Planetary Experiments

This project examines how we manage uncertainty through an array of techniques and “experiments” ranging from digital fabrication, to resilient urban design, to mine reclamation to financial algorithms and blockchain networks.

The idea of experimentation has a long history in Western philosophy and science, one closely linked to democracy. John Stuart Mill, for example, in the 19th century inaugurated a notion that liberalism was about the right for each “man” to “experiment” in forms of living according to personal choice. Such concepts emerged from scientific ideals of peer review and the idea of scientific experiments happening in public forums, mirroring concepts of the demos or demonstration inherent in Greek conceptions of democracy.

Today, the forms of “experimentation” and testing—for example planetary scale clinical trials in medicine, stress testing in finance, scenario planning in supply chain design and insurance industries, complex dynamic systems modelling in ecology and meteorology, and demoing, rapid prototyping, and versioning in software development, architecture and urban design—perhaps inaugurate a new phase in the history of “experiment” with subsequent implications for politics.  We argue these are ways of inhabiting disastrous conditions and managing uncertainty without endpoint.  They are technologies of time, capitalizing and turning into opportunities for arbitrage the uncertainties that exist between the many temporalities that co-exist in our world—those of biology, geology, chemistry, industry, and computation. No longer linked to calculatable endpoints, we have now developed new modes of practice that defer representation of endpoints in the name of constant forms of derivation and speculation that manage time differentials and uncertainties through algorithmic and financial technologies developed since the 1970’s.

My argument is this form of experimenting and testing (and they are not the same) have now become the central vision in design, planning, and engineering for managing human (and planetary) life in an age of real and imagined terran-scale disasters. Through examining a series of case studies, including ecological efforts at forest and mine reclamation, resilience planning with wetlands and other efforts in locations such as Kolkata, India, and efforts at new forms of bio-digital fabrication in biotech and in “smart” materials, I hope to ask how we are experimenting in design on our planetary futures, for whom,and to what political effect; and how we might envision more ethical and diverse modes of future speculation.