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Response to Marc Tyrrell - The Cartesian Split and the limits of Futurology

Thank you for your wonderful take on the scientific periodisation I employed, which has made me think about it in a new and most stimulating light. Your point about ‘authority ranking’ is very interesting – I am not sure whether I can add anything to it right now but it does raise the intriguing question of the social process by which one particular mode of understanding and engaging in the world weakens and is replaced by another within human groupings.

In terms of the Cartesian split, I do think chaoplexity represents a very important juncture in scientific thought. Although it does bring a newfound predictability to areas which had previously none (fluid dynamics, swarm behaviour, etc.), it is a rather more qualitative (and qualified) form of prediction than we have been used to in the past. Furthermore, in recognising the difficulty of distinguishing the boundaries between a system and its environment (and thus the arbitrariness of any particular delineation for the purpose of analysis) and identifying the multiple feedback loops between systems, their constitutive elements, and their environment, chaoplexity does indeed problematise the modern chasm between subject and object and the Cartesian split with it. It offers the opportunity of a more humble form of science, aware of its limitations and its inherent perspectivism (something that was already present in the late reflexive turn of cybernetics). This also suggest different ways of acting in the world through pragmatic experimentation with the properties and transformational potential of existing systems rather than in renewed efforts to acquire absolute control over a recalcitrant reality we seek to dominate.

Your final question about the future of networks takes me dangerously close to the realm of futurology, which has rarely been kind to academic speculation. With this precautionary statement out of the way, I would hazard to guess we will see more of these forms of social organisation in the future, indeed we already are. The proliferation of information and telecommunication technologies, the weakening in some respects of hierarchical structures such as the nation-state, and the general cultural zeitgeist all point to it. However, if one thing is clear it is that it is always extremely difficult to think beyond the immediate parameters of our times. If the broader social trend of which chaoplexity is a part is now so clearly visible to us, then perhaps the owl of Minerva is airborne and there presently are imperceptible processes and transformations which are already taking us away from it.

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