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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In every dream home: a nuclear reactor

This is a text which sets out an argument against nuclear power from a chaotic postmodern countercultural multiple perspective. Or rather it explores the possibility that such an argument might exist and outlines some directions any such argument might take.

In keeping with the postmodernist theme, the text is presented as a "work in regress''.

Now read on...

It should be easy enough. All I have to do is summarise a short (14 page) chapter on "The Postmodern Mind" which comes at the end of a rapid sprint through The Passions of the Western Mind- which kicks off with the ancient Greeks and ends in 1991. At least that was when the book was published.

Instead I have spent an hour listening to a cd of classic house anthems from circa 1991[e.g. Oceanic: Insanity : crazy fever burning in my soul...take me into insanity ...dreaming tripping into insanity- thought I had it on 12" vinyl but no trace, not in this reality] whilst lying down with the open book resting on my stomach.

Lets do random sampling

in its most general and widespread form , the postmodern mind may be viewed as an open ended, indeterminate set of attitudes that has been shaped by a great diversity of intellectual and cultural currents ; these range from pragmatism, existentialism, Marxism and psychoanalysis to feminism, hermeneutics, deconstruction and post empiricist philosophy of science... Reality is not a solid self contained given but a fluid unfolding process, an 'open universe' continually affected by one's actions and beliefs...The knowing subject is never disengaged from the body or from the world, which form the background and condition of every cognitive act.

The prevalence of the Kuhnian concept of 'paradigms' in current discourse is highly characteristic of postmodern thought, reflecting a critical awareness of the mind's fundamentally interpretive nature.... The world does not exist as a thing-in-itself, independent of interpretation; rather it comes into being only in and through interpretations. The subject of knowledge is already embedded in the object of knowledge; the human mind never stands outside the world... hence the nature of truth and reality, in science no less than philosophy, religion, or art, is radically ambiguous.

The postmodern human exists in a universe whose significance is at once utterly open and without warrantable foundation.... here the Cartesian intellect has reached its furthest point of development, doubting all, applying a systematic scepticism to every possible meaning...

old assumptions remain blunderingly in force , providing an increasingly unworkable and dangerous blueprint for human thought and activity....

The dialectical challenge felt by many is to evolve a cultural vision that...would yet somehow bring an authentic and fruitful coherence out of the present fragmentation. [Richard Tarnas: Passion of the Western Mind: Pimlico: 1991]

Back to the old house music: " let me be your fantasy"... the fantasy being the ability to bring 'an authentic and fruitful cohesion' out of the chaos. To evolve a cultural vision.... Evolve being the key word. Ooops, got stuck again. Why am I stuck? Synchronity- cd stuck now on Two bad Mice. Change the record! Rave Anthems 2. First track: Moby/ Go. Wow, this is such a powerful piece of music. I will put it on repeat.

Back to evolution. I guess what is confusing me is the attempt to mix together a set of 'scientific' sources of information which may not meld and merge into a coherent narrative. Examples being George Dyson/ Darwin Amongst the Machines and the latest 'Science of Discworld' book, Darwin's Watch. [Pratchett, Stewart, Cohen]

Darwin's Watch is focused on physical/ biological evolution [ with a subtext of opposition to 'intelligent design'], whereas Darwin Amongst the Machines is focused on the evolution/ emergence of non-biological 'intelligence'.

Common to both is a denial/ refusal of reductionist absolutism. That 'intelligence' is an emergent property of complex systems and so there is no need to invoke an 'intelligent designer' to explain biological/ artificial life on earth.

The Dyson strand is the one which needs to be developed if intelligent design (= creationism = reductionist absolutism) is to be properly refuted. This is a cyberpunk/ chaos magick theme. Dyson's argument is "Yes, we as humans have created complex machines and tried to imbue them with intelligence, but any intelligence which our machines will one day exhibit will be the product of evolution rather than our intentional design.".

The further implication is that our 'intelligence' is also the product of evolution rather than divine design- that out of the complexity of our brains' neural networks the property called 'intelligence' [ = consciousness] has emerged 'naturally'. Aha, says the advocate of intelligent design, but who designed 'nature' [= reality = the universe etc] such that intelligence would emerge out of physical existence ?

