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Chris
Outsider philosopher, game designer and author
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Hey dmf, An excellent challenge! Should we admire the resolution of plants if what lies at the root (pun intended) of their behaviour is 'mere' tropism? Your challenge, however, conflates the behavioural bases of plants with alleged automatism in humans. This slightly obfuscates my purpose in writing this piece which is to emphasise the ways that plants have their own excellences - something that is obscured when we think of biotechnology in terms of 'the benefits to humankind' == 'profits to bioengineering companies'. I dispute your claim that we are 'machine-like'... one of Descartes most grave errors was to imagine that animals could be understood as machines. We are all, as Allen Wood attests 'recovering Cartesians', and the situation we are currently facing is a disbelief in the mind/soul aspect of Descartes thought and thus a presumption that we can reduce all behaviour to machinery i.e. that we can fix the problems of Cartesian thinking by only making one of his errors instead of both! We are not machine-like, and the understandings we have of our biology does not support this kind of interpretation - at least, it doesn't if we do not fall prey to an overzealous reductionism. On this point, I refer you to my discussion of downward causation in Is Free Will Too Cheap?. Part of the problem we're facing today is that we seem to have got into a muddle whereby it seems that either we are all individually fully autonomous or we are 'merely machines'. Both involve grotesque simplifications... a thorough understanding of cognitive biases makes it clear that we cannot be understood as mere machines without a gross distortion of the complexity of the situation. But the magical view of each human as making entirely independent decisions is equally misguided... the interrelationships between humans and things channel behaviour in various significant ways. But since those interrelationships can be changed, behaviour can be changed. The question becomes: how is it that we want to live, and what changes would be required to make that possible? I find the cyber-tenacity of plants admirable because it is for the good of the plant that they diligently seek the sun. That this particular behaviour is beyond conscious influence does not trouble me too greatly because the beauty of our imaginative faculties is to draw from allegories and metaphors through extension and analogy. Our most ingrained behaviours as humans are not for our own good, and are actively degrading both each other and the possibility of our species' continued existence... I do not think it is completely fanciful that we might learn from plants (and indeed other kinds of being and thing) and work towards a better state of affairs. It is optimistic - but if we do not allow ourselves the possibility of success, that fatalism will surely become a steel cage from which we shall never escape. The very possibility of change is inherent in beings with so great an imagination - it is this hope that I try to keep alive. Many tanks for engaging with these pieces! Chris.
Toggle Commented yesterday on Chlorophyll at Only a Game
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Hi Daniel, I can't say I've encountered 'creedism' in any widely used context. In this piece, which is eight years old, I put forward the point that under the definitions that the UN uses, creedism is a form of racism. It's not essential to use 'racism' as the umbrella term, though, and you could talk about 'bigotry' and treat creedism and racism as two kinds of bigotry. Since writing this piece, I've begun to look at these issues from a different perspective, namely the idea of 'intolerant tolerance' developed in Chaos Ethics. This gives me pause in terms of simply trying to resolve these kinds of problem by incorporation with (or analogy to) racism... When I originally wrote this, my thought was that no-one wants to be thought of as racist and thus conflating creedism and racism might be helpful. Now, the problem seems much deeper than this - although I note that, even at this point, it was clear to me that cognitive dissonance was a key element in what we were dealing with. Thanks for sharing your perspective, and I hope this inquiry by the Australian government ends with something productive for our mutual goal of trying to live together. Best wishes, Chris.
Toggle Commented yesterday on Creedism at Only a Game
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Hey dmf, Your question here is a good one: what 'hack' can we use to put into perspective everything hidden from view in our relationship with technology? The new book can broadly be understood as an attempt at such a hack, by constructing this concept of 'cybervirtue' that takes a relational perspective on moral and behavioural issues. (There is also the concept of 'cyberg', and the shallow sightedness that goes with it, which is an explicit acknowledgement of the difficulties - we only see 'the tip of the cyberg' in each case.) As with so much of my philosophy, and indeed philosophy in general, I don't think we can bring about substantial change by aiming at changing everyone's thinking so you start by a shift among the abstract thinkers. When enough momentum is gathered towards a change in abstract thought, then comes the possibility to shift perspective more widely. Usually, that shift comes from concrete examples - thus Blue Planet 2 was able to wield influence regarding the plastic problem by presenting a very abstract environmental problem through concrete examples of plastic contamination. If this is too optimistic a view of the problem, that for me is offset by the necessity of coming at these problems with some faith in our capacity to resolve them. If we take the opposite view, and start from the impossibility of action, doom is guaranteed. Therefore, if we hope for change, we must start by 'swallowing the dilemma' and deciding we can bring about change. More than that, as I point out in the book, we should not doubt our capacity to change the world, since we already did. Thanks for getting involved in the discussions! Chris.
