.pdf accessed 11 January 2017

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