In this video, Stephen talks about the place of cyclical time and different ways of thinking and representing time and self tracking. He discusses how it is possible to self-track cyclical time. He talks about the Marxist philosopher, Henry Lefebvre, to outline the means and the methods towards comprehending what shapes our experience of time. He also talks about his theory of rhythm analysis as outlined in the posthumous published rhythm analysis and space-time in everyday life. He hopes that the concept of felt routines is very integral to that theory.
Gary invited me to respond to the place of cyclical time and more generally of different ways of thinking, and representing time and self-tracking. So in response in reaching back to some philosophy I began my thesis with but which I’ve since pivoted away from so this may be a little loose, a little rough, but what I’m hoping to do is provide a review so we can have some conversations about how it may apply.
I feel like the question of can we self-track cyclical time best surmises what I would like to talk to you about.
What I’m going to do in this talk is look to a scholar to outline the means and the methods towards comprehending that which shapes our experience of time. That’s the Marxist philosopher Henry Lefebvre and his theory of rhythm analysis as outlined in the posthumous published rhythm analysis and space-time in everyday life. And as I hope you will see the concept of felt routines is very integral to that theory.
So I like to think that less familiar ways of thinking and representing time has maybe been on all our minds since we saw Arrival last year, and outside of extra-terrestrial and sci-fictions, there are also ethnographic accounts of tribes, such as the Amidala from the Amazon Basin that illustrate people with different conceptualization on time to ours, and to be honest you don’t have to reach that far back in European history to find comparable precedence such as the practice of segmented sleep.
And Lefebvre developed this theory of rhythm analysis by observing 1980s Paris from his balcony, and maybe more importantly by comparing northern European cultures to Southern European cultures, I particular the social differences of coastal towns and both those areas. I thought that was worth mentioning, given the relationship to tidal rhythms that our host country has. And I also suspect that holidaying in a different cultural hemisphere is another way that each of us may have experienced time differently.
So the main thing about rhythm analysis is that conveys an idea of the social and that’s not necessarily society as an ensemble or symphony of human and non-human rhythm and interaction. Each has developed Lefebvre theory into a philosophical method and remarks quote at the core is thinking, is the idea of social relationships take place rhythmically and I think it can be portrayed by rhythmic relations and the person doing that analysis is called a rhythm analyst.
But to understand what a rhythm analyst does we have to digress into what rhythm and time and Lefebvre as it may be different to how we’re accustomed to that term. Lefebvre talks about time, and one of his trickiest parts was theory if I’m being honest. But I feel it’s really pertinent to to discerning the experience of time that different from what we get from time series data that predominates through our acts and peripherals. Lefebvre there to categories of repetition, the linear such as hammer blows fouled like a metronome, and the cyclical, this is the stuff of seasonal and cosmic recurrences. Both these categories of repetition are the stuff of time. Both linear and cyclical are equivalent of patterns of repetition. Lefebvre tends to use rhythm more favorably with respect to the terms cyclical. And it’s boiling it down considerably but rhythm is a repetition of time with the scope or possibility for difference or variation in that repetition. In short, the rhythmic is the repetition and patterning of time that can generate moments of novelty and variety. And more importantly, incorporate that variety back into the overall repetition. The linear patterning of time lacks this potential.
And Lefebvre also tells us that our body is a bundle of different rhythms and interactions, so it was really cool to see you unpack that in a very concrete fashion, and I think the area workshops on metabolism also got into that territory. But the social body that we’re part of should also be considered a bundle of rhythms. And how the rhythms of the social body and our bodies interact is covered by the term, dressage.
So Lefebvre borrows the term dressage on equestrianism to designate to what most of us understand what’s happening when a habit becomes automatic and kind of ingrained into a non-conscious habit. This is a familiar refrain; the social conditions are our experience of time. But if you consider the dressage is a very recent milestone in the long history of domesticating a wild animal, that’s still call today “Breaking them in.” Then I think this next quote on the duty of the rhythm analyst maybe comes into shock or relief.
