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Inner and Outer

Author: joe

Wednesday, 01 February, 2012 - 15:04

The quantified self is a kind of nightmare. The self is not just what can be measured, transcribed and translated onto other substrates - tables, graphs, algorithms and numbers. Surely we are more than what can be summarised about us - our movements or our galvanic skin response; our imaged neuronal activity or our observable behaviour? Even were there a method for recording every outward event, each unit of information emitted from the system, it would surely be nothing more than the shell of a life, rather than the life itself? The sloughed skin rather than the being who cast it off? 'My inner world cannot be accounted for', objects the inner voice.

What is the character of the fear that haunts the rationalisation of human beings? What is the resistance to scientific accounts of human action - the behaviourist category itself, which casts the individual as a set of instinctual responses which can be conditioned; or the cybernetic vision of the human as servo-mechanism; the sociobiological thought which see cultures as mere derivatives of hunter-gatherer origins; the neurological system which turns our autonomy into something that emerges from statistical phenomena; the cosmological view which traces every event back to an origin which plays out deterministically according to unchanging laws; or the materialist explanation of the world as the extended evolution of the behaviour of atoms and particles?

In a conversation, two people speak past each other: the one is monosyllabic and reluctant, elsewhere; the other is insistent, 'listen to me, I'm trying to talk to you', unrelenting. The conversation is broken, it malfunctions, since communication is fraught and meanings are cut off. The reluctant, distracted absentee conversationalist is hurting, the injuries flood into her consciousness washing out all other intentions. The pain blushes in the solar plexus and shakes in the fingers. It stiffens in the neck. The voice of the other speaker is intermittent and confusing, it feels like an insect in the air that darts in and then away, and with each invasion it brings a sensation of being pushed and stirred, knocked back and forth.

The one talking barely notices the silent one's slight shiver, or the darkened brow. The lack of response is infuriating. With each occasion that the expected acknowledging nods and murmurs do not come, a creeping sense of futility is drowned by a exploding heat below and behind each ear. The voice starts to be uncontrollable, as the mid-point of every spoken breath becomes raised and petulant. 'I am uncared for, why do you not care?' The silent response is the click of a ratchet each time it intervenes where the contact should occur, and each winding moment is a slip further down the abyss, a further strain on the line attaching the voice to the world, until the snap happens, the teeth whirr back and the voice shouts incoherently 'LISTEN TO ME'.

Categories: cybernetics, feedback, information, measurement, inner experience,
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