Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Can't Get No Satisficing


Alan Turing's own example of the Turing Test for artificial intelligence is not about human versus nonhuman, but man versus woman — as a gay man, he must have known about performativity. The man must convince the interviewer that he might be a woman, and vice versa. This resembles evolutionary “satisficing”: instead of becoming optimal for their environments, life forms do just enough to look and quack like themselves. We could thus imagine how queer ecology might invert the conventional wisdom on virtual reality art such as transgender artist Micha Cardinas's simulations of nonhuman existence, performing as a dragon in the online domain, Second Life. It's not that these simulations demonstrate posthuman platitudes about malleable identity (Cardinas's own estimation), but rather that identity as such is already a simulation — a performative display. At its most hardcore, this might imply that virtuality is hardwired into living substance. It's not just that rabbits are rabbits in name only: it's that whether or not we have words for them, rabbits are deconstructive all the way down — signifying and display happen at every level. Nothing is self-identical. We are embodied, yet without essence. Organicism is both holistic and substantialist, visualizing carbon-based life forms (“organic” in another sense) as the essence of livingness. Queer ecology must go wider, embracing silicon as well as carbon, for instance. DNA is both matter and information. True materialism would be non-substantialist: it would think matter as self-assembling sets of interrelationships in which information is directly inscribed. The garden-variety environmentalisms, with their vitalist webs of life, have ironically strayed from materialism. Queer ecology would go to the end and show how beings exist precisely because they are nothing but relationality, deep down — for the love of matter.

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