This Is Not A PhD Proposal


This Is Not A Pipe.

…though I’m not sure what it is. It’s the beginning of an idea; one that I need to start speaking out loud before I either forget it, or it’s entirely drowned out by the snowballing, tangental research I’m doing at the moment in an attempt to place my own work in an academic context, as they say.

Reading the passage below, it’s obvious I’ve been digging through much Cybernetics literature from the 50s and 60s. Whilst it’s both interesting and (often) relevant, I’m mindful that it’s only the tip of a very large iceberg. There are already some other dark clouds looming, with names like Conversation Theory, Actor-Network Theory, Phenomenology, Autopoiesis… and that’s not even to start mentioning all the weighty French and Spanish surnames that go alongside. Suffice to say, this isn’t my PhD proposal; it’s possibly the beginning of something, but something which will be much changed over the coming months…

How can expression of a non-language person be measured? Can they be treated as a scientific system to be observed, much like a black box, and tested through variable inputs and outputs? Can another system be created that is sensitive to the engagement of a participant: able to recognise and structure a dialogue between itself and a person whom is unable to express themselves through mainstream language?

Neither science nor art can lay claim to being a discipline of objectivity or Truth. The former may make a concerted effort to achieve such through structure and control, yet the best it may hope to accomplish is a representation of a single truth, separated from all other truths: not so dissimilar to art’s own representation of ideas communicated.

There is much from all culture; art and science combined; that we view as representing Truth; so much so that we take for granted the effect that these discrete symbols have in our daily life. Could it be possible to engage in a fluid, non-symbolic dialogue, were we not burdened by the categorical structure of cultural language and ongoing quest for scientific objectivity? And how could this dialogue be represented; if at all?

We typically view those who do not engage with language as unable to. In fact, it is only our language (that of the mainstream, governing population) that these people are not engaging with; equally, and perhaps tellingly, our own communication is limited: we are unable to engage with their language. Too concrete a view of what constitutes ‘language’ leaves little room for subjectivity. Language can be a continuous flow of information, an aesthetic series of choice including perceptual feedback from many senses and systems, each with different focuses on agency, memory and negotiation. Under this definition is it possible to say that those non-language humans in fact engage in a much broader conversation with their environment and experience?

A system that is able to facilitate the freedom to engage in a conversation such as this surely would not be another human; subjectivity would be projected upon subjectivity, making interpretation nearly impossible. A system created to engage in a different language should have the ability to respond sensitively; learn and reflect dialogue; and finally interpret and represent the experience. The science in these ideas would point to the data collection of the system, whilst the art to its subjective representation of communication. The system is at once both and neither.

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