The Experience of Emergence Panel Discussion - Digital Studies: The emergence of a paradigm for the humanities
Panel to include: Prof Katherine Hayles and Prof Bernard Stiegler
Digital Studies: The emergence of a paradigm for the humanities.
Bernard Stiegler and Katherine Hayles are two pioneers of the idea that the humanities, and the university in general, must be reinvented around the study of technology. They have nonetheless been critical of one another’s work, being notably split over the question of the extent to which the digital age has brought about a fundamental reorganisation of both culture and the brain. Stiegler is more sceptical, voicing deep anxiety over the relationship between technologies of consumerism and society’s increasing short-termism and lack of attention, though Hayles is wary of generalising these conclusions. This debate will aim to hone in on their points of divergence, while also setting out the stakes of a paradigm-shift that has dramatic consequences for the future of the university.
In the sciences the concept of emergence has recently become a central focus of interest. Originally developed by natural philosophers (Lewes, Broad) in the context of evolutionary theory, it connotes paradoxical ‘downward’ causation in an autopoietic system. So-called resultant effects derive traceably – ‘upwardly’ – from the interaction of the parts of the system, generate a quantitative difference, are by definition predictable. Autopoietic systems by contrast generate emergent effects which manifest themselves quasi-irrationally as something more than the sum of the traceable interaction of the system’s constituent parts. They generate a qualitative difference, are by definition unpredictable. As such, ‘downward’ causation is often claimed to ‘explain’ adaptation and evolution in both organic and social systems (Maturana and Luhmann): the reorganisation and restabilisation of a perturbed system under new terms. Examples are the spontaneous behaviour of flocks of birds and shoals of fish under threat; the saltationist evolution of species (Eldredge and Gould); perhaps also the emergence of consciousness from the brain.
In the last ten years emergence has also, increasingly, been seen as an explicatory factor in the humanities and social sciences. Emergence has variously been suggested to provide a model for the becoming of the soul in post-Darwinian Christian theology; for explaining the unstable behaviour of stock markets; for describing bewildering epochal shifts in aesthetic style. This project offers a programme of interdisciplinary research which will explore the patterns of emergence in humanities and social sciences, and so, in a scholarly environment dominated by scientism and positivism, make a positive contribution to the two cultures debate. The experience of emergence – something to be explored phenomenologically and in communicative media – is argued to be a contact zone of indeterminacy between human and natural science epistemologies.
This programme offers a series of lectures and workshops by internationally distinguished colleagues from Durham and abroad, addressing the extent to which the experience of emergence contributes to interdisciplinary expansion of cognitive horizons, inter alia
- technical evolution and the emergence of social change
- aesthetic communication and agency in systems theory
- the relations of cognitive psychology and literature
- the emergent experience of wonder and wellbeing
- the ontology of emergence
- the emergence and after-effects of social crisis
- the experience of risk and adventure as catalysing the emergence of new cognitive horizons.
The project team will explore these issues with the support of IAS Fellow Professor Katherine Hayles (Duke University). The IAS is also supporting a programme of fortnightly inter-departmental seminars and a conference, which will culminate in the publication of an edited volume.
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