Sunday, 31 August 2008

World without Oil
If you want to change the future,
play with it first

"WORLD WITHOUT OIL is a serious game for the public good. WWO invited people from all walks of life to contribute 'collective imagination' to confront a real-world issue: the risk our unbridled thirst for oil poses to our economy, climate and quality of life. It’s a milestone in the quest to use games as democratic, collaborative platforms for exploring possible futures and sparking future-changing action. WWO set the model for using a hot net-native storytelling method (‘alternate reality’) to meet civic and educational goals. Best of all, it was compellingly fun.

"WORLD WITHOUT OIL simulated the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis. It established a citizen 'nerve center'to track events and share solutions. Anybody could play by creating a personal story – an email or phone call, or for advanced users a blog post, video, photo, podcast, twitter, whatever – that chronicled the imagined reality of their life in the crisis. The WWO site at links to all these stories. The game encouraged excellence with daily awards and recognition for authentic and intriguing stories"

"A 'serious game' is one that intends
more than entertainment for its players

"Serious games generally aim to teach or train, often by realistically simulating some aspect of a world system. Examples include: business training games, disaster preparedness games, flight or driving simulators, games that help patients understand how their bodies are fighting an infection or cancer, and so on. Serious games can be very effective at education, because they allow players to test and experiment with systems, which leads to better understanding of the relationships that comprise the system.

"An 'alternate reality game' is an interactive, transmedia narrative that evolves in response to what its players do

"An alternate reality game (ARG) 'is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions. ARGs are typified by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real time and evolves according to participants' responses, and with characters that are actively controlled by the game's designers. ARGs generally rely on the Internet as the central binding medium' (Wikipedia). ARGs are attracting attention because they have been able to engage large numbers of players in collaborative efforts to solve very difficult puzzles and challenges."

World Without Oil

Desk Killer

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin’. The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labour camps. in those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”

C.S. Lewis

Killing from a Desk

"By shining a light into the world of the bureaucrats, planners and businessmen who contributed to Nazism and the Holocaust, the desk killer raises a critical question as to whether such an event can be viewed as a finished, historical episode or whether the psychology and behaviour that enabled genocide to occur then is not only still present today, but exists quite specifically both in the institutional culture of transnational corporations and in the mindset and activity of many individuals working for such corporations.

"In post-war Germany’s attempt to come to a reckoning with the Holocaust, particularly after the trial and conviction of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 the term ‘schreibtischtaeter’ was coined. This can be translated as ‘desk-murderer’. Strangely this term has hardly ever been used outside Germany, despite its clear relevence to much 20th century and contemporary capitalism.

"This concept is at the heart of the desk killer’s argument. International trade has never been less personal. The vast majority of BP's or Shell's workforce in London will never see the oil pipeline in Colombia or Nigeria that they work on daily from their desks, let alone meet the villagers intimidated, displaced or killed in order to enable those valuable pipelines to operate. This distancing creates the greatest imaginative challenge - how is it possible to link the BP head office at Finsbury Circus to Casanare? How is it possible to enable human beings in London to feel linked on a personal basis with human beings in Colombia? Or to link the people at the Shell Centre with people in Southern Nigeria?"

Engineer working at the Saurer factory in the 1940s. Saurer manufactured the Gaswagen used in the murder of up to 400,000 people in Eastern Europe, between 1941 and 1945.

Desk Killer
PLATFORM - promoting creative processes of democratic engagement to advance social and ecological justice

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Capitalism and the Second World War

"It was at wartime General Motors that Peter Drucker saw the birth of the modern 'concept of the corporation', with its decentralized system of management. And it was during the war that the American military-industrial complex was born; over half of all prime government contracts went to just 33 corporations. Boeing's net wartime profits for the years 1941 to 1945 amounted to $27.6 million; in the preceding 5 years the company had lost nearly $3 million. General Motors Corp. employed half a million people and supplied one-tenth of all American military war production. Ford alone produced more military equipment during the war than Italy. Small wonder some more-cerebral soldiers felt they were risking their necks not in a 'real a regulated business venture', as James Jones put it in The Thin Red Line. It was strange indeed that the recovery of the American economy from the Depression should owe so much to to the business of flattening other peoples' cities."
Niall Ferguson, 'The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred', pp. 528-529.
On the impact of the successful dropping of the atomic bomb, Hastings comments:
"Leaders of the oil and coal industries issued statements reassuring stockholders that for the foreseeable future the new discovery would have little effect on existing fuels. Some left-wingers demanded that atomic patent rights and means of production should remain controlled by Congress, and not be allowed to fall into the hands of large oil or munitions combines. To the embarrassment even of many capitalists, the prospect of an end to hostilities caused the New York Stock Exchange to fall sharply. A correspondent of the London Sunday Times wrote: 'It is always unedifying when moneyed interests are revealed as benefiting or believing themselves to benefit more from war than from peace.'"
Max Hastings, Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1941-45, p. 521

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Still a secret war

As mentioned in the Wikipedia entry (listed below), the documentary "Hunted Like Animals" is also well worth following up, and available on youtube. It is hard to fathom the reason why media has reported more on Japanese soldiers surrendering after years of isolation, (seemingly oblivious to the fact that the war had ended decades earlier), rather than an ethnic group who are relentlessly hunted down in the jungle more than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War. As the documentary maker dutifully notes, what lessons have been learned from this tragedy that could have bearing on the current Middle East conflict? Probably none.
In more theoretical terms, here is seemingly another example of a people living in something like the extreme states described by Agamben's "state of exception", where the normal rule of law is suspended and consequently a group has to keep moving at all times, to avoid becoming a target of unaccountable violence in the "interzone". This whole question of border zones is something I have earlier explored on this blog, in a different register, with respect to sex tourism in Thailand. Thailand features in the Hmong tragedy as well, as is clear not only from the article I've attached here with respect to the desecration of graves, but also in youtube clips of this activity which is gleefully carried out by, apparently, government officials and local villagers alike. In that sense the plight of the Hmong could also be fittingly described as an example of the necropolitics, derridata has alerted us to on this blog, itself a variant of Agamben's work.
Here then is Achille Mbembe's original essay defining necropolitics:

Hmong Graves Desecration- Facts:
Who are the Hmong?:

Mind Wars

Promoting Openness, Full Disclosure, and Accountability and

The UK Telegraph reports that a US Military report commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency, found that "great progress has been made" in neuroscience over the last decade, and that continuing advances offered the prospect of a dramatic impact on military equipment and the way in which wars are fought.

The report suggests that that future wars will utilize "pharmacological landmines" which release brain-altering chemicals to incapacitate soldiers upon their contact with them, scanners reading soldiers' minds and devices boosting eyesight and hearing could all figure in military arsenals.

Research into "distributed human-machine systems", including robots and military hardware controlled by an operator's mind, is another particular area for optimism among researchers, according to the report. It says significant progress has already been made and that prospects for use of the field are "limited only by the creative imagination.


The report also explains that "the concept of torture could be transformed
in the future."
"It is possible that some day there could be a technique developed to extract information from a prisoner that does not have any lasting side effects."

Does this line of "medical research" give anyone pause?

Who are the human guinea pigs on whom these "pharmacological landmines" are
/ were tested?

