Re-Think Artifact

Re-think Artifacts@ 2023

2023, it will have been 10 years since I returned to my home country. Through my work, I have had the opportunity to be involved in various industries. When communicating with others in my work, I am struck by the fact that although we live in the same physical world, we all live in a conceptual world with slightly different perceptions. It is easy to imagine that other positions and roles - research institutes, practices and clients - have various ways of thinking. Still, even within the same position, different philosophies can be encountered. For example, in design and production, and even within design work, design philosophy naturally differs between one-off buildings and mass-produced products. I was educated in engineering at Andagrad, but when the field changes, the assumptions shake-up, and I am always amazed.

Before my professionalism became entrenched, looking at several different situations made me, at best, multifaceted and, at worst, schizophrenic. This may not have been good for a practising professional, but it was good training to become more aware of what was tacit in my (the guild I was in) values.

The above-mentioned 'way of thinking about things' is expressed in methods and outputs. Still, it can also be described as a guideline for what is acceptable when designing. Design is by nature a highly abstract task with many assumptions. In addition, as specialisation increases, it is often assumed to be such and such without assumptions. There are a variety of reasons for this: the technology has always worked this way, so it's good enough; deadlines cannot be met without a series of hypothetical decisions; in some regions or industry cultures, it is a virtue not to speak the language; and many other barriers.

Most professional unwritten rules have good reasons, but sometimes there are none, and when they become a habit, they become more efficient. However, if the habit becomes ritualised or morphs into personal beliefs, etc., it can hinder innovation. This kind of occupational culture can be good for depth but also a barrier when tackling technological and systems theory.






This may be too abstract, so I'd like to give you a personal example to give you a break. I found the term 'planned obsolescence' in the discourse of a British architect named Cedric Price, who taught at my alma mater, to be an eye-opener. He said in the plainest possible terms: 'Sneakers and fashionable clothes are deliberately designed to have a short lifespan. The question is: "Buildings (especially in the West) are planned and designed on the assumption of permanence at all costs, but this assumption may be a bias in the first place".

In particular, it is common for British buildings to be planned on the assumption that they will last, whether because of the religious background required for churches, or because of the materials and construction methods used for masonry, or because of the climate, which is less prone to earthquakes and typhoons. I don't know many architects who have left a will-like system of design such as: "When the owner replaces the owner in 20**, we will leave half of the gable and reconstruct only the south side to make a shop; if it is no longer fashionable, we will use the reserve fund and demolish it; the foundation will be inspected and used if possible; if not, we will dig it up and dispose of it". I don't know of any. Idealistic architects are proactive in building but rarely mention what to do with the structure, site, etc., after the system's collapse. (Similarly, it's off the top of my head.)

The mechanisation and computerisation of building equipment in recent years and its adaptability to environmental impact have led to designs that consider replacing parts and components and the ecology of materials. In addition, there have long been traditional buildings, for example, in which materials are supposed to be replaced every year or two. In other words, we need to talk about permanence in the real sense of 'eternity'. In the real sense, we are talking about billions or hundreds of billions of years. Still, although there are old buildings from the Middle Ages lying around British towns and villages, however old they are, they are at best only a few hundred or a few thousand years old. In other words, the message is that this system of structures is planned to last forever. It means that the demise of its system is excluded from the capitalised design and is concealed.

Also, planning to include it may be seen as an autopoietic idea, encompassing self-reference and self-reproduction to solve the frame problem.


The Means of "Art" and Artifact

This may sound preachy when bringing up definitions of words out of the blue. The word 'art' in English is not limited to works of art but includes human-made things broadly, and it is more respectful of art than one might think. The Oxford English Dictionary's third meaning is "things created by human creativity and social life", but this may not be familiar to the Japanese in everyday use.

In English, the first meaning is the same as in Japanese, referring to 'works of art such as oil paintings and sculptures'. However, those who have not been educated in English or under the influence of the Latin (?) language from which it is derived may not be familiar with the term 'art'. At least, I did not know it.

Incidentally, the synonym is "Natural Science", which means dealing with natural things and broadly includes mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, engineering, agriculture and medicine. Although the classification itself is left aside because of the influence of the discipline's origins and the times, art is clearly distinguished from things that belong to nature as a technique or mechanism created by human beings independent of nature. Art is categorised as meaningful as a history of refining skills and techniques, standing tall above nature.




なみに対義語は「Natural  Science」で、自然のものを扱うという意味で大枠で数学、物理学、天文学、生物学、工学、農学、医学などを含むそうだ。学問の成り立ちや時代の影響があるので分類そのものはさておくが、自然から独立した人間という存在が、作り上げた技巧や仕組みとして、自然に属することがらとは明確に区別されるのがアートである。自然に屹立して、技巧を磨いてきた人間の歴史として大切なものとしてカテゴライズされているように感じた。

 If I ventured an analogy as to why, it would be the relative stability of the European climate and the concentration of races and nations in a small area. It is also a history of warfare, in which cultures have flourished but only incessantly. Also, the old hegemonic states, such as Britain and the Netherlands, ran the world by inventing man-made systems such as insurance and banking. For them, the 'world' is only a world of human-made concepts. Whether from the Middle Ages onwards or modern times (I need to be more informed and have no sense of the period), they must have worked hard to create civilisation, order, writing, learning and other artefacts under that infrastructure. (I suppose there is also a history of humans overcoming the harsh natural environment, but that would be pretty old, such as the Roman water supply.)

