6.25.2013

We Are Smart Phones Processing Cosmic Calls

Today's phone is a peculiar thing. It is a perceptive appendage that knows how to send and read invisible signals. When my phone rings or buzzes or dings, it's not due to anything I can see or hear or touch. No, the phone has an ability to perceive invisible waves of energy. And what makes it truly amazing is that it not only reads invisible waves of energy, it not only processes and makes sense of them, it knows which ones are for me. Think about that for a moment. The air is inundated with information and this device tucked in my pocket parses it, filters it, and finds which signals are meant for me.

Of course, this is something we do all the time — we, me, this body, not my phone or computer or any gadget, widget, or gear. We make sense of an endless stream of information, data, signs, and signals that are invisible.

And, just as the phone processes invisible signals from across space, much of the data we process is not streaming from bodies directly in front of us. Throughout the course of any given day, I pick up signals from people — and sometimes things and places — across the world and, sometimes, across time (people who have died, places I lived long ago). I'll get a flash of a face, a sense of a person. This can be swift, there and gone. It can persist in my peripheral vision for days. Usually, it's a series of flashes, the same face appearing in bursts over several days, a rock skipped over the surface of my consciousness.

I rarely ignore these visits, these whispers through and of the ether. Please don't misunderstand me. I do not believe that they have a special meaning as if the universe were trying to tell me something: She was my lost love! That's silly. No, I believe that these flashes of communication are just that: flashes of communication. There is no meta-meaning, no secret kernel of knowledge. The universe is its happening, its becoming; it has no secrets per se. It goes as it goes and we go as we go. And when we experience communication from afar, it has no significance other than communication from afar. But that in and of itself is significant!

Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper tells us never to ignore a coincidence — not because it has some secret meaning but because the coincidence itself is significant. In Twin Peaks, Lynch gives us an alternate epistemology, ways of knowing the world based in dreams, intuition, synchronicity rather than linearity, logic, and physical evidence.

Look at it this way. We answer our phones when they ring due to invisible waves sent half way around the globe. Then why wouldn't we answer these signals which come to our bodies and minds?

This "answering" can take many forms. Usually, I just let that communication play across me. I lean into it to make sense of its intensity, its affect. This is a well known thing with parents when something bad happens to their child: they wake in the night startled and know something is wrong. In this case, the communication is quite intense and infiltrates the body, declaring itself clearly. More often, the communication is less resonant, less urgent: a more or less simple hello from over yonder. And so I reply with an invisible hello back. Sometimes, I'll call or send an email.

We've all had that experience of thinking of someone and just as we go to call them, they call us. Whoa! The first thing we say is: How weird! But there is nothing less weird. This is what's happening all the time, day and night, to everyone.

And, to be clear, little of this is what we might call "conscious." We emit despite ourselves. Such is life: it is fundamentally communicative. When I get a flash of some past lover, it's not because she's sending me lovey dovey juju from afar. These waves of communication are not as mired in the social politics of language and all too human relations. They are often inchoate even if pointed and are rarely, if ever, conscious the way a phone call is. 

We can pay more or less attention to this relentless stream of invisible communication. We can lean into it or not. Most of us ignore it. We tend to the barrage of shit that is daily life, the narcissism of modern neuroses. We tend to the perceived dings and rings of calls, texts, and emails. But we ignore the flashes of faces, the whispers in the wind, of those not here. We brush them off so casually that some of you don't know what the heck I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, other people spend time and energy leaning into the chatter of the cosmos. We might call some of these people psychics. I've never been to a psychic as I don't trust someone else reading the chatter coming my way. I like to read it for myself. (It's the same reason why I never read so-called secondary literature on an author: I don't trust some pedantic academic. Plus, it's usually boring. No, I want to make sense of it on my own.)

Certain drugs can be highly effective in amplifying our receptivity of these communications. These drugs are a technology, much as a smart phone is: it lets us perceive things we might not ordinarily perceive. Without my phone, I can't read your text. Without DMT, I might not be able to hear the breadth of cosmic whispers streaming my way.

I have a good friend who has engaged various technologies — mushrooms, DMT, breathing exercises — to open up his perceptive channels. And he's heard, seen, and felt communications not just from people he's known and places he's lived but from other dimensions, other life forms, other universes. You can doubt and scoff and mock but the fact is: the universe — the cosmos, not just the earth and human life — is relentlessly communicating. Everything is there to be perceived. Just as the phone lets us communicate in strange, mystical ways (however much we take it for granted), we are always communicating this way. And some people, and some drugs, amplify these voices.

As Marshall McLuhan says in The Medium is the Massage, technology is an extension of the human body. The wheel is an extension of the foot; the book is an extension of the eye; electric circuity, an extension of the central nervous system. The smart phone is an extension, a repetition, of our ability to reckon — to receive, process, and send — invisible whispers across the cosmos. If we only remember to answer the call. 



8 comments:

Jim H. said...

Yes. Dreams work this way, too. Though I'm not sure I would use the term 'communication' to define the phenomenon. Pattern recognition and Successful Prediction, or World Intuition: some terms that maybe hone in on this feeling of hinky or weird I'm pretty sure we all experience of Coincidence, Serendipity, etc.

I had an experience diving in Hawaii last month which falls into this category. I'm trying to decipher it now in a series of posts. I'm focusing on the emotional aspects. I'll let you know if I get closer.

dustygravel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dustygravel said...

For Marshall McLuhan it is immanence self that is extended.

As one Russian Orthodox theologian once said to me, "the Light of God goes all the way down through everything." This is basically McLuhan's view of media; it extends each thing out through everything.

Deleuze views it from the opposite side: no mediation just repetition. Funny thing, it amounts to about the same thing. Becoming: communion with another through the appropriating of their sense's and corporeality is the same as McLuhan's media; modes of communication which extend and alter the being of "Man".

