The Sympathy of Things: Excerpt 1 Reading Response

Discussions around craft and mass productions had always caught my attention ever since I started to question what my art practice really is. Is it design? Is it Art? is it production? is it craft? So the first part of this reading really got my interest. There are so many experts and philosophers who always argue around this topic with strong opinions from both sides, just like Ruskin and Babbage in this reading. Why do a lot of people feel uncomfortable emotions when they think of machines doing things that human beings are supposed to do when the purpose of machine invention is to achieve time and labor efficiency? Is it really about the missing craft and authenticity of the products created or is it about the process itself?

I think we as human feel uncomfortable when we cannot find a way to relate to something we are exposed to. Our brain constantly look for connections and correlations on things that we sense, and when we fail to do so our first defense mechanism is to reject those things in forms of emotions such as anger, sadness, disgust, or disappointment. After we processed our emotions, we look for reasoning behind the emotions. However, this process does not seem obvious for most people because all of it happens under our subconscious thinking and our mind does not naturally take it further to our conscious thoughts, for it takes a conscious effort to do so. Therefore, a lot of people jump into immediate conclusion that it’s the objects that are presented to them that makes them feel a certain way.

For example from the reading, for most of the part of the world, society are still used to the butchers slicing and cutting their meat products. Even if most of us are not butchers, we can relate and imagine ourselves holding butchers knives and do a slicing motion and hold the meat with our other hand. But with machines? It takes a lot of effort and understanding to relate to pieces of metals and electronics. Even if most mechanical movements are inspired by nature and that our body share a lot of same elements as metals that are used in machines, most of us cannot spontaneously relate to something that we are rarely exposed to. This disconnect creates discomfort when one is exposed to a piece of meat that is supposed to go inside their body that was handled by something so alien to them, even if the final products are more likely to be more hygienic, evenly cut, and neatly packed.

(It is also mentioned in the reading that our eyes prefer variation rather than seeing exact molded copies, that is also a fair concept that still confuses me even though I agree with it. Why is variety pleasing to our eyes but to have a couple of odd ones out is seen as an error? Our brains like neither perfect orders nor disorders. We conform, like variations, and we dislike minorities by nature. This might be a little out of topic but with all the recent big issues revolving around discrimination against minorities I can’t help but wonder if human mind was just built to be rejecting and defensive towards differences, and to dismantle that subconscious thinking we really have to take a conscious effort to fight against our nature. I don’t know where I am going with this but it’s kind of saddening to think that there are inevitable going to be people who are not going to take a conscious effort to go there.)

If some people are really scared of the world where craft being replaced by cold repetitive machine, hard labor being replaced by instant products, shouldn’t they also realize that machines are also a craft of another human being? It takes time, effort, and knowledge to create inventions. There is a lot of research, thinking, design, and crafting that goes into making machines. I think our tendency to only take things in front of us only on superficial level makes it hard to not take the work that goes from far behind what is presented in our face for granted. Some of us think of machine made product as cheap products and easy quick work, physically. But what goes into machinery and the programming behind it is complex.

I think it is easy for some people to discredit programming and coding, for they do not have a physical form that is visually easier to understand. After reading and understanding the concept that coding is a language, it opened my mind and see it from a different light. “…, the language we speak every day is descriptive, while programming language is instructive. …“, I have never paid enough attention to realize that coding is a language because it is communicating. And a limited one at that because it is only used to demand something from the receiving end, which in this case are machines. Given this information, you could say that machines do not and will not have will on their own since we can only communicate with them through the language of commands, and execute they do. But with the technology that we have today, programs can learn on their own with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and if they were to be given commands to have will on their own and create varieties like human do, they would, wouldn’t they? I can’t really say that because I don’t have any knowledge in programming but I’d like to think that it is a possibility. And I wonder when we reach that point, will society warm up to the idea of machines working along side human with the same acknowledgement of craft.

Now diving more into the reading topic about coding, patterns, formula, and creation process. responding to the question of ‘what it is made of’ or ‘what is its pattern?’, I think an object cannot be separated from its material and a concept cannot be separated from the mind it was born from. And pattern is the creator, a formula, of all matters, manipulated by time. Last semester I took an Astronomy course taught by Forrest Hall, and I learned a lot about the universe and all the matters inside. “The universe is just one big blanket of patterns of molecules, all holding hands together and dancing“, or so he said. It’s so poetic that I still remember the tone and the smile he had when he said it. If everything in the universe has a similar pattern, then I think its safe to assume that this is also the case for programming.

There were a lot of parts that I picked up from the reading that I have trouble articulating into words for this entry, however, I attached notes that I took and wrote directly onto the reading materials in pdf format. I hope it would somehow makes more sense.

See my ‘The Sympathy of Things: 1st excerpt’ direct notes and scribbles

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