SPEAKER 1: So he has very interesting background. This is how I met him. He started off in music. He's a musician. He started off in computer music. And he has degrees in computer music and sound engineering also from the University of Geneva.
And at some point, he met my field, science and technology studies. And I still haven't quite worked out how that happened or where it was. But I know at some point, he was taking Bruno Latour, who's going to be visiting Cornell's AD White Professor around China. So maybe, at some point, you can reveal how Latour's work intersects with you.
He's the author of this book just out of MIT Press called Waves and Forms, Electronic Music Devices and Computer Encodings in China. I think he's going to be mainly talking about this book today. I could just tell, I like to do this the British style of introduction, which is, you've gathered this already, fairly informal.
So I'll just tell one story about Basile. So Basile is a musician. I'm a musician. And somehow, we ended up agreeing to play a concert together before a bunch of computer musicians at Saint Etienne in France.
And we'd never played together. We'd exchange files. This is how you do this stuff these days. We exchanged files. He's a laptop musician. I play analog synthesizer.
We got invited to perform at this conference. And I had never transported. I had Moog synthesizers. I had never transported them across the Atlantic. And that was a huge mistake. I never let US Airways-- in fact, US Airways don't exist anymore. But the synthesizer arrived in Paris with half the knobs gone.
He took it down to Saint Etienne. It was one of those things. We were actually all the phone to the Moog company half an hour before the performance, desperately trying to get this Moog Prodigy Synthesizer. But we couldn't get it to work. So someone lent me another ventage synthesizer half an hour before the performance, which we'd never play together.
And this was-- usually, we relying on noisy club enviroments to hide what we do. This was a pristine enviroment. And in the audience was Jean-Claude Risset with Max Mathews-- he's one of the founders of computer music-- and John Chowning, who kind of is-- these are kind of like-- it's like, if you're a scientist, you have to play in front of Einstein, a scientist playing in front of Einstein.
It was unbelievably stressful. But Basile is a very calm person, as you'll see. So welcome to Cornell.
BASILE ZIMMERMANN: It's an amazing honor for me to speak at Cornell. Also, I'm very excited, because it's the first time I can present my work to an audience that is a mix of people in East Asian studies, in science and technology studies, and music studies. Usually, I have to deal either with one audience or the other.
So I will try in this talk to present my book, as Trevor just mentioned. And for the first time, I would attempt to take you through the journey of the book, which is a theoretical journey with many case studies. So of course, I cannot present all of them. But I would like to present a couple of these case studies.
And then I will focus on actually the second point on the list you see here, which is the main concept of the book, which I call Waves and Forms. There's another argument in the book about the crisis of humanities and the future of Asian studies. I will not speak about that. But if you want to hear about this argument, we can do it during the Q&A.
So what is the book about? It started with a question I would summarize as, what happens when a technology is designed in one culture and used in another? It came up when I was traveling to China as a Chinese studies student. And I was struck by the fact that the computers, the mobile phones, all this technology that we were using in the West, were actually the exact same technology the Chinese people were using in China.
So I started to wonder if there was something interesting to do about that. And at some point, it kind of mixed up with another question, which is, what's the difference, or what's going on when you have an object moving from one place to another or an idea moving from place to another?
So very quickly, I'll give you two examples. I have case studies on that. But just to illustrate those two questions, this is my mobile phone I had in China 2003, 2004. I don't know if anyone is interested in industrial design. I love this phone. I find it beautiful-- one of the reasons why I took pictures of it.
But what was striking for me was the simple fact that the interface is very obviously designed for people who speak English. You have the Roman alphabet on it. But actually, we were using it enter Chinese characters.
So this, we could say, is an instance of an object that was created in one country, used in another, and maybe manufactured in China, maybe not. But what's going on with this? What can we say about that?
This is a very different situation, 2010. I took this picture of those two Chinese customers. They didn't know I was taking a picture, actually. We don't see their faces. I think that's OK.
If you pay attention to the gestures, you will notice that actually they're holding the fork as if it was chopsticks. So it's a case of something we could call the technology that actually gets embedded in the human body. You've been using some tools. Then you move to other tools. But actually, the habit travels with you.
