The migration of form: visualising the emergent artefact
Professor Emeritus Jonathan Woodham
Professor Jonathan Chapman
Associate Professor Christopher Rose
It is commonly acknowledged that human language is an emergent phenomenon. By contrast, design theorists tend to treat human making as the pre-determined outcome of deliberative, conscious design. In this thesis, the core concept of the emergent artefact underpins a complexity-orientated model of the human-made world. In so doing, the simplistic, folk notion of sovereign human design is de-constructed and accorded lesser weight.
For more than 150 years, the paradigm of evolution has served natural theories of design. But its principle mode of operation, natural selection, fails to provide any satisfying explanation for entire dimensions of human experience, notably our conscious, imaginative selves and, indeed, the physical universe of which consciousness forms part.Around these conceptual black holes vie anthropocentric explanations of how the human species acts to shape its world, namely design theories.
The broad field of Complexity offers an alternative paradigm. Yet, its explanatory power in developing our understanding of the meaning of design remains unexplored and unacknowledged. In particular, the two processes that generate non-living order – self-organisation and design – are thought of as antithetical. That is to say, self-organisation refers to ordered states that are unpredictable and design to ordered states that are predictable. The concept of the emergent artefact reveals that this apparent dilemma is reconcilable.
The thesis is founded in a dual-mode method of research, namely practice-informed theory. The Visual Thesis highlights resemblances between natural and artefactual objects which, it is argued, do not necessarily arise from deliberate imitation. Nor are such resemblances co-incidental or arbitrary.Instead, visual commonalities point to a profound link between our embodied, mediating selves and the self-organising, material world. Building on practice, the Written Thesis synthesises evidence from the cognitive sciences, consciousness studies and embodied mind theory in a unified rationale.
Together, the two volumes demonstrate that the phenomenon of complex, human materialisation is largely the outcome of a recursive, living cycle. Within this proliferating cycle, commonly experienced properties and features of complex phenomena are seen to migrate through material and cognitive domains to re-emerge in artefacts. This is the migration of form. The missing link that substantially connects natural and artefactual objects is the active cognitive unconscious which, through the embodied self, plays a forceful role in guiding our transformational activities.
The thesis makes an empirically grounded, theoretical first step towards a non-reducible ontology of artefacts. It shows how bottom-up, determinative complexity is a key driver of artefactual instantiation. It advances the proposition that artefacts emerge as well as evolve. Conversely, the thesis reveals that theorthodox, top-down notion of sovereign human design, still prominent in design theory, is outdated. It shows that definitions of design are limited by 19th century ideas which serve to impede any holistic philosophy. Framed thus, transformational human making activity is seen as a special category within the generalised set of self-organising phenomena. In that context, the emergent artefact is seen to arise less through deliberative, conscious design and more through the deeper, mediative processes of associative sense-making common to all sentient life.
Why does this matter? Because the discipline and profession of design is growing exponentially, continuously exploring adventitious, open-ended and often self-serving opportunities to promote intervention in, and transformation of, complex states, conditions and contexts. By setting in train new trajectories, design (in its various modes) facilitates – and, indeed, generates – the burgeoning phenomenon of material complexity. Frequently, these are trajectories of un-intended consequence. To appreciate the significant role being played out here, it is necessary that designers and theorists suspend their instrumental concerns and imperatives and, instead, reflect on the evidence of what has gone before. In other words, the nature of the emergent artefact is knowable only post hoc, once expressed through form.
Keywords: Material embodiment; active cognitive unconscious; associative sense-making; proto-intentionality; emergent processes; artefactual manifestation.
© 2015 Michael J L Sadd All rights reserved