Discomforting reminder about the nature of Nazi medical experimentation:

The debasement of American medicine is terrifying as it rapidly descends along the blueprint of Nazi medicine whose unethical medical experimentation during the Third Reich may be divided into three categories:

The FIRST CATEGORY consists of experiments aimed at facilitating the survival of Axis military personnel.
In Dachau, physicians from the German air force and from the German Experimental Institution for Aviation conducted high-altitude experiments, using a low-pressure chamber, to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety.
Scientists there carried out so-called freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia. They also used prisoners to test various methods of making seawater potable.

The SECOND CATEGORY of experimentation aimed at developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for injuries and illnesses which German military and occupation personnel encountered in the field.
At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, scientists tested immunization compounds and sera for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. The Ravensbrueck camp was the site of bone-grafting experiments and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfa (sulfanilamide) drugs. At Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen, prisoners were subjected to phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.

The THIRD CATEGORY of medical experimentation sought to advance the racial and ideological tenets of the Nazi worldview.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Future wars 'to be fought with mind drugs'
Future wars could see opponents attacking each other's minds, according to a
report for the US military.
By Jon Swaine
14 Aug 2008

Landmines releasing brain-altering chemicals, scanners reading soldiers' minds and devices boosting eyesight and hearing could all one figure in arsenals, suggests the study.

Sophisticated drugs, designed for dementia patients but also allowing troops to stay awake and alert for several days are expected to be developed, according to the report. It is thought that some US soldiers are already taking drugs prescribed for narcolepsy in an attempt to combat fatigue.

As well as those physically and mentally boosting one's own troops, substances could also be developed to deplete an opponents' forces, it says.

"How can we disrupt the enemy's motivation to fight?" It asks. "Is there a way to make the enemy obey our commands?" Research shows that "drugs can be utilized to achieve abnormal, diseased, or disordered psychology" among one's enemy, it concludes.

Research is particularly encouraging in the area of functional neuroimaging, or understanding the relationships between brain activity and actions, the report says, raising hopes that scanners able to read the intentions or memories of soldiers could soon be developed.

Some military chiefs and law enforcement officials hope that a new generation of polygraphs, or lie detectors, which spot lie-telling by observing changes in brain activity, can be built.

"Pharmacological landmines," which release drugs to incapacitate soldiers upon their contact with them, could also be developed, according to the report's authors.

The report, which was commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency, contained the work of scientists asked to examine how better understanding of how the human mind works was likely to affect the development of technology.

It finds that "great progress has been made" in neuroscience over the last decade, and that continuing advances offered the prospect of a dramatic impact on military equipment and the way in which wars are fought.

It also explains that the concept of torture could be transformed in the future. "It is possible that some day there could be a technique developed to extract information from a prisoner that does not have any lasting side effects," it states. One technique being developed involves the delivery of electrical pulses into a suspect's brain and delay their ability to lie by interfering with its neurons.

Research into "distributed human-machine systems", including robots and military hardware controlled by an operator's mind, is another particular area for optimism among researchers, according to the report. It says significant progress has already been made and that prospects for use of the field are "limited only by the creative imagination."

Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist and the author of 'Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense', said "It's too early to know which, if any, of these technologies is going to be practical. But it's important for us to get ahead of the curve. Soldiers are always on the cutting edge of new

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From Publishers Weekly
Imagine a future conflict in which one side can scan from a distance the brains of soldiers on the other side and learn what they may be planning or whether they are confident or fearful. In a crisply written book, University of Virginia ethicist Moreno notes that military contractors have been researching this possibility, as well as the use of electrodes embedded in soldiers' and pilots' brains to enhance their fighting ability. Moreno (Is There an Ethicist in the House?) details the Pentagon's interest in such matters, including studies of paranormal phenomena like ESP, going back several decades. Readers learn that techniques like hypersonic sound and targeted energetic pulses to disable soldiers are close to being used in the field, and even have everyday applications that make "targeted advertising" an understatement. Despite the book's title, Moreno doesn't limit his discussion to brain-related research; he explains the military's investigation of how to enhance soldiers' endurance and reaction time in combat as well as various nonlethal disabling technologies. The ethical implications are addressed throughout the book, but the author leaves substantive discussion to his praiseworthy last chapter. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"One of the most important thinkers describes the literally-mind-boggling possibilities that modern brain science could present for national security."--Lawrence J. Korb, Assistance Secretary of Defense 1981-85 (Lawrence J. Korb 20060925)

"Fascinating, clear-headed, optimistic, and lucidly written, Mind Wars makes a compelling yet nuanced case for scientific progress in the area of neurological enhancement and for the transparent collaboration of the academy and the military."--Sally Satel, M.D., resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute (Sally Satel 20061016)

"A crisply written book . . . Despite the book's title, Moreno doesn't limit his discussion to brain-related research; he explains the military's investigation of how to enhance soldiers' endurance and reaction time in combat as well as various nonlethal disabling technologies. The ethical implications are addressed throughout the book, but the author leaves substantive discussion to his praiseworthy last chapter."--Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly 20061215)

"Moreno asks the tough ethical and policy questions that arise from using knowledge about how the human brain functions. . . . Accessibly written. . . . Given the topic''s provocative nature, this is recommended for all science and bioethics collections."-- Library Journal (James A. Buczynski Library Journal 20061112)

"A fascinating and sometimes unsettling book. . . . Any academic involvement in military research presents an ethical dilemma, and Moreno''s exploration of this theme is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. He is no knee-jerk pacifist: he accepts that military force is sometimes necessary and argues convincingly that contact between military and civilian research is healthier than the alternative of total secrecy. He also acknowledges the ''dual-use'' argument that many DARPA-funded programs have clear civilian pay-offs. Yet by taking military funding, he says, researchers are in some sense accomplices to the perpetuation of what he calls a ''national security state,'' a posture of open-ended militarization supported by a vast budget that in the view of many critics, bears little relation to the actual threats confronting the United States."-Charles Jennings, Nature (Charles Jennings Nature 20061120)

"There has been virtually no debate on the ethical questions raised by the brave new brain technologies. . . . Neuroscientists have been strangely silent. The time to speak up is before the genie is out of the bottle."--Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal (Sharon Begley Wall Street Journal 20070410)

"Quietly provocative. . . . Moreno takes an evenhanded, thorough look at how deeply the intelligence and defense communities are involved in many of those advances and the mindfields that might lie ahead. . . . In a thoughtful, easy-to-digest way, Moreno catalogs a long list of projects, some purely speculative, others in the development pipeline."--John Mangels, The Plain Dealer (John Mangels Cleveland Plain Dealer 20070401)

Interviewed on November 20th "Diane Rehm Show." (Diane Rhem Diane Rhem Show 20080601)

"Fascinating and frightening. . . . Moreno''s book is important since there has been little discussion about the ethical implications of such research, and the science is at an early enough stage that it might yet be redirected in response to public discussion."--Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Hugh Gusterson Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists )

"Moreno offers readers a unique picture of the history of this effort and of the wide range of innovations being developed in behavioral and brain science with the interest and support of US national defense agencies. . . . This research raises serious social and policy questions that require broader public discussion. Accordingly, this book deserves a wide readership. Discussing a complex subject in a clear writing style, Moreno makes his material readily accessible to an audience that will include interested laypeople."--Choice (R. L. Jones Choice )

"An exhilarating and anxiety-provoking whirlwind tour of recent developments in neuroscience that possess defense or national security potential. . . . Mind Wars is, of course, much more than a tour of developments in neuroscience. Moreno provides an admirably accessible introduction to philosophy of mind, and he thoughtfully discusses a number of ethical issues raised by the research including dignity and cognitive liberty. . . . [a] groundbreaking text."--American Journal of Bioethics (Jonathan Marks American Journal of Bioethics )

See all Editorial Reviews

Monday, 18 August 2008

AVP Redemption

Thanks for the tip off ahuthnance (note though that this latest trailer is only 2 weeks old). Other than the most obvious reasons, I include it here as well as confirmation of some of the points raised in the earlier post on Matt Hanson. By any measure though, this is certainly an impressive effort.
This film is in production and hopefully will be out in the end of Fall 2008. Its a "No Budget" fan film project created with a purpose to appreciate 2 Best Sci-Fi franchises.On this web site I will be posting news and media files, such as videos and stills.