The rhythm analysis consists of understanding that which comes from nature, the natural, and that which is acquired, conventional, or sophisticated trying to isolate particular rhythms.
So Lefebvre philosophy, the patterns of repetition in everyday life are disproportionately linear, and those patterns conditions our bodies and our minds. Therefore requires training to be an rhythm analyst to be able to discern that imbalance. And in that training the rhythm analyst precedes to understanding the larger repetitions that shape experience by listening for to their own personal visceral rhythms.
And that’s pretty important when you’re thinking about rhythm analysis and self-tracking together because Lefebvre was primarily concerned with the rhythms we access through our senses and this is the problem I want to go to. So Lefebvre tells us that the experience of time down to our senses, due to technological media world, habit skews linear and quantitative over the cyclical and that that world conditions and habituates us.
So in the time that’s left, I’m going to try and get back to self-tracking.
Here’s a quote from Lefebvre and his dead wife, Catherine Regulier and that’s “doesn’t the interaction of the repetitive and the rhythmic sooner or later give rise to a dispossession of the body”. And remember that the body is a bundle of rhythms.
I really like this quote because for me it connects to how important in body ritual sort of inherently social acts can be for accessing those stats of ego dissolution and the states of lying that some self-trackers have arrived at psychedelic experiments.
And in my data experience I can think of two experiences of time that I definitely wouldn’t have had in the absence of the technology available today. When is the stillness I get from mindfulness, a mindfulness app that I pay a subscription for and the second is the experiences of flow states, while programming, so I’m going to relate to the latter of those.
So this is someone else’s attempt who was interested in programmer flow states. It’s a diagram of Chris Parnin’s attempt to track flow. He was trying to quantify what to give and for programmers that interruptions to their attention or focus while programming is deleterious to the task of software developments. And he employs electromyography to trance the patterns of sub-vocalization, a periodically pulsating through his larynx as he enters the feedback loop with the code that he is producing. And I think it’s an incredible amount of self-experiment but would go as far enough to be a rhythm analysis. A rhythm analysist would ask, what’s the social context in which someone wants to be more productive that wants to inscribe productivity into their body or find traces of productivity in the things that are literally unspoken.
So I’d like to back to the question of can we track cyclical time? And Lefebvre is actually very clear that mechanical repetitions such as we get from time series data are not rhythmic and only cyclical time is the realm of the rhythmic. So right now the instrumentation we know of is linear mechanical, and some exchanges in the sleep and metabolism workshop earlier tell me that measuring, tracking, and calculating all have the qualities of repetitive time. It feels like an imposition. It can be exhausting, deadening.
But I’d argue that certain way of doing that self-tracking is rhythmic in the exact sense that Lefebvre affirms. And that’s the idea of the self-experiment side of this scene taking to an extreme, like what would it mean to live one’s life, one’s entire life as a self-experiment. That came up in the morning session yesterday, when Stephen (Yonis?) Remarked that he understood the fractal as a metaphor that provides us with some sort of comfort to our open ended enquiry can entail, and existentially speaking. Like internalizing the empirical method into your patterns of thought at a deep level, opens your understanding of the world to radical contingency. An experiment can never fail, only produce and generate new data. And that inherent capacity for generating novelty may be the difference from repetition that Lefebvre identifies as rhythmic.
And I think it’s expected that this might feel uncomfortable. That’s how I interpret the fractals as a comfort blanket. Fractals indicate self-similarity across scales, but how do we take it when we identify rhythms of self and rhythms of other. And Kurt Myer surmises rhythm analysis as “apprehending the observed from the position of the measurer, and being measured.” And that’s a position that faces subject object and self-other distinctions. And I think that connects two fundamental aspects of the questions of, what is the self and quantified self, or what is the quantified us and quantified self.
And I’ll just close with this slide from Max Tegmark, that he imagines us as bundles of rhythms unfolding in time.