Biosphere, Noösphere, Infosphere: Epistemo-Aesthetics and the Age of Big Data

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The evolution of human cognition has corresponded to the technological expansion of its state-space, increasing its degrees of freedom by tracking invariances and conjunctions in its relations with the world. This process has two aspects. First, the human has progressively broken up the unified whole that was the ‘magical unity’ (Simondon) of our pre-human ancestors into convenient and workable objects of knowledge that can be named, numbered, displaced, and exchanged. This is the abstract process of discretization (Stiegler), and it has gone step in step with hominization. Discretization corresponds to a process of dividing the world’s continuous fluxes and vague unities into ever smaller, countable parts and pieces. But there is a second, complimentary process: that of synthesis, concrescence, or integration, which has also followed the expansion of the human Umwelt. Humans have extended their criticality not only by breaking the world up into smaller pieces, but by correlating these parts according to principles of symmetry and invariance, sequence and order. It is the organism’s capacity to encapsulate, to envelop an indefinite series or to mark a horizon (Châtelet). This process can be thought of as complimentary to discretization: instead of a breaking-things-apart, it is process of enveloping, or of the constitution of a provisional whole (holon). All ‘extended critical’ systems may be said to produce such integrations corresponding to their stabilization upon a perpetual phase transition, a state of constant renormalization (Bailly and Longo). It is at the root of speculations about the eventual convergence of human knowledge upon an attractor, an omega point, or a singularity, as the ultimate end of a noölogical process. Teilhard de Chardin called this the ‘noösphere’. Beyond his speculative scheme, science and mathematics permit us to speak of a singularity of cognition and life that could also be considered noölogical. But today, the big data environment that tracks our interactions and displacements, that pulverizes the world as an abstract set of indexed variables, has been more appropriately described as an ‘infosphere’. It has been called a ‘fourth revolution’ (Floridi) in human thought, the most recent step in the Copernican displacement of the human from the world stage. Turing is held to follow Freud, Darwin and Copernicus in the infliction of yet another wound to human narcissism. It is as though the prospect of a noösphere has been displaced by that of the infosphere, as though the organism’s process of cognitive synthesis had become obsolete, replaced by the lonely acts of sampling and sequence matching, tireless iteration, measurement and calculation. The present article proposes a different framework for thinking the emergence of the infosphere: it results from human technoevolution having been nefariously overtaken by a runaway process of discretization. We problematize this line of thought from a noötechnical and ‘epistemo-aesthetic’ standpoint, by considering the shared aesthetic evolution of life, cognition and technè.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)202-219
Number of pages18
StatePublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Alexander Wilson is a postdoctoral researcher in communications and culture at Aarhus University (Denmark), where he examines the logical and material conditions of experience with regard to technogenesis, ecology, and the spectre of the posthuman. He holds a PhD from UQAM (Montreal, Canada) on the subject of philosophical aesthetics. His dissertation investigates the question of mind and memory beyond the human, drawing from theories of complexity, emergence, systems theory, evolutionary dynamics and philosophies of process.

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