This is one of the big main case studies in the book. With these ideas I just presented in my mind, I tried to observe the work of Chinese DJs. In the book, you have four different musicians, four different case studies.
And I thought, because DJs-- I wasn't very familiar actually with the work of DJs. actually-- Although I've studied electronic music a lot, I've never been involved in DJing myself. Actually, I was not even going to dance parties. So my first dance parties were in China.
This one is actually on the Great Wall, 2005. You don't see the face. I also hidden the logo on the T-shirt, because I've tried to keep the artist anonymous, not because there was something dangerous or bad about them, but mostly to help them tell me the truth about how they work. Because one of the problems we face when we do hypnography artistic work is that the artists tend to present themselves-- also scientists, actually-- in a good way, like how great my job is.
And so I kept telling them, I'm focusing on the technology. I don't care how famous you are or how good you are at your work. And nobody will ever know who you are. Maybe a few words about the field work, how I did the field work.
For each of these musician, my main strategy was to go meet with them and introduce myself as a musician. I said, you are a musician, I'm a musician too. And usually, the conversation is very easy. When you start like this, they say, oh, what are you doing? And what kind of music do you like? What kind of tools do you use?
And since I had that background in sound engineering, I suggested to each of them that I could work as a technical assistance. And in exchange, they would tell me about how they composed, how was their everyday life. In some situations, I could even spend a lot of time at their home working with them.
So in that case, I was with him. He was playing on the Great Wall. Actually, at this moment, it's between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning. People are dancing on the Great Wall. There's a place where you can eat. There's even a screen. There were visuals.
And I was sitting over there, trying to figure out what I could say about that. And at some point, something happened in my head, mostly. I just closed my eyes. What did I hear? German minimal techno.
And suddenly, it was just like the Great Wall, China, these Chinese artists. You just saw the picture of, he never went abroad. He didn't speak English. He was from a family of very traditional Chinese artists.
And there was a lot of Chinese culture, Chinese people. Chinese things. And just closed my eyes, and it's gone. I'm in Germany. So I started to think of, how can I speak about this.
And I was interested in the records. So here, you see one of the vinyls. This DJ, I call him so Xiao Dong. It's not his real name. Xiao Dong was using this record.
If you can read it, it's written [INAUDIBLE], who is a producer from Ireland at that time. And I started to see the movement between this vinyl and Xiao Dong.
In the book, I have tried-- if you are in social sciences, you must have noticed that people are trying all sorts of things to go beyond writing with diagrams, sometimes comic books, sometimes software. So here, I just tried comic books way. So I tried to draw the process of the DJ playing.
And I was interested in the fact that you have some sort of cycle. If you look at the picture, you have step one-- the record is in the DJ bag. So the DJ is playing, and the record doesn't do anything.
Step two, you can see the record is playing with the second record. And the DJ is also playing. Usually, the DJ will make some sort of sound effects play with the music. Step three, the DJ will look for another record. And you only hear that record playing.
And Xiao Dong, of whom you just saw the picture, usually drank a lot of beer before and during his performances. And because of the beer, he had to go to the restrooms. So sometimes, he would put a record and just leave. And the people kept dancing.
And I noticed that in some cases, they would even shout his name, Xiao Dong. But he was not there. Just the record was playing. So this movement between Xiao Dong and his record I think can be analyzed somehow.
First just to describe what's going on, you can say there's a jam session going on between-- this is STS language, humans and nonhumans. Sometimes the record is playing, sometimes two records, sometimes the DJ. There's this movement going on.
Actually, it's the exact thing that musician unions feared back in the '50s when the recording industry started to be very successful. And they said that those records are going to take the jobs away from us. And they had the exact same argument.
So this notion that a nonhuman can have agency is very basic. Something STS discussed a lot in the '80s, still discuss today. But it's not something very interesting for science and technology scholars, at least based on my experience of these discussions. But for East Asian studies, this is something else, because for us, it's not just a question of, is the DJ playing or is the record playing, it's the question of, is it is it Chinese music or is it German music. That makes a huge difference.
So at that point-- Trevor mentioned, how did I get interested in science and technology studies, it's exactly at this moment, because I was trying to figure out how to speak about the records. And at the same time, I was trying to make a link with the notion of culture.
