Invisible Forces

My wife and I decided (mostly her) to hang up DaVinci horse prints in our home office. Why? Apparently depictions of horses in motion channel a focus on success. She told me about how this reasoning is grounded in Feng Shui. As Wikipedia puts it,

The feng shui practice discusses architecture in terms of “invisible forces” that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together [...]

At first it sounded peculiar, but the thought of inanimate objects truly being animate resonated with something I recently read from George Dyson's Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control. Dyson mentions Samuel Butler, a 19th century writer who wrote, amongst other things, a forward-thinking article called “Darwin Among the Machines.” It raised the possibility of evolution occurring within machines, leading to the dystopian machine takeovers we'd write about almost a decade later. Dyson mentions how this thinking led Butler down a path of everything being animate:

Butler concluded that it was impossible to draw a precise distinction between living and nonliving things, or to give a precise definition of life that would not, sooner or later, include machines. “The only thing of which I am sure,” he argued in 1880, “ is that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary; that it is more coherent with our other ideas, and therefore more acceptable, to start with every molecule as a living thing, and then deduce death as the breaking up of an association or corporation than to start with inanimate molecules and smuggle life into them.”

This builds off of feng shui in a way — everything possesses “invisible forces” that binds us together. No distinctions between animate and inanimate objects.

I appreciate how Zach Mandeville channels this thought process into empowering people to build a better web in his piece Sacred Servers (from COMPOST magazine, which I cannot plug enough):

There is no separation. We are all in it together, overlaid and coexistent. And, from my view, to declare a space of ideas and the mind to be necessarily separate from the world is to deny the world the aliveness and agency it holds.


We can give as much as we do now, but to networks and servers that are actually ours. We can share our hopes and memories directly to one another with no central force monitoring and feeding off our words. We can acknowledge the inchoate energy we build beneath our fingers, amