Cybernetics, Ontology, Practice

Anti-Modern TechnoScience in the European Hacker Tradition

maxigas, THSF, 2016-05-22


“I want to talk now about ontology: questions of what the world is like, what sort of entities populate it, how they engage with one another. What I want to suggest is that the ontology of cybernetics is a strange and unfamiliar one, very different from that of the modern sciences.”Pickering (2010), 17

Social experiment
Social experiment

Cybernetics trilogy

“Deep hacker studies”:

  1. Symmetric cybernetics (Tiqqun 2012)
  2. Assymetric cybernetics (Pickering 1995)
  3. Controversies and contradictions (Söderberg 2008)

For a techno-political agenda of the radical left

Theoretical framework

  • Between SSK/SCOT & ANT…
  • Material agency:
    • dialectics of resistance and accomodation
    • mangle of practice
    • ontological theatres

Crypto-Hegelian Marxism    ;-P

Ontological position

  • Ontology is historically emergent (co-constructed)
  • Different ontologies → different ethics & epistemologies
  • What ontologies relevant social groups hold? ← practices.

Methodological agnosticism of Bijker (2009)


“one cannot help but be struck by the social marginality of cybernetics throughout its history, and this has led me to an interest in new institutions, however marginal themselves, that have emerged as a social basis for cybernetics in recent decades. ... Just as I have been trying to show that the cybernetic ontology and cybernetic projects and objects make sense and are worth taking seriously, so my suggestion is that we should take seriously the sometimes odd institutions which have from time to time supported them.”Pickering (2010), 400

Odd institution

  • Site of alternative engineering culture
  • Rooted in technological (not scientific)
  • Reception of classic cybernetic tradition

→ Sustained social basis of cybernetic practices


Figurations of cybernetics

  • Chaos Computer Club (est. 1981)
  • cca. 2005 Wiener Kybernetischer Kreis (KyBase)
  • 2008 Hackerspace Brussels (HSBXL)
  • 2011 r0ket / Carpenters social experiment (29C3)

Discordianism (Hail Eris!)

Brussels Hackerspace logo
Brussels Hackerspace logo

Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine
Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine

Social experiment
Social experiment

The Carpenters
The Carpenters


Hacker artefacts, knowledges, practices and scenes constitute an alternative engineering culture that can be characterised as anti-modern technoscience. Such an approach privileges practice over representation, performance over cognition and adaptive encounters with the unknown over the domination of Nature. In short, it is informed and forged by an experience in the ontology of becoming.

Live coding

  • Performance over cognition.
  • Temporal emergence.
  • Dialectics of resistance and accomodation.

→ Ontological theatre

Fluxus screencap
Fluxus screencap
Ibniz screencap #3
Ibniz screencap #3
Ibniz screencap #2
Ibniz screencap #2
Ibniz screencap #1
Ibniz screencap #1

Penetration testing

  • Privilege practice over representation.
  • Faith in the unknown.
  • Mangle of practice.

→ Strange performances.

nmap demoscan
nmap demoscan
CVEs statistics
CVEs statistics

Rapid prototyping

  • Adaptive encounters with the unknown.
  • Escape modern categories (art, etc.).
  • In vivo experiments from junk.

→ Ontology of becoming.

The blueprint attitude evidently goes with the modern ontological stance that presumes a knowable and cognitively disposable world, and Ashby’s thoughts here on going beyond design in a world of mechanisms evolving quasi-organically once more make the point that ontology makes a difference, now at the level of engineering method.Pickering (2010), 128



Hacking Python slide
Hacking Python slide
NoiseBridge poster
NoiseBridge poster
Labitat rule 0 poster
Labitat rule 0 poster
“Just fucking do it” graf
“Just fucking do it” graf


Ontological ethics?

The ethical moment in ontology:

  • Bugs of Lévinas (1969 Totality and Infinity)
  • Difference without recuperation
  • Dialogical ethics ~ conversation theory (Pask)

Hosting & hostage.

Why anti-modern?

  • Challenge to institutions
  • Challenge to infrastructures
  • Challenge to ontological divisions

No future, but it is being integrated.

Anti-modern TechnoScience

  • practice
  • performance
  • adaptive encounters

Odd institutions.

The end

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Bijker, Wiebe E. 2009. “How Is Technology Made? That Is the Question!” Cambridge Journal of Economics 1 (34) (November): 63–76. doi:10.1093/cje/bep068.

Lévinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Pickering, Andrew. 1995. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

———. 2010. The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Söderberg, Johan. 2008. Hacking Capitalism: The Free and Open Source Software Movement. London: Routledge.

Tiqqun. 2012. The Cybernetic Hypothesis. The Anarchist Library.