So the notion of culture, anyone who took a course in social sciences should know about that. It's a huge problem actually, because what you see on the screen now is the idea most people agree with, that culture is about shared knowledge specific to a group, say like French culture, Chinese culture, American culture. And it's also what makes the difference between animals and human beings. It's also what's specific about humans that you can transmit knowledge from one generation to another. And another idea that you have with culture, which is usually-- that's the way French people use the word-- simply to refer to art, mostly high art.
But from there, I mean, even though people seem to agree with that and use the word in everyday language, then you have the problem of the scientific definition of culture. And in this book-- if you want to have a look, it was published in 2006-- the authors tried to collect all the existing definition of culture that you can find. They're actually copying something that had been done in the '50s, 1952, where two anthropologists collected 64 different definitions of culture. And then they suggested a synthesized version-- like to say, everybody is discussing culture and actually what we mean is this.
So here, they tried again with 300 definitions. And what's interesting, I think fascinating about this book, is that at the end, they just give up, say, OK, we don't know. We wanted to do the same and to suggest a final definition, we can't. It's a mess, doesn't mean anything. We give up.
So I was reading these things. And at the same time, I was influenced by my readings in STS. And there was this trend of paying attention to materiality, like the physicality of whatever you observe. And coming with this sound and engineering background, for me it was very simple what I was observing, because sound is-- some people say music is immaterial. No, it's just the movement of air particles. It's not immaterial.
And a record is some sort of engraved, modulated, spiral groove. It's a very physical thing. So I was trying to connect these things together.
Now, I move to another case study. This case study is very different from the previous one. It's based on the work of an experimental musician. Here, you can see him, again with his face hidden.
I found him because I was looking for someone that would be completely different than the DJs I had been observing. I had two or three DJs. And they were playing in nightclubs downtown Beijing. I spent a lot of time in the nightclubs to observe them. Students usually find that fascinating.
And at some point, I thought, OK, now, I need something different. And if I want to come up with an interesting theory, I need a contrast somewhere. And a French student studying rock music in China told me about this guy, saying that he was very poor. He was doing noise music and Buddhist music.
He had one listener who passed out listening to his song, another listener who his nose started bleeding by listening to his music. He was using a computer with a operating system in Japanese. And he was very poor, alone in a village, and doing everything at home.
So I thought, OK, that's different. I should have a look. So I contacted him, visited him. We had dinner. And in the same way with the other guys I observed, I suggested I could work for him as a sound engineer, and he let me in.
So he was mostly working on this digital workstation. So for people not familiar with this kind of devices, it's some sort of sound recorder. But what is special about it-- it's quite expensive-- is usually you will record a lot of sound.
And then you end up with the different channels. You can have up to eight channels here, even 16 if you use virtual channels. And what he was doing is recording all sorts of sounds and mixing them using the digital workstation.
Here, you can see the kind of microphones he was using-- so two, AKG and a Shure Beta microphone. He would sing. He would play with bells.
Here, you can see other kinds of instruments he was using. He would play with anything actually. Anything could be a sound source for him.
I was interested in this yellow box, you see on the left part of the screen. The yellow box is actually a praying box. There is a Tibetan monk praying. And he plays it in a loop.
So he would use this on stage. So if he was doing noise music, for example, the song would be very, very loud. And then he'd finish something. And suddenly, you had this prayer coming in the background. It was beautiful. He would also record it and use it inside the digital workstation.
All of this was actually happening with him using headphones. He didn't have enough money to afford loudspeakers. And also the neighbors would hear the music. He liked to play it very, very loud. So he would do everything with this cheap Sennheiser headphones.
So this was a surprise for me, because usually when you do computer music, you're supposed to use high-end headphones a lot, because this is very important so that you can adjust the balance of the sound. I will come back to this in a minute.
So my main observations about his work were I selected two. Mainly, one was about the language he was using to describe his music. He had a very, very personal way to speak about his music. Here, you can see two of the words he often mentioned. One is ya, to press. The other one is die-- die [INAUDIBLE], so like to pile up.
And I had very, very difficult discussions with him, because I just did not understand what he was talking about. At some point, because I was supposed to help him, I needed to understand what he wanted. Maybe just before we listen to it-- we will listen to it in the music-- I'll tell you how if I eventually understood this.