I must have had a brain snap...

Yup, I've just updated the previous post by including some important background information on Fallout 3, and so in case the updates don't show up in the feed, you might want to visit the blog. In the alternative, you might see this as simply a convoluted way of legitimating my inclusion of this gif from Scanners.

"GIVE US YOUR OIL OR WE WILL KILL YOU..." (Militainment Inc.)

In case anyone needs to be further convinced as to the prescience of Nick Turse's The Complex, as previously featured on this blog, it is worth checking out the related investigations in the clips I'm posting here. My post on avid toy collecting also obliquely touched on this subject too, but I neglected to include a shot of the President Bush figurine. In combination the clips provide the full story, namely just how significant that manifestation of militarism really is....
I've been following a few other stories about the simulations of the military entertainment complex. The next clip is the trailer for the post apocalyptic epic, Fallout 3, which I understand is produced by the developers responsible for Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

Aside from the compelling narrative of its protagonists emerging from their enormous underground shelters to forage and skirmish in the decimated urban environment, some would also be aware of the controversy following media claims its imagery of Washington D.C. had featured in terrorist propaganda. Note the parallels with the militainment clip with respect to the "hostage" [sic] video of the captured American combatant.

Anti-Terror Consultants Deny Report That They Classified Fallout 3 Screenshot as Al Qaeda Material
US Anti-Terror Consultants Deny Report That They Classified Fallout 3 Screenshot as Al Qaeda Material
May 30, 2008
UPDATE: The SITE Intelligence Group has issued a press release which says, categorically, that the article in the Telegraph (upon which this story is based) is wrong. From SITE:

On May 30, 2008, the Telegraph newspaper ran a misleading story... which incorrectly and falsely described analysis provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Discussing a computer-generated image of a destroyed Capitol Building in Washington that was posted to a jihadist forum, the Telegraph claimed, without any basis, "The SITE Intelligence Group said that the image, showing a ruined Capitol Building in Washington, was created by extremists as part of discussions about the feasibility of nuclear strikes against the US and Britain."

This claim is entirely false, as is the characterization that SITE is "embarrassed" or "red-faced." SITE rejects the claims by the Telegraph and stands fully behind the accuracy of its information and analysis. SITE at no time maintained that the image "was created by extremists."
(original story follows:)

A US defense contractor has mistakenly identified a screenshot from the upcoming Fallout 3 role-playing adventure as an al Qaeda-created graphic.

As reported by the Telegraph, the SITE Intelligence Group claimed that the image (seen at left) was created by terrorists as part of an al Qaeda investigation as to the feasibility of launching nuclear attacks against the US and UK.

From the newspaper report:

The images appeared in a video, called Nuclear Jihad: The Ultimate Terror, posted on two password-protected websites... believed to be affiliated with al-Qa’eda. SITE also released translated several chatroom threads... discussing the possibility of nuclear attacks on the West.

However, it has transpired that far from being a detailed simulation created by terrorist masterminds, the apocalyptic vision is in fact lifted from the computer game Fallout 3, by US game designers Bethesda Softworks.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper The Australian was among news outlets which ran the story including SITE's claim that the graphic was an Al Qaeda product.

This isn't the first time that video game graphics have shown up in US intelligence reports on Islamic terrorism. As GamePolitics reported in May, 2006, footage from EA's popular first-person shooter Battlefield 2 and even a voice-over from the film Team America: World Police were presented to the House Select Committe on Intelligence as al Qaeda propaganda.

And what of these uncanny parallels?:
Did Ghost Recon Predict Russia-Georgia Conflict?
August 13, 2008

A number of GamePolitics readers have suggested that Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, a 2001 first-person shooter, foreshadowed the current hostilities between Russia and Georgia.
The Bulletin serves up a detailed analysis:
Sometimes life imitates art, rather than the other way around, and the 2001 video game "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon" stands as a prime example. The game... accurately predicted the eruption of hostilities between an expansionist Russia and Georgia... the player takes on obstacles posed by South Ossetian rebels intent on creating a pretext for a Russian invasion.

The game's opening sequence features a Russian leadership intent on bringing the former Soviet republics back under its control. The narrator describes a Russian leader eerily similar to Vladimir Putin... As the game's intro opens, a lone 2008 flashes on the screen before the narrator reads the following words: "The year is 2008, and the world teeters on the brink of war. Radical ultranationalists have seized power in Moscow - their goal, the reestablishment of the old Soviet empire... The world holds its breath, and waits."
The Bulletin also points out that the National Review Online has noticed the eerie similarity between game and real-life events in
McCain, Obama Respond to Scenario Out of First Level of 'Ghost Recon.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

"Dissent Over Descent": Steve Fuller interviewed at Acheron LV-426

Given this blog's interest in the growing cultural significance of the biological sciences, I was especially keen to speak to the renowned sociologist, Steve Fuller, about his book, Dissent Over Descent. I've already speculated about the rationale behind Fuller's interest in Intelligent Design, which I now also regard as consistent with his pronouncements on the enduring value of the social sciences and the humanities.
I tried to avoid the generation of more heat than light, which would have followed if the interview had simply recapitulated positions familiar from the so-called "science wars". I therefore regard the interview as striking a fair balance in its examination of Fuller's stated objectives in this, his most recent work.

Q: Before you got involved in the US court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), which pitted intelligent design against evolution, most people knew of your work in the philosophy and sociology of science associated with ‘social epistemology’. I suppose a fair summary of your views is that you are for the democratisation of scientific authority, but you would also expand science’s jurisdiction to cover morally sensitive matters like humanity’s genetic potential.

A: Yes, I suppose I am for both extending the range of people eligible to exercise scientific judgement and intensifying the role that science plays in our lives.

Q: OK, that already sounds pretty futuristic – if not science-fictional (and I want to get back later to what relationship, if any, your work has to sci-fi). But then how do you square that with your support for intelligent design, which you call on page one of your latest book, Dissent over Descent, ‘scientifically credentialed creationism’?

A: Well, I guess I don’t see ‘creationism’ as necessarily pejorative. It’s a commonplace in the field in which I was trained – history and philosophy of science – to explain the West’s 17th century Scientific Revolution in terms of Christians taking the Bible into their own hands (i.e. not accepting the word of priests) and seeing themselves as literally having been created in the image and likeness of God to comprehend and perhaps even complete the divine plan. Thus, people like Newton read the Bible like a script in which they saw the roles they were being asked to perform. So, Newton saw himself in the role of God and articulated a world-system from God’s point of view in the abstract mathematics and with the predictive accuracy that you might expect of a transcendent being detached from ordinary human affairs. I talk more about this in the final chapter of Dissent.

Q: But you’ve got to admit that this is not how creationists seem to behave these days – I mean, they’re not exactly Newtonian demi-gods.

