Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Having been attended to the existence of this blog by a fellow-student (Ehsan Baha, great guy) made me realize that there are actually real people visiting this blog :), so I'd better keep posting.

Therefore, an update. Probably not very interesting for most of you, since I have not been designing very much lately. Instead, I've dived into a huge conceptual abyss with the intention to find a rock-solid and untouched pearl that might be the start of a graduation project. And of a design philosophy. But now its time to show up and catch some breath again. Time to stop metaphoring. Bad habit.

What I found are interesting ideas, which I am still trying to synthesize into my own body of ideas. Don't get me started on that. Nevertheless, I would like to appoint you to some of the best bits and pieces I found. Life's a lot more fun if you at least have a holistic conceptual model of it that works for you. But please, read only the things that can answer questions you yourself ponder, and are ready for to have answered in some way. The best texts tell you what you already know, of course.

1. Confabulation Theory by Robert Hecht-Nielsen. "Confabulation theory [...] proposes that cognition is a phylogenetic outgrowth of movement and that cognition utilizes the same neural circuitry that was originally developed for movement." [Scholarpedia.org], i.e. thinking and movement are exactly similar. Understanding this theory reveals some of the brain's mystic functioning and can remove the last bit of body-mind dualism that you still might possess.
2. Cosmology. Thinking deeper about among others confabulation theory might lead you to the notion that actually, very much is similar. Have Salamah Pope enlighten you with the 'World Pattern' she found (www.worldpattern.net). This text, while vague at some points (damn Eastern people), shows how there is a formal universal structure underlying everything, comprised of a quaternity of phases. It reinforced my feelings that the next step for designers is to converge, instead of differentiate, that capitalism is based on the lowest set of human values, and that human beings have at least some nature and destiny. By the way, also William Bainbridge talks about a Renaissance-like converging of the world, nature, technology, and culture. A last text I would like to recommend is "Harmony in Greek and Indo-Iranian Cosmology" by J.C. Franklin. It explains parts of general-systems theory by using the concept of harmony, and moreover shows how technology can be harmonious. A citation: "The living bow was a very simple, ancient, and striking example of a transcendant whole, the parts of which are caught in a continuous, circular interplay-mutually causing what has been called in whole-systems theory an 'emergent property' "
3. Philosophy of technology. Especially Dana Belu wrote a nice text entitled "Thinking Technology, Thinking Nature", outlining some ideas for social change towards a posttechnological life, thereby mentioning views of Martin Heidegger, Herbert Marcuse, and Andrew Feenberg. The latter philosopher's text "Marcuse or Habermas: Two Critiques of Technology" can answer some fundamental questions about the relationship between people and technology, for example how technology is not neutral but always takes a valuative stance, and argues against rationalization.
4. Richard Buckminster Fuller's inspiring text "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" is a classic must-read. It shows his ideas, though a bit outdated, on development towards a sustainable world.
5. Time and progress are illusions, based on modernist thinking. This is partially explained in “Fictive Time - Bachelard on Memory, Duration and Consciousness” by Conrad Russell, which especially set my mind at ease. J.T. Fraser proposes the more human concept of nootemporality, viewing time as a web instead of an arrow pointing forwards. "Momo, Dogen, and the Commodification of Time" by Goodhew and Loy refers nicely to Buddhist conceptions of time, while Soraj Hongladarom argues how a new conception of time could be used in both local and global spheres.
6. Embodiment. Of course, Paul Dourish laid the foundation, based on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, amongst others. Andre Kn√∂rig applies ideas of embodiment nicely in his thesis “Free the body and the mind will follow - An investigation into the role of the human body in creativity and its application to Human-Computer Interaction” to how people can be set free mentally as well as bodily.
7. Simplicity. It is popular in design land. But what is it? The famous John Maeda thinks about this but seem to get not much further than relatively superficial notions for designers. I would like to know what exactly happens when people perceive something as simple or complex. Saber’s book “Simplicity” handles the topic for philosophy, and has some nice notions about visual simplicity and what it is based upon. Also he triggered the idea that when you can describe something easily with words, it is simple. I.e. is experienced simplicity inversely proportional to the size of the semantic structure used to describe a phenomenon/the amount of symbols targeted within the brain? Just a first thought. Per Mollerup wrote a nice text for designers about Simplicity in the first Design Research Quarterly this year.

And no, reading is not the only way to pick up great ideas!

8. Ted.com features a fantastic lecture by Ross Lovegrove on Ted.com about his philosophy of Organic Essentialism and how he applies it in his product design studio.
9. Janine Benyus on biomimicry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n77BfxnVlyc. Though I like Ross's ideas better, since he's less about copying nature.

And finally some flat entertainment:

10. "The Machine Stops", by E.M. Forster. Great short story about how technology can transform people, from 1909. Nice reflection that if you consider it, it has partially come true.
11. Check Kenichi Ebina on YouTube; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVzDhsCyI0M

Oh and if you would like to discuss things, you can certainly consider my blog as a platform for this, for I would like to participate, obviously.

Cheers, Ralph

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