Good question. The answer seems to be that evolution also works at a cosmological level. Most potential universes are unstable and so would cease to exist within milli-seconds of their creation out of nothing (which is what our universe emerged from about 15 billion years ago). No less than our individual existence depends upon the unique sexual union of our parents - which distinguishes me from most of you- our collective existence depends on the unique set of physical constrains/ properties which give stability to the universe we inhabit. It is a logic loop - if a stable universe did not exist, then we would not exist within it to wonder why it and we exist... if my father had not met my mother, I would not exist. If your mother had not met your father, neither would you. This sequence of 'ifs' can be extended backwards to the origin of our universe with no need to invoke any pre-existant 'intelligent designer' or G*d.

But what happens if we look forwards? It looks a bit gloomy. By distinguishing our intelligence/ consciousness/ existence as human beings from the totality of existence (which is no less intelligent/ conscious than we are, since we are part of rather than apart from 'it') , we have isolated ourselves from the totality of reality, and from evolution. Thus we are subject to entropy, to the law of diminishing returns. The more we try to force the world into conformity with our absolutist/ reductionist vision of reality, the closer we come to the extinction of our existence as homo sapiens, as human beings.

Riders on the Storm/ The Doors/ LA Woman/ 1970

The world on you depends
Our life will never end...

Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown...

Riders on the storm...

Waves crash onto the beach. We have left our footprints on the sand, but the tide is turning. Soon it will wash our footprints away. When they are gone, who (or what) will know that we ever existed?

Nuclear power.

Our nuclear footprint will remain on the beach. The sands of time fused and vitrified around our absence.Mistah Kurtz may be dead, but his shadow remains, its outline frozen in our very act of becoming 'the horror'.

Too poetic of course. Relax, the problems are mere technicalities. Nuclear waste is not an issue,. at least not one sufficient to scupper the Project. There is an energy gap and we need nuclear to fill it - or we will end up sitting around freezing our butts off in the dark. And nuclear can help us fight global climate change!

OK, so do I need to rehearse, to adumbrate, the pro and anti- positions? No, I don't since that information is already out there/ in here - splashed across front pages of the Independent and the Scotsman today [ Tuesday 29 November 2005 era vulgaris]. What I need to do is articulate the chaotic postmodern countercultural point of many views/ many points of view/ many views of the point/ views of many points.

Which is/ are?

To go nuclear is to regress back to modernity, to the quaintly old-fashioned single world of the 'technical fix'. Got a problem with managing a complex socio-economic environmental energy situation? Who you gonna call? The technocrats!

In a hole? What should you do? Why not dig it so deep we come out the other side of the problem! Lets tunnel our way into a nuclear new age, lets solve all our problems by passing the buck to future generations as yet unborn. What has posterity ever done for us? As economist J.K. Galbraith put it "In the long term, we are all dead.".

Power is Control

The scary thing about alternatives to going nuclear is that they require Power (=Energy) generation to be dispersed across a bewildering range of options and possibilities. Good God, some naive idiots have even suggested that we should reduce our addiction to Power (=Energy), that the exponential growth curves could be flattened out so we get back to life, back to reality!

But if that happens, wouldn't we be in danger of losing Control? If each household was a Creator of Power (= Energy) , then each household , each defined social unit, would acquire an equivalent degree of Control? The whole System, the whole structure of the Spectacle would collapse into Chaos!

1.Power must be Concentrated at the Centre, to be doled out watt by watt, newton by newton to those on the Periphery.

2. Power must never lose its Aura of Danger, must remain a thing too frightening for any but the Elite to Control.

3. Power shapes the World. The World does not shape Power.

Still too poetic.

Power control lies state secrets security .

These are the themes. The contamination of all data. Don't let them see what we are doing. Terrorism. the concentration rather than dispersal, 'devolution. of power.

Compare and contrast two products of Total War. Nuclear power. Computing power.

Alan Turing. General Groves. Von Neumann. Intelligence.... Oakridge and Los Alamos. Bletchley Park. Knowledge as Power.

Visualisation: the different paths and trajectories taken by the flow of knowledge of Nuclear and Computing power. The agencies and institutions created as manifestations of the differing trajectories. Trace them, follow them through from 1940 onwards..

Thought experiment - can you imagine:

i. A nuclear reactor for every home?

ii. A computer for every home?

In every dream home, a heart ache... Roxy Music


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