A: Of course, you’ve got a point. And it’s an interesting historical question how the Protestant Reformation, which has empowered so many people over the past five centuries, has nevertheless left its evangelical wing with such a timid and negative view toward science. My guess is that the unprecedented science-based and science-backed destruction on the part of Germany in the First World War caused evangelicals to recoil from the advancement of science in a way they had never done before. The Anglo-American ‘fundamentalism’ that continues to form the main ideological opposition to evolution dates from this period. Nevertheless, as I observe in my book, among the most scientifically credible proponents of eugenics in the same period have been such devout Christians as Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright and Theodosius Dobzhansky.

Q: But these are all people normally counted as founders of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis that brought genetics under a general theory of natural selection. Surely you don’t mean to include them as creationists?

A: Well, I do think their exact commitment to Darwinism can be questioned. In particular, I don’t think they shared Darwin’s considered view that we will never be able to trump natural selection. Fisher, Wright and Dobzhansky all believed that we had not only the power but also the obligation to engage in genetic engineering in order to bring God’s plan to completion. It doesn’t follow that they had a libertarian attitude toward human life – à la ‘designer babies’ and easy abortions and euthanasia – but they certainly did believe that the more we know about our genetic potential, the greater our responsibility for its future cultivation. This is clearly to be an exercise in social decision-making – part of social epistemology, if you will. Nazi excesses do not undermine this point, especially in light of the revolution in molecular biology that occurred less than a decade after the end of the Second World War.

Q: But how do you expect creationists – or intelligent design theorists – to sign on to a view that would basically make us co-creators with God? It still sounds pretty sacrilegious to me.

A: Yes, I suppose it does. But the view in fact runs quite deep in Western theological thought, not least in the legends surrounding the character of Faust, who tried to derive god-like powers through a certain heretical reading of the Bible. In today’s world, the theological appeal of genetic engineering and other technoscience-based forms of human enhancement is that they stress the sense in which humans are at once fallible and corrigible. The German-Canadian scholar Gregor Wolbring has promoted the idea of ‘ableism’, whereby we are ‘always already’ disabled because science has taken the lid off what counts as the ‘normal’ performance of various abilities. A good case in point is the slow but perceptible acquiescence to the acceptance of various (physical and intellectual) performance-boosting drugs. There may come a point in our lifetimes when a person who refuses to take such drugs is regarded as disabled.

Q: But so far most religious people seem simply to want to stop this drive toward enhancement before it gains too much momentum. There is still a strong appeal in society to ‘natural law’ and what is ‘natural’ to the human condition, all of this traceable back to relatively conventional readings of the Bible. It even has resonance with certain aspects of contemporary environmental movements.

A: And this conservative attitude toward pushing the limits of humanity would also find sympathy with Charles Darwin himself, who saw evolution as pretty pointless, when seen on a cosmic scale, and not something that can be enhanced in any meaningful long-term way. But again, Darwin greatly underestimated just how much we would come to understand the inner working of cells and especially genes. In particular, he would be especially surprised to learn that these micro-entities are literally constituted as complex pieces of machinery.

Q: I suppose that this is how the story gets back to intelligent design?

A: Yes, precisely. It’s not by accident that the vast majority of scientists who endorse intelligent design come from engineering, biochemistry and other fields associated with industry – rather than the field sciences. These are the people most likely to resonate to the idea that creation is one big technological project. And that was precisely the idea that animated the original Scientific Revolution. Here it’s worth recalling what a strange idea this is, when seen from a cross-cultural standpoint. Many cultures, notably China and India, had very advanced technology and very advanced mathematics but it never occurred to them to imagine that reality might be itself constituted as an artefact. Rather, they sharply divided nature and artifice, with nature always appearing rather mysterious and elusive and the extent of human artifice relatively limited and transient. Only cultures descending from the Bible (including Islam) have blurred the boundary to such great effect.

Q: But do you think that is really the intent of intelligent design theorists – to treat nature as a big machine?

A: Well, they’ve certainly set themselves up for this question, if you consider that their main criticism of Darwinism is that it ignores the engineering prowess demonstrated at all levels in the natural world. Nothing goes to waste in nature -- we just need to discover the point of seemingly useless things like ‘junk DNA’, proteins that don’t seem to code for anything, and then make the most of them. If you look at the graphics in ID books and videos, you’ll see just how much of ID’s visual rhetoric is dominated by the desire to get the viewer to see nature as a well-honed super-factory that humans have been entrusted to manage and render productive. There is no mystery-mongering here at all, and frankly it doesn’t sit well with the more ‘scientophobic’ attitudes of the religious fundamentalists. Not surprisingly, there is considerable mixed feeling between intelligent design theorists and, say, young earth creationists – though they are all joined in their opposition to Darwinism.

Q: It sounds like you’re saying that intelligent design faces a religious – as well as a scientific – challenge.

A: In fact, the religious challenge is greater. To be sure, the scientific challenge is symbolically charged because it draws unwanted attention to the authoritarian character of contemporary science. Nevertheless, it is relatively narrow. After all, most biologists can get on with their day-to-day research without adopting a hard line on whether nature is ultimately the product of intelligent design or chance-based processes. However, the religious challenge goes to the heart of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century. It’s easy to appeal to natural law to stop inquiry into all sorts of matters if you believe that life is ultimately mysterious. However, and perhaps unwittingly, intelligent design casts serious doubt on this appeal with its strong pro-mechanistic, anti-chance line on the nature of life. Thus, I am always surprised when people see a concept like Michael Behe’s ‘irreducible complexity’ as a science-stopper. They focus on the fact that he nominates, say, a particular kind of cell or organism as something that must have been purpose-built. Rather, they should step back and consider that he is nominating anything at all – in other words, he’s presupposing that in principle we can know God’s building blocks. Darwinists never make comparably bold claims to knowledge, which is why I think, for example, Catholics find it much easier to accept Darwin than ID.

Q. I am interested in the implications of your previous remarks insofar as they appear suggestive of some continuity in the corpus of your work as a sociologist. For example, and not least of all, you would be aware that an earlier book, The New Sociological Imagination, has been viewed [in some instances] as couched in the terms of theology, metaphysics, and world-view, and therefore in conflict with the legacy of positivists and classic sociologists (who questioned the adequacy of explanations situated at this level in sociological studies of religion). No doubt you would question and wish to complicate such a characterisation, so the meaning of “newness” remains to be determined in this instance. In other words, how legitimate is it to construe Dissent Over Descent as consciously developing a new sociological imagination?

A: I suppose there are two senses in which Dissent over Descent contributes to the development of a new sociological imagination. The first is very obvious from the first chapter, and ID supporters have quickly picked up on it: Science is organized in such an elitist and authoritarian fashion today that we simply don’t know whether a ‘scientific consensus’ literally exists on an issue as far from the scientific workbench as Darwinism vs. ID. Nobody ever bothers to survey the full range of professional scientists systematically. The other sense is much subtler and also, I think, much more controversial. Basically I believe that sociologists are in an ideal position to offer a methodological critique of the sort of pan-Darwinism we see spreading across both the natural and social sciences. This is because we are taught to be sensitive to the potential pitfalls of generalising from a few cases – be they based in history, the field or the lab. Yet, Neo-Darwinists engage in such heroic generalisation all the time. I don’t only mean the tendency of evolutionary psychologists to generalise across species (something I criticized in The New Sociological Imagination) but also the more general tendency of supposing that if natural selection can be demonstrated in the lab, it therefore has been happening on a regular basis on Earth for the last several billion years. Of course some psychologists might want to claim that their lab findings say something deep about human nature that transcends differences in time and place, but such claims are routinely and reasonably met with considerable scepticism. ID’s response to Neo-Darwinist claims is in a similar vein. Of course, to stick with the example, lab psychologists usually get traction not because they’ve discovered the deep structure of history but because their experimental technique can be used as the basis for manipulating some real-world situation that might interest us now. In other words, the power of lab-based knowledge lies in its ability to remake, not understand, the world. Thus, when a Neo-Darwinist claims to have demonstrated natural selection in the lab, I see instead a sophisticated form of artificial selection that might have some bioengineering function in the future – a matter that falls under the remit of social epistemology.

