It is time to review some of the basic terms I use in my articles. I postulate three basic categories of phenomena that humans experience. Something is figure if it has determinate discrete defined boundaries and does not blend with other phenomena. Something is ground or grounding if it has indeterminate blurry continual boundaries and does blend with other phenomena. Something is vacuum if it occupies the spaces between figures and or patches of ground or grounding. Our fields of experience are made up of different configurations of these three categories of phenomena. It is the change in the fundamental kind of configuration of phenomena in today’s world that has been a principle source of focus and concern of my articles.
One of the ongoing themes of this series of articles has been the destruction of organic grounding in traditional living environments and its replacement by modern technological living environments with their vacuum and free-floating figure composition. In an overcrowded world, the free-floating figures increasingly cluster together to form tension-pockets that overstimulate human beings, just as the vacuum aspects of modern technological living environments make them numb. This alternation between overstimulation and understimulation is the basis for the sensory distortion that has been so harmful for human beings and that has triggered so much of the pathological behavior we have seen in modern society.
Sometimes, the division between figure, ground and vacuum isn’t so neat. One modern technology tries very hard to imitate organic growth and thus to encapsulate grounded processes in a machine. I am talking here about 3-D printing. This is a manufacturing process that is not based on cutting raw materials into defined shapes. Instead. a so-called printer can build up layer after layer of practically any product, anything, until it is finished. This technology allows for the creation of products in areas as diverse as space technology, engineering, furniture and jewelry. Even food. Advances are being made in this technology on an ongoing basis, and it is projected that the technology will be able to create human organs.
Many companies are embracing this technology, because it will involve significantly lower labor costs. If these machines are adopted universally, they could transform manufacturing, and furthermore, they could transform the way humans are connected to their living environment. 3-D printers vacuumize the process of creation. Organic creation becomes a process of the free-floating figures of machines floating in a vacuum, disconnected from organic grounding. Creation becomes disconnected from what humans can make using their hands, their eyes and their brains. And the realm of what humans can do directly to advance their own lives becomes further diminished into irrelevancy. As 3-D printing increasingly moves beyond the world of making prototypes into the world of rapid manufacturing, what place will there be for most humans as active participants in their own world of primary experience? Between 3-D printers and robots, there will be little left to be done by humans. Most humans will be redundant to the significant processes in their society. It is primarily the creators of the machines and the programmers who will continue to have a relevant place for a period of time, at least until 3-D printers can create 3-D printers and robots can replicate robots. Meanwhile, most other people will see their daily life activities trivialized.
3-D printers are another important example of a machine squeezing human beings out of a major area of life activity. The world of creative activity in human endeavor – an important vehicle by which humans create figures that are embedded in their grounded field of experience and that help to hold this grounding in place much as roots can hold soil in place – is now encapsulated in the vacuum of modern technological living environments. The free-floating figures of 3-D printers mimic creation in 3-D layers and, in so doing, indirectly detach many workers from their grounded attachment to the world. And people lose their organic bonding not only to their means of production but also to the artifacts created by this new means of production.
Yes it is amazing that a 3-D printer could possibly produce a human liver. This could theoretically diminish the need for wait lists for donated livers from dead people. But think of the larger picture. If, at first, we can create human livers with 3-D printers, why not create whole humans? Such a process would make cloning seem primitive. But how would such a printed human organically connect with other human beings. Existentially, such a human would truly be a free-floating figure in an experiential vacuum with no meaningful family connections to other humans. Workers could be created as human-like robots to fill certain specific functions in a factory or in other areas of the economy. Ordinary humans produced by biological reproduction would seem too inefficient and too unfocused.
And then there is the very real possibility that 3-D printers could print out guns for your average criminal or terrorist. This would be the ultimate perversion of a perfected mechanical creativity.
I know all this sounds very melodramatic, but technological change is moving at such an accelerated pace and even twenty years ago, would most people have been able to conceive of the possibility of 3-D printers? And again technological innovation is advancing with relatively little ethical discussion about moving forward in certain technological directions. What motivation will there be for anyone to engage in crafts, when he will have a 3-D printer to produce most of the things that he might want? Everybody will be his own magician, producing something out of what would appear to be thin air.
There is definitely a psychological price to pay for using these machines. So just because the machines exist does not mean that a person has to use them. As a matter of fact, whenever possible, a person should avoid using these machines. When possible, a person should try to obtain things that are made by traditional manufacturing and that involve more human workers in the work process. Even better, a person should try to obtain artifacts that are made by hand. Even better, a person should try to make some artifacts himself. Now more than ever, getting involved in different kinds of crafts can act as a means to help a person connect directly to the materials in his field of experience. Doing crafts becomes a means of bonding to these materials and a means of creating grounded processes in his field of experience.
Obviously crafts cannot replicate everything that is done in 3-D printing. But that is not the point. The point is that 3-D printing is one more step in the ongoing historical trend of increasingly making the average human irrelevant to his living environment.
(c) 2013 Laurence Mesirow