Abstract of Paper Submitted to the Symposium on the Evolution of Complexity Einstein meets Margritte, organized by the Free University of Belgium, May 29- June 3, 1995.
In the past one hundred years or so, the whole program of modernity has come under scrutiny and attack from various quarters: cultural criticism Frederic Jameson and physics David Lindley to give but two examples.
I will continue on the path started by Stephen Toulmin which attempts to go back and reconstruct the assumptions we have accepted about modernity and by re-examining them, find new ways of being modern.
On one hand we had the humanist tradition, best exemplified by Bacon and Galileo, where the pursuit of understanding the world by rational methods was in harmony with other methods, which we would label now non-rational or even irrational. (See for instance the work of Frances A. Yates, on the interrelation between these two strains, the rational and non-rational, or magickal.)
This humanist tradition has been to a great extent abandoned in favor of the second modernist revolution of Des Cartes and Newton, a rationalist tradition in which Reason is the only acceptable or the highest method of understanding the world. Our world, our culture is heir to this tradition, and some of our present dilemmas and difficulties can be traced to this.
Already, some of these limitations were perceived earlier and were given voice in music, painting and even mathematics and philosophy . The question which I want to explore here is that of constructing a modernity which is in between these two European traditions, between Galileo and Newton, between Bacon and Des Cartes . In have called this view Here_and_Now_ness to emphasize its location very much in the present.
Toulmin invokes a quadruple of dualistic pairs which I wish to bring in some sort of yin-yang fusion/tension: the oral-written, the particular-universal, the local-general and the timely-timeless. By this I mean a fusion in which each pair of dual elements contains in it the seeds for its opposite.
Prigogine and Stengers have pointed out that this interplay between the local and the global, between particular-universal happens all the time in the natural world, in the creation of life and in the self-generated creation of consciousness.
I also would like to talk about a project which I am engaged in with several friends, a project sister to the Principia Cybernetica Project, which we call the Cyborganic Media Cooperative. It consists of a group of people, some of which live together, involved in creating both a physical community as well as a virtual community. I feel that in some ways, we are attempting to make real, physical this idea of a different modernity which I was analyzing above. Since the time of this conference there is a World Wide Web site launched. The viewer can see some of the virtual aspect of our project as well. For the physical aspect, we need to be in San Francisco.