Q. Would you care to comment on the possible implications of this new sociological imagination for the burgeoning field of cultural studies, which in some cases explicitly situates itself as directly challenging the disciplinary authority of sociology. No doubt you've heard the clarion call sounded by scholars such as Cary Wolfe on behalf of the analytic program known as “the posthumanities” (which perhaps typifies a logical extension of the earlier interest in cyborgs and postmodernism among cultural studies practitioners). In Dissent Over Descent you maintain something like the elective affinity between Darwinism and postmodernism as featured in The New Sociological Imagination. You then intriguingly argue that becoming progressive is more readily associated with non-field based, less naturalistic areas such as cybernetics. I feel that Wolfe would be in partial agreement with you on that point, but rather than focus on Wolfe per se, could you instead briefly comment on any possible relationships between the popular cultural studies trope of the cyborg and the neo-Darwinian synthesis targeted in Dissent Over Descent? Furthermore, if transhumanism or android epistemology, for example, in any way present as viable critical alternatives to the cyborg, could you recommend any authors to Acheron’s interested readers?

A: This is a tricky issue because phrases like ‘posthumanism’ and ‘transhumanism’ can refer to states in which humanity is either perfected or superseded. My inclination is towards the former interpretation, which was certainly the spirit in which Julian Huxley originally coined ‘transhumanism’. However, it is also the tougher option because it foregrounds the difficult normative question of what it is about historical humanity that we wish to preserve, cultivate and extend in the future. It is not obvious to me that the answer must include a provision for preserving the human genome intact. In this respect, I am open to serious bioengineering and the prospect that the features of humanity we value the most are better preserved, cultivated and extended in, say, silicon or some silicon-carbon cyborg than in the sort of hominid descendant that dominates the Darwinist imagination (e.g. in Enhancing Evolution by John Harris). Here I think there is still much to learn from, on the science side, Norbert Wiener, and on the religious side, Teilhard de Chardin – both of whom I talk about in Dissent over Descent. What they shared was the sense that the distinctive feature of humanity is to provide purposeful order to what otherwise is an inherently unruly nature, whether one is talking about the contingencies of Darwinian evolution or the non-linear dynamics of microphysical reality. But from their conceptualisations of this ultimate human condition, it’s clear that both of them were open to significant changes in our makeup. I believe that concrete steps towards such ‘transhuman’ states should be cautiously encouraged, by which I mean that people should be socially insured against the risks they and their loved ones will inevitably undertake by exposing themselves to would-be enhancements.

Q: Finally, I want to return to the role, if any, that science fiction has played in your thought.

A: My attitude toward science fiction is coloured by the fact that H.G. Wells was a finalist for the first UK chair in sociology, which was started at the LSE in 1907. His candidacy was taken seriously because, in some quarters, sociology was still seen as a kind of science of utopias. Against the backdrop of figures like Saint-Simon, Comte, Marx, Mill, Spencer and Galton, Wells did not look so out of place. But of course, he didn’t get the chair. Much of the history of what is called ‘science fiction’ is of people with bold, typically futuristic visions falling out of the academic mainstream and adopting of style of writing that is part-novel, part-projection. I suppose, sociologically speaking, the most interesting feature of science fiction is its large market. Considering that very little of it stands up on traditional literary grounds, it strikes me that science fiction ultimately appeals to a way of relating to theoretical and empirical knowledge that is not normally permitted by academic disciplines. You might say that it sees a lot more in the academic material than academics themselves do. At least, that’s how I read science fiction – as a prod to the imagination. Consequently, I read the stuff pretty fast, simply for plot and device, rather than entertainment. Now speaking epistemologically, I think that science fiction is a bit like very abstract branches of mathematics like non-Euclidean geometry, which were invented before they had any use but subsequently came to function as templates for comprehending new phenomena or aspects of reality. So, for example, a film like ‘The Matrix’ seems to have revived, at least for some philosophers, the idea of God as the great computer programmer, which was the context in which Charles Babbage, the computer’s inventor, made his own argument for intelligent design back in the 1830s.

Selim Varol

I've just picked up the "technology" issue of Cream Magazine, and have started to work my way through its articles on "Life 2.0" etc, as displayed on the covershot I've included here. These are relevant as popular representations of this blog's mission statement, in their own right.
But here I've focused more on the photo essay in this issue which could be related to ahuthnance's earlier post on David Levinthal [for obvious reasons]. Photographers Daniel and Geo Fuchs highlight avid toy collector Selim Varol in their book Toy Giants, as developed during their 2004 artists-in-residence stint in Berlin.

Thailand's "Pink Man"

Pink Man performance by Sompong Thawee
If King Kong stood for untamed savagery and Godzilla for nature's revenge on nuclear age man, then Pink Man the monster is surely their exact opposite. There he stands, in his shiny pink suit, the sum total of contemporary man the monster, as built and bred by extreme capitalism. His whole being ruled by insatiable greed, unchecked by any belief system, social, religious or political, he has become one of the 'hungry ghosts' that dutiful Buddhists are supposed to pity and to save by sending them vibrations of love. Through such acts of kindness, we hope to save ourselves from Hell. But alas, we are already there, forever hungry in Hi-tech Hell. How strange that we yearn so much to kill Godzilla and King Kong, yet we condone the existence of Pink Man the monstrous Hungry Ghost. He roams our streets with impunity,and we do nothing.

The idea of Pink Man came to me when I went out shopping at the newest mall in town. This mall is very big - like a factory - so bright with thousands of fluorescent lamps,
all kinds of goods kept on shelves orderly. A lot of buyers were tirelessly enjoying filling their trolleys with goods, getting into long queues to pay - like going to an amusement park. To what extent has consumerism brainwashed us? That life values are measured by materials that one possesses.

Pink Man is my upset and alienated feeling towards the concept of consumerism which has been accepted simply and without consideration by Thai society. I feel that this system has enslaved us without our realization. Moreover, we are being forced to act in the same way : there is a move towards uniformity. Pink Man is wandering quietly and smilelessly, like a robot, in the opulent and busy business area of Silom street, where there is a lunch market named La-lai-sap (melting money) for office men and women.Pink, like in the photo, is considered generally by high class group of Thai people as tastelessness and vulgarity which is used commonly by night-life girls and comedians. In additional to this reason, I intentionally use Pink color in order to subvert the aesthetics of local art.
6 October 1976 was another black mark in Thai politics. After 14 October 1973, a new PM, new constitution and fresh elections gave hope for a change for the better. But from 1973 – 1976, a series of weak coalition governments floundered in a chain of musical chairs.

By 1976 the political mood was somber. A unified Vietnam after the Communist victory
and the killing fields in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge hung like a haunting specter over the region. With the withdrawal of US forces from Asia, South East Asian countries were living in apprehension.

This was also a period of newfound freedom for the students and intellectuals.

Still heady from their moral victory three years earlier, they engaged in open expression, organized demonstrations, strikes and demands for reform.