I should mention, I understood that six years later, after the research, by reading this famous book of Jonathan Sterne called The Audible Past, where Jonathan Sterne is a professor at McGill University. And he was discussing the history of sound before sound recording. And he was talking about analyzing when doctors started to use stethoscope to listen to the heart to try to work on heart diseases.
And the problem was, you had one doctor listening to the heart of one patient and then thinking, oh, this sound must be that problem. And then the other doctor would do the same and say, oh, the sound-- and then they didn't have the words to speak about what they were hearing. And Sterne made this point that when you speak about something visual, say a circle, a square, a color, we have lots of words to speak about what we see. But we have very, very few words to speak about what we hear.
And he said, at that moment, people started to work on words to speak about music. And I read that. And I thought, wow, that's what Lao Li was doing. He didn't have the words. He invented them.
And six years later, I think he did not understand what I was telling him. I kept asking him questions. And I was using words such as reverberation, equalization, high frequencies, low frequencies.
And he was telling me things like my music is white. Or he would say, OK, this song, the sound must enter your shoulder, go out from your feet, run down on the floor, and escape there. And I was like, the sound comes from the headphones. I mean, I don't understand how it could enter your shoulder.
But at the same time, his music was beautiful. There were amazing things going on in his music. So that was really a struggle, mystery. And up to now, I don't think I understood everything about his music.
Second observation, the sound balance, I mentioned that usually you need very good headphones when you work. And Lao Li-- this I understood the first day of the case study when I went to his home, is you cannot work with cheap headphones. You're going to have a problem because of that. And in the way he was talking about this situation, or my understanding of this situation, is he always said, I did that, I work on that song, and then the song disappeared, [NON-ENGLISH] And then he was very disappointed, and he started a new song.
And what was happening is that he was composing using the headphones. Imagine you compose a song with your laptop. So you don't really hear the lower frequencies, the bass. And you won't hear that. So you can only guess.
Or most probably, then you burn a CD, you listen to it at a friend's place, and it's going to sound different. So at least half of his music was damaged by this process. So these are my two, I would say, main observations about his work.
So now, I'll let you hear a little bit of some. This screenshot-- I'm very proud of this screenshot, because it was such a challenge, first, to understand what he meant, second, just to observe him. One problem I faced was that he did a lot of music before I went to China to observe him. He did also a lot of music after.
But the very year I was in Beijing to observe these people, he had no money at all. He couldn't do any music. And he was doing something else. So I would call him. And always, he would say like, yeah, I can't do any music, and that's it.
So at some point, I decided to do something risky from a field research point of view. I hired him to write a song for me. The exact situation was that my Swiss girlfriend at that time was with me in China. And she was studying dance in a local dance school, dance department. And she needed that piece of music for choreography.
So I discussed with her, and I said, OK, what about we hire Lao Li-- that's the name I gave him-- and he will write a song for you. And we gave him money, even provided my office. So I brought him to my home and asked him to do music.
And the good thing was I could discuss a lot with him and work with him. And this particular image is the result of me working for him but using my computer. But what is interesting is you can see what he meant with those images and the piling up sounds.
So what he asked me to do, and what you will hear in a minute, was first to duplicate the song. The song is one hour. So he asked me to make a copy of this one-hour song.
And then he wanted to edit the first song and cut the low frequencies. And then the second one cut the high range of frequencies. And then he would play the two at the same time and just play it with the volumes.
I see some people with eyebrows like this-- must be musicians. This is very weird for people who work on computer music. But you will hear-- what you're going through here in a second is a song where this is what he called Buddhist music. So there's all sorts of natural sounds.
And you will hear, the part in white is the bass. The high frequencies have been cut. And the black one is you only hear high frequencies. Low frequencies have been cut.
So you will hear the bass coming in. You see the volume with the line. And hopefully, if the speakers are good, you will hear this little tiny [CLICK] notch in the high frequencies, which I think is beautiful.
This is the bass, so the two lines in white.
So I hope you get the feeling. This is very intriguing for me as a musician. And now, I'll let you hear what was going on with the headphones.
