Entangling Conscious Agents, Donald Hoffman

Donald Hoffman is a cognitive psychologist who argues for a formal theory of consciousness—the theory of “conscious agents”—that takes consciousness to be fundamental, rather than derivative from objects in space-time. This lecture begins by establishing that evolution for human perception lead to usefulness rather than for verification of absolute truths. Just as the perceptually “truthful” concepts of flat earth or geocentric universe were revealed to be fiction, the notion that consciousness arise from materialistic interaction (such as the synapses in the brain) is argued to be false. Instead, Hoffman argues that consciousness comes before biological interaction. This method of thinking tackles the issue of combinatory consciousness as a form of an entanglement in the quantum physic sense (the finding that certain particles behave as a single unified system even when they’re separated by such immense distances suggests the universe functions as a fundamental whole rather than a collection of discrete parts). To further explain entanglement of consciousness, Hoffman shows how a visual paradox of a necker cube is a digram for a basic form of entanglement that only exists due to our own “faulty” perceptual and visual interface. Hoffman provides mathematically explained panpsychist proofs for how consciousness agents interact with each other through interface.

If we see that architecture (both built and in images) is a form of consciousness interface, the act of making it “correct” in terms of styles or materials is revealed to be as fruitless as arguing that the earth is flat. Architecture, once cognizant of panpsychist concepts can become a new interface by proposing novel ways in which space and time interact with individualized consciousness. This absence of a single truth is a better expression of reality than a materialist world view. One way of doing this would be to examine the entanglement issue (such as a simultaneous duality of a necker cube) as a formal basis in which individualized perception of a form/space can have multiplicities of meaning and emotional effects that can be different, or even contradictory. If architecture were designed this way, it becomes a conscious agent in which panpsychist truth is revealed by making entanglement visible to the subjects through interface. It could be argued that unbuilt images of a project have the same agency as would a built project if the goal is to communicate universal complexity through visual means.

Philosophy of Panpsychism

Architect Louis Kahn famously advocated seeking the spiritual essence of a tectonic element by asking a brick “what do you want to be?” (The brick answered it wanted to be an arch). Related to the spirit or consciousness of the inorganic, Philosopher Phillp Goff explores the philosophy of panpsychism, through which he seeks to counter materialist and quantifiable metaphysics of physical science, by examining the possibility that consciousness is universal and it exists from an atomic level to that of the universe. The academic papers that are available on his website http://www.philipgoffphilosophy.com lays out the arguments against dualist separation of mind and body, as he explains subjective qualities of consciousness from human to animal, then to the inorganic. 

Goff argues that micro level parts have their own consciousness and the body is a collective coming together of these micro consciousness into a macro level whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This elegant philosophy is applicable to the part to whole question of architectonics and also to the idea that architecture can be an open ended consciousness that interfaces with the consciousness of the subject/user. That is to say, architecture has a soul and it can affect yours.

Panpsychism does a good job of showing that the ontology of architectural creations have a spirit/consciousness that is manifested in form. As a basis for an architectural theory, this is not to say that these forms have to mimic an organism in a biomorphic form (after all, the brick wanted to be an arch). If the concept that inorganic forms can be constituted of macro level consciousness sounds too new-age, the argument can be restricted to state that architecture is an extension of human spirit and it affects the human soul through interface. 

This interface of consciousness existing between the object (architecture) and the subject (user/observer) can be applied to unbuilt projects existing only in images or texts, since an argument can be made that the unbuilt project is an extension or an offspring of the consciousness of the author. Therefore, in terms of architecture, panpsychism is applicable to the transference of concepts and not limited to the materials that constitute a built building. This way of thinking has correlation to deconstruction and structuralist way of viewing the universe in terms of texts. The groundbreaking new way of seeing available through panpsychism is that these texts are consciousness inherent in the inorganic rather than existing separate from physical reality.

Architecture of Military Forms

Functionalism suggests austerity and engineered efficiency over issues of aesthetics or expressive formal qualities. However, in both architecture and military functionalism, there is a contradictory tendency to seek the opportunity for formal expressions beyond that of pure performance. Utilizing Deconstructionist mode of thinking that involves language, architect Peter Eisenman states that architecture is a “building with a sign of a building.” The need for designs to communicate, influences even the most functionalist forms, when designs are taken beyond the realm of pure utilitarian applications such as factories or grain silos. This tendency for functionalism to betray its own desire for pure efficiency, through expressive formalism, will be examined in architecture and the military.

A diagram of Napoleonic War hats by illustrator Andre Jouineau shows a variation in headwear as a system of communication. The bright colors utilized for the hats helped distinguish each other during the thick fog of gunpowder that enveloped the battlefield. Form does follow function in terms of legibility, but the varying shapes, materials, and sizes of each uniform indicate the taxonomy of forms beyond that of pure legibility.

