Machines are manmade, though their existence has been analyzed by German theorists from the 20th century as its own form, independent of human interference. In the contemporary, questions of the machine ability to think acts dually as a source of theoretical/philosophical exploration, and an instance of fear for the consumer who questions such topics as VR/AR and AI as a threat to human consciousness as we know it. How can we synthesize these two moments, of exploration, and of fear? Is there a unified understanding to be gleaned from machines? While overly farsighted and leading questions that do not contain fixed answers, the schism between the academician and the public’s interpretation of machine ability present a potential energy. This energy, both in the metaphorical and literal sense, can be harnessed to bring forth an interpretation of sociality that hovers around the theory of inquiry itself, as it revolves around machines: how may We, where “We” as pronoun is to represent collective consciousness, transmute this energy into a new understanding of machines as they connote time, in imaginative sense? I hope to probe these questions through metaphysical, theoretical, and philosophical approaches to Lazaratto’s ideas of machines’ ability to crystallize time, as well as Erica Fretwell’s idea of psychophysics and the more myopic idea of goal orientation as practiced by contemporary artists Anna and Lawrence Halprin.
Maurizio Lazaratto’s extrapolations on Bergson’s theories of machines and time-space first point to memory as a process defined by time. It is important to understand memory as dynamic, as what I like to call “soft.” Memory is more of a plushy substance to sink into rather than a hard, fixed objective – the act of memory involves synthesis where the brain acts as in interface with the power to interpret, not dictate. Deleuze, as cited by Lazaratto, first explains two types of synthesis with memory: material synthesis and spiritual synthesis. The former is based on the production of images in both the capitalist understanding of time and the fluidity of the brain’s ability to perceive, where the recollection of these images defines the memory. Material synthesis is successive, independent; the actual instances elementary to the brain’s work here is a continuous duration, in that it is tightly defined by capital-T Time (Lazaratto, 95). In other words, the flow of image-to-memory is incited by a perception of Time as an omniscient presence: if one were to recall an iPhone photo of themselves, the process of memory is defined by the time-notion that that image was taken in the past, where the brain is able to live in two elements of time simultaneously. The brain “remembers” in the present moment in which the memory process begins, and dually, acts upon “remembering” in the future relative to the past moment when the photo was taken. A key distinction to make here is the importance of Time with material synthesis; while the brain operates here on a proposed relativity of the past, where the future relative to the past is the present moment of “remembering,” there is no destruction of the past→present→future ordering that defines Time. This is different to Deleuzian spiritual synthesis, which “contracts levels of the past that coexist,” (Lazaratto, 96). This is a virtual relationship that follows more of a lowercase-t time: the brain follows a discontinuous duration when enacting the memory process. These two delineations of memory bring about another set of classifications: automatic/passive and active/intelligent forms of recognition. Automatic/passive forms of recognition, as previously defined with the iPhone photo example, all upon Time in this memory process as a stream of reference to assist recognition, where such recognition wouldn’t be possible without Time as a guiding force. Time is the proverbial material to weave a memory garment, so to speak. Active/intelligent forms of recognition are more defined by habit than memory and relate to spiritual synthesis in that this process calls upon the synthesis of memory itself, rather than memory as it is defined by Time; this is why I make the syntactical distinction between Time and time, (Lazaratto, 95). In both instances, Lazaratto synthesizes these processes (pun intended) as a gap between the impetus to remember, the action of remembering, and the product: memory material, (Lazaratto, 98). There is a gap between looking at/creating (material/spiritual) the image that triggers memory as a process, where there’s a difference between looking, interpreting, and generating the “memory.” This is another explanation of Bergsonian indeterminacy, where the brain waits to calibrate the force between the action of the memory, and the reaction of having “remembered,” (Lazaratto, 94). The gap, as it presents indeterminacy, holds a potential energy; this is an idea of memory established by images as the trigger for memory-based action→reaction. In terms of nostalgia, Lazaratto’s musings about memory processes can be applied to past machines, probing questions of the brain’s role as an interface.
