Artificial Earth : On the Genealogy of Planetary Technicity

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: As technology transforms the conditions by which we come understand and interact with the world around us, it is relevant to ask questions about the historicalontological aspects of these patterns of change. The widespread adoption of the term “Anthropocene” during the last twenty years indicates the wide acceptance of the view that human activities have become such a powerful driving force for global environmental change that our destructive legacy will be recorded in geological history. Man, it is argued, has come to alter his terrestrial environment on such a global scale that the ontological difference between natural and technological patterns of change has lost its salience. Addressing our contemporary environmental problems, then, requires knowledge of how physical processes in the natural world operate. But it also necessitates a critical self-consciousness that pertains to the understanding of “the natural” vis-à-vis “the artificial” that underlies this kind of knowledge production. The latter forms the basis of this thesis, which treats the disclosure of technology as a “global” or “planetary” phenomenon – what, herein, is called “planetary technicity” – in earth system science and within the prevailing Anthropocene discourse, and argues that this disclosure gives rise to a research problem that necessitates the present study: insofar as natural and technological patterns of change are made ontologically equivalent, we are faced with a situation wherein technology is increasingly portrayed as beyond human control – just like the products of nature, artifice is depicted as self-organizing. Proceeding from an intellectual-historical point of departure, and within the framework of modern earth science, the methodological ambition of the thesis is to investigate the so-called “genealogical” provenance behind this particular disclosure of technology, with the intention of exposing its historical conditions. The thesis seeks to accomplish this by answering three main questions: how did the question of the nature of technology intersect with epistemological and methodological concerns in earth science; how were such concerns treated or resolved; and last but not least, what is the intellectualhistorical provenance of planetary technicity? In view of the genealogical examination, the thesis concludes that planetary technicity is a product of a certain intellectual-historical tradition in modern earth science that opposed itself toward mechanistic philosophy by taking up a holistic approach in order to study the earth, which meant that technology ontologically came to be attributed organic rather than mechanical features. In addition, the thesis highlights the historical coincidence – as opposed to the necessity – of this particular understanding of technology.

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