Moving Difficulty

Screenshot of “My Feeling of Dance and Code Is…”, in the exhibition Signar la Complejidad, Pabellón de Bellas Artes UCA, curated by Merlina Rañi and produced by Espacio Pla.

*** Hay una versión de este texto en español aquí. ***

Produce, produce, produce and sell, sell, sell the chant heard faintly under the breath of the motto trust, trust, trust. Abstractions — values, numbers, calculations, data, systems, codes — violently project gesturing bodies into numbers and decontextualized datasets. Value is defined by these abstracted numbers, but also by the speculation of markets, investments, and technologies, by a whole knowledge base that is somehow related to intuition and experience — being present in the very flux of action to make important decisions — even though what is abstracted leaves these elements out of the picture. The expert is maintained as a gatekeeper to the future. What about the present?

Now, more than ever, we live our lives and we earn our financial worth by playing the games of these platforms. What is built is a system that is defined by what seems invisible (incomputable codes looping behind or complex and ungraspable languages that you have to be an expert or third party to understand) bundled neatly into a clear cut motto with the idea that you, after all, are the one in control: “by using this app you are solving all your problems to be able to live your life better, always better.” The get rich scheme is never far away from the need for more data, for clickbait, and the abstract links between platform culture, third parties, and technological systems only serve to reinforce certain limits, the ones where the body is always needed instrumentally, under the guise of subjectivity, to subsequently be erased for the more powerful number as fact. The expert mind and the intuitive body still have a cartesian ghost that separates them, and this is without even arriving at the questions of whose body has access in the first place. Trust is blindly linked to values that rhythmically sway alongside fluctuating numbers that are misleadingly given a static role. After all, the numbers do not lie, because they are fixed, ironically meant in both senses of the word.

And yet, in the bitcoin white paper, almost like a manifesto read in the form of a narrative fiction about a calculation qua speculation, we find, somehow, that the body is needed to explain complexity. The paper uses ideas such as lunging forward, walking randomly through calculations, and the idea of “longer” as securing spatial relations to argue that through CPU and GPU power we can financially transact without having to rely on trust. It is the energy that counts; in my reading, this means fluctuations and movements at the scale of the body. How can my moving body feel this energy differently?

The difference is a speculation. Until I do, I can only propose this hypothesis:

Through an ecological pendulum (measured in the difficulty of transactions as auto regulation* and the difficulty of my body as feeling through movement) that does not reject binaries and polarizations but instead oscillates between them, abstraction becomes possible as a feeling of a constantly moving idea. Through this, I can finally feel between my body and algorithm, not as opposites or as instrumental players, but rather as a liminal relationship that never quite becomes ‘yes or no,’ ‘good or bad.’ Instead, I feel a constant fluctuation between them.

To give another picture, there is this visualization of Isabel Stengers talking about the mathematician and philosophical speculator Alfred N. Whitehead’s ideas:

“… the pendulum clock no longer illustrated a law of motion without simultaneously nourishing speculation, poetry, and narration. [It is] a genuine “ecology” of abstraction, for the abstract law of the pendulum can then elicit the attention it is due without denying the rest, in a way that creates the possibility of a mutual aesthetic appreciation between specialists of precision and adventurers of generalization. The question is no longer of knowing “who is right,” but of what each one of them has “done” with the vivid experience that nourished them all” (Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead, 2002).

In the end, abstractions are not fixed at all but swing like pendulums between calculations and adventuring bodies: between experience as plural. Abstractions do not appear floating freely in the air, nor are they solely objective calculations: they are speculations that account for both the formal and the feeling through doing. They lunge forward in chains.

Another way to say this is in a series of questions that open up problems to be explored:

How can my body move to try to understand the complexity of a fluctuating value and technological system before, during, and after it becomes abstracted?

What other ways can I feel abstraction that includes my intuition in the form of improvisation and presence?

Can I move differently in the blockchain?

I repeat, how can my moving body feel this energy differently?

Can the blockchain, in its particularities, open up new spaces for bodies to experience the calculation and execution of abstraction by an algorithm?

Screenshot of “My Feeling of Dance and Code Is…”, in the exhibition Signar la Complejidad, Pabellón de Bellas Artes UCA, curated by Merlina Rañi and produced by Espacio Pla.

There are the things that we know that differentiate the blockchain from other systems: it is decentralized; each transaction cannot be reversed without creating a new one; it is anonymous and yet every transaction is visible, it is not based on trust but based on proof of work (and eventually proof of stake), etc. But what interests me is that it is a liminal space, one that proposes a completely new system that still exists within the languages of the algorithms that we have been scrolling all along — it is still the everyday. It is a place where the technology itself and the way it is used still have room to maneuver together and at the same level. It can be radical without having to be militant, and I feel this too plays a role, it calls for experience, for paying attention to be able to take a stand, a lunging forward to go deeper into the technology and its resulting abstraction. What also interests me is the idea that the blockchain is spatial: energy is literally calculated in spatial forms of one block to the other, wrapped up in elements such as the number of block confirmations and the overall difficulty. Time is hard to execute as it depends on the energy of other emerging blocks. Time becomes material. This, in itself, is already a starting point to go beyond the execution of a scroll, scroll, scroll attention span. It is a new beginning that I believe still has the potential to make room for my body to move and feel.

This is why I am doing a dance on the blockchain, an intimate experience of lunging. The dance is an equation to think these complex questions through a balancing act of difficulty. I do not expect to find all the answers: the formula is yet to be written and the poetics are still non-existent. But the point is, in the end, that speculation is taken not as forecast, gamble, venture, talk, guessing, or risk but instead as its archaic form, an adventure. I speculate with my moving body to the tune of the abstract and difficult nature of the blockchain in the very content that is linked to this text as NFT, DAO, and artwork that continues to process.

* The difficulty is a number used to maintain an average time based on the energy and number of users in the blockchain. This is what I understand by it:
Difficulty body: How does my body move through the difficulty of the blockchain?
Difficulty block: A number in the transaction of my wallet
Difficulty = the balancing act, it is what maintains the relationship between the computing power (number of miners) and the number of blocks in a network, but it does so through space, e.g. time is always fluctuating based on the number of blocks and energy at the moment, it is not a continuous flow that is calculated in advance. A miner must guess “intuitively” a random number based on a random equation (the problems are solved just to keep the energy in the system, they are not real problems).
Time does not exist beforehand but is guaranteed by the difficulty.
In the end it is recursive and always loops back onto itself. There is no progress but instead a balancing act of movement through space to maintain a calculated time.
It is the movement that guarantees that the entire system has value.

“My Feeling of Dance and Code Is…” is currently on view in the virtual exhibition Signar la complejidad at the Pabellón de Bellas Artes UCA. The exhibition is curated by Merlina Rañi and produced by Espacio Pla.

You can visit it online until August 2021



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