To put it plainly, the Japanese (at least I) do not have to be so anxious to assert their national or ethnic identity. The sea surrounding their land separates their identity from others and is analogous to the metaphysical delimitation that secures the self and the group. There may have been relatively few periods of conflict that emphasised national or cultural identity to any great extent, good or bad.

I learned from the experience of my former teacher at the University of Tokyo that in the 1970s and 1980s, his research team travelled across the world and saw many different settlements. Still, he doubts what Watsuji calls the (natural) environmental determinist philosophy. In 2007, I participated in a survey of settlements in West African countries. The African settlements I visited were cramped together, with people deliberately and spontaneously asserting a style and making it their identity. Tribes, nations and religions are abstract concepts created by the human brain. When a group's 'ground' is such a concept, it is necessary to make it explicit/metaphysical and educate others to preserve the group. This is the case in Europe and the Middle East, where religions are crammed into a small space.

In summary, Europe has defined the world from a human-centred worldview based on the origins of its states and other factors. It has placed great importance on the distinction between nature and the artefacts that define itself, such as the state, rules and language, in a context that highlights the identity of the self and the group to which the self belongs.





I remember that my supervisors, who were Greek and German, were exceptionally sensitive about language and writing, which represent the arts. I think it is difficult to understand the essence of this feeling unless you talk slowly over a number of years with people from these cultures and with a fairly hardcore group of intellectuals. Even if you find the equivalent word in a dictionary and feel you have some idea of what it means, it is only a matter of translating it into a meaning within your own cognitive range, and it is not the same as strictly understanding the meaning of the person or the letter.


This is how I came to the idea of delving into the mystery of artefacts, their design concepts and how they differ from ideas in other fields, while giving examples of their use. I happen to be familiar with architecture, but I like cars and other things to begin with. Although I specialised in design (≒design, the meaning of which differs between Japanese and English), the more I thought about it, the more I became confused as to what is good and what is bullshit.

If we were to apply the term design to the broad framework of human-made things, it would probably be too broad. However, looking at various artefacts, I have often wondered if there is something to be said about them, both in terms of similarities and differences. I also began to think that I might (or should) be able to relate it to the agenda I wrote about in my dissertation and develop it into a language. Some people think it would be better to write a brief thesis, but I'll organise it somehow later, and I think I'll just write it in a lazy essay-like form for now.




1885 Benz Patent-Motorwagen (pics from wiki)

1-1) Preface

Is a tenet necessary when making things? The tenet here is not a reason, but rather a method of policy or philosophy. To take an example often used in engineering, "build a car because you want it to travel faster and further" is a reason, while "when designing a car, you should assume twice the required strength" could be one of tenets.

Though this may not be relevant today, because story could be  when Benz was making car from byccle and engine. For example, the story, but "When a car is built, it should be carefully designed, made of high quality metal, precisely assembled, and built so that it will not break down when speed increases and vibration increases, so that it can move quickly and without malfunction". In this case, objectives, targets, policies, goals, etc. are set. This is a logic that is used rather frequently in engineering and other fields, and is a strategy that points in the direction in which things "should" go by determining the axis of evaluation of good and bad, and aims to get closer to that direction.

The above logic, which seems to be to some extent an unquestionable rule in engineering, is more easily shaken than it is in the real world. The first area that is most likely to change is in the last syllable, where the goal is "to be able to travel faster and further". This example should be easy for the general public to understand: since 2000, for example, the idea that "the best car is the one that is strong and fast" has, to a large extent, been achieved by German and Japanese cars and is no longer comparable. In practice, the price of fuel has risen and fallen frequently during crises such as repeated local wars, and we are gradually witnessing the environmental crisis caused by climate change, and it has become fashionable to say that "speed is good, but fuel economy is also good". Another extreme trend was the emergence of petrol-electric hybrid vehicles and electric cars. As a further form of nostalgia, we are seeing more and more opinions such as "In this day and age, it's nice to drive a large-displacement reciprocating engine". The last opinion is, I dare say, not in the category of engineering, but is intended to express my attitude to social issues, and therefore may be in the category of sociological issues, not engineering or environmental studies, but I will not go into that too much because it would be too long.