But by 6 October 1976, the winds of political change have shifted. The very people who backed the students three years ago were skeptical of them now in the light of the communist threat.

The conservative middle class found the strident left wing radicalism unsettling. There was a strong anti-communist sentiment in Thailand with an insurgency in the south.
The proximity of communist neighbors in Vietnam and Cambodia compounded the fears.
There was a rise of right wing groups at the village level and among technical and
vocational students to counter the left-wing groups, with frequent clashes between
the two. The weak government torn by factional strife was unable to rein in the two extremes.

In the midst of all this, Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn, the deposed dictator in 1973, returned to Thailand and was ordained as a monk.

With the bitter memories of 14 October 1973 still fresh in their minds, the students were incensed.

They massed for a huge protest in Thammasat University. By now, the students, with their left wing liberal attitudes, were treated with suspicion.

As in some other South East Asian countries it was easy to be tarred a communist just by opposing the establishment.

The spark that fired the pogrom was the burning by students of an effigy that allegedly resembled a member of royal family. In the eyes of the common people and the right wing groups the students had gone too far.

On evening of the 6 October 1976, right-wing groups, police and the military stormed the campus in an orgy of killings and unspeakable atrocities to the living and the dead. Hopes for a dawn of a new democracy were quickly crushed. Many intellectuals fled to the hills.

Relatives of the dead and missing bemoan the lack of public concern for the victims of the 6 October 1976 who were not held in the same regard as the martyrs of 14 October 1973. 6 October was like a nightmare society preferred to forget.

The only memorial for those who died on 6 October is in the grounds Thammasat University, near the 14 October memorial.

It's a simple a sculpture of the Thai date 6 October 2519 (1976.

Global Spiral: Special Issue Debating Transhumanism

I'm a little slow posting this, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to embellish it with some graphics from Cream and 21C Magazine.

June 2008
Volume 9, Issue 3
Special Issue on TranshumanismHava Tirosh-Samuelson Guest Editor

Engaging Transhumanism: The Meaning of Being Human by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson
“If one accepts that transhumanism is more than an ideology, indeed a philosophy, one must look carefully at its understanding of the human, of biology, and of the relationship between technology and culture.” more
Of Which Human Are We Post? by Don Ihde
“...[O]nly if humans are stupid enough to end up worshiping the very idols they create, could the fantasized replacement of humans by machines take place.” more
Cybernetics Is An Antihumanism by Jean-Pierre Dupuy
“For there is no science that does not rest on a metaphysics, though typically it remains concealed. It is the responsibility of the philosopher to uncover this metaphysics, and then to subject it to criticism.” more
Wrestling with Transhumanism by Katherine Hayles
“One need not agree with Francis Fukuyama that transhumanism is 'the world’s most dangerous idea' to appreciate the critiques of transhumanism enacted in science fiction.” more
Brains, Selves and Spirituality in the History of Cybernetics by Andrew Pickering
“All of the practices and states that I talk about in my paper are already marginalized in contemporary society—it feels vaguely embarrassing to talk about them in public. But at least the margins exist, and one can go there if one likes. The transhumanists would like to engineer them out of existence entirely and forever. Yes, I’m starting not to like transhumanism.” more
Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future by Ted Peters
“[T]ranshumanist assumptions regarding progress are naive, because they fail to operate with an anthropology that is realistic regarding the human proclivity to turn good into evil...[R]esearchers genetics and nanotechnology should...maintain constant watchfulness for ways in which these technologies can become bent toward destructive purposes.” more
June 2008 Page 1 of 3 May 2008

Monday, 11 August 2008

David Levinthal - "the ambiguity between reality and artifice"

I recently was suprised to find the above miniatures in a Sydney hobby shop. They remind me of the work of photographer David Levinthal who has produced some amazingly provocative images, perhaps most famously those collected in the book 'Hitler Moves East: A Graphic Chronicle, 1941-1943', Levinthal and Gary Trudeau, and his 1994 exhibition titled 'Mein Kampf'. See the following link for more:

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Gregor Wolbring

In an earlier post I wondered aloud whether there were any telling differences between the ethical approaches to synthetic biology used by Gregor Wolbring and Paul Rabinow:

I'm happy to report that I now have a response from Gregor, on the understanding that it may be posted on this blog for the benefit of others. If I have at all misconstrued Gregor's tacit approval of posting here, I will remove it upon his request. My question was general as I wanted a starting point to get to grips with the concept of "ableism" Wolbring is associated with:

Ok here my take. This is a cleaned up version. It is NOT a general critique of Rabinow. That also would be beside the point. I do not disagree with many of the sentiments. I just feel for them to be useful they have to be embedded into a totally different social structure and discours.

THe main sentence from how you quote Rabinow is "The question of what constitutes a good life today, and the contribution of the bio-sciences to that form of life must be posed and re-posed."

I agree with the sentiment of that quote and I wrote on that for example in my bookchapter Wolbring, (2003), "Confined to Your Legs," in A. Lightman, D. Sarewitz,and C. Desser (eds.), Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery (Washington, DC: Island Press). ISBN: 1-55963-419-7

However that is not the whole story.
Depending whom one talks to will lead to totally different answers as to what constitutes a good life and depending on how one answers that question one gets totally different answers to the question what the contribution of the biosciences to that form of life is and could be.

I cover in my recent writings a lot the concept of ability governance. (see for example here Wolbring (2008) "Is there an end to out-able? Is there an end to the rat race for abilities?" for Journal: Media and Culture, Volume 11, Issue 3, July. 2008 or here Wolbring (2008) Why NBIC? Why human performance enhancement? European Journal of Social Science Research, Vol 21,No.1,pp.25-40

What forms of ableism and favoritism of abilities one exhibits has a direct impact on how one defines and perceives what constitutes a good life, what the problems are that prevent the reaching of that good life and what solutions are thought out to deal with the 'problems'. The discourses around science and technology governance leave out many facets and subgroups of earth population and with that exhibits fairly homogenous take on acceptable forms of ableism and favoritism of abilities. The less diverse the reference group is, the easier it is to define a certain vision of the good life, the existing problems preventing one to reach it and the solutions for that problem.

Most of the science an technology governance discourse is about environmental and medical health issues. Social risk, social health issues are rarely raised by the proponent or opponents of a givens contested science and technology. And certain groups of earth populations are routinely excluded
Wolbring (2007) "Nano-Engagement: Some critical issues Journal of Health and Development (India)Vol. 3 No 1-2, pp. 9-29

In general how we govern science and technology and what science and technology we seek what is accepted and what is not is a direct result of what ableism's a given society is exhibiting and accepting and what abilities a given culture is seeking.

And of course as certain science and technolgy enable new abilities and ableisms the very appearance of certain science and technology will support certain new ableisms and favoritisms for certain abilities.

One other quote from how you quote Rabinow is “And ethics and science can play a mutually formative role”.
Again on the surface there is nothing wrong with such statement. However depending which ethics one uses changes quite a bit the nature of the formative role and what output the given ethics discourse generates.

