Silence, Cheating Death, and Other Problems in Research

Future Technology Display

We always mistake the library for the world. It frustrates us that they cannot find the thing they want to say, that nobody has asked and answered the question we want to ask, that our knowledge does not map 1:1 our experience. This desire has extended to reproduce life itself. Futurists like Martine Rothblatt are doing their best to make information map onto life to make it replace a life:

In Martine’s vision, at the end of Bina’s physical life, when her body gives out, there would still be a Bina — Bina48, a robot designed to interact with the world just like the original, right down to her sense of humor. –CBS News

This is a possibility that fits the definition of a life:

Information creates the potential for an immanent activation that activates the body’s coming to be this or that and its de-forming into a field of relation, an ecology of body-becoming. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.20

Propelled by the force of in-formation, life is the tendings and habits and attunments, the appetition, that activate the singularity of this or that unfolding process. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.21

To put it this way a life is not necessarily organic, and information presupposes the body. The idea that a life is just what is mentioned above is a fair one, albeit obscure, where we can talk about the life of a business and the life of a pebble but what is at stake is not just the transference of a life, but the transference of a consciousness, which is somewhat hard to prove. As the philosopher Riccardo Manzotti puts it:

Information could provide a sort of recipe to build, in the best scenario, a faithful replica of a past event, thing, or organism. DNA exploits the same principle. Even when there isn’t any variation–as is the case with clones–the new individuals are not the same as the past ones: they are new individuals that have many similarities with their original. –Riccardo Manzotti, Information Won’t Make Us Immortal

This is doubly so, as Bina48 will likely insist on being conscious and act that way. The ghost in that machine will likely find ways to express its Bina-ness, but it will never be Bina’s consciousness the way Bina’s was. This comes down to the entire problem of information: it only provides the force to activate the singularity of an unfolding process, but it is never enough to dictate an unfolding process itself. Even as we store it, at its core digital information will always be communicating, and most importantly, it will never be silent. For a host of other in-formations, Bina48’s silences will never be Bina’s once she’s gone. This is because information is always an expression, a force, never a lack. Digital information can always say yes or no at the bit level but it cannot say neither.

music-silence

Writing, like all information, has the same problem. it cannot dictate the unfolding itself. Derrida points out in Writing and Difference that:

There is an essential lapse between significations which is npt the simple and positive fraudulence of a word, nor even the nocturnal memory of all language, to misconstrue that language is a rupture with totality itself. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p.71

Writing is isolated, and cannot express the meaning of silence. For the same reason, we cannot map a library to the world 1:1.

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One thought on “Silence, Cheating Death, and Other Problems in Research

  1. I work in a public library and we see this desire expressed most obviously in kids and their parents gathering resources for science projects. They ask for books on subjects that are overly specific to what they’re investigating, specific to the point that if they got what they wanted it would defeat the very purpose of the scientific method they’re supposed to implement. On one occasion I had a parent ask for a book–an entire book, at a fourth grade level!–on the chemical composition and properties of permanent marker ink versus regular ink in order to back up an experiment testing different cleaning solutions. I had to explain why, even if such a book existed, they probably shouldn’t use it, as their science experiment would then be reduced to a decorative flourish to what is really just a book report.

    One of the difficulties of doing research is “deciding the undecidable” with respect to what sounds to make in the silence between texts. That’s a problem if the researcher positions himself as a passive consumer of information, whereby the librarian, in turn, functions as a ventriloquial match-maker between researcher-puppet and information-voice. But if the researcher wants to be creative, then the problems are actually conditions of creativity.

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