In practice, another area that can easily be swayed is the combination of economy and price. If you are building a one-off vehicle for a king and offering it to him, but if you are buying a car as a practical object, price is an important factor. Although not included in the above strategy story, there is another force at work: if the price is too high, people won't buy it; if they don't buy it, it won't sell; and if it doesn't sell, it will be weeded out in the market. Then there are variations in design, such as a 10 million car that only breaks down once every ten years, and a car that breaks down once a year but costs a million yen, and if that happens, consumers are lost depending on the number of variables. It may be hard to imagine, but when you get to a fairly dead industrial sector, you actually encounter these situations as well. When I was young and broke, I would often buy a watch at the airport when I went abroad that I would not normally wear. For example, around 2000, when there were mobile phones but not smart phones, i.e. before we could chat, time was a matter of life and death because you couldn't miss a flight ticket or a meeting. And even in the duty-free shops at airports, there are many watches on sale, from expensive Swiss-made watches costing 100,000 yen to toy-like watches costing 1,000 yen that you don't know which horse you're riding. I used to pick out a reasonable one from among them, and fly away with a suitably unbreakable Japanese-made one costing around 10,000 yen. Such a scene quickly collapsed, however, with the rise in quality of Chinese products over the past 20 years and the spread of smartphones making wristwatches unnecessary.

To return to the first thesis, the same logic does not hold true when it comes to so-called art rather than engineering. First, for example, the reason that people paint pictures because they hang them on the wall is also questionable (why do people paint, by the way?). ). In addition, when it comes to logic, it becomes even more difficult to argue, and if it is something like 'brushes must be made of pig's hair', you can just think 'oh, that's the way it is' and lose the cost, but when it comes to 'gages are for system criticism', it is fine when it is spontaneous, but when it is forced, it becomes a bit of a problem. It's annoying. When I read it in a textbook much later, students who don't understand the context only think, "Wow, they were really into this stupid thing", or something like that. Anyway, it may be obvious, but engineering and art are quite different in terms of motivation, which may or may not be clearly divided according to culture and position.








1-2) Common Fallacies between Artifacts and Nature


There is one more thing that needs to be noted. It is that it is easy to project analogies of things onto people and analogies of people onto things. This is too abstract a way of putting it, so let's say that, as before, it is to be put in terms of concrete examples. Again, cars may be a good example. 


The first is symbolic aspects. This is evident in the use of the car headlights as eyes, the boot as back or buttocks, and so on, and the attempt to apply some kind of human fragment to them. This is despite the fact that they are man-made objects and the materials, mechanisms and topology are completely different from those of the human body. For example, for someone like me from the countryside, a car has two aspects: the mechanical aspect, such as convenience and performance, and the personal aspect, such as a luxury item (?) that can be owned by the individual. For example, for someone from the countryside like myself, a car has a mechanical aspect, such as convenience and performance, as well as a social and symbolic aspect, such as personal attachment. This may, for example, be due to the value of Italian brand bags, smartphone manufacturers or other value-added products/objects beyond their functional aspects. Anthropomorphising may be attributed to this area.

A slightly different example for discussion might be desire or instinct. There is a common miscellaneous quiz on why portraits are used on coins and notes, and the answer is to prevent counterfeiting. The answer to this question is to prevent counterfeiting. The idea is that the user, the human being, has a high cognitive sensitivity to the human face and will immediately notice if the face is minted/printed in an odd way. (ref) In other words, it is a remnant of the fact that group-forming, social creatures - in warfare, politics and business - have spent a great deal of time focusing on reading human facial expressions and have developed their cognitive skills over time.

The reverse of the above is also true: the parts of the human body that belong to nature (the idea of dividing the body into parts is already mechanistic) can also be spoken of in terms of purposeful machines and the logic of science. Or the desire to speak of them seems to emerge, which is generally speaking an analogy.

*1; (Nature Taizen according to Soseki Natsume, Nature according to Mencius Yoro).






The second is when an internalised idea is expressed. Some readers may have heard an introspective person say, "What was I born for?" or have heard a religion define human beings as something created by someone else. I don't think everyone makes these statements or believes in a religion, but this is also behind the unconscious belief that humans, like scissors and desks, were created for a reason and also have a reason or intention for being created. This is a projection of a deliberately designed man-made thing onto a natural thing, and even if we suspend the exsistance of god(s), as a matter of logic this is a fallacy.


However, existential philosophers have rejected this. Sartre, for example, 'what exists is born without reason, continues to weaken and dies by chance' (Sartre, 1965). The argument is that there is no purpose or meaning to life for humans, who are not inherently created things. (*Addition 1) I think this view is correct, even though I too hold humanistic 'hopes' that life has meaning, or that there is a Buddha to save us.

*Adendum 1)

However, existentialist psychotherapist Viktor Frankl states that it is worthwhile to know this. This is because of his experience in extreme conditions, such as in the camps during the war, where those who managed to find answers to their search for hope and meaning in life, even in the most extreme conditions, were able to survive. According to survivors, 'growth' during that time is similar to Maslow's and Roger's concept of 'self-realisation'. In an everyday sense, therefore, it is also important to keep thinking about the meaning and purpose of human life. To support the aforementioned concepts, other things such as altruism, devotion to a cause, lofty pleasures and creation can also help us to live. However, this does not necessarily lead to happiness, and therefore one should be in a state of being able to think about and choose meaning and purpose in order to mask that miserable reality. 'Thinking about meaning' seems to be a way for humans to live a positive life.