[iDC] Alan's questions about media theory/ies

Mark Edward Cote markcote at trentu.ca
Wed Jul 22 00:41:11 UTC 2009

thanks for your comments alan. but i don't wish to be drawn into a debate about 'reductionism' since the relationship b/n the human and tools is a complex recursive one. there is no straightforward 'cause and effect' here. rather it is a process whereby tool making differentiates our ongoing selective actualization of environment (c.f. autopoiesis) which alters what we are. in this sense, the human is both malleable and iterable, rather than essential.

if we go back to the insights of leroi gourhan and then stiegler, they point to tool making--not just once, but in a repeatable manner over generations--as a new extra-genetic factor in the evolutionary process. that is, the evolution of tools act in a complex feedback loop on corticalization (specific human neurological evolution). it is an 'extra-biological' process precisely because technology (i.e. tools) act as an inorganic repository of memory which is preserved well beyond the lifespans of those who first construct them. importantly, in this sense, human culture has always been a kind of technoculture.

as for all the wonders of the other amazing creatures and organisms with which we share this planet, there are countless examples of using tools. and while it is well outside my area of expertise, i do not believe that other creatures are able to conserve and disseminate their experiences and cultural knowledge via tools.

i think this epiphylogenetic process is relevant not because it makes humans special or superior to other creatures but because it is, for me at least, an important insight into the relationship between humans and tecnlogy, whether it be knapped flint tools or distributed digital networks.

finally, while it might be functionally useful in the short term, i do not expect we will reach consensus on a singular definition of mediation. but the debate no doubt could be fun along the way.



>>> Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> 07/21/09 7:56 PM >>>

On Tue, 21 Jul 2009, Mark Edward Cote wrote:

> 1.
> most relevant to questions of mediation is stiegler's 'technics and
> time' wherein he posits a constitutive relationship b/n the human and
> technology. this is based largely on the work of french
> paleo-anthropologist andre leroi-gourhan who posited that the
> distinguishing characteristic of homo habilis (the first 'human' or
> homo) was precisely its ability to make (not just use) rudimentary stone
> tools. for leroi-gourhan this sets off a transductive relationship b/n
> the tools and the distinctive neurological development of the human.
> stiegler refers to this recursive relationship as epiphylogenesis, a
> form of emergent causality whereby tools effect the biological process
> of evolution which equally impacts upon the development of technics. in
> other words, we only ever became 'human' when we became able to use
> tools.

I wonder about this, since some bird species make tool, and chimpanzees 
have been seen to make mortar and pestles. I worry about any sort of 
reductionism - i.e. "_this_" is the distinguishing characteristic - which 
has ranged from furlessness to composition of urine to opposable thumb to 
gesture to language, as if a version of cause-and-effect can be 
established as fundamental.
> in short, tools (technics, technology) were always already part of the
> process of exteriorization for the human. this brings us back to
> mediation. what i find compelling about this perspective is how it
> further deconstructs the human subject of modernity. as i framed it in a
> recent conference paper, 'we have never been human.' that is the human
> is an originary assemblage of the body and technology; a structural
> coupling of the human and its environment.
> perhaps of interest to readers here is that such tools/technics also
> include media artifacts, writ-large--from orality to literacy to digital
> distributed networks. as such, antagonisms themselves are only ever
> manifested recursively in the structural couplings of the human and
> environment. from this theoretical perspective, mediation is a
> constitutive element of our existence.
Just wanted to point out that Merlin Donald has been writing on this and 
other related themes for a while now - I've found his work on exteriority 
of mind of great interest.

One final point - can someone provide a definition of "mediation" we might 
agree on? I find the concept confusing (but then I find a lot of concepts, 
including "concept," confusing.)

- Alan, thanks

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