Ausgehend von Sigmund Freuds berühmter Schrift „Das Unbehagen in der Kultur“ resümiert sie die Techniken und Praktiken des Wissens, Fühlens und Erlebens, aus denen die Technosphäre gemacht ist: Sie diagnostiziert eine Renaissance der Mutmaßungen über die Zukunft (früher „Wahrsagerei“ genannt), stellt die Frage nach der Wahrheit – beziehungsweise danach, ob man sie immer aussprechen muss – und gelangt schließlich zum Wissen als Akt der Transformation, in dem Kultur und Natur nach langer Trennung wiedervereint werden.


An image of a tree, with thin strips of black audiotape pulled from a cassette case hanging from its branches, can be seen as a precise visual manifestation of the technosphere: an interaction between nature, human culture, and technology. But it is also a manifestation of the gradual shift away from the division between nature and culture, which European modernity had long assumed.

Sigmund Freud’s essay “Civilization and its Discontents” (1929) is a reflection of this divide. Freud argues there that we can neither avoid the suffering that results from the human body being frail and mortal nor avoid the superiority of nature and natural disasters. Suffering that results from social relations, a third source of human misery, though, seems to be manageable by means of Kultur, or civilization (culture, art, science, technology, etc.). Civilization aims to regulate interactions between humans, in order to protect them and enhance quality of life. Throughout the process, however, and in the interest of this greater security, humans are expected to renounce their natural instincts and repress them. Subsequently, a divide, or antagonism between culture and nature was established, allowing for the distinction between the primitive and the civilized.

This binary model has seen, among other things, the emergence of normalized imbalances in the realms of politics, the military, in the economy and in industry, and in social relations, etc. from the late eighteenth century to the present more or less; less, since the technosphere evolved, gradually eroding the validity of this very divide.

Fortune-tellers

In his work, science historian Peter Galison uncovers an aspect of the interconnectedness between Kultur, or civilization and nature, while probing the millions of gallons of radioactive waste produced by humans, which, buried beneath vast tracts of lands, threatens whatever lives and grows there with radioactive emissions. With human access restricted, these technologically contaminated areas have recovered and returned to natural zones, where, for instance, the population of crocodiles and other species has significantly increased. Still, they all carry high levels of radioactivity.

In the film Containment (2014) co-directed by Peter Galison <>, there appear radioactive crocodiles swimming alongside radioactive turtles, in radioactive rivers, shadowed by radioactive trees in the United States, while radioactive humans are taking care of radioactive cows in radioactive meadows in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. And dangerous and disastrous as this case might be, it points to the interconnectedness between nature and culture—vigorously denied during Modernity—as an effect of the technosphere in our current age. Moreover, it has disclosed how civilization, instead of creating greater security, has made natural disasters less controllable than ever before, with nuclear waste promising to outlive those who produce it by at least two hundred and fifty thousands years.

Finally, recognizing the need to protect nature in the faraway and unknowable future from the negative effects of human civilization, governments and scientists, in fact, have turned to scenario-modeling and forecasting. They draw scenarios and predict narratives in order to avoid disasters in a future stretching up to ten thousand years, leaving signs and traces that would outlive them and their mode of thought, to communicate human-posed dangers in a distant future.

So what has been abandoned as the most unscientific, uncanny practice of fortune-telling associated with “primitive” societies, has now turned into a scientific methodology to face the uncontrollable threat to nature and life on Earth caused by civilization.

Prediction, though, remains in this case at least ten thousand years away from the truth.

The Scenario Mode: Peter Galison, Sander van der Leeuw, and Claire Pentecost

Truth

But time is not the only means to measure our distance from truth. Sound could be another way. On the audiotape pulled from a cassette case, caught in the branches of the tree, visible in the image mentioned earlier, there might be a recorded sound. Lawrence Abu Hamdan shared this image during his audio essay “Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself.” Here, he claims the audiotape carries the voice of a wise man, a philosopher discussing the concept of taqiyya. Abu Hamdan then plays back the sound of the man’s distorted voice, which he claims to have extracted from the black strips of audiotape.