Transgenes and Transgressions: Scientific Dissent as Heterogeneous Practice

I'm posting this reference here in case it can eventually set a context for Steve Fuller's principled support for Intelligent Design. Even if these specific ideal types do not feature in the forthcoming interview, I would like to follow up on Delborne's work to consider their ramifications some other time for social epistemology.
Social Studies of Science, Vol. 38, No. 4, 509-541 (2008)
© 2008 SAGE Publications
Transgenes and Transgressions: Scientific Dissent as Heterogeneous Practice
Jason A. Delborne
Division of Liberal AAs and International Studies, 301 Stratton Hall, 1005 14th Street, Golden, CO 80401, USA,

Although scholars in science and technology studies have explored many dynamics and consequences of scientific controversy, no coherent theory of scientific dissent has emerged. This paper proposes the elements of such a framework, based on understanding scientific dissent as a set of heterogeneous practices. I use the controversy over the presence of transgenic DNA in Mexican maize in the early 2000s to point to a processual model of scientific dissent. `Contrarian science' includes knowledge claims that challenge the dominant scientific trajectory, but need not necessarily lead to dissent. `Impedance' represents efforts to undermine the credibility of contrarian science (or contrarian scientists) and may originate within or outside of the scientific community. In the face of impedance, contrarian scientists may become dissenters. The actions of the scientist at the center of the case study, Professor Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrate particular practices of scientific dissent, ranging from `agonistic engagement' to `dissident science'. These practices speak not only to functional strategies of winning scientific debate, but also to attempts to reconfigure relations among scientists, publics, institutions, and politics that order knowledge production.

Key Words: agricultural biotechnology • contrarian science • dissident science • genetically modified crops • transgene flow

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Gutterbreakz: lost early Dr Who electronic music

ahuthnance, you probably need to get over to this excellent blog asap. Some interesting news about Delia Derbyshire and Tristram Cary, which might one day fill out the excellent BBC Radiophonic Workshop cd you have from around the same period:

Biological seriality

Once upon a time, people questioned my sanity when I speculated about the growing imbrication of biological thinking and forensics. Well, I wrote a thesis about the topic, and I've just come across the following (hot off the press). Needless to say, the operating assumptions of the scientists are hopeless bunkum, which opportunistically chime with the cynicism of our increasingly dominant biocultural ethos, thereby guaranteeing in all likelihood a healthy amount of research funding into the forseeable future:
Bumblebees teach police to catch serial killers
Tomas Martin @ 30-07-2008
What do busy busy bumblebees and sinister serial killers have in common?
They both stray far from their home when doing plying their trade, according to scientists from the University of London. When foraging for nectar, a bumblebee will create a ‘buffer zone’ around its nest that it won’t drink the flowers in, so that predators and parasites don’t follow it back to its home. The researchers found that this buffer zone was very similar to the pattern created by serial killers when they kill their victims. By studying the paths of bumblebees they hope to give forensic experts better clues as to where a killer might live based on his killings. We’d better make sure we keep the bees alive then.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Richard Pinhas

OK mhuthnance, just for you, I found this on the excellent Asimov's Science Fiction website. There are a few factoids here I was previously unaware of, so I avoided dropping references to the other more familiar stuff regarding Eno and Klaus Schulze. In any case, it's certainly an excellent companion piece to the Simon Reynolds interview on a few years back. Enjoy!!

"Like many Asimov’s readers, my diet of literature consists of a great number of science fiction novels, short story anthologies, and magazines. It is not the only artistic pursuit I’m interested in, but it’s accurate to say that reading science fiction has had a profound influence on my own day-to-day life, my intellectual development as an adult, and the formation of my attitudes about our contemporary American culture and its place in the present and future world. The other great artistic love of my life is electronic music, a sonic genre as diverse, innovative, and without boundary as that of the best written science fiction. Though it may seem an oblique comparison, the wildly diverse sub-genres of electronic music have influenced and informed my intellectual development in as profound a manner as the classics of science fiction.

Since I first encountered electronic music in high school, it has operated as an unofficial soundtrack to the novels and stories I’ve read. For me, Aphex Twin’s stark and experimental timbres on Selected Ambient Works, Volume II will always evoke mental associations of Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer; Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s warm, pastoral Wenn der Sudwind Weht album conjures images of Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird; atmospheric guitarist Jeff Pearce’s Daylight Slowly takes me back to the lovely world of Asimov’s The Naked Sun—not to mention irrevocably reminding me of the beautiful Gladia—and on and on.

Because of these strong associations, when I read science fiction novels and stories, I’m always amused to see writers weaving tales of extremely futuristic milieus—dystopian cities, gender-bending cultures, post-Singularity ways of existence—all featuring extremely dated or “old-fashioned” musical choices. There is nothing that seems more incongruous, to me, than reading about blues rock bands jamming in a futuristic club setting, or android simulacrums with looks based upon Jim Morrison or Elvis. While these choices on the part of the writers are certainly valid, given the musicians’ influence and popularity, I have always thirsted for a more intentionally futuristic sounding music appearing in the science fiction I read. It seems to me that inexplicable alien cultures deserve music that is equally inexplicably alien!

Though there have been stories that have dealt with this theme masterfully, the musics chosen by authors for their novels and stories are largely quite traditional, and hardly ever daring, experimental, or conceptual from a modern listener’s viewpoint. Even from the perspective of a knowledgeable listener in the mid-1970s, as electronic music became more prominent, these limiting sound-choices seem to be as futuristic as a plastic shower curtain, or an electrical vacuum cleaner—innovations of their time, but, when integrated into futuristic modernity, a strange, though certainly romantic, anachronism.

This is not to say modern science fiction writers are all stuck in an eternal 1960s acid-rock or baroque musical future. As an example to the contrary, M. John Harrison’s recent novel Light contains an example of future-thinking in regard to musical styles of times to come: “Music was everywhere, transformation dub bruising the ear, you could hear its confrontational basslines twenty miles out to sea.” In our own world, dub music is an intriguing sub-genre of Jamaican reggae noted for innovative studio-production techniques and a bass-heavy, echoed, hypnotic vibe. Though the invented genre of “transformation dub” is never satisfactorily explained in Light, it instills thought-provoking associations I very much appreciated as I wondered, days after reading the novel, what the music might sound like, how it came about, and what collision of past musical influences might have been responsible for its creation.

Futuristic electronic sound and science fiction have often been associated with each other throughout their popular histories. Louis and Bebe Barron’s otherworldly soundtrack of “electronic tonalities” for the film Forbidden Planet comes immediately to mind as music constructed specifically to shade an otherworldly sci-fi odyssey.

Artists of electronic music have benefited greatly from the pollination of SFnal ideas. These intrepid purveyors of decidedly strange sounds are heavily influenced by both science fiction literature and cinema. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the influence of these musicians is in turn felt by tomorrow’s SF writers and filmmakers.

The roll call of talented, influential artists and musicians in the electronic genre is long, diverse, and already the topic of several books and countless articles in print and online publications. I could easily wax poetic on dozens of fascinating artists who are worthy of broad attention by music lovers everywhere. For the purpose of this article—and for the continued sanity of those who are curious about the electronic genre, but are unsure where to start listening—I will describe a choice few artists who are directly involved in, influenced by, or have had oblique dalliances with SF literature. Perhaps by exploring some of the following fine musicians and their recordings, your interest may be piqued enough to begin your own odyssey through the wild, strange, and beautiful world of electronically created sound.

One of the most fascinating figures in electronic music is French guitarist, synthesist, Sorbonne philosophy professor, and composer Richard Pinhas. His influence upon electronic music since the 1970s, an influence somewhat obscure until recently, has been far-reaching. Through his band Heldon (named after Norman Spinrad’s utopian city in The Iron Dream) he is credited, along with German innovators Tangerine Dream, as one of the first musicians to combine electronics and rock ’n’ roll into a startlingly progressive and original hybrid.

