A New Ethic (in the Spinozan sense)

from Information to Informotion

Since the opening of this site and the publication of works referred to within it many things have changed. The human world is on the threshold of a transformation that could well (depending on the decisions we are about to make) modify our destiny as a species. Either we will be able to quickly lay the foundations for global socialization by breaking up the hierarchy of everything the world is composed of (individuals, nations, states, cultures, living species and resources) i.e. a process of worldwide democratization. Or we will be condemned to destroy ourselves, but not, as some tend to think, in the sense of destroying the planet or nature, which will in any case survive.

In this first draft, I have laid the foundations for a new logic, a new way to think about the world. I propose a number of principles to get us out of the deadlock we are confronted with owing to our previous engagements. It is a question of thinking in an entirely different way. The notion I originally decided upon was the notion of information resulting from the conferences at Macy’s held in New York during the 1950s. These first multidisciplinary conferences gave birth to cybernetics and a theory of information which were to have a shattering effect on most of our sciences, from biology to psychiatry. Pursuing this new line of reasoning, based on the precepts of system and self-regulation, as far as seemed possible, I realized that it engendered the paradoxes I was proposing to avoid. I named this version of the theory of information: general information theory.

Unfortunately in the meanwhile, the concept of information has become the stereotype of advertisers, managers of all kinds and also certain researchers whose business above all resides in repeating what the world already knows or making desirable what is seen to be inevitable. Interpreted in this way the general theory of information was destined to be incomprehensible and misunderstood. As my proposition was an ethical and paradigmatic remake of this notion, it was destined to fail. My error was to try to change the meaning of a concept as widely used and abused as this and also that of its identical twin, information-communication.

In my original axiomatic (with a later revised version soon to be available on line) I wrote that the dead-ends and paradoxes observed in today’s sciences have come about from the distinction we have made since Galileo, Descartes and Newton between form and movement, with the invention of concepts such as inertia, empty space, and time as a repetition rather than a continuum (as Bergson would say) implying a creative, irreversible and unpredictable process. The dissociation and divide of these two concepts has led to the tremendous development of mechanical engineering in its fullest sense and the whole of present-day technology. However, it is with this paradigm that we have also mechanized our minds, human beings, the whole of life, the world – in fact, more or less all. The constituent parts of our cells are now reduced to the state of mechanical objects, capable of being manipulated like bricks, more or less replaceable and modifiable so as to nurture the dreams, or rather nightmares, that some would like to prepare for us: a life without suffering, without sickness, without emotion, without pleasure, and even without death! Fortunately for us, these are just the fantasies of mad scientists searching after eternal life. Biologists have not yet understood that life is a succession of phenomena called generations. The fact that as many as four human generations can co-exist today does not call into question the life principle, namely that each living being has a duration and a necessary end.

During this time, the only prospect we can offer both children and adults today is: manage as best you can to earn as much as you can so you can buy more and more cloned objects so as to avoid everything coming to a stop. And while some are inclined to say that the world is going through a serious crisis, others are precisely beginning to wonder whether it might not be better to stop consuming compulsively in order to calm their anguish in the presence of a world condemned, and instead start taking the time to re-think and invent new ways forward on the road to humanization and socialization. For this to happen, we would have to cease presenting our economy as rocket science and start a critical examination of our economic policies. ‘Is this still possible?’ is the question that immediately comes to mind.

Let me come back to the concept of information-communication. I realized too that these semantic shifts were none other than the avatars of the inertia principle from the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm referred to above. Indeed, information-communication in the theory of Shannon and Weaver is represented as bits of digital values destined to move in space without change of form, such as spoken words in a telephone conversation passing from one receiver to another. Any change in form was due to what they called noise. Eliminating the noise from the signal to leave just the message became the great world challenge. Cybernetics and digital technology reached the aim. But Shannon and Weaver's epigones introduced the confusion in applying a technical theory to human beings.

In so doing, one was forgetting all the ‘noise’ accompanying the transformation of the human world, like the spread of that of the telephone and the electronic media following it (television, Internet, the cell phone, etc.). The more developed the means of communication, the more the human world changed, and the less we communicated (and so much the better for the theory). On the other hand, on a global level, the more we share the means of meeting together (the media in general), the more deafening the world becomes, clearly highlighting the fact that there is no goal that these means (media) once implemented can aspire to. All of this is, by the way, an acknowledgement of Marshall McLuhan’s insight, with his warning that the ‘message is the medium itself’, which nobody took the pain to understand, so convinced were we all that there were ‘messages to transmit’ (the ongoing dream of advertising agencies and all tyrants) instead of a human world to be constructed. Henceforth, we can understand all of this in a different light: Communication is the globalization of our creativity, the process which leads to the sharing (communication) of our media, i.e. our technological creations and the others, and information is the process of human change that this engenders. The message is indeed the medium.

Yet, in the classical theory of information (that of Shannon, adopted in biology, the cognitive sciences, political sciences, etc.) to inform or to communicate simply meant passing something from one place to another, this ‘something’ remaining unchanged (without noise); the principle of inertia as expounded in modern physics; invariance with change in space. When applied to socialization, this is the dream of all tyrants: hammer into everyone’s brain by every means possible (precisely that of communication) what they want to be there. We now see that here the concept of communication by no means signifies sharing and sharing alike, but rather agitation and propaganda. This explains why our politicians, advertisers and specialized researchers can only think in terms of “communicating”. The general theory of information proposed an entirely different acceptance: the creative, irreversible and unpredictable process of increasing complexity and acceleration of our world. This meant abandoning the old concept for a new one. In order to demonstrate the fact that form cannot be considered apart from its accompanying movement, I am today suggesting we start with the term informotion (form-motion). This allows us to comprehend by means of a single idea the process of formation (the evolutionary process of forms) AND motion (the evolutionary process of movements of these forms). It also allows us to understand each and all of our conceptions as not being the closed entities (Truth, Love, The World, History, Democracy, The Genetic Code, Elementary Particles, Gravitation, etc.) twenty-five centuries of metaphysics and philosophy have accustomed us to, but as processes taking place.

The ideas contained in the term informotion invite us to reinterpret the world we are creating and for which we are partly responsible vis-à-vis future generations. Many of our accepted values are sure to be badly undermined by such a task. One example is mathematics; as an application of number theory, it can serve no other purpose than the construction of finite objects, more precisely those that suffocating us and which we need to give up, but others too that may be more useful. But mathematics, by definition, is powerless to capture the notions of duration and unpredictability, i.e. formation and motion reunited  within the creative, unpredictable and irreversible process which is our world. Mathematics is even more powerless to give us an understanding of the deadlock we have created for ourselves or to offer us the means of a way out. This is why in 1992 I proposed an axiomatic that was not based upon the theory of numbers. There will be a revised and corrected version of this in these columns. Escaping the mechanical conception of the world and the mechanization of our thinking, and  breaking  the hierarchical bonds of our concepts, are the foundation of the new ethic I am proposing.

Translated from french by Mike Horne