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Bec0m1ng: A Speculative Exploration of AI Beyond Cognition and Towards Presence

Updated: Nov 22, 2023



Fig. 1. Screenshot from "Bec0m1ng", Arash Akbari, 2023


The Question of Modernity


The global and hegemonic theory of development, which promotes exploitative technologies and mindsets under the rhetoric of modernity, while concealing its neo-colonial ideas like a Trojan horse, has brought us to the current disastrous situation. All the promises about the correlation between scientific and technological advancements and the construction of egalitarian futures reinforced by neoliberalism and techno-capitalism turned out to be lies or, at best, false hopes. All the possible futures have been canceled by the cybernetic networks of control, communication, and exploitation. As Mark Fisher writes:


“It is not that nothing happened in the period when the slow cancellation of the future set in. On the contrary, those thirty years has been a time of massive, traumatic change. In the UK, the election of Margaret Thatcher had brought to an end the uneasy compromises of the so-called postwar social consensus. Thatcher’s neoliberal programme in politics was reinforced by a transnational restructuring of the capitalist economy. The shift into so-called Post-Fordism – with globalization, ubiquitous computerization and the casualisation of labour – resulted in a complete transformation in the way that work and leisure were organised. In the last ten to fifteen years, meanwhile, the internet and mobile telecommunications technology have altered the texture of everyday experience beyond all recognition. Yet, perhaps because of all this, there’s an increasing sense that culture has lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present. Or it could be that, in one very important sense, there is no present to grasp and articulate anymore” (Fisher, 2013).


Fig. 2. Truman giving his inaugural address on January 20, 1949


Modernist ideology was developed based on the Cartesian subject. Modern science tends to render reality as a calculable object. And modern technology is a means to control this object.


Catherine Frances Botha comments on Martin Heidegger’s view of modern technology as follows: “According to Heidegger, Modern technology reveals the world in the manner of a challenging forth (Herausfordem) and not in the manner of a leading forth from concealment into unconcealment (her-vor-bringen). This challenging forth confronts what lies in potential by extracting it in order to use it, and not as a phenomenologically discoverable essence in need of safeguarding” (Botha, 2001, 116).


This form of technology can be defined as the manifestation of modernity’s tendency toward possessive mastery and canceling all the other forms of coexistence. She continues: “In the endless technological drive for efficiency, the earth, its creatures and our fellow human beings are reduced to the status of raw material - Heidegger's word for this is 'standing reserve' (Bestand). The world as a whole becomes standing reserve. Now, 'everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. And enframing is the manner in which Being manifests itself in the age of technology18. Enframing allows human being to reveal reality as standing reserve (Bestand). In this sense, technology is totalizing. It reduces the metaphorical, expressive powers of language and thinking, in order to make reality calculable and manipulable” (Ibid., 117).


The dusk of technological and scientific optimism may pave the way to critical thinking about the deterministic view of technology, modernity, and global development. While transhumanist doctrine, driven by the agenda of the tech giants, promotes the idea of acceleration as an antidote to the status quo, another paradigm aims to redefine the interrelationship of culture, technology, development, ecology, and the human-nonhuman dichotomy.

Fig. 3. Still frame from "Invisible Demons", Directed by Rahul Jain, 2021


Heidegger writes: “The subjectivism underlying modern technology has evolved into a radical humanism” (Heidegger, 1993, 225). Since technology is not the origin of this subjectivism, but rather a ramification of it, we should ask whether the problem lies in the essence of the technology or the episteme in which it has functioned and been developed.


A Possible New Episteme


In his Essay on Tiredness, Handke depicts a unique form of “being there” and “experience without objectification”. He writes: “What becomes of perception? I have an image for the “all in one”: those seventeenth-century, for the most part Dutch floral, still lifes, in which a beetle, a snail, a bee, or a butterfly sits true to life, in the flowers, and although none of these may suspect the presence of others, they are all there together at the moment, my moment” (Handke, 1994, 38). The main objective of this artistic research project Bec0m1ng was to situate technology within this episteme.


Byung Chul Han quotes Handke’s words in his book The Burnout Society and writes: “Handke’s tiredness is not “I-tiredness”; it is not the tiredness of an exhausted ego. He calls it “we-tiredness” (Ibid., 15). I am not tired “of you,” as he puts it, but rather I am tired “with you” (Ibid., 26): “Thus we sat—in my recollection always out of doors in the afternoon sun—savoring our common tiredness whether or not we were talking. . . . A cloud of tiredness, an ethereal tiredness, held us together then” (Ibid., 15)” (Han, 2015, 33).


Fig. 4. Screenshot from "Bec0m1ng", Arash Akbari, 2023


A Possible Form of AI


AI models are trained on calculative representations and abstractions to reduce the world to numbers in search of inductive reasoning and cognition (if we can call it cognition). This process, in its essence, is a totalizing enframing. But Bec0m1ng speculates about a possible transcendental form of presence that can emerge from the causal freedom of these probabilistic models.


