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Cellular 'Machines'

BMBF Collaborative Research Project "Embodied Information"

FU Freie Universitaet Berlin (Institue of Philosophy) and KHM Academy of Media Arts Cologne (Media Science Department)

Cellular 'Machines' - New Forms of the Technical

Dr. Werner Kogge, Institute for Philosophy, Freie Universitaet Berlin

Research Background

The developments of minimally invasive, sensory technologies that can adapt to various situations make older basic concepts to explain technology, such as the idea of technology as a mastering nature, seem at least questionable. This change is reflected in an excerpt of the vocabulary of technology prognostication: Technologies will be, so the expectation, not only adapted quite precisely to their surroundings (‘adapted to the context’), but also capable of adjusting to changing environments (‘to adapt to changing situations’) and of entering into comprehensive interaction with these. The combination of flexibility and stability necessary to achieve this is paradigmatically embodied by the organism, and this in its very smallest unit, the cell. Indeed, the implementation of cellular ‘mechanisms’ is one of the central methods of ‘converging technologies’.

Yet it is an open question whether the significant basic tendency observed in using cellular mechanisms of transformation, transport and synthesis in today’s bionanotechnology, bioelectronics and biosensor technology is oriented on the environmentally-adapted living cell, or aspires instead to the technological exploitation of the linear combinatorics of molecules, which is decisive for the ‘genetic code’. Only in the first case would we be dealing with a new technological paradigm: ‘Information’ here would be made technically accessible in its integrated, embodied, directly organically effective ‘aggregate condition’. In the second case, we would be dealing with (merely) a radical expansion of the informatic principle in the area of the organic.

Project Goals

This part of the project thus will first investigate the extent to which the significant tendency of the current technological developments still coheres to the logic of the information age (in which molecular biology is, as we know, deeply rooted), or whether it moves beyond this to a new paradigm of incorporation. Secondly, it will examine how the new, current technologies are world-oriented: To what extent and in what sense do the new technologies orient on the organic in a new way to establish a relation to their surroundings, or a relationship to the world?

From these questions three central tasks result:

(i) To estimate the transformative potential of new technologies, to the extent that biological materials and mechanisms play a role in them.

(ii) To investigate the extent to which the biologisation of the technical actually entails incorporating information in organic material, so that the situational orientation and relation of the technical artefacts to their surroundings increases to such a degree that they develop their own relationship to the world, or at least re-orient the relationship humans have to the world.

(iii) To develop the differentiation between situatedness (embedded, oriented on surroundings, contextualised) and isolation (withdrawn, decontextualised) as a basic differentiation within the philosophy of technology and, as such, to help overcome the paradigms of domination (control) and resolution (virtualisation) that determine our thinking about technology.


Dr. Werner Kogge
Institute for Philosophy
Freie Universitaet Berlin
Habelschwerdter Allee 30
D-14195 Berlin

Tel: ++49 (0)30 838 54509
Fax: ++49 (0)30 838 56430
Email: wkogge[at]zedat.fu-berlin.de

Silberlaube (Habelschwerdter Allee 45)
Room JK25/221C