Lecture Series


Series 2

Art, Technology and Philosophy Symposium (II)
Cybernetics for the 21st Century

Cybernetics is not only an ephemeral and contingent event in intellectual history, but rather it presents itself firstly as a new science of machines, which breaks away from the mechanism of the 17th century, that is also the reason for which Norbert Wiener in his 1948 Cybernetics: or the Control or Communication in Machine and Animals could claim that cybernetic machines can live a Bergsonian time, namely a biological, creative and irreversible time, in contradistinction to the Newtonian time, which is mechanical, repetitive and reversible; secondly, as a universal discipline, which is able to unify all other scientific disciplines, and later also disciplines of the social sciences, exemplified by the work of Niklas Luhmann, Heinz von Foerster, Maturana and Varela, later called the Second Order Cybernetics; thirdly as a philosophy, or more precisely the latest development of Western philosophy, that which led to Martin Heidegger’s claim that cybernetics marks the end or completion of Western philosophy and metaphysics.

Today we don’t often hear the term cybernetics in universities, and Heidegger’s assertion that cybernetics marks the end of philosophy may sound reactionary since philosophy departments continue to exist, but cybernetics is no longer in the syllabus of university disciplines. The truth is that cybernetics has already been absorbed in almost all engineering disciplines as well as subjects of art and humanities, notably art, media studies and philosophy of technology, and therefore it has realized what it has promised as a universal method; The significance of cybernetics remains to be questioned and taken far beyond what has been characterized as Californian Ideology and its reminiscence. McLuhan said in an interview in the 1970s that the launch of the Sputnik marks the end of nature and the beginning of ecology. With the later image of the whole earth taken from the satellite in the 1960s, the earth became a veritable artifice, or a spaceship in the sense of Buckminister Fuller. It was also at this turning point that the relation between human, nature, and technology entered a new epoch.

This new epoch is where we are living, and more than ever, we are living in an epoch of cybernetics, however, we still easily fall prey to a dichotomy of nature and culture without really understanding the significance and the limits of cybernetics. We, moderns, are alcoholics, who failed to get out of the positive feedback of progress, like what Nietzsche describes in the Gay Science, the pursuit of the infinite leads to the realization that nothing is more frightening than the infinite. A new recursive epistemology in the sense of Gregory Bateson, which inherits cybernetic thinking while seeking to overcome its intoxication, is needed for the program of re-orientation. This new program can only set off from cybernetics and it can only survive by going beyond cybernetics.

This two years public research program of the Times Museum Media Lab titled “Cybernetics for the 21st Century” aims to firstly reconstruct the history of cybernetics, from the perspectives of different geographical locations, political projects and philosophical reflections; and secondly to ask what might be the contribution of the cybernetic movement to the new form of thinking that is urgently needed to understand and reorient our digital earth. The first edition of the program consists of eight lectures and two symposiums with the presentation of philosophers, historians of science, and sociologists, including Andrew Pickering, Katherine Hayles, Brunella Antomarini, Slava Gerovitch, David Maulén de los Reyes, Michal Krzykawski, Mathieu Triclot, Daisuke Harashima. The program is hosted by Yuk Hui and curated by Jianru Wu.

Cybernetics for the 21st Century Symposium (I)
January 10, 8-10pm (GMT+8)
Theme: Locality and Epistemology
Guests: Andrew Pickering, Slava Gerovitch, David Maulén de los Reyes, Michal Krzykawski
Host and Discussant: Yuk Hui

Cybernetics for the 21st Century Symposium (II)
January 11, 9–11pm (GMT+8)
Theme: Politics and Artificial Life
Guests: Katherine Hayles, Brunella Antomarini, Daisuke Harashima
Host and Discussant: Yuk Hui

Host: Media Lab of Guangdong Times Museum, Research Network for Philosophy and Technology
Co-Organizer: Hanart Forum
The launch of the program is made possible by the support of M Art Foundation
The symposium is kindly supported by Jia Li Hall Foundation Limited.

Series 1

Art, Technology, and Philosophy (I)
Departing from the Microcosmos

Modernization brought forward two temporal dimensions: on the one hand, simultaneity, characterized by the synchronization and homogenization of knowledge through technological means; on the other hand, sequentiality, the development of knowledge according to an internal necessity, namely progress. The victory of the modern simultaneously implies an epistemological war across the globe in the past hundred years. Knowledge that remains incompatible with this temporalization process is excluded as pre-modern or non-modern. This opposition between the modern and the traditional has been historically approached from a duality: namely, taking one as the soul, the other as body; one as thought, the other as instrument. This dualist scheme has proved to be a failure because it is, in itself, a product of early modernity.

In China, the debate between Western medicine and Chinese medicine has been ongoing for many decades; however, the return to traditional knowledge shouldn’t be monopolized by nationalism, but rather it should be taken as an opportunity to rethink knowledge and its relationship to modernity, which might give us a glimpse of a possibility for configuring a new modern in several ways. Firstly, it reveals a cosmo-epistemic understanding of ten thousand beings, which deviates from the modern episteme, and whose significance remains yet to be fully explored. Secondly, its incompatibility with modern scientific knowledge could also be the source of inspiration and creativity. A regrounding of art, technology, and philosophy might shed light on the individuation of thinking that the epoch calls for.

Media Lab’s inaugural “Art, Technology, and Philosophy Lecture Series” consists of five lectures, a workshop and a symposium dedicated to the re-articulation of knowledge in the digital age, with the participation of anthropologists, philosophers, historians of science, and artists, including Judith Farquhar (University of Chicago), Volker Scheid (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science/University of Westminster), Keekok Lee (University of Manchester), Lili Lai (Peking University), Xian Lin & Sheryl Cheung (lololol Collective).

This event is co-organized by Media Lab and Research Network for Philosophy and Technology.

About Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is an annual event revolved around a theme curated and presented by Media Lab, inviting scholars and artists from different fields to engage in a dialogue between art, technology, and philosophy to explore critical issues in media studies.