So the headphones, what I used to-- I have a recording. What I did is I used a very specific microphone, which you can put in your ears. It looks actually like earphones, like what you have with your smartphone or iPod. But actually, it records whatever you hear.
And the good thing is I could put this in my own ears and then listen to his music with his headphones and listen to his music with other headphones. So this is part of the song he composed for us with his own headphones.
This belongs to noise music, I think you guessed. And this is the exact same moment with my own headphones I had with me in China. Just to give you an idea, the one he was using is maybe $30 US, and this one is $350, both from the same company. But this one is the one everybody who does sound engineering actually uses. It must be one of the best-selling headphones ever. So same song.
So I think you could hear it very easily. Here, you can compare the two software that gives you an idea of the frequency range. For example, at 8,000, you have 17 dBs difference between the two. So the influence on the music is very, very obvious.
So to sum up these two observations, we can say that, in some cases, his framework, the way he was thinking about sound and music, work just fine. And I show you an example with equalization. It's the one I have.
But in the case of sound compression, it's amazing. I even managed-- a year later after I observed him, I found a book from Bob Katz, was published in 2004, about mastering sound. And he describes exactly the same technique that Lao Li was using. But obviously, Lao Li came up with this idea based on his own system of thinking. And second observation-- so the headphones had this bad unfortunate influence on his music composition.
So for me, the challenge-- now, I'll go back to the main topic, this question between culture and materiality of sound-- was how to-- mostly the headphones. I was interested in technical objects. So my question was, how can I say something about this headphone? And how does it connect with the general question I have about this research?
So slowly, I started to move from the notion of sound waves to the general idea of something I would call the shape of matter. And I started to think about, because I was struck-- when you work with digital technology, you cannot not see that sometimes it's a sound, but sometimes it's an image. Sometimes it's a text. And it's all in the computer.
So I started to wonder if what looked very simple to me as sound waves moving and going on different mediums, if it wasn't something that would be everywhere for most of the things I was observing. I think also to be honest to Lao Li, maybe I was influenced by Lao Li's thinking about flows, because I ended up with a theory about flows.
I even did this diagram, where I attempted-- it's very simple, but it's a way for me to express what I was hearing in his music. Because if you studied music, if you listen to a song, it's quite easy to recognize the various sources. This is the piano, this is the guitar, the drums. And at that point, I could even tell you which software did what song. If you're used to it, you hear it very clearly.
So for Lao Li, I attempted to list all those various sources in his music. So you can see the Tibetan monk. There was even a Swiss musician. It's not me. It's a guy from Bern.
I have no idea how his music ended up in Lao Li's living room. But the guy had composed some techno music. And Lao Li sampled some of it and used it in his music.
I also attempted to make a difference between Lao Li in the past and Lao Li in the present. Because sometimes he would sing a song and three months later use his voice, his recording, in another song. And then he would experience problems, because he would like to change the original song he sang, but he couldn't, because if was fixed, So I tried to connect these things and started to have the general idea of waves moving from one place to another.
If we go back to, maybe I could call this basic STS frameworks, there is one notion that everybody knows. It's this concept of script from Madeleine Akrich. Madeleine Akrich is a French sociologist, very famous in the field of science and technology studies.
And in 1987, she wrote a paper originally in French, where she suggested this idea that innovators, when they design technology, they're actually putting somehow inside the technology an idea of how people are going to use that technology. It doesn't mean that people are actually going to do that. But it means that somehow there is a plan embedded inside that technical object.
So I was very interested in that. I was also influenced by what STS called social construction of technology, the idea that the technical object is like this, but it could have been different. There is a history behind it.
How did you end up with that object? What happened on this process of making a technical object? And it's very close to making a song, actually. So I had all these things in my mind.
Another concept I met at some point in the process was the idea of meme. Maybe many of you are familiar with this, maybe not. Today, the way people use the notion of meme is, for example, if you have a cute little cat. You make a video recording of the cat.
Then you put it on Facebook. Everybody likes it. They share it. Like 1 million people are looking at the video of the cat. And people will say, this is a meme.
And this all goes back to a book published by Richard Dawkins in 1976, where he said, well, we miss something to speak-- we need an element of culture, we need a word to speak about a unit of culture that is moving from one person to another, from one place to another. He wrote that. And people got very excited about this notion of meme up to now. It's even in the Oxford Dictionary of English.