Last time we shared this idea, you referred to it as an opposition ("Vs.") between McLuhan and Deleuze, this caught me of guard because I was thinking of it as a complementary relationship, which makes all the discoveries of one accessible to the other. We could say a wasp extends and mediates an orchid, inflecting it while extending it out. We could also say a wheel is a variation on the foot, and we are a becoming traffic on the road. The car is such a weird comportment; liner in direction, fast pace, so powerful and yet so docile, it imbeds us in a whole other language of forms.
Drivers are hardly even human.

There is a way in which Deleuze and McLuhan diverge. What is it? Is it just emphases? McLuhan doesn't insist on a single plain for everything. With Deleuze there is a proliferation of figures. Deleuze contrasts the factory to the stage in (ATPt), but his is a stage with infinite cast of characters. Oh! I know a way of thinking about it. McLuhan is pure eminence, and Deleuze is pure immanence!



Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Jim H: Eager to kow what happened in Hawaii.

I tried pointing to dreams when I wrote that these communications happen all day and night. But I knew I was skirting the issue of dreams as they need and deserve more time and space. But I do like the word "communication"; I suppose another, perhaps better word, is "expression": the world is fundamentally expressive, always and already. I like this image of us all, and everything, as a kind of radio tower beaming information far and wide.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Dusty: I have to admit, in my decaying & fermenting brain, I don't remember opposing Deleuze and McLuhan. Although I can imagine I might, from one angle, see what happens when one opposes them.

Now, I want to say that they just lay out different worlds. I might say Deleuze begins where McLuhan leaves off. That is, McLuhan argues that the medium, the form, shapes the content. And, in a way, IS the content, is what we should be looking at.

And Deleuze begins already assuming that medium and message were never distinct.

McLuhan tries to create a collide-o-scope. A wake up call. See the environment! Deleuze assumes we all see the environment and begins mapping it, pleating it, playing with it.

I think it's the notion of technology as extension of the body that raises this question. Is the relationship between leg and wheel akin to wasp and orchid? If I ever said otherwise, now I want to say: for McLuhan, it is a mutual becoming, a "nuptial," to use D&G's language.

dustygravel said...


Nah, it was a while ago. I don't think you ever really said otherwise, I just made basically this same comparison back when I first started reading your blog, and you used the word vs. when you complemented me on it. I thought it was an odd use of "vs." and thought you might have been reading opposition into my compression, but was so flattered by your complement that I didn't press it. Maybe I thought it come across as petty, I kind of feel petty now. Oh well!



Also I think it's worth noting that McLuhan had a cynical side, it's often overlooked.



For McLuhan technology doesn’t only extend our being but it also numbs us as well. In his chapter on the spoken word from the medium is the message, he says that it's speaking words which first cut us from the collective unconscious. Now that I’m thinking about it, That's kind of a dialectical move. McLuhan isn’t usually associated with dialectics, but he did Thesis on the Classical Trivium, in it he presented philosophy as the method of dialectics with its roots in Socratic dialog. It was that text that first got me interested in rhetoric as a method of discovery, which sent me on a search that eventually led me to your podcasts. It's interesting to think of tools that can reconnect us to the collective unconscious.



Deleuze has his own Trivium; art, science, and philosophy. And of course, for him philosophy is the inventing of concepts.

McLuhan saw history as a struggle for balance between; Rhetoric Philosophy and Grammar (semiotics). I'll have to check out From Cliché to Archetype. That where he talks about enverment, right?




I think he would have been thrilled to see what you do with these 3 ways of processing the world.


dustygravel said...

I was just reading McLuhan's wiki and it said that Umberto Eco criticized McLuhan for conflating terms; codes, channels, message,(by the way what is a channel is in this context).

Would you say that some time's conflation is necessary for understanding, like in order to understand language you have to know how to use general terms in a more free floating way?

I was discussing Zizek's concept of the symbolic with my friend Ed the other day, and we realized that he aliens the real power of Affect by dividing the virtual between the symbolic real the abject real.

As you are well aware, for Deleuze the real is just the power and potential of the virtual. Zizek separates the virtual from the real by dividing the real into the abject real and symbolic real. The abject real can't be symbolized, and is only discovered through the 'minimal difference". Thus with the simple addition he returns us back to the alienated state of Kantianism. The point is that for Deleuze, perception is real as and aggregate of percepts even if that aggregation produces contradicting visions. I think this is important as a way to respect alterority and reality, but all one has to do to destroy its fragile structure is to introduce a division between the symbolic and the virtual. Defining the 'minimal difference' as the real makes an ontological argument for democracy, but it also de- authenticates the minority report, (whether it be from a small group or an individual).
It also erases the multiplicity, literally, because the 'minimal difference' is one unified thing, but it also isn't any bodies thing. Compermise can be fascist.

These terms are not neutral; they change our orientation to reality.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Dusty: You're on a roll! I dig it! I wish I knew McLuhan better so I could engage you intelligently — or at least critically. Same with Zizek, whom I've never read (except for some of his stuff on Lacan and movies).

The issue of conflation is super interesting. My mentor in grad school criticized me for too ready conflation of terms and, to this day, I have to decide if conflation is bad or not. On the one hand, it erases differences and nuance which can be at once pedantic and huge — to wit, that "minimal difference" which is in fact an enormous abyss.

On the other hand, I love a freewheeling thought process that tramples over the propriety of terms, that aligns and realigns them, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps creating a big ol' mess.

Sometimes, fuck rigor.

And I'm not sure McLuhan conflates those terms. I see a vast different between channels, message, and codes. McLuhan sees an entire machinery, the apparatus that moves from environment to cultural production and back. There is overlap, of course, but conflation? Eco shmeco.