Reclaiming uncertainty with para-rational methods


Graduation thesis
Master Networked Media,
Piet Zwart Institure, 11th June 2012.

This paper is the theoretical complement to the practical component of a larger body of research on the role of prediction (Mood Radar and Prediction TV). The overarching objective is to question discourse regimes and how they shape reality through the management and construction of acceptable knowledge. Para-rationalism is explored as a method to simultaneously problematise and straddle the rational/irrational dichotomy. Divination can be seen as an example of para-rationalism and is addressed through the notions of paradox, synchronicity, truth as a model and self-fulfilling prophecies. In modern secular society, the legacy of divination can be traced in the contemporary use of predictive algorithms, seizing on their utility for surveillance and market driven incentives in the name of progress.

As a way to question and derail Western philosophies tradition of materialist explanation of the consciousness/mind, Edward A. Shanken’s notion of a para-rational model describes complementary modes of inquiry. It is one that includes both the rational and the irrational in forming a cohesive and self-reflexive application to alternative ways of knowing, and goes beyond the hegemonic scientific rational discourse (Shanken, 2010, p.29). The divination paradigm is one such example that actively and equally involves both reason and intuition to deal with uncertainty and unforeseen future events. These practices have been employed throughout human history as a means of spiritual and temporal guidance and knowledge making. From these beliefs the universe was codified with meaning and knowledge that informed subjectivity and objectivity. The weather as the ultimate spirit of uncertainty and chaos is perhaps the first earthly manifestation of irrationality and consequently, a fundamental force to be reckoned with. Ironically, the only predictable thing you can say about the weather is that it is unpredictable. Divination’s paradoxical basis in addressing the irrational with irrational means, reclaims uncertainty from the fear of incompleteness and contradiction to the space of open-ended future possibilities. The construction of acceptable, official knowledge is underpinned by various social and economic imperatives which are led by political agenda, while esoteric forms of understanding are banished underground, regarded as superstitious, ignorant and irrational. Similarly, knowledge produced through discourse is implicated by history, concepts of truth, and representation – in other words, knowledge is only meaningful within a specific historical context (Foucault cited by Hall, 1997, p.46 ). The esoteric terminology of specific techniques, for example, scrying, geomancy, aeromancy, horary and genethliacal astrology are however, deemed in the modern era ‘superstitious’. This derogatory term came to mean ‘misplaced assumptions about causality stemming from a faulty understanding of nature’ since the late 18th century when rationalism became the governing hegemony (Perkins, 2001, p.5). Modern day scientific predictive methods such as weather forecasting can be seen as an extension of the 19th century’s doctrine of progress, an advance that was dependent on a need to conceptualise and generalise a particular rational understanding of the future. Katherine Hayles also maintains that, “visions of the future, especially in technologically advanced eras, can dramatically affect present developments” (quoted in Hollinger, 2006, p.452). Certified predictions today seem just as present and important, however it has become more about eliminating risk, efficient time management and planning. Algorithms are employed to predict events that can be pre-empted and incorporated even before it happens. What are the consequences of the regime of rationalisation? To what degree has the obsession with calculated precision excluded other alternative possibilities of the future? In the realm of future studies, this trajectory is better known as the ‘colonisation of the future’ (Perkins, 2001, p.6).

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