But the problem with memes was-- there are several problems. One was this idea that you have this general idea of culture that can be transmitted from one person to another. This is the work of anthropologists.
And Dawkins, I think never opened a book of anthropology in his life. He doesn't quote them. And so anthropologists were really, really angry with that and never accepted his suggestion, which was actually in one of the last chapter of a book on something else. So it was a bit random.
Another problem was that the notion of meme speaks about something that doesn't change. You have, let's say, the song "Happy Birthday." It's here. Everybody starts to sing "Happy Birthday." The song "Happy Birthday" is moving from one place to another.
That actually is changing on the way. If it goes to France, then they sing it in France. So how do you speak about change? And the notion of meme doesn't say anything about that.
The last problem was, what is a meme made of? It's very nice to say that something is circulating. But what is this thing that is circulating?
So at that point, I had no choice but to go look at the whole history of the concept of culture and trying to see if I had a way out of how to speak about my observations. And I ended up-- so I'm going to go very quickly through this. We could spend hours on that.
But basically, my understanding is that most people don't use the word culture, first in the academy. Some people would say you always have this opposition between singularities, things that are unique, very specific, and what you would call regular patterns. And you're trying to find laws of how these things repeat themselves.
So some people focus on symbolic content. That would be like Clifford Geertz. And you base what you're doing on interpretation. So you produce a discourse.
Clifford Geertz called it thick description. I think, many of you must have heard about that. But you accept the fact that actually, you're not looking at something that has regularity or something that you can seize. This would be one.
Solution two is what I read in British anthropology. British anthropologists usually say-- many of them, at least, say-- that culture should be understood as part of the social. So then what is the social? That's another question.
But they have this perspective that you have all the social world interactions between peoples, things. And you could say that, in that case, this group of people-- say, the French; you have the British there-- so they have these patterns of interactions that are specific to this group. And this is what we call culture.
The third solution is what I observed in East Asian studies, where we still use the word culture quite often, not knowing that our colleagues from the department next door would hate that. But we try to make clear what we are trying to describe with this word. So then the usual procedure is to start by problematizing the notion of culture. So we start to say, yes we know this concept is messy, nobody agrees, it's a problem.
But in my paper, I'm going to speak, say, about the farmers in that village. And I will call the specific habits that they have, I would call this the work culture of this group of people. And that means I'm not making a point about culture in general as a concept. But I'm using this word in my paper that way. So many people do that.
What I call solution four is renunciation. I like it because it sounds religious. And it's pretty much something like that. And I think most people in anthropology do that.
It's just you just give up with this word. It's messy, doesn't mean anything. It relates to the fact that everyone in society is using culture to describe almost anything that happens, so just don't use it.
And solution five actually had a huge impact on me and, again, takes us back to STS. It's the work, for example, of Philippe Descola. Philippe Descola is a professor at the College de France. And he is an anthropologist.
And he said-- I think he was influenced by-- I'm pretty sure he was influenced by this framework in STS of the opposition between humans and nonhumans. And he says, this idea of culture is actually a very Western thing, because we consider, in the West, that everything has the same physicality. Everything is made of matter.
Imagine you have a tree over there or the chair and me. Me, or the tree, the wall, we're all made of atoms, of matter. But we don't have the same interiority. Only human beings have emotions, for example.
But this, if you go to Australia or South America, you have some tribes, people with very different habits. And they would say, no, no, no, the tree also has emotion. Or they would say, no, the tree and the human being, they don't have the same physicality.
So Descola has been making this framework, where you would see whether people consider that humans and nonhumans have the same physicality, yes or no, and whether humans and nonhumans have the same interiority, yes or no. And reading his work, I started to think, OK, what about if we can go below this idea of culture, what about something very basic.
And the problem seemed so big with the definition of culture, I started to think, what about a very simple solution, or something just very basic. I ended up going back to the roots of Greek philosophy with this idea of the shape of matter. I've been working hard to find a very simple illustration of that.
I think, if you imagine you have your hand. You put your hand in the sand. Then you put your hand on modeling paste. You can say that the shape of your hand is actually traveling from your hand, circulating, transmitted from your hand to the sand, from your hand to the modeling paste.
