Monday, September 22, 2008

In Man's Image

“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:5

Man, the toolmaker, seems to me to be most distinct from the natural world by the product of his handiwork. The built environment, and the tools employed in that endeavor, is as much indicative of the mental process that spawned the creative effort, as is a talus slope indicative of the ceaseless process of sun, ice and erosion upon the natural landscape.

I have observed repetitious patterns in the fabricated materials of man’s engineered world, such as when layers of extruded metal grids or mesh are overlapped, and a moiré pattern of interference is seen, one which mimics the underlying grid pattern, but on a larger scale. Diamond-shaped holes in overlapping grids will exhibit a larger, diamond-shaped moiré pattern, for instance. This is evidence of a repetition of pattern made visible at multiple scales of observation.

Likewise, in the natural world are observed compact centers of dense matter around which circulate, separated by wide areas of emptiness, smaller bodies that are found to congregate at discrete orbital distances. This pattern is so universal, and found to be present at so many scales of magnitude, from the infinitesimal structure of the atom to the solar system and galaxy itself, that we are forced to conjecture as to what underlying fundament this signifies.

I have a suspicion, unsupported by any evidence except empirical observation, that much can be learned about the neurological process of deductive reasoning, and the dynamic process of the brain’s complex synaptic mechanism, by studying the organizational structure of man’s built environment, and the tools implemented in that process. Just as the order of moiré pattern reveals the underlying structure of the overlapping grid screens, or the complexities of the natural world illustrate the interaction of macro-scale erosion processes upon the micro-scale structure of granite, so too does the rectilinear, compartmentalized order of man’s fabricated world illustrate an underlying truth about the hidden, inner world of synapses and neurons. Tools reveal much that would otherwise be hidden about the toolmaker.

I am employed to work in a vast, high-technology semiconductor fabrication facility – a chip making factory, or Fab – and am immediately drawn to notice, among countless other complexities, the repetition of the rectilinear grid pattern upon the very structure of the factory facility. The ordered grids of perforated metal floor and ceiling panels, which permit highly purified air to circulate unrestricted; the ordered arrangement of main hallways and side bays; the vast rows of multi-story stockers that house the countless cubic boxes of silicon wafers, like perfectly ordered, gleaming monoliths. The main hallways, over 1/8 mile long, recede into a distant vanishing point that serves to reinforce the sense of rectilinear, Cartesian order. Yet I cannot help but to speculate that this temple to man’s intellectual achievement, ordered at all scales of view upon an underlying rectilinear grid of precisely aligned right angles, is more accurately functioning as a hologram, a synthesized viewpoint of the otherwise hidden mental processes that have evolved to permit the natural order of chemical elements to be reshaped and carefully rearranged into highly ordered structures we call logic circuits. The macro-architecture of the Fab is as much a product of Man the Toolmaker as is the micro-architecture of the circuits being manufactured within, and both contain the vestigial imprint of the cerebral cortex.

Logic circuits. The term itself directly references an underlying mental construct that originated with the writings of Plato and Aristotle, and evolved into a complex algebra of mathematical symbology, through George Boole down to the present, that is now used to simulate the very processes of the natural world; etched, deposited and implanted onto silicon – the very dust of earth – that we call the computer, a blueprint akin to that of Solomon’s Temple, illustrating in model form the very attributes of that which created it.

The basis of the computer being a symbolic logic founded upon Aristotelian principles, we find therefore that the systemic structure of the computer’s architecture – its internal organization – mimics and consequently reveals the hidden, internal structure of the brain’s logically focused left brain, the originator of Boole’s arithmetic of symbolic logic now found to underlie the basic mechanism of our technology-oriented society.

The conscious, logical functioning of the cerebral cortex seems to function in a sequential, serial order. One thought precedes another. One memory triggers another, or perhaps a rapid succession of memories. But each seem to be held momentarily, as a solitary entity, as if the brain were functioning like a motion picture projector, able to only focus the light of consciousness upon one frame at any given moment.

The complex fruit of man’s cerebellum, those diverse, multifaceted projects of science and engineering, seem to originate and unfold in much the same way as does one’s inner thought life. Gantt charts are used to track those activities that must precede others, a kind of winnowing process whereby an ordered sequence is found to be possible from what would otherwise be an incomprehensible jumble of tasks. Foundations must be laid before walls can be erected, while earth must be moved and compacted prior to that. It is as if the process itself reveals the nature of the inner, sequential rhythm of rational thought that first divined the project’s creation.

Man the Toolmaker is found to fashion implements that not only complement his natural ability, but also augment specific characteristics deemed to be intrinsic weaknesses. Optics are fashioned into systems that extend the natural range of vision, permitting man to peer into the very essence of matter itself, or outward to the very edge of the observable universe. Through the photograph man can see motion frozen, or many movements blurred into one, or can perceive the world through a selective focus that the visual cortex does not permit. Through the agency of complex software and parallel-wired processors man’s most flattering tool of self-identity – the computer – can mimic the mental process itself in ways that are found difficult or impossible in the natural realm, that of simultaneous, parallel thought.

I can perceive, therefore, that man’s tools, and subsequent tool-worked culture, mirror the internal architecture and processes found in that two-pound mass of tissue called the brain; as if man’s desire was to be as a god: to create things in his own image, according to his likeness; a self-referential idolatry; but a less-than-perfect god, for the very origin of tools function as a reminder of man’s physical inadequacy in the light of a limitless imagination.