I recently found myself sitting in the enforced shared space of a metropolitan commuter transport system, negotiating the awkward stares, the pervasive mild paranoia and the shallow breathing of dozens of complete strangers who I can only assume were all undergoing similarly visceral and emotional discomfort at the immediacy of this negation of their privacy and their personal space. Commuter trains are like corpuscles, cellular messengers that absorb the logical genomes and the partially self-enclosed logical and behavioural or cognitive instruction-sets of human beings and disseminate them again at whatever destination their needs define.
The experience of being a passenger is very much one of being a molecule of liquid in an integrated metropolitan plumbing infrastructure, incorporated into a vast and sprawling mechanism of logical switches and the distributed logistic circuitboards of the city. The end result of every journey in terms of psychological and social experience is a definite feeling of being unceremoniously squeezed out of a large toothpaste tube at your final destination.
In some ways, we do not use metropolitan transport quite as much as it uses us, as though there is value (and cost) travelling in both directions on the track between self and social world. The relatively mild fatigue and latent social anxiety incurred by commuter journeys is a measure of some underlying extraction of information or energy, some implicit cognitive or cultural computation which is conducted and from which value or information (if not meaning) is extracted.
There is always more going on than initially meets the eye and even mundane events can hint at underlying complexity. A woman talking loudly on her mobile phone opined advice, empathy, admonition and guidance to some unseen ear (in truth this was borderline obnoxious but diversity of cognitive and behavioural method is arguably a feature, not a bug of this system). The act of speech is always one of implicit and subliminally reflexive self-validation: “I am a person, speaking loudly on a train and enthusiastically replicating the conventions of grammar, social norm and permissible communication in a public space.” It is an act of affirmation, of defensive self-comforting like face-touching or body-hugging, of the self-replicating metamorphosis of communication and logic which under the mild duress of an eviscerated commuter privacy becomes a beacon of continuity and unwittingly rational assertion of cultural logic. Even a common act like the private conversation amplified to the point of display is an entity and element of participatory, sociological self-replication
The woman on the phone was solving a problem. It was a public display of aptitude and skill in a narrowband manifestation of communication. From the observed half of the conversation content it is clear that she was not engaged in any profound analysis, dissassembly or reconcatenation of the human condition but the shrill repetition was, in essence, an embodied manifestation of the germline of human cognition and social grammar. This woman, unknown and anonymous in the crowd and likely never to be seen or heard of ever again in my own travels, was replicating the process of replication itself. This is what we all do.
The spaces are brightly-lit, there are no unknown shadows, or unseen entropies. It is all invasive to the point that the ubiquitous encoding logic of self-replication (of individual, of social system, of conventional behaviour, of recombinatory assertions of self-identity within a narrowly permissible and adaptive spectrum of choice) becomes the basis for that personal game of semantics, of encrypting personality and difference within (and as) ourselves.
The panopticon spectacle of the commuter experience generates a self-propagating necessity and expectation for the continuing validation and extended normality of that experience – it is a question that in answering through participation does not resolve to an answer so much as to the implicitly incomplete and open-ended logic of more questions and problems to solve. We internalise our environment synchronously with the inflation of spatial extension and possibility through which internal, subjective depth is sedimented. The errors and divergences in replication (part choice, part logic) provides sustenance and the useful novelty of surprise and delimited entropy or probabilistic energy back to the environment; it is also a Möbius communications and logical transport loop, not purely a commuter one.
The logical essence and conceptual germline of cognitive, corporeal and cultural continuity persists. The unseen entropy, complexity and hidden message or signal travelling on this train with us all was the inexorable momentum of logical self-replication itself. Everything else is just symptom, surface.
Even this relatively brief written piece here can not escape the self-gravitational necessity of self-replicating logic. This is a bootstrapped and enigmatic mischief of recursive exponentiation; a hyper-inflating referential vacuum of self-inflected logical emptiness. It is systemic and cognitive extensibility, emergent information complexity and symbolic, abstract self-propagation.
I would really have enjoyed it if the lady with the phone was discussing logic, cybernetics or systems theory. She wasn’t. They never do. It appears to be a necessary method for the propagation of core instruction sets that they are almost always manifest obliquely, indirectly, obfuscated. The mask of everyday living and commonplace behaviour or cognitive practice obscures that deeper truth of autonomously self-propagating, replicating abstractions which, were they to ever percolate to the surface, would almost entirely and utterly invalidate the integrated matrix of mind and cultural meaning. We hide the truth of this core logical inversion, negation and emptiness because it is unsettling, disturbing in just the ways that the predictably, reassuring and ultimately desensitising experience of uncomfortable seats and noisy conversations on shared commuter transport is not. We are infused with emptiness.
“Please exit through the side doors and mind the gap.” The gap is you.