And then from that, I tried to come up with basic movements of this transmission of shape. I found three. I would say, the first possibility is whether the shape is conserved. So you put your head in the sand. You say that actually the shape moved from one place to another. There's a conservation of the shape.
The possibility number two, a shape can be created from nothing. This is actually what you see on the cover of the book, where you have those sand castles. If you pay attention to the cover, you will notice that it's the same place.
The idea is you have a pile of sand. And you make one castle. And then you destroy it. And you make another castle. And I was interested in the fact that actually you can create a shape-- so there's a creation of something. But you can also have dissipation of a shape.
So why am I going in that direction? I will make a quick comparison with this very famous of Lavoisier. I'm using it mostly because I suspect-- I assume, everybody studied it at high school. So everybody should know about this sentence.
Just for the record, there is-- again, the roots of Greek philosophy, there is Anaxagoras-- it's like the fifth century before Christ, who already said pretty much the same thing, this idea that what we see in the real world is a combination of basic elements that are organized. It's very old. It's been discussed by a lot of people.
And actually, Lavoisier didn't even said that sentence. He wrote something much longer. But usually, we summarize it for textbooks in chemistry, whatever.
But what is nice about this sentence is you can split it in two. And you could say that, on one side, you have a view on the physical world-- that is, nothing is lost, nothing is created. So this is what classical physics understand about atoms, something that is very unique. Now, on the other side, where everything is transformed, there you can have things that are created or lost or conserved.
This is another diagram. So the framework I came up with has this opposition. On one side, matter and atoms, so you'd say atoms are lower level units of matter. And on the other side, you have shape and waves, waves being the lower level of shape.
And what is interesting for me is, in the first case, things cannot be at two different places at the same time. You have unique entities. They cannot be lost. They cannot be created. On the other side, you have very different movements.
So I'm almost finished. And I came up with these definitions. It's quite abstract. I apologize for that.
So first, the idea that we need something that will enable us to speak about changes in those kinds of observation I discussed until now. We need a lower level unit of shape. And I call this a wave. And this is what was missing until now.
Second word, circulation. This is actually the way many people use that word now to describe when a shape is actually moving from one place to another. And the third one, which is the most difficult and abstract one, I didn't discuss it in detail, it's the link between the upper part, which is very much natural science like and human beings.
Because if you think of this castle thing-- let's say that the castle is here. There is sand. There is the castle. I take a picture, put it in my computer, put it on the screen. And then I say, oh, it's the same castle.
Actually, it's actually not at all the same thing. You have pixels on the screen. And you have grains of sand. So how can you say it's the same thing.
It'd get even worse if you go into the details, because I see this castle. But actually, I don't see the other side of the castle. So when I say the castle, does it include also what I cannot see? Yes or no? So I think at some point, if you want to use this idea of shape of matter, of waves, at some point, you would need to jump to something that is relational, that connects with this amazing ability of the human brain to identify shapes and to label them in order to do something with it.
So I will end up with a simple example. I could go to do music studies examples. But it gets too technical. So I will try to use one that everybody knows.
Actually, it happened to me. I had my iPhone got stolen in a bar, never found out who it was. And I bought a new one, put the backup. And my phone was back.
I had the same phone. But that was very striking for me. But at the same time, it was not the same phone.
So what is useful, I think, in the way I'm trying to look at these things is, in some situation, you need to be able to speak about something that doesn't have the same physicality but has somehow the same content. And what we're missing is precisely a concept that allows us to speak about something that can be at different places at the same time-- so that would be the phone and the backup-- something that can circulate from one medium to another, and something that allows us to speak about differences and similarities in the same movement.
This is usually the biggest issue when I discuss with colleagues. I found recently the best answer would be, is it the same thing? No. Ask again, is it the same thing? Yes. Both are true. Thank you very much.
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Basile Zimmermann, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), illustrates how Chinese electronic disc jockeys and experimental musicians interact with technical equipment and sound devices conceived and designed in different cultures in order to create their own music. Co-sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology Studies and the Department of Music. Recorded Nov. 16, 2015 as part of East Asia Program’s Cornell Contemporary China Initiative (CCCI) Lecture Series.