Toggle Commented yesterday on Voice Assistants at Only a Game
1 reply
Over on ihobo today, an open letter to Caroline Marchal and John Yorke responding to their talk at Develop: Brighton. Here’s the most inflammatory paragraph to whet your appetite: There are, I think, two main problems with game writing today.... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Only a Game
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An open letter to Caroline Marchal and John Yorke as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Dear Caroline and John, Thank you for your presentation yesterday at Develop: Brighton, “Relatable Characters, Depth, and Agency: How to Make Players Care About... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at ihobo
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What are the behavioural effects of technological networks? What happens if we stop thinking about technology as shiny machines and start looking at other, subtler tools? Can we design technology to have better effects upon humans? These and other questions... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Only a Game
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At Develop: Brighton this year? Don't miss this essential talk by International Hobo's Founder Chris Bateman! What Players Want: Understanding Player Diversity Tuesday 10th July: 17.00 - 17.45 : Room 4 Everyone who makes games is in the business of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at ihobo
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At Develop: Brighton this year? Don't miss this essential talk by International Hobo's Founder Chris Bateman! What Players Want: Understanding Player Diversity Tuesday 10th July: 17.00 - 17.45 : Room 4 Everyone who makes games is in the business of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at Only a Game
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Thinking about the kind of cyborgs we become with traffic lights is certainly odd… we think about traffic lights as part of the road, not as part of us. But whether as driver or as pedestrians, traffic lights are cybernetic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 at Only a Game
Hi Mordechai, In other words: the situation is worse than I am suggesting? I should not be at all surprised if this is the case... Thanks, Chris.
Toggle Commented Jul 5, 2018 on Autodialling Ambulance Chasers at Only a Game
1 reply
Hi Pat and Mordechai, These clarifications of 'cybervirtue' are useful and I thank you both for giving me the opportunity to expand this point! In the book, The Virtuous Cyborg, the cyborgs I am mostly looking at are human-robot cyborgs. But in this serial, I am looking at cyborg in the broadest possible terms. But I allow for this in the book, as you can see from this (long - sorry!) quote: What I mean by ‘cybervirtue’ is nothing more than the desirable qualities that a cyborg might possess, and what I mean by ‘cyborg’ is a combination of living being and inanimate thing that acts with a greater range of possibilities than either being or thing can achieve alone. Of particular interest to me at this time is the cyborg each of us forms with a robot such as a laptop, a smartphone, or a desktop computer. If you are reading these words, you are a cyborg in the relevant sense, since you could not have encountered what I am writing here without participating (directly or indirectly) in a network of humans and robots. The qualities of these networks, whether with just a single human and a single robot or with a vast plurality of beings and things, is precisely what is at test when we think about cybervirtues. Now some specifics... Pat: I don't believe I have changed my terms. It's just that the book is looking at robot-human cyborgs and this serial is looking wider. I don't even think I'm misusing 'cyber' - for reasons Mordechai already hinted at. From the book: The simple example of the moral dimension of smartphone games illustrates the complexity of human inter-relationships in the light of the cybernetic explosion of the last century. This is about more than just computers; cybernetics is a field concerned with communication and control systems, including such systems where they occur biologically – and radio is a clear example of a cybernetic system that did not require computers. I know I'm pushing up against a couple of decades of narrow thinking here in rendering it this way... but I have precedent, and my position is coherent, so I'm running with it. :) Mordechai: You are correct to bring in Latour here, and the book draws against Latour's work (among others, especially Isabelle Stengers - who was also an influence on Latour). Latour's Actor Network Theory, however, is a sociological research technique. Here I am extending it into a moral dimension. Latour and Stengers already paved the way for this - the book makes all this very clear. An interesting challenge you raise is this one: And now that I'm think about that, I wonder whether "cybervirtue" is just "virtue" in general, and whether it's even meaningful or useful to make distinctions in the first place of what constitutes a "tool" or "technology", or to treat questions about technologies as different from some more general category of ethics or sociology. If there are designed objects entailed in the moral influence, it is a question of cybervirtue. If there are not, it is a question of virtue. If a woman beats her wife because of her temper issues, this is purely a matter of virtue and no question of cybervirtue arises. However, if she shoots her with a gun, this becomes a cybervirtue question in so much as the design of the gun has a role in that event. I hope that makes this clearer. Your related challenge: I guess I'm wondering if it matters at all that we're cyborgs, or if the observation that we are changes anything about the way we think about life and the things we encounter in it. Aye, I don't think that the observation that we are cyborgs is the key point here. The key point is that as cyborgs our behaviour is affected by our tools/technology/methods... they interrelate. The 'cyborg' point is only a signpost pointing to the influence. This is very Latour, to be sure - I'm just more narrowly focussed on the ethical dimensions of these kinds of networks of influence. But