Maurice Specht 1 Jan 2002

What Happened in Reality

As with all programmes, they never function the way they are written, and the programme of this symposium was no exception. Unfortunately some of the speakers were unable to attend. However enough speakers were left to fill the three days and exhaust us.

This text should serve as a short description of all lectures presented at the symposium


The first day of the symposium concentrated on the way protocols 'engineer' reality. The quotationmarks should indicate the caution and hesitation with which the day must be approached. Arie Altena showed us the difficulties we were heading for by posing the problems the speakers of this first day were going to deal with. The multi-… experience was set up and this show was on the road. In her talk, Noortje Marres gave a small critique of what she calls simply design: the idea that in the context of the Internet social interaction is fully programmable. Even if few people would actually subscribe to 'simply design' when asked explicitly about it, the assumption is implicitly embraced by Internet enthousiasts as well as by Internet critics. As a way of getting rid of the assumption of 'simply design', Marres argued for a shift of attention to the contestation of design on the Net.

(Unfortunately the written text of this presentation is not available. Instead we took up a text from Noortje in which she talks about the relation between the inside (a capsule dweller) and the outside (reality) and the way mediation plays a formative role for the interaction. She gives this interaction some substance by introducing the distributed and tinkered real to us)

Then the law came in. Christiaan Alberdingk-Thijm talked about how technology regulates our behaviour. He showed us an example of how a technology for marketing purposes gets used by companies to track down end-users who download music and movie-files from the internet. Regulation is there he told us. He therefore called upon all of us to start thinking about how we want to be regulated.

After these very concrete remarks we were confronted with the abstract thoughts of Mercedez Bunz. She started with the history of technology as an extension of man (the modern protocol). This however is impossible for her to maintain. The internet is not passively waiting for us. No technology shapes us, mediatheorist tells us. Man becomes an extension of machines (the post-modern protocol). For her however these are not two opposed tales, but they are complementary. To overcome these problems she proposes to shift from appropriate thinking to additional thinking when we talk about the relationship between to different realms.

And just when your head starts to stop a bit from spinning a little woman stands up and starts talking to end up in overdrive. This is Jodi Dean. She argues that the picture of the Net as a public sphere is inapplicable and damaging to possible democratic aspirations. She first analyses the way this picture is being brought into cybertheory. For her the way this is done manifests a service to communicative capitalism. What this all leads to for her is a displacement of attention from conflicts/dissensus to consensus. In order to reverse the relation, in other words to highlight the foundational role of conflict, she proposes to talk about the Net as a zero institution. This picture would make it possible for a neo-democracy to emerge in which not actors but issues are the focal-point. It is time to abandon the public.


The second day was all about various aspects of reality engineering that has been going on, is going on, or should/will be going on. Fortune was not with this subject, because two out of four of the speakers weren't able to attend the meeting. Luckily the first talk by George Dyson was sent in and presented by Dirk van Weelden.

It was about a project called Project Orion George's father worked on as a member of a team. It is about a spaceship powered by nuclear explosions. The idea was to detonate small nuclear bombs behind a spaceship. The power of the explosion would then be directed, pushed against a thick pusher plate, which would propel the spaceship. These plans were made late 1950's. With the presentation came a whole lot of image-material to show us that is wasn't only paper that was created here, but a possible reality. And it is exactly this last item that connects this historical fact with the other presentations of this day.

Bert Mulder talked about consciously engineering humanity. His invitation is to look at humanity as a research project. He then discovers a modern period which is now coming to a close. In this five different programs co-existed, but now at the beginning of the new millennium a new sort of program is coming into existence. Within 5 generations nowadays people have complete different views on the world. The programs of yesterday are not working any more. There are two options now Bert Mulder proposes. Either we let 'nature' take its course to settle these changes or we could start engineering our own future. For that we should start engineering on the level of psychology, cognition emotion, and spirituality.

This is one possible future in which the reality engineering is taken up as a process that can be steered by human beings. The synthetic life experience project offers an other approach.

This project is occupied with integral synthetic neural transformation, in which the leading motif is the perpetuation of human life. This should be done, according to SLEP, through acceleration of the means of tapping our own unique human potential. In the paper presented here SLEP reveals their perspective on human being, why and how they are going to be advanced and deal with possible criticism. SLEP in their own words is about the fact that life experience (…), must no longer be a gift or punishment that is passively acquired in unknown ways, but an attribute of people of all ages that is designed with style, integrity, sensitivity and sensibility.
Due to all the people who couldn't show up, room was created for a transitional experience for the next day, Sound. Fortunately Scanner was in town and was willing to guide us through some of the work he had done in the past.


This day also suffered from some real problems, which could be resolved partly through virtuality, but more on that later. Because the day started off with Mike Calvert making music using a modified gameboy. With this strange sort of music the tone of the day was set.

The special guest of the third was up next, but alas, Miltos Manetas was not allowed to leave the United States. Or better put, he was allowed to leave but then could not return. He resolved this problems two-fold. First of all he wrote an email in which he explained a bit about his work and his organisation NEEN. Besides that he was present as a virtual character in his gallery which he has in Active World, a online virtual world. Through this we could have some sort of interaction with him.

After this encounter in virtuality we landed in the strange world of Netochka Nezvanova. She first introduced us to her musical and visual world. She also gave a talk of which her own keywords are sensory evolution, music, adaptability, self organization, artificial ecology and unlearning. As you can see from these, she tries to make a connection between the human body as experience 'machine' and music in which both are under the continuous influence of evolution and adaption of the other.

The final speaker of the symposium was Kim Cascone who made us enter the world of Post-Digital music. He gave us an elaboration on the article he wrote called The Aesthetics of Failure: 'Post-Digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music. He indulged us with examples of how it all started and what is going on right now. Unfortunately he thought he had more time, so the final part of the talk, in which he tried to give a critical analysis of the whole Post-Digital music got mostly lost. Hopefully one day it will be possible for him to make some comments on this that are not going to be lost due to time-constraints.

With that the program in Felix Meritis ended. But the story continued during the monthly salon given by Mediamatic. It was dedicated to the Eureka moment of people. One of the speakers there was Mr. Cameron. His life has been marked by a couple of Eureka moment which lead him to the point where he can really say Hey we're artists…

With the final talk done, an end came to three days of listening experiencing and especially wondering what some of the talks were all about. Luckily for the participants, both also everyone else, the talks are now available in digital form, so you can read them for yourself in order to grasp better what has been happening there.