Lazaratto’s idea of memory as a malleable construct highlights how machines possess the ability to crystallize time as time-objects in their own right. In terms of nostalgia, I want to focus on the iconography of certain machines as images in terms of material synthesis – what can be said about archival importance in this way? Thomas Elsaesser speaks about teleology with reference to the Bazínian idea of antecedent technology as it is automatically subsumed by the new, (Elsaesser, 83). This is an ideological locus where all dead technology may either die with the importance of something new to take the old’s place, or find new life in the archive. With reference to this machine-resurrection, if you will, Elsaesser writes “Such a neat periodization sutures a series of clear markers of difference in order to trace a sequence of changes, inscribing themselves in a problematic (because it is both self-evident and self-cancelling). Teleology, where greater and greater realism is up against ever more perfect simulation and illusionism, and where live-ness and simultaneity are up against ever more capacious storage media and instant (random) access, (Elsaesser, 81). The ever-importance is manifested with age in the archive – time-space here, in a Bergsonian way, is a harbinger of the afterlife to antecedent technologies. Back to memory, Lazaratto talks about decentralization of images, and how the way they coexist highlights how the perception of images imposes meaning, and so memory, onto them. This is something that he defines as pure perception: imagine taking the time out of the memory process, closing the gap. Pure perception, in this way, dually “receives and transmits movements” to merge action and reaction in memory, (Lazaratto, 97). While this concept of pure perception exists independent of both Time and time, it is limited to its own understanding – we cannot experience pure perception because the brain complexly interpolates the gap, the brain as an interface can’t bypass the gap. With respect to teleology, the archive, and the gap, I am brought to the mounting repopularity of the PlayStation 2, and how the potential energy left in the gap has given this device, or at least the image-memories of these devices, a metaphorical “second life” as aforementioned. PS2’s on eBay are valued commodities, with prices for functioning consoles ranging between $93 and $529 though the introductory retail price was $299. Images of the PS2 concept art, however, point to the importance of archive as they are images that represent the nostalgia of the machine, rather than the machine itself. The brain as an interface makes object into image and calls upon the image of the object in a spiritual synthesis like a computer, where the process of PS2 object→image→images that conceptually represent the PS2 follows the fundamental process of, say, a tastes and preferences algorithm. With respect to the archive, what happens to the object in this process? Apart from serving as the trigger to “remember,” how might the PS2 act as a point of selection for the brain as an interface, in the sense that it dictates how the brain chooses what/how it receives/perceives to enact “remembering?” Lazaratto has an answer to this question, using the metaphor of machines like the PS2 as objects that “by retaining and accumulating duration, machines to crystallize time may help to develop or to neutralize the ‘force to feel’ and the ‘force to act;’ they may contribute to our ‘becoming active’ or to our being held in passivity,” (Lazaratto, 96). Here, memory can dictate the power relationship, as “memory is what allows time to both emerge and pass,” (Lazaratto, 106). Actual memory (psychological interpretation) and virtual memory (ontological memory) define time’s “fundamental” purpose – which is self-differentiation, the ability to distinguish, and split. Machine crystals, such as the PS2 and those other antecedent technologies that are subsumed and yet resurrected repurpose time’s purpose of trifurcation: past, present, and future. When the PS2 can exist in the present of the PS5, memory is mobilized as a signifier of how the machine itself gets RKO’d by time. The effect is the subversion of ‘Time’ as past→present→future, to time as neutrally only defined as a conceptual knife that slices space up, Iron Chef mode.
Apart from the theoretical/philosophical approaches to the time-gap in memory, let’s take a more conceptual approach through Fretwell’s ideas of psychophysics. Specifically related to machine crystals, Bergson’s indeterminacy can be seen as an ideal space for potential energy to manifest beyond the corporeal body. Before outlining this question via psychophysics, it’s important to distinguish aesthesis and feeling. Fretwell posits this distinction with the caveat that “The texts gathered under psychophysics aesthetics are all animated by the tension between biological configurations of human difference and more ‘occult’ modes of consciousness, feelings that are profoundly embodied and embedded in the world yet escape complete empirical capture,” (Fretwell, 4). Rather than “redundant ‘aestheticization’” but “embodied conventions” that define what Fretwell calls a genre of feeling, (Fretwell, 4). The genre of feeling defines the flux between the self and the social world as to parse out the relationship between the two – this is something that the school of social studies attribute to the larger idea of sociality. Fretwell explores a similar division with phantom limbs, using them as a magnifying glass to examine the “‘mental body’ in the material body,” (Fretwell, 35). In this way, the phantom limb pain experienced by amputees who have returned from war says less about physiological issues as we govern them by medicine, and more about the question of: what does the phenomenon of phantom limbs represent? “If a fabricated anatomy can be real, then what happens when a misrepresentation governs reality?” (Fretwell, 36). In the send where ‘real’ refers to real pain with real physiological effects on the veterans – how does that redefine “physiological?” The question now ventures into the realm of perception, regarding the eye, materialism, and ontology. Fretwell reminds us that “Physicists had proved that forces invisible to the human eye shape the visible world, while ophthalmologists revealed that the eye is physiologically inclined to misperceive the visible world. By midcentury, these twinning revelations had some to underwrite a newly materialist ontology of the soul: that it is a form of invisible energy that materially exists within and among (not transcendentally above) organic life,” (Fretwell, 36). This perspective refers to the eye’s ability to