one of the things that this research project has impressed upon me, that I think was largely invisible (certainly to me) before I did so is that the extent to which our moral world is conditioned by cybervirtue rather than just virtue is astronomically larger than anyone has expressed previously, Stengers and Latour not withstanding. And so your challenge ("I wonder whether 'cybervirtue' is just 'virtue' in general") takes on an additional significance: if we want to understand virtue, we may be obligated to understand cybervirtue. What I see as the value of the cybervirtue concept is it puts back onto the table the moral question of the design of objects and systems, which has for too long been dismissed as irrelevant because 'inanimate objects' have no moral dimension (a hangover from Descartes and Kant...). We discuss virtue because we want to understand what a good life might be like in terms of the qualities of agents. That discussion still has enormous value. Cybervirtue just expands that discussion by asking what the desirable qualities of inanimate objects and systems might be in virtue terms. This is certainly something foreshadowed by Latour - but I believe I have taken the discussion further. And I thank you for coming along for that ride, and for raising questions about it. --- Thank you both for your discussions! It is greatly appreciated. Chris.
Toggle Commented Jul 5, 2018 on Divorce at Only a Game
1 reply
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Of all the multitudes of robots sharing our world with us today, few are as wretched as the Autodialling Ambulance Chaser. With the advent of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), automated phone calls do not even require a standalone unit... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2018 at Only a Game
BwaaBiT: Thanks for the kind words! It's no longer the Golden Age of blogging, alas, but blogging is still very much an activity which I value, and if you take this path I wish you only the very best in your 'adventures'! Yehuda: Let's do both. :)
Toggle Commented Jul 3, 2018 on Thirteen Today at Only a Game
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Hi Mordechai, Your challenge is understandable: we have come to take 'technology' as meaning devices created through the practical application of scientific knowledge. But despite this, we still extend the term 'technology' unthinkingly to inventions like lateen-rigged sails, movable type, irrigation, metalworking, and crop rotation that preceded the 17th and 18th century when the notion of 'science' this kind of definition depends upon gained ground. In other words, if we were to take technology in this narrow sense we would be claiming there was no technology prior to the seventeenth century - yet we routinely back project a particular image of 'technology' throughout history... there's a bigger 'foul' implied in this than in the line-blurring I'm doing here. What I am taking as technology is every kind of tool. This approach eliminates the bizarre consequences of involving a recent concept like 'science' in defining technology, and what's more there is a long history of analysing technology in this way - although most people who do it default to talking about techne, the Greek term from which 'technology' is derived. I assume they do this to avoid the kind of mental wall that you hit with this piece. I feel these pieces would be very off-putting if I used techne and not technology... and I'm willing to take the flak for any mental friction it might cause. Let me address your specific challenges. I don't understand how divorce is a "technology" any more than other behaviors like, say, saying hello to people, or naming kids "Minerva". Saying hello could be a tool, in that it serves a social role, but it isn't terribly tool-like in any substantive sense, and certainly wasn't developed for any kind of purpose, per se. Naming kids 'Minerva' isn't tool-like at all. I suppose a case could be made for naming as a tool, though... I think we underestimate the cybernetic effects that systems of names have. So 'naming kids Minerva' is not technology, but naming could be seen as a technology in the broad sense I'm applying here. It had to be developed. My impression is that if you replace each instance of the phrases "technology", "technological invention" and "technological network" with the phrase "cultural practices", and entirely removed the word "cybernetic" and all instances of the prefix "cyber-", it wouldn't be changing the meaning of the post at all, and if I'm right about that, then what is it adding to bring the concept of technological virtue into the discussion of divorce? The main thing that would be lost would be the relationship with the philosophical system outlined in The Virtuous Cyborg that these posts are exploring. (And you've been a player of the Game for long enough, that I imagine you read a lot of the raw material that went into that book anyway.) Here's the key point in this post that defends against your accusation: But the question of cybervirtue is always about the cybernetic effects of a technological network – and in the case of divorce, there are some serious debilities to take into account. This piece makes two claims that I would suggest require the concept of cybervirtue to be understood. Firstly, that divorce can be understood as instituting a technological network, and secondly that this network has behavioural effects. You can and do challenge the first point, but if you accept the first point the second becomes undeniable. And I suppose my key defence against your argument here is that if you don't rethink technology and technological networks then the kind of behavioural effects this pieces are interested in become largely invisible. Cybervirtue is a means of foregrounding things that we normally don't think about. So in answer to your final challenge: ...and if I'm right about that, then what is it adding to bring the concept of technological virtue into the discussion of divorce? What is added is a sensitivity to the effects of tools upon behaviour, effects that are impossible to think about when we think about tools as 'inanimate objects' - especially since some of our tools are not even objects, as these piece explores. But I am, in this piece, suggesting