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Discussion on: Plex: A Life

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samosborn profile image
Sam Osborn

This is fantastic!
Really wild stuff, like you say: kinda Spinozan, in a haunting way. I had no idea this existed.

I wonder if one take away could be that Structured Analysis and binary based ontology are fundamentally imperfect seeds to grow a fully functional epistemology. That Ross's end of life obsession leading into frustration was an exercise in failing to model epistemic meaning with computer science. And yet, there is a powerful myth that it can be done; as we let software permeate all parts of our lives, we let it do the malformed work of epistemic meaning-making for us/around us. Ross's end of life may be a foreshadowing our collective experiment along the same road, where our Plex is the massively monocultured mobile information complex that creates a layer of slightly annoying paraverse in and around the dirty and substantial world we live in. At some point I think we will admit the same thing: the "intolerable burden of responsibility" of maintaining a epistemology made out of Structured Analysis, made out of bits, will have us all tapping out.

I'm also drawn to what may be a poetic misinterpretation of his thesis. If rule #1 is "Nothing doesn't exist", we've got a fun possible anti-thesis of "Everything does exist" which is unhelpful in a blood-to-the-toes, Zen koan, sort of way. Which is kind of what he's saying in "Meaning of any word"?

In summary, this feels, importantly, like that mode of wet-eyed techno-optimism that swept through the second-half of the 20th century. Where the now accessible tools of computer science and network thinking were still being dimensioned, and seemed initially limitless in their epistemic potential. I think Ross's frustration is a good lesson. We can't do worlding work with computer science alone.

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay Author • Edited

"There" and "not there" are pretty compelling as conceptual building blocks go, but it's true, strict dichotomies are.... well, strict dichotomies, with all that entails. They're useful not despite but because they dramatically simplify modeling more complex systems. And under capitalism, applying that simplicity to social interactions and institutions is profitable, which I think is largely what's driving the computerization of the noosphere more than a general passivity. People don't like being tracked and profiled and marketed to online; people don't like getting jerked around by algorithms at work; a lot of people don't even really like social media, which is ostensibly there for fun and sharing. So much of this is merely tolerated at best (convenience helps), and meanwhile there's money to be made.

If there's a mythical epistemology at work, it's specifically targeted at those of us effecting that computerization: yes, you can solve any problem with ones and zeroes if you try hard enough, and the Free Market, praised be its name, will reward you for succeeding! And of course, even if you don't buy into it, you still have to eat.

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samosborn profile image
Sam Osborn

Yes! The fact that that myth is targeting us effectors of computerization demands that we are responsible for labeling it, calling it out, and rejecting it. Like you say, the modes of oppression that come from this myth, and our loyalty to it, aren't enjoyed, though they are convenient.

I tend to think we can do better and still feed ourselves, and that looks like more computer scientists saying: "you know, software probably isn't the solution to this problem here". Which isn't to say software isn't incredibly helpful. We've got to get better at finding motivators outside of the Free Market, and we've got to practice using computers alongside some of those older human tools like politics, religion, and philosophy: true for everyone but especially the "computerizers".