His guitar style—reminiscent of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s musical experiments with producer Brian Eno (Eno will be discussed later)—is provocative and emotional. Sometimes violent and aggressive, other times angelic and exuberant, Pinhas’s searing guitar marked the beginning of the electronic-punk sound.

Heldon’s 1975 album Allez Teia melds lovely tape-loop-derived guitar passages with the most modern analog synthesizers of the time. It’s also an overtly political album, with cover art depicting the Paris student riots of 1968. Though peaceful in mood, Allez Teia was quite revolutionary for presenting an album of idyllic soundscapes during a tumultuous and angry time in music. While punk expressed its rage with loud music and shambolic live concerts, Pinhas’s rage was focused toward painfully beautiful and melancholy music.

Pinhas, a political and philosophical radical, always managed to infuse his many albums, both solo and with Heldon, with the visionary literature and philosophy that influenced him: Gilles Deleuze, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Norman Spinrad are frequently touched upon in song titles, album dedications, and, in some cases, guest appearances. Pinhas featured spoken-word recordings of Deleuze on some of his albums with Heldon and his later solo material. Pinhas’s albums Chronolyse and DWW are based on the SF works of Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick, respectively (though DWW’s cover depicts a Fremen of Arrakis as interpreted by Heavy Metal magazine illustrator Philippe Druillet). Track titles like “Paul Atredies,” “Sur le Theme de Bene Gesserit,” “Ubik,” and “The Joe Chip Song” demonstrate Pinhas’s tireless creation of unofficial soundtracks for the great works of science fiction he loves. Norman Spinrad himself sings on Pinhas’s East/West album and the first album by Schitzotrope (a project between French science fiction writer Maurice Dantec and Pinhas featuring “French readings of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy with metatronic music and vocal processors,” and, yes, it is as cool and weird as it sounds).

Pinhas’s most recent solo work, 2004’s Tranzition (reviewed in Asimov’s by Paul Di Filippo in a recent issue), even features an old tape fragment of Philip K. Dick speaking about his role as a writer. Tranzition is a fine work of interstellar musical ambiance, with masterful guitar playing and software-based musicianship, proving Pinhas is still as relevant in 2004 as he was in 1974. The revolutionary, experimental spirit infused in classic New Wave science fiction is embodied in Pinhas’s music sonically, with the same broad level of influence to successors in his genre. His work is an incendiary music of change, pointing the way to possible futures through advanced technology and thought systems".

EXPRESS: What do you think of today's electronic music scene?
» PINHAS I'm not specially interested in electronic music; more in post-rock, in noise groups like Wolf Eyes and some of the San Francisco scene. And, of course, classical music.

» EXPRESS: Are you still inspired by science fiction?
» PINHAS: I stay tuned in and am still very close to Norman Spinrad — the American writer — and Maurice Dante — the French sci-fi writer living in Montreal. But to be honest, I only read two or three new science fiction books each year.

» EXPRESS: How did Gilles Deleuze's philosophy and Friedrich Nietzsche's eternal return ideas influence your music?
» PINHAS: With Deleuze, by truly living and sharing his philosophy; it's a whole, immanent philosophy. Plus, he was a very, very close friend and a great teacher. His main concepts were about time and repetition, process theory and about synchronicity and flux material. So there is a direct connection between repetitive music — my kind of music, metatronic — and his time theory and Nietzsche's eternal return concept. So eternal return and my way of processing are very connected, still in relationship. Music helps me understand some philosophical concepts just as concepts help me to make my music as a process of process — the immanent thing. Deus sive natura. [Literally, "God or nature," from philosopher Benedict Spinoza, but meaning "God is nature"]

» EXPRESS: I understand you wrote a book about Friedrich Nietzsche and his relationship to music.
» PINHAS: Yes, it was a book about Nietzsche, Deleuze and music. We know the admiration Nietzsche had for [Richard] Wagner — I also love "The Ring" that I saw four times in Bayreuth, Germany — and [Georges] Bizet as well as Peter Gast [aka Heinrich Koselitz], with whom he wrote many letters. Nietzsche talks a lot about music in his books, too. I have done a part of my philosophy Ph.D. on the problem of time and repetition. Probably all the musicians that work on repetitive music — like Philip Glass, Terry Riley, etc. — have directly or indirectly a straight relationship to the concept of time and repetition and to the concept of eternal return.

» EXPRESS: You once said, "I think there is a straight connection between who I see as the three most important people in the history of modern music: Wagner, [Bela] Bartok and Robert Fripp. But Fripp is the most important composer." What is it about Wagner and Bartok that you love — and why is Fripp the most important?
» PINHAS: To be honest, I don't remember ever saying that. It is close to that, but for classical music I am more involved in [Richard] Bach, Wagner. And for the moderns, of course, [Fripp's band] King Crimson is very important — very, very — but not more than Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix. Fripp is important because hearing his music made my life different and helped me to decide to be definitively a composer and a musician — better than teaching at university.

Photo courtesy Cuneiform Records» EXPRESS: There's a particular theme that runs through "Metatron"'s titles. So, deep breath, here we go. First, Metatron is an angel in the Kabbalah. Then the song name "Tikkun" is taken from the Torah, and the video track "Tikkun (Part 4) " is subtitled "Gematria 52vs814" after the Kabbalah numerology system. And "Tikkun (Part 2): Tikkune Zohar" is named after the most important book of the Kabbalah. Plus, "Shaddai" is one of the Hebrew names for God, and you have two songs that mention that in the title. And you have a composition, "The Ari," named for the Kabbalist Isaac Luria. How did Jewish religion and mysticism influence these works?
» PINHAS: So, it is a very long story. In brief, first I don't believe at all in God except if you say, as Spinoza, that "God is nature": Deus sive natura. I spent, lately in my life, five or six years on Spinoza. Fantastic time. Spinoza, directly or indirectly, was inspired by a certain way of the Kabbalah by Isaac Luria — this great genius — despite him saying that Kabbalah is "crap." [Pinhas goes on about a bunch of other deep philosophical things here that, frankly, we can't make heads or tails of, so let's just jump to the next bit.]

» EXPRESS OK, I have a massive brain cramp. You also have two song titles on "Metatron" whose inspirations escape me. Who is or what are Moumoune and Mietz as well as Tigroo and Leloo?
» PINHAS: Moumoune was my female hamster that died two years ago. I had a pretty close relationship with her; a kind of empathy and love. She helped me pass a very depressive time in my life — true, even if it seems strange. Mietz was the cat of my psychoanalyst; Mietz died three months after Moumoune. So, it was a very sad story. But Tigroo was my beautiful girlfriend at this moment of creation and my nickname was Leloo — "The Wolf." She was half-French, half-Chinese. But life goes on. See the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime."

» EXPRESS You left music for a period because, you said, you had "no musical statement to make." Have you ever felt like taking another break from music?
» PINHAS: No, it just happened one time, between 1982 and 1988. During this time, I studied philosophy again. I spent my life in the French mountains, skiing and paragliding, except one day a week for the Deleuze course. It will never happen again. I just went off music — and a little bit off civilization.

» EXPRESS You've always been very open and honest about which albums of yours you've liked and which ones you don't. What do you think of "Metatron" and where does it rank?
» PINHAS: Really, one of the best; surely a kind of achievement. I know that some Heldon CDs, like the second and the third, I don't like them really anymore. Same for the [Peter] Frohmader collaboration. But "Tranzition" and Heldon's "Interface" and "Un Reve" are, even today, very good and powerful albums.