Pandæmic Speculations

“I do not think that COVID-19 introduces a new relationship between humanity and ‘the environment.’ As blessed as we are to have books and other media that transmit knowledge and stretch temporality for us, we are still trapped within the span of an individual lifetime, and a limited perception of history. Even if pandemics happen throughout history, what appears to us in perception appears as a novelty, as a problem for thought, and it indeed has new variables each time. But even the name SARS-CoV-2 signals a repetition. SARS in the early 2000s attacked the lungs quickly, it was easy to spot and quarantine. SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has learnt from that mistake and made itself harder to spot. It is not strictly alive, but nevertheless intelligent. Paleontologist Peter Ward takes a long perspective in The Medea Hypothesis, arguing that life on Earth is suicidal, and most extinctions on the planet were caused by microbes that desire to return to a microbial planetarity. In this hypothesis, animal desire to keep life going and reproduce is counterbalanced by microbial intelligence, which is synthetic and more technical than biological. This might be an ongoing process, even though we experience it as a novelty.

Regarding the wild and the domestic, there’s a great essay called ‘Robot Evolution’ by Emily Monosson that compares viruses to robots and highlights human anxiety around nonhuman replication. Viruses make a fitting template for robot design because they don’t have to be alive to self-replicate. While we perceive automation or ‘technologization’ as an increase in control, the more we automate, the more we do not know what’s going to come out of it:

But perhaps it is not the creation of new life that we fear, so much as the potential for unpredictable emergent behaviour.”

Agosto Foundation :: Pandæmic Speculations

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