distort, it is not a pure or unbiased organ whom, in regard to the senses, is an unbiased source, if you will. As Fretwell references Helmholtz, the creator of the law of conservation of matter, “All optics is illusion,” (Fretwell, 40). Regarding the early nineteenth century as the time in which this inquiry was all the philosophical rage, Fretwell turns to spirit photographs to further inquire about perception. She references a gothic novella by Henry James called The Turn of the Screw (1898), who wrote “…not seeing is the strongest of proof,” (James as cited by Fretwell, 36). Here, phantom limbs become a form of “not seeing,” where the existence of a shadow in a photograph acts as an accompaniment of the subject with a spirit; thus spirit photography. Physical/spiritual bodies activate “not seeing” – they distinguish reality and fiction but also make emotional reality Real because it is felt, not just subjectively real because each feeling is unique. Bergson’s idea of indeterminacy opens another realm, where the gap of seeing/not-seeing presents a well of potential energy. Turning back to Helmholtz, his law of conservation of energy presents a “…dethroned ‘truth’ of visible world by subordinating it to the system of invisible motion that pervades it,” (Fretwell, 41). The theory is unified by Helmholtz’s idea that energy is neither created nor destroyed, just transferred, where the world is a closed circuit of energy rather an infinite supply of energy. Fretwell guides this as a “dynamic yet unified material ontology,” where, in other words; all things are energy, so, in the case of the potential energy in the gap of memory, indeterminacy functions in its own realm between the self and the society of which it belongs. Instead of an untapped force to be harnessed, like the spirit photograph, the psychophysical approach implies a history of aesthesis and feeling as they may be combined to new ends.
What do all of these approaches toward time memory, and energy say about the brain as an interface, perceiving images, and applying them to form understanding? As machines are devices that store information, the archive, in this way defined as a collection of past material, stores energy as machines do. The archive, as it gives new meaning, gives life – to dead technology subsumed by their antecedents doesn’t create energy to bestow onto the object, the archive repurposes energy. The energy of the “new” tech that replaces the old becomes the memory, as in, the nostalgic energy of what once was. Using the PS2 as an example, its resurfacing as an object through the iconography of the ads from the initial release, ironically, relate to a concept surrounding embodiment.
We can return to the capitalist idea of material synthesis, as a habitual process that operates through the archive as the archive stores time. This PS2 concept art functions as an image that the brain interacts with as an interface through physically perceiving. There is spiritual synthesis of the PS2 in its own right. Remembering the PS2 can be a memory of ‘remembering’ itself: the brain can generate this process with autonomy; you don’t have to physically see the object to remember the object, the PS2 concept art is the signifier to set the memory process. This is something unique to the PS2 as a consumer good, how this device is theorized is different than how their public memory is stored, and how it comes back via image association. This concept art for the PS2 contributes to this relationship in the content – it has to do with the organic, in an almost cyborg-way to imply how the PS2 will enhance human performance. PS2 as image memory and PS2 as product combine to form a new question: how is there a disconnect between these memories as Lazaratto as outlined them, and memory as experienced by consumers of this particular piece of technology?
The difference in these two realms of thought reflect an idea of machines as progress by consumers, where that progress represents a dual fear of human enslavement at the hands of Terminator-like figures and optimism toward a necessarily advanced society where Newer cannibalizes New, every day. As we have unpacked, machines are more crystalline representations of how time neutrally splits rather than how it predicts a machine-future. Through the resurgence of the aesthetic and habitual memory of PS2s and the like, we may ask ourselves: have we ever seen a representation of time that doesn’t directly treat itself as objective? In other words, is it possible to actually experience nostalgia apart from the linear perception of time, as it pertains to memory processes? This question re-approaches the idea of pure perception through the action→reaction of memory by targeting the potential energy left in the gap – could that potential energy present itself, using Fretwell’s ideas of psychophysics, as a separate spiritual body that doesn’t abide by the “rules” of time, so to speak? Based on what we know from Lazaratto on Bergson, pure perception is impossible to experience because the brain as an interface is able to perceive based on action→reaction, however; what if the potential energy in the gap isn’t a reminder of time, but a manifestation of the second body, the psychophysical one as it is apart from the corporeal one? In this way, memory gaps can present a recollection of a memory that doesn’t exist solely as a formless concept, but as a memory inside itself that manifests as a spiritual body, like Fretwell’s phantom limb example. If the brain is an interface where its ability to perceive is based on the eye, when it remembers, it recalls upon stored information like both an archive, or a machine. With regards to perception, that interpreted perspective that the brain creates is based on the physical perspective that the eye has in capturing anything it sees – this is a physical experience within the body. It could be deduced that, following the same psychophysical conversations, the potential energy in memory gaps projects a past spiritual body based on physical perception of the original event that the brain recalls when remembering the original, past event. The role of the PS2 as an object that archives nostalgia in the same way those who “remember” it project their own perspective’d memories onto the object are a prime example of this theory: memory of the PS2 surrounds the object as relative to the moment, and also an object related to the past body, recollected as a part of memory. This relationship says nothing concrete about time apart from the fact that it is a distinguishing factor in the brain’s ability to Can we apply this concept to time, progress, and advancement as generally and forwardly imagined ideologies?
