Last week the famed French thinker, Bruno Latour, died. Apropos a philosopher of science, he left behind a paradigm shift in how to think about the relationship between technology and natural systems in the Anthropocene Age.
Latour’s twists and turns regarding the social construction of science remain a controversial aspect of his legacy. But his ultimate project was to dismantle the conceptual division between humans and nature in the modern mind and understand the world as one hybrid “terrestrial” unity that includes animals, plants, topography, climate, the biosphere, human invention and the interactions among them.
From this new perspective, he saw that the influence of human endeavor within the terrestrial space had grown to such proportions that it was upsetting the self-regulating natural system of the planet — “Gaia,” so named after the ancient Greek Earth goddess — that had maintained homeostasis for the last 3.5 billion years.
As climate change has made our species self-aware of its role in this ecological disequilibrium, Latour believed that “deliberate self-regulation — from personal action to reduce carbon footprints, to global geoengineering schemes — is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.”
In other words, rather than inversely replicate the modern mistake by pitting human advances in technology against “the preservation of nature” in our efforts to repair the imbalance, we need to recognize both as integral elements of planetary self-regulation.
As the philosopher of technology Benjamin Bratton has phrased it, “Instead of reviving ideas of nature, we must reclaim the artificial — not fake, but designed. For this, human-machine intelligence and urban-scale automation become part of an expanded landscape of life, information and labor. They are part of a living ecology, not a substitute for one. Put more specifically: The response to anthropogenic climate change will need to be equally anthropogenic.”
The Antikythera Project
To advance this idea, the Berggruen Institute has joined with Bratton to incubate a project he calls “Antikythera,” named after the “first computer” used by the ancient Greeks around 200 B.C. as a device to navigate the known world based upon the celestial movement of planets and stars. The aim is to discover how today’s “planetary-scale computation” in 2022 A.D. can align with and contribute to the self-regulation of Latour’s terrestrial space.
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