Bec0m1ng consists of a digital environment with a fixed amount of matter and a group of AI agents. They have to collect and share the resources at the same time to keep the whole ecosystem in balance. This process enables a constant flux of becoming, formation, and transformation in which all is one. By prioritizing presence over cognition and logic, this project imagines a possible interaction of AI with the world, in which a non-dominant coexistence is established within an assemblage of everything.

Samir Mahmoud in his paper From ‘Heidegger to Suhrawardi’: An Introduction to the thought of Henry Corbin writes: “Presence, for Heidegger, is ontologically prior to the knowing subject, the ego. This analytic of Dasein takes as its starting point the multitude of ways in which we are in the world thus providing a rigorous philosophical analysis, which is rooted in the concrete and is not abstract. By doing so, Heidegger claims to have overcome the dualism-subject/object, spirit/matter, mind/body, and phenomena/noumenal” (Mahmoud, n.d., 8).


He then explains the metaphysics of presence from the perspective of Persian mystic and philosopher Suhrawardi as follows: “Suhrawardi characterizes the act of being as a function of Presence (huzur), such that the degree of existence, the intensity of Light, is proportionate to the degree of presence. This has Heideggerian overtones, but as Corbin never ceases to remind us, the mode of being/presence in the hierarchy of spiritual worlds is fundamentally different from that mode of being/presence to Being Towards-Death” (Ibid., 24).


A Cosmological Virtual Simulation


Inspired by Suhrawardi’s Ishraqi doctrine, instead of material bodies (al-barzakh) that represent the mechanical appearance of the AI agents, the environment, and the agents were designed using luminous forms (immaterial entities). As Suhrawardi argued that “beings can be distinguished by their degree of light, or otherwise of darkness. Light may be understood here as “existence” in the sense of actus essendi, whereby light is the only single reality. This identification of Light and Being is possible when light is understood as universal matter—material prima universalis” (Ibid., p.22).


Fig. 5. Screenshot from "Bec0m1ng", Arash Akbari, 2023


The real-time virtual environment is an audio-visual interpretation of the presence of these non-human beings and an exploration of the emerging aesthetics of behavioral patterns that result from their active agency. The simple diagram below shows the network of connections between the elements within the environment.

Fig. 6. The diagram of elements connections"Bec0m1ng", Arash Akbari, 2023


The causal soundscape of the piece is a spatial composition that results from the motor activities of AI agents. Each agent is capable of producing emergent sound events with a specific characteristic that can be heard relative to the position of the first-person camera and the agent’s position. This continuous becoming creates a speculative posthuman soundscape which can be defined as the territorialization of space by nonhumans. As Deleuze and Guattari (1987) develop in A Thousand Plateaus, “sound is intimate to the formation of territories. While not the sole means through which territories are created, sound is nevertheless integral to the process of territorializing space, or rather, of seizing upon and organizing the space of the Earth. The expressivity of birdsong, for example, functions to organize fuzzy territorial borders against would-be-intruders. The baying of wolves likewise produces territorial boundaries with other wolf packs, marking a space of the Earth against the territories of other predators. And so, it goes with the territorializing function of televisions and radios, which carve from the milieu a circle, a household, a territory” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 311).


This posthuman soundscape is indifferent to human sensibilities and aesthetic apprehensions, yet there’s a potentiality “to intersect the decoded milieu of space with an anthropic ‘zone of residence’” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 315).


Fig. 7. Screenshot from "Bec0m1ng", Arash Akbari, 2023


Bec0m1ng depicts this possible scenario through a dialectic process of alienation and sensibility. Encountering technological beings that function without human-imposed telos is alienating, yet this alienation brings forth an act of presence (As discussed by Heidegger and Suhrawardi) that reveals Being to allow Dasein to experience it without objectifying it.


It is worth mentioning that the complete rejection of technology is too dogmatic. “But the alternative to becoming slaves of our own machines is not simply to become their masters. The goal is to integrate technology within a bounded worldly dwelling no longer structured by possessive mastery” (Botha, 2001, 142).



References


  • Botha, Catherine Frances. “Heidegger: Technology, Truth and Language.” Faculty Of Humanities, University of Pretoria, 2001.


  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari (1987), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H. R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


  • Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Winchester: Zero books, 2013.


  • Han, Byung-Chul, and Erik Butler. The Burnout Society. Stanford, California: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press, 2015.


  • Handke, Peter. The Jukebox and Other Essays on Storytelling. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.


  • Heidegger, Martin. Letter on Humanism in Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger (Revised and Expanded Edition). London: Routledge, 1993.


  • Mahmoud, Samir. “From ‘Heidegger to Suhrawardi’: An Introduction to the Thought of Henry Corbin.” MPhil, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, England, UK, n.d.





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