The migration of form: visualising the emergent artefact
Associate Professor Christopher Rose
We are comfortable with the idea of complex language as an un-designed, emergent phenomenon. By contrast, we tend to think of our complex, material modes of expression as the predetermined outcome of design. In this thesis, the concept of the emergent artefact points to a complexity-orientated model of artefactual manifestation. Presented visually, the study highlights the complex resemblances between the forms and patterns of natural and man-made objects. It is our experience of resemblance – the ‘primary semantic relation’ (Churchland, 2013) – which, it is argued, links the key concepts of material embodiment, the active cognitive unconscious and proto-intentionality in a recursive, living cycle. On this basis, the thesis mounts a challenge to anthropocentric, folk philosophies of design still prevalent in design theory and science.
For more than 150 years, the paradigm of evolution has served natural theories of design. The mechanism of natural selection, however, fails to provide any satisfying analogy for entire dimensions of human experience including the material substrate of our existence and emergent consciousness. Around these conceptual black holes in design theory vie localised accounts of how we act to shape our world. Complex-systems thinking has been slow to influence design theory in this regard, largely because the concept of self-organisation appears antithetical to that of design. It is argued here that this is not necessarily an irreconcilable dilemma.
In the Visual Thesis, image-based methods of reasoning are used to explore the common visual language of natural and artefactual objects. By illustration, complex forms and patterns are seen to migrate through material and cognitive domains to emerge in artefacts. The conventional idea that we imitate natural precedents as a method of design is found to be simplistic. Rather, the visual evidence suggests a profound, cognitive engagement between our embodied selves and the self-organising, material world of which we are part.
In the Written Thesis, research from the cognitive sciences, consciousness studies and psychology are braided together in a new, supporting synthesis. By dialectical argument, the orthodox, top-down conceptualisation of deliberate, conscious design is seen to give way to bottom-up, cognitive emergence as the primary driver in artefactual complexity. It is argued that the active, cognitive unconscious continuously abstracts and models phenomena as part of normal, lived experience. From this library of models, the associative imagination constructs resemblance-based pathways between source perceptions (the complex visual aspect of assimilated nature) and target conceptions (the complex visual aspect of artefacts), a proposition which is reflected in the evidence of the Visual Thesis.
This dual-mode study unites natural and artefactual objects via the active, cognitive unconsciousand its deeply intentional traits. Forged below the threshold of awareness, this is the missing cyclical link by which the features and properties of phenomenologic complexity rematerialise in artefacts. Thus, artefactual complexity is seen to arise not from sovereign design, but from the deeper, mediative processes of associative sense-making common to all sentient life. In this way, the thesis offers an empirically grounded, theoretical step towards a non-reducible ontology of the artefact as a self-organising phenomenon.
Why does the concept of the emergent artefact matter? We appear to be entering a post-normal phase of existence in which ideal, fundamentalist kinds of knowledge are failing to deliver relevant meaning. Design science, for example, proceeds largely in the absence of holistic, philosophic or even terminologic meaning. Hence, the profession and practice of design is accorded an open-ended, self-serving brief to engage in rematerialisation per se. A willingness to embrace the idea of emergent, artefactual manifestation, on the other hand, would allow us to see beyond the myth of sovereign design and, thereby, understand the harm that often accompanies mythical belief systems. This thesis seeks to contribute by showing that our complex, embodied selves are knowable only post hoc through expressive form.
Material embodiment; active cognitive unconscious; associative sense-making; proto-intentionality; emergent processes; artefactual manifestation