- Orai and the Transdisciplinary Wunderkammer
The inevitable realization in scientific circles that the reality of the imagined has an equivalent epistemological significance to the material raises fascinating questions, as it invites a skeptical reconsideration of the essential basis of knowledge. While this dramatic shift provides a moment of profound satisfaction for those artists, designers and scientists who have long argued for a transdisciplinary worldview, it also provides a moment of the greatest challenge as we begin to consider how knowledge might be extended, codified and distributed in a multiverse of collaborative realities.
This short paper approaches the theme of Orai by first developing the claim that we exist in a multiverse of multiple realities by exploring some major turns in cosmology and consciousness studies and then drawing on my own published work that deals with the quotidian multiverse . It then asks the question of how we might manage the new concept (expressed in ISEA's call for papers for this conference) of "comings and goings, communication and contact as well as streets and traffic" at a time when the reduced worldview that has provided the foundation of dominant opinion in the last half-millennium is unsustainable. In conclusion I propose that visual analogy, in the sense that Barbara Maria Stafford and others have argued the term, points to new transdisciplinary strategies for both research and education . In doing so it places new responsibilities on the custodians of analogy during the half-millennium of the reign of reason—those for whom finding sameness in difference has formed an essential part of their methodology, namely artists.
In contrast to the dominant vision of a single material reality, to many people it has always seemed possible that we live in a multiverse, that is, a universe of many universes that occupy the same space and time. Although this worldview has often been dismissed as an exotic fantasy from the realms of science fiction, it is now an increasingly burgeoning possibility. The impetus for its serious consideration comes from startling work in consciousness studies as well as some of the things that scientists at the edge of science are fretting about—eleventh dimensions, the end of time, quantum foam and so forth . To unpack the current relaxation of the grip of monorealism in favor of multirealism in such limited space is unrealistic, but with visual analogy we may at least begin to open the issues for deeper consideration.
Imagine a film in which there is a cameraman in the cockpit of a small plane who films a train on the tracks below. Sometimes, in a moment of sheer visual bliss, the shadow of the plane moving along the same line as the train makes a perfect cruciform as the two slip through the idyllic grasslands, frightening sheep and cattle. Sometimes there is a cut and then a point-of-view shot of a train passenger, head tilted, watching the plane—now 18 degrees off the first sight line. It is a familiar trope in English documentary films about Britain in the early 1940s (usually shown to a soundtrack of William Walton or Edward Elgar) and is meant to show both the change and the constancy of the rural landscape; to invoke a lost or forgotten past that in all probability never existed but we can easily believe that we inhabit. Its effectiveness as a visual invocation of Romantic longing owes much to the fact that the train and airplane perfectly match each other's tracks in a coherent representation yet inhabit irreconcilably separate dimensions. The destiny of their parallel existences speaks of the "if only" sentiment of unrequited love that makes the past an Edenic melodrama reconciled only in human consciousness by a certain Proustian loss. It is the perfect analogy for what might be called the quotidian multiverse: local parallel universes that thrive according to different logics, brought together by a grand theory of big things called classical physics.
The movie of the train and the airplane rehearses the trick of history, re-describing the irreducible mélange of the universe as a story of discrete events. At 25 frames per second, the chimera...