I know, I know; cliché title. At least if you’ve roamed enough “alternative research” websites — also called “conspiracy theorists”. But here’s the thing; it IS possible to “hack the matrix” through good Ontological Design. Here’s how to do it through Post-Architecture:
VIRTUAL REALITY IS A PLEONASM
All reality is virtual — a system of articulated virtual elements. Your name is virtual. So is language, nations, software, laws, money, but also legends, stories, poetry and music. A great percentage of the components of reality can be deemed “virtual” — shapeless products of power relations and belonging to the category of the immaterial. Their articulation composes whole systems of reality — the so-called “Reality Tunnels” Timothy Leary talked about — and guess who’s the curator of these systems? That is right. You.
Granted, there is a tendency for people to adopt a passive approach to the “curation” of reality. Whether this happens because of an evolutionary tendency to form safe and reliable habits — or by means of the largest act of hypnotism ever attempted — the fact of the matter is that most of our reality happens by accident. Our names, our languages, our social contexts, etc. — It just happens to us.
Now this does not mean that agency does not exist, but that agency is a self-referential process. It learns from patterns it has identified before, it BELIEVES them, and then decides how to proceed based on that. BELIEF is the energy that propels reality systems. Thus, as Ontological Designers, we have to create belief, which in turn will fuel new realities. So the key question here is: are you a belieber?
Kidding, that’s not the key question. Anyway, as a mental exercise for the next paragraph, imagine a house.
The word used by architects all over the world to describe the functions of spaces in buildings — PROGRAM — is not very confidential about what it actually does. PROGRAM PROGRAMS US. If you live in a house composed by a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a study and a bedroom, no matter how well designed and articulated these elements are, your life, habits and behaviors will gravitate around these five activities. Of course you go out, work, socialize, exercise and engage in activities not based in your own house. But the point here is that our living environments are simply outdated programmers for our own behaviors. Conventional programs are an essential blueprint for the functionality of both our houses and ourselves — we need our physiological needs satisfied. But otherwise it’s just not that interesting.
The house should be an extension not only of the individual’s body — but also of its (virtual) reality. Our environments support our belief systems, which in turn provide the cannon fodder–the substrate, the fuel — for everyday social, material, and imaginational reality. It can condition behaviors and it can provide beliefs. It can be tweaked so as to be conducive to a more effective and precise exercise of power.
So, by program, we can reorganize the currents of belief, for it is them who determine the energy-metabolism of our body-minds. Its impact is not only virtual, but even physiological. We should program these systems in order to move beyond our outdated, accumulated and accidental ontological infrastructures.
For those of you who read this in the voice of that Simpson’s character, congratulations, you are one step closer to realizing how you are just an accidental product of language, media technologies and mental faculties beyond our reach. B.F. Skinner (1904–1990) was a prominent figure in the Behaviourist School of Psychology, which viewed the behaviour of organisms as the result and consequence of external causes .
“With the right social engineering, we can create a new breed of human being”
“Change the Environment, and you can change the individual”
Every choice, every decision and every act of volition can ultimately be distilled into either a 1 or a 0. This is the blunt basis of what I propose. So when we are trying to program choice, we can look at it as a system made of infinite ones and zeros. When I am sitting down, I am not standing up; when I move, I am not motionless. One and zero, one and zero. In turn, this information forms bigger behavioral patterns that can be compared to softwares or operating systems. So, to program people we must realize that it is through “ones and zeroes” that a person-software can be built. In other words, we must thus break down behaviour into very small, manageable steps, reinforce what we deem positive and desirable along the way, while discouraging undesirable actions. ENCOURAGE ONE, PUNISH OR IGNORE THE OTHER. This is Operant Conditioning at play — a learning process in which behaviour is sensitive to or controlled by its consequences.
What will be the strategy used to decide what to encourage or not? This is the exciting *design* choice that we, as Ontological Designers, can make. The recombination of all of these small parcels of behaviour is what builds the new habits, other subjectivities, other humans. This is exactly what B.F. Skinner did with pigeons and rats, being able even to “teach” them how to perform certain actions like spinning around or bowing on queue. These animals acquired certain, designed behaviours through Operant Conditioning. Check out this video as an example.
WRITING POETRY WITH ONES AND ZEROES; ORDO AB CHAOS
Effective Ontological Design is thus (not only, but also) a matter of analytically breaking down behaviours into small components, and then reconfiguring them as one deems fit. What Skinner did, and what I want to do, is to provide a designed order to the “chaos” of accidentally acquired behaviour. Another name for Order, in this context, is Narrative.
Practically speaking: School is a behaviour design technique which produces specific results — one of them is the student-persona. This is a character that will not only live in the narrative of the school, but also outside of it. The person becomes a student; an individual who has a specific and well defined role within the school and educational narrative. There are mechanisms of punishment and reward at play; behaviour is partitioned both in time — classes, breaks, lunch times — and in space — place for play, place for study, spaces for eating and even different tables within the classroom. Punishment and reward are the executive arms of this system for people-design: grades, reports, suspensions, etc. The overarching structure connecting all of these elements is the narrative — the myth around the school, its importance in producing individuals fit for society, its mechanisms for elevating and providing young people with all sorts of faculties and tools.
A similar system works in the military, as one can easily notice by just looking at the strictness of the punishments employed. The military also has a very clear narrative — a warlike, honour-based structure for the production of individuals who are the main line of defense for our societies against all kinds of threats to our security.
Yet we can also see a system based on these same principles at play in our free, common everyday lives, even though the reward and punishment mechanisms are much more subtle. Whole societies also have narratives, into which the roles of individuals are located. Our roles are pounded into place by accidental and autonomous currents of reward and punishment, which are so subtly weaved into the fabric of reality so as to often appear invisible.
The key to this whole approach is to first break down reality — which is virtual and therefore manageable — into small pieces, and then reconstruct it based on an intentional design. This design must take into account the creation of BELIEF on the new NARRATIVE in order to be successful, rather than just a clumsy imposition on someone’s habits.
Ontological Design looks at behaviour and subjective identities as a workable articulations of ones and zeroes, fueled by belief and held together by narrative.
Can you imagine what becomes possible with this? On one hand, this is ARCHITECTURE AS BRAINWASHING. On the other, this is ARCHITECTURE AS THE FIRE OF PROMETHEUS. I hope I’ve made myself clear as to how Post-Architecture can be a way to pierce the veil of the Matrix. The ones and zeroes all around us are not untouchable, we can change them. We can design ourselves to become whatever we dare to imagine. To be or not to be, that is literally the question at stake. By means of our volition we can alter the fabric of our reality, and therefore achieve a greater ability to exercise FREE WILL.