Notes on the Becomings of Worlds: Cosmotechnological Reflections

Lake Baikal is an eco-culturally significant body of water in Russia, similar in scope to Rachel Carson’s poem Silent Spring in the Occident. [1] Baikal is an UNESCO World Heritage site where many forms of science, and many ontologies and cosmologies overlap and struggle for recognition. Baikal is an exceptional entity on the planet, not the least due to the fact that 80 percent of the flora and fauna there are native. Physicists are experimenting with capturing neutrino interactions within this body of water, which is also the largest melted freshwater lake in the world.

Physicists instrument the lake to develop the »Gigaton Volume Detector« and sunk thousands of optical devices in a series of volumetric patterns over the course of years. It is a strange endeavor: A telescope becomes a cubic kilometer volume of a planetary body.

A radically other type of matter, a particle that is considered the most abundant in the universe though nearly completely imperceptible, the neutrino, cascades into the deep lake. It embraces the unknown entity, and through their intra-actions, shines an ultraviolet, superluminal blue radiation. Undermining some of the rigid conceptions within positivism, an unprecedented event – a faster-than-light phenomena – occurs and is captured by the optical modules arrayed there, 1.4 km beneath the surface. [2] Presumably this contributes to the process of making known the other 96 percent of the matter and energy in the cosmos that we otherwise have little to no knowledge about.

Something else is taking place there that I would like to prioritize – the becoming-technology of the environment. In »Introduction to General Ecology: The Ecologization of Thinking« (2017), German media philosopher Erich Hörl refers to Environmentality as the dominant form of governmentality in the age of the Technocene. What he refers to is the total technological deployment of sensors into the environment – or earth – and this process being so pervasive as to contribute to the development of a new contemporary rationality of power across the globe. Environmentality and general ecology complicate – if not make redundant – traditional notions of »natural« ecologies and help to define the neocybernetic facts of our technoecological condition during this »explosion of environmental agency« and the »crisis of control.«

Now the neutrino telescope is hidden in a distant and remote area of the planet, in an ecologically protected region of the world, far from any city. It’s singular, fantastic; searching for imperceptible particles in an almost ancient tradition of scrying, staring deep into dark waters or mirrors. But I am conflicted as to whether it makes explicit, if not abstractly, this ongoing process of the becoming-environmental of computation, governance, surveillance in a way that might respond to Hörl’s question in his Introduction to General Ecology?

»But what exactly comes to the fore of this becoming-problematic of modern cosmology? Is there a contemporary experience of nature that contradicts the modern experience of nature and therefore compels us to undertake a far reaching attempt at a reformulation that could be an essential moment of general ecology?« (E. Hörl: 2017. p.27)

A tension exists between documenting a process, an imperceptible entity, a technical assemblage or experimental system that explicitly brackets binary conceptions between nature and technology, and that seems to promise a radically different physics. This »alternative thought of nature that is no longer based on the operation of division« (Hörl, p. 28) may also, albeit obliquely, apply to the question posed by the Schlossghost#2 yearbook’s provocateurs. Do we distinguish ourselves ontologically as so and so or this and that?

I think the performance of this little reading helps to reveal my multicomponential position. To be relational rather than individual is perhaps, the ethico-ecological imperative of the moment, the sort of becomings we’re after here.

The videos and images embedded here were shot at Lake Baikal in Siberia during an expedition to the GVD with the Irkutsk State University’s Physics department in March of 2017 – thanks to the support of Akademie Schloss Solitude and Werkleitz, Halle. The images represent a work in progress, my ongoing research into »landscape-laboratories,« general ecology, critical science studies, and experimental documentary. The images were captured on an iPhone6s as a form of note-taking.

E. Hörl and J. Burton: General Ecology: The New Ecological Paradigm, 2017.

  1. Jump Up N. B. Breyfogle: »At the Watershed: 1958 and the Beginnings of Lake Baikal Environmentalism.« in: Slavonic & East European Review, 93[1], 2015, pp. 147–180. Rachel Carson’s impact on environmentalist thought and movement is highly recommended.
  2. Jump Up For more information on FTL or superluminal events, see »Cherenkov Radiation.«