that some 'cultural practices' (as you put it) are technologies. I don't think this is anywhere near as controversial as you do, but either way, you don't have to follow me down this line if it offends you. I find the case for divorce as technology quite compelling, personally. The fact that it had to be invented, and was created for a specific purpose, is what compels me in this regard. We created a tool for oath-breaking... I find that fascinating! And I don't think it's entirely coincidental that we did so during the period when the changes to thought that I outlined at the beginning of my comment were in full swing. Ultimately, if you don't want to follow me in seeing divorce as a technology, that's fine. But the cybervirtue concept is a means of analysing networks for behavioural effects that is not reducible to 'virtue', which adheres solely in an individual. In that sense alone, I think your challenge cannot entirely go through. But perhaps in order to come along for the ride, you need to be really on board with 'cybervirtue' as a concept. And for this, you probably need to read the book. (Shameless plug!) I'm curious as to how the 100Cyborgs: Chlorophyll post sat with you, since that was another line-blurring piece like this one, and in that case I really did colour outside the lines because in any conventional perspective on plants, they are not in a position to 'invent' anything. But I personally found that a satisfying digression, and one understandable in terms of applying 'technology' by analogy - which is, after all, how both the 19th century and the 21st century interprets evolutionary features, even though neither would admit it. As I explored in The Mythology of Evolution, the remarkable thing about much discussion of evolved features is that the way they are 'explained' remained the same between those two centuries, and the sole change was that 'God' was replaced with 'evolution' as the force being invoked. This point is definitely not widely understood. Many thanks for your challenge here! In some of these pieces I am intentionally blurring lines... but as usual, this also seems to have a greater chance of provoking comment. For taking the time to engage with me in this way, I thank you. All the best, Chris.
Toggle Commented Jul 3, 2018 on Divorce at Only a Game
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It gives me great pleasure to announce that Wikipedia Knows Nothing has finally received a review (from someone who actually read it!) Rowan Fortune posted a capsule review on Medium last week. Here’s an extract: …Wikipedia is merely the fascinating... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2018 at Only a Game
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Back in 2005, thirteen years ago today, I began blogging. I have often written about what a transformative experience this was for me, and also about the tremendous value I place upon blogging as a practice – indeed, as recently... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2018 at Only a Game
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Of all the technological inventions of the nineteenth century, divorce is one of the most subtle. The power it grants is that of reneging on a promise, and that in itself is quite a capacity to want to invent, let... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2018 at Only a Game
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I sometimes wonder if it is only me who cannot get robot taps to work. Automated bathroom facilities of various kinds have become more and more common, and as they have I have had more and more problems with that... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2018 at Only a Game
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An open letter replying to Branwen at Branwen.me as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Further replies welcome! Dear Branwen, I write to you at this time as my closest friend in the trans community, among which I have made... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2018 at Only a Game
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Given the historical relationship between universities and books, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the printing press was a key moment in the development of the university. But as Ivan Illich traced, it was the new... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2018 at Only a Game
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To talk about the cybervirtue of cryptocurrencies, we have to start by thinking about how humans relate to value, and as usual I have a game example that is nicely illustrative. I remember back in the mid-nineties, when Magic: The... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2018 at Only a Game
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At this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, one of International Hobo’s RPG projects received two Best of E3 nominations, one from RPG Fan and one from WorthPlaying. The game, Shadows: Awakening – the latest instalment in the cult Heretic Kingdoms... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2018 at Only a Game
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At this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, one of International Hobo’s RPG projects received two Best of E3 nominations, one from RPG Fan and one from WorthPlaying. The game, Shadows: Awakening – the latest instalment in the cult Heretic Kingdoms... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2018 at ihobo
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The rhetoric on either side of the gun debate in the United States is astonishingly weak. On the one hand, those in support of firearm ownership like to say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, unwittingly drawing against two... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2018 at Only a Game
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Over at the blog for Develop: Brighton today, I discuss the weird double standard that game developers sometimes express about the importance of narrative to videogames. Here’s an extract: What I’ve come to realise over the last fifty videogame projects... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2018 at ihobo