In a more sociology-based nebula of inquiry, the PS2 and like machines can serve as challenges to progress, both as a generalized term related to goal-orientation and the application of the term to political agenda. I am brought to the contemporary dance research of Anna and Lawrence Halprin, and John Cage’s seminal Music of Changes as they both reflect respective approaches to the degradation of goals. Anna Halprin, noted contemporary dancer and her husband Lawrence, who worked in urban planning, developed a scoring method for choreography called the RSVP Cycles. The diagram was a structure-less structure, built on the couple’s acknowledgement of the toxicity of accomplishment in their respective fields – within dance, this problematic is based on seeking to laundry-list the most effective emotional expression, where in urban planning, the “most direct method possible” combined with the right intentions is understood at completing the goal as a moment synonymous as solving the “problem,” (Halprin, 4). The Music of Changes exemplifies an aspect goal orientation, in how Cage created a subset of limitations via the I Qing to mobilize chaos theory as a means of maneuvering the piece as a solo piano score. Per its completion, Cage’s scoring was said to meander in the ways the Halprin’s RSVP Cycles advocate for, however, in a philosophical sense, Music of Changes completes the goal of “playing chaos” through its implementation of the I Qing as a basis to begin with. There are lots of elements to consider here, “there are many systems of scoring, many kinds of things and events that scores record. The real hub of the issue, however, is what you control through the score and what you leave to chance; what the score determines and what it leaves indeterminate…the variables of unforeseen or unforeseeable events, and to the feedback process which initiates a new score,” (Halprin, 8). The Halprin’s artistic challenge of decentralized goals is a similar that posited by Lazaratto and Fretwell with regard to memory: memory is not fixed because time isn’t fixed, therefore any attempt to congeal the present moment into something akin to solid ground is moot, specifically when any footing on said solid ground seeks nameless progress as a label, rather than a movement. Apart from the innumerable political implications here, goal orientation reads the future by refusing to read it. The idea of time as a collapsed structure requires the same relinquishing as that of an urban planner, or a contemporary dancer – there is space in time because it has no goal, our only notion of this is how time delineates, not dictates. When a question is asked, must it serve a purpose, toward advancement, toward nostalgia? The concept of toward anything is one to be challenged, through baseless ideas of progress as from inception→to goal as they reflect linear Time.
The score of inquiry, from machine crystals to the future, relies on memory gaps, on establishing nostalgia as a lever to pull, unleashing a rain of accomplishment – we did it Joe, we created Sophia the Robot, we solved world hunger. Ironically, the goal of “progress” defines nostalgia in the same way it leverages it: the PS2 is able to reach iconography through the existence of the PS5, where the present moment of PS5’s as an antecedent reminds cultural consciousness of the subsumed, of the importance of the past as necessary for the goals of a more intuitive, more advanced, gaming protocol like that of the PS5. There is a latent romance present here, in remembering as it bestows a self-assuredness that we are all doing what we’re supposed to do: progress, advance, build more. On the other side of the spectrum, worry of these Terminator-like machines can be likened to the indeterminacy of the gap between this present moment, and the future. Will there be future humans, living in a more Futurama-esque epoch who remember the PS5 – our present, and their past – will there be machines that can think like we do, can write, as I write, about the rooted philosophy of memory, and its softness? Psychophysically, if you will – we all exist at infinitesimal and incredibly nearsighted capacities, corporeal bodies liked to spiritual ones, planes at perpetual crossroads where the highest understanding of time is its ability to define.
“Chapter 1.” The RSVP Cycles: Creative Procceses in the Human Environment, by Lawrence Halprin, G. Braziller, 1969.
Fretwell, Erica. Sensory Experiments: Psychophysics, Race, and the Aesthetics of Feeling. Duke University Press, 2020.
Lazaratto, Maurizio. “Machines to Crystallize Time: Bergon.” Videophilosophy: The Perception of Time in Post-Fordism, by Jay Hetrick, Columbia University Press, 2019, pp. 93-122.