, For Planetary Governance

Deep Synchronization: Attuning Competing Modes of Planetarity

Authors: Adonis Leboho, Alisa Silanteva, Assem Hendawi, Kristina Shalygina

The discovery of spatial and temporal depths beyond human civilizational scales demands that the human upgrade its political-philosophical modes of planetarity. Deep Synchronization is a cinematic video essay exploring competing modes of planetarity—their tensions, cosmological implications, and the possibility for their reconciliation. It argues that imagining the world anew cannot be achieved unless we try to synchronize the manifold images of the human and the planetary.


Modes and images

The term “planetarity” appeared at the turn of the century in the humanities as a critique of planetary-scale thinking. Different figurations of the planet have emerged in guises as diverse as the epistemological frameworks that produced them. “World,” “globe,” “terra,” and “planet” denote competing accounts of how Earth is defined and its position relative to the human.

Political-philosophical and astronomic planetarity are categories we might use to organize these distinctions. We consider these modes of planetarity within the framework of manifest versus scientific image. The manifest image is the human’s intuitive mode of understanding the world through phenomenal knowledge. It reflects the political-philosophical mode. As it carves the world into atoms, the “scientific image” develops a theoretical perspective of the world beyond our phenomenal understanding. It reflects the astronomic mode. It reinscribes what the human can be, what it should do, and how it could do it. Our governing political-philosophical modes, determined by the manifest image, have proven insufficient in their reduction of the planet to human temporal and spatial scales.

The depths of astronomic planetarity disclosed through the scientific image—deep Earth, deep time, deep space—are sites of epistemic shocks. The planet’s biochemical realities and our long-term ecological impact demand that our anthropocentric standpoint show humility in the face of scientific evidence. The project for the human is to reinscribe itself in synchronicity with the revelatory disclosures of the scientific image. If political-philosophical planetarity is to combine with the scientific image, we must consider how categories of manifest descriptions are to be reinscribed within those of science.

The development of both images becomes a historical dialectic of collective reason. The scientific image’s evolution ascribes to a cumulative and distributed revisionary vector. This is made possible by the development of general sapience and its projective potentialities beyond the human. Scientific development is a catalyst for imagining the world anew, but without a grounding narrative, it cannot operationalize new modes of knowledge socially and politically.

How does the scientific image reinscribe both the human and planetarity? Through “deep synchronization”—where these developments become interpolated into a cosmological order and influence how manifest planetarity is organized.


Deep Earth

Scientific disclosures of earth systems illustrate how parochial the grand narrative of humanity is in the broader scope of the planet’s history. The planet encompasses several complex adaptive systems that embody evolutionary processes on diverse spatial and temporal scales.

Deep Earth measures the vast extension of the planet’s layers into depths we can only approximate through technical instruments. The geological materials we have discovered are temporary crystallizations of deep time. Earth deposits holding hydrocarbon compounds formed through the decomposition of organisms index the planet’s history.

The scientific disclosure of the planetary processes, thermodynamic exchanges, and metabolic flows regulating complex earth systems demonstrate how humans are out of sync with the planet.


Deep Time

The deep time of the planet eclipses our civilizational time scales. The slow churn of organic matter over millennia contrasts with the accelerated speeds of human capital and industry which outpace the durations of earth systems.

The manifest image lacks direct intuition of deep earth processes and fails to integrate our actions’ long-term impact into present experience.

Despite our discontinuous relationship, human history is infused with geological time.

Geology and various related fields of knowledge, such as chemistry and ecology, frame the modern world and give it one possible scientific structure. The structure comes from below, through earth matter and organic materials which serve as the factory of life.

The structure comes from above, through the governing planetary metabolism, the “procedural substrate of the earth layer.” This substrate understands the planet as an information system, offering a descriptive and instructive account of reality.

The planet’s metabolic flows and finite material resources give us specific instructions following an objective account of its scientific structure.

The ecological normativity implied in earth systems can and should give material specificity to our political-philosophical modes. What would happen if we treated all the elements in the earth system as forms of media, where the “heavy material of space itself functions like an information system and a broad mixing chamber for many social, political, and technical networks?”

We put forward the speculative figure of the “human as ecomedium” as an intermediary capable of negotiating between the scientific and the manifest. The “human as ecomedium” has to mediate the depletion of the planet’s resources while applying the insights of ecological normativity. The ecomedium approach manages the potentials, material conditions, and relationships of astronomic planetarity through a synthesis of the manifest and scientific image.


Deep Space

Deep space names an expansive universe in which an unmistakable cosmic silence rings, a silence that foregrounds our precarious existence and the possibility of our extinction.

Humanity might be alone in the cosmos, as Fermi’s paradox suggests. This silence provokes the question of the human’s vocation, given the rarity of sapience and the scarcity of astronomical objects that can harbor life.

The “human as ecomedium” must achieve this integration of the scientific to secure the future of collective reason and the planetary conditions that sustain it.

The realization of the scientific disclosures of astronomic planetarity entails the human discovering itself as an eco-medium. Anthropos then conditions itself relative to the ecological norms within which it exists.


Deep Synchronization

Imagining the world anew cannot be achieved unless we try to synchronize the manifold images of the human and the planetary. This calls for the ongoing process of Deep Synchronization, the mobilization of scientific disclosures for the generative aim of integrating the different modes of planetarity into a new synoptic image of the planetary.

This process considers the necessary labor of responding to the urgencies that evolving scientific images disclose in the realms of the social, political, and cosmological.

The human can be defined generally as a being with intentions. This understanding obliges a commitment to constructing community intentions, which provide the ambience of principles and norms of the planetarity within which we live our lives.

Following this commitment invigorates human vocation, moving us beyond the parochial image of human exceptionality and its mastery over its domains of existence.

Embracing the “depth” involves integrating the human’s temporal limitations and the projections of its discontinuity, recognizing the continuous reinscription of the human’s self-defining image.

Deep synchronization enacts itself through the adoption of the revisionary force of general sapience.

Synchronization negotiates the human’s generative commitments through different contexts, scales, and constraints of the planetarities yet to come. To do this, even if only in imagination, is to transcend the dualisms of different planetary images through the process of deep synchronization.

Sound: Peter Isachenko

Adonis Leboho is a writer and researcher from London with a background in Higher Education and the arts and culture sector. He has worked in editorial and communications roles for the British Library, Open University, and Sheffield University. After completing his PhD in English Literature, he continues to write on modern and contemporary literature, critical theory, and speculative design, always with a focus on the cultural aesthetics of futurity.

Alisa Silanteva is an architect and a researcher based in Moscow. She studied architecture at KSUAE in Kazan and The Bartlett School of Architecture in London and participated in various public building and landscape projects in Zaha Hadid Architects, Atrium Bureau and Moon Hoon Studio. Her interest lies in merging social and environmental aspects in spatial design.

Assem Hendawi is an artist and researcher who works with videos, computer-based media, and text to explore planetary computation, critical posthumanities, and the way in which technology constructs subjectivity. Hendawi has a particular interest in the manipulations that accompany various late capitalism’s technologies as the site of rewriting narratives, identities, and traditions. He holds a MA in Art Praxis from the Dutch Art Institute.

Kristina Shalygina is a researcher and strategist based in Moscow, interested in the context of system design, emerging technologies and media applications. Her background experience spans disciplines from software service design to developing interactive sound devices.

Faculty: Benjamin Bratton, Nicolay Boyadjiev

The Terraforming 2021

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