Vilém Flusser

  • Discovery

    SOME PEOPLE SPEAK with fluidity (which does not necessarily imply that they speak correctly). Nobody counts with fluidity (although one may do so correctly). The reason is that numbers are clear and distinct. There are definite intervals that must be between numbers for them to be understood. The alphanumerical code, then (the signs of which are inscribed on the keyboard of typewriters), is a collage of fluency with stuttering. The letters (which are meant to render spoken sounds visual) merge to form words, the words merge to form sentences, and the sentences merge to form a discourse; but the

  • Science

    WHY IS THAT DOGS aren’t yet blue with red spots, and that horses don’t yet radiate phosphorescent colors over the nocturnal meadows of the land? Why hasn’t the breeding of animals, still principally an economic concern, moved into the field of esthetics? It’s as if nothing in the relationship between humanity and the biological environment had changed since the life-style revolutions of the neolithic age. Yet at the same time that the farms of North America and Western Europe are today producing more food than we can consume, we also, not coincidentally, have learned techniques that ultimately

  • Discovery

    THE GREEK WORD “MORPHOGENESIS,” which means “birth of form,” would have had a curious sound to classical ears. The understanding of the time would have questioned how forms could be born—weren’t they timeless? By looking at the world, the ancient Greek could see that this was so. Take cows, for example: each cow is born and dies, but the form of the cow is always the same, and it somehow passes from animal to animal with only marginal distortion. The form “cow” is a timeless container through which each individual cow flows; anyone interested in cows should consider the form, and not the shapeless

  • Discovery

    HOMO SAPIENS’ CURIOUS ABILITY to make pictures of the world may be observed in images on cave walls that coincide with the earliest days of human consciousness. Lately, however, a new capacity is emerging—we can now make pictures of calculations, and these may be observed in images on computer screens. Both these capacities manifest themselves in the shape of pictures, but they should be distinguished from each other. If they are not, we risk missing the point of the cultural revolution of our time.

    To make a picture of something in the world, one must step back from it. The question is, Where

  • Discovery

    WHATEVER THE TERM “art” may mean at present, it had a different meaning for the ancients. Then, two art forms were held supreme: the art of living, ars vivendi, and the art of dying, ars moriendi. We have unlearned the second of these, but the first has recently reemerged in a surprising shape: it is now called “biotechnics.” The word seems a Greek-derived version of the Latin ars vivendi, but it is quite different in climate from the ancient sense of the term. In fact, it is a discipline out of which a whole world of artificial living beings—living artworks—will arise, and that adventurous

  • the brain.

    “THE SPIRITUAL IN art,” “the spiritual in people”—we inherit and we read and we watch and listen to descriptions of a person, or a thing made by someone, as “spiritual.” Such an idea is commonplace, but in reality, of course, we are all mammals, and what we make are the products of mammals. It’s true that we have realized certain inventions that sometimes allow us to behave as if we were something different: for a while now we have been able to make machines that we fly like birds, for example, and human females’ eggs can now be fertilized outside the womb, like those of fish. As a rule, though,

  • The known within the unkown within the known.

    EVERY AGE HAS ITS MEN and women who want to go beyond the conventional wisdom, who want to know better. Through centuries, for example, everyone thought that the substance of things was composed of earth, water, air, and fire, and that ideally these elements would form four perfect spheres, with fire on the outside surrounding air, which in turn would surround water, which would cover the earth. Aristotelian theory essentially said that the behavior of the elements could be explained as their efforts to stay in the spheres in which they belonged: if a stone is thrown into the air, it falls back

  • what comes after Z.

    AFTER CENTURIES OF ACCEPTING the alphabet as a given, the question of why and how to visualize language is of renewed validity today. It’s an obvious response to say that we write in letters precisely so as to avoid writing in ideograms, but why should anyone want to avoid them in the first place? Why take this long detour through language instead of describing ideas directly through images, as the pictographic origins of the alphabet suggest that we once did? Why not write with ideograms instead of letters, as the Chinese do, and as we are beginning to do when we use computer codes, and when

  • Science

    WE ARE ABOUT TO ENTER the age of electromagnetism. Microelectronics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and holography are some of the signposts on our path away from a material culture and toward an “immaterial” one in which we will concentrate on the processing of rays rather than on the manipulation of inert, perfidious matter. Electromagnetism is about the oscillation of the particles that constitute the rays. Light is such an oscillation. Electromagnetism, then, is about visible and invisible light. What we are about to enter, then, is the true Age of Light. But before we congratulate