Truth Measures | Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself

Taqiyya ‒ Abu Hamdan repeats in his own words what the wise man is saying ‒ is a practice based on Islamic jurisprudence, which allows individuals to commit an act contrary to religious values, such as lying, when at risk of persecution.

Engaging in taqiyya does not necessarily require one to commit a big lie, or act, in this case. It can rely on minor speech acts, or simply involve remaining silent. As an example, Abu Hamdan shows a video where many tens of men, said to be Druze from several villages in northern Syria, appear to have fallen under ISIS control, undergoing mass conversion to Islam by Wahhabi clerics, while remaining silent.

And their silence in this case can be identified as a form of practicing taqiyya. However, because truth needs to be masked by a lie for it to continue to exist under the principle of taqiyya, the only measure for saying the truth becomes constricted to saying.” In fact, truth may lay in the very ability to say the “q” in taqiyya correctly.

Indeed, as Abu Hamdan rightly notes, the Druze are almost alone among their fellow Arabic speakers in still pronouncing the letter “q” in their dialect. The majority of Arabic spoken dialects have replaced the “q” sound with a “g” or an “a” or a “k.”

This very insistence on the correct pronunciation of the letter “q,” the refusal to lie about how the word itself should be heard, makes the Druze, who have often been subjected to persecution, more liable than others to practice taqiyya in this case as well.

At the same time, circumscribing “saying the truth” to merely “saying” can only be an outcome of the technosphere. The way in which Abu Hamdan explores taqiyya, actually brings us to the very coincidence of the spiritual with the technical. Before playing the voice of the Druze wise man/philosopher, we hear other voices being subjected to Voice Stress Analysis (VSA) and lie-detection software, in order to determine the truth of what they say. Technology certainly can measure how words are said, rather than determining whether what is said is true or not.

And now that the technosphere shifts from relying on the content of what is said to incorporating how it is said as a criterion for identifying the truth, wisdom can no longer be found by means of the content of knowledge, as much as by how it is transformed.

Wisdom as an Act of Transformation

The transdisciplinary working group FORMATIONS, in its investigation of wisdom techniques within the technosphere, shared an experiment that involves the sonification of data rather than its visualization. One of its members, Roman Brinzanik, a physicist and computational biologist, produced a visual diagram that reveals the chances of recovery versus death among a sample of cancer patients. Hendrik Weber, a musical composer and member of the group as well, transformed this data into musical notes, creating a piece of music. Eventually we are able to hear the chances of life and death, rather than only being able to see them. The affect resulting from experiencing emotionally, through art, scientific knowledge, is unavoidable in the technosphere.

Under such circumstances, neither art nor science are any longer a compensation or deflection from our repressed nature, as discussed by Freud in “Civilization and its Discontents,” but an attempt toward a deeper understanding of it, as it manifests itself in the chances of life and death.

Moreover, this musical interpretation of the probability of life and death implies a departure from Modernity’s primary condition for achieving scientific or objective knowledge—its dissection from the human body. The technosphere conversely recalls the intertwining of nature and Kultur, it reveals interdisciplinarity as the fact of life, and thus such a dissection is gradually abandoned.

Back to the image of the black strips of audiotape hanging from a tree, carrying the sound of truth: either before or after the image was taken perhaps some birds rested in the tree’s branches. And it may well be that some truth passed from the audiotape to the fruits hanging on the tree; fruits which the birds may have eaten, as someone commented. Now that they had eaten the fruits of truth, they transformed it into wisdom in the form of chirping.

Not only that, but now the birds are singing the fruits of knowledge and sharing it with us everyday, they are probably arriving daily on their last stop in search of wisdom, which started in the twelfth century. In the 4,500-line poem, The Conference of the Birds (1177, by Farid ud-Din al-Attar), which brings nature and culture back together, birds depart on a trip, led by the wisest among them, the hoopoe, to decide who should be their king. At the end of the trip, they reach a lake where the reflection of all of them appears on the surface. Today, within the technosphere, birds come across their reflection on the thin strips of black audiotape pulled from a cassette case hanging from a tree, to reveal to us the connections between culture and nature, which had been neglected for some time.