A collection of U.S. Navy’s squadron logos shows a similar tendency for expressiveness in terms of aesthetics. These logos are emblazoned on uniforms, buildings, aircrafts, and on the architectural elements such as doors as devices of identification and signification. In terms of performance, an aircraft should be difficult to spot by the enemy. The colorful and often aggressively cartoonish icons of the squadron logos on aircrafts betray this basic function. The fact that squadron identifiers (such as the text “VFA-125”) are stenciled on the aircrafts means iconic squadron logos serve a function beyond efficient identification. The functions of these are ornamental signification pertaining to a humanist desire to locate art in what could be a dehumanizing business of warfare. This parallels architecture’s desire to signify beyond the performative requirements of shelter and stability. Such concerns of expressive formal appearance influenced the selection of Lockheed Martin’s X-35 over Boeing’s X-32 in the Joint Strike Fighter program for the F-35. Given a similar performance of both aircrafts, the bias over formal expression influenced the selection of sleek X-35 over the rotund X-32. The images of both aircrafts are posted above. It is easy to judge one over another in terms of which better signifies speed and aggression.

Functionalist architecture in buildings, other than those serving purely utilitarian needs, can be traced back to the early Modernist architect Adolf Loos, who proclaimed that ornament was a crime. With the absence of outright ornamental detailing, Loos designed architecture that has expressive qualities in proportion, the arrangement of massing, typography (in signage), and material choices. Rather than arrive at an overtly austere massing of boxes, Loos’ formal expressions betray the efficiency of pure functionalism. This is evidenced in his design for the Looshaus, shown above; while lacking ornamentation in terms of intricate details, the aesthetic excellence of the building is shown through a masterful arrangement of larger elements of architecture. It could be argued that Looshaus lacks ornamental details but does not lack aesthetic formal qualities. Loos’ buildings are never purely functionalistic.

An often misconstrued dictum by architect Louis Sullivan that “form follows function” also seems to place program and structural efficiency over the concerns of formal appearance of architecture. However, Sullivan utilized ornate detailing that deviates from the pure function through expressive formal articulations. In addition to ornamentation, Sullivan often utilized contrasting volume of space to emphasize grandiosity in public assembly areas –a technique of compression of space before expansion for contrasting emphasis. So what does Sullivan mean by “form follows function?” In regards to this, architect Wes Jones emphasizes the necessity of formal expressiveness in designs, that serve a need beyond that of pure utility, by differentiating a ‘building’ from ‘architecture.’ He writes: “Everyone is familiar with the phrase Form follows function. But what does it really mean? why form, why function, what do we mean by ‘follows?’ does it mean ‘comes after,’ or does it mean ‘takes its cues from’ or does it mean ‘subscribes to’ or does it mean ‘is less important than?’ The punch line is that this is all about legibility…  While architecture is an elective phenomenon, building is not. The difference between the two is what raises the issue of function following form. Both are first occasioned by a need, but architecture goes beyond the basic need for shelter or program accommodation served by ‘mere’ building, to set that effort in an explicit context of meaning, expectations of meaning. While the building’s form IS necessarily functional, architecture’s form goes further to SAY that about itself.”

A study into the expressive qualities in Functionalism has been taken up by architectural historian Spyros Papapetros, who explored military ornamentation in regards to the stately uniforms worn by German Emperor Wilhelm II in his book “On the Animation of the Inorganic.” There is an opportunity for architects to examine the parallel between military aesthetics and architectural formalism, as both are explicitly tied to the requirement of function and structural realities. While Vitruvius saw harmony in Firmitas, Utilitas, and Venustas as a fundamental triad of architecture, the concerns of Venustas (beauty) is what architects have the greatest difficulty articulating, as it exists outside the realm of quantifiable performance. It is ironic that the often unbuilt architectural projects dealing mostly with the qualities of Venustas are regarded with the military term avant-garde by the discipline of architecture.

It is well documented how Modernist architects of the 20th century, such as Le Corbusier, sought formal inspiration for architecture in naval vessels and aircrafts. Military technology with its massive state-funded research tends to create the most cutting edge contemporary designs. There are contemporary architectural opportunities in examining military technology and visual cultures, that are currently ignored by the discipline. With the goal of discovering opportunities for expression in architecture that overrides the functionalist agenda of pure performance, the interests of military and architectural formalism should be studied.

USS Abraham Lincoln

The deafening noise and the sheer magnitude of the machineries on an aircraft carrier is breathtaking. Extreme cantilevers, moving blast shield decks, huge elevators to move aircrafts, enormous column free spaces, and the pure monochrome color scheme are all architect’s dream realized on a massive scale. Architects have a history of examining naval vessels for architectural lessons: Jean Labatut,  professor emertius of architecture at Princeton University,  researched dazzle camouflage of ships for lessons in architecture.

Death Star

Images by others of the Star Wars Death Star (credits under each image), perhaps the most well known megastructure in popular culture. The geometrically pure form coupled with intricate detailing echos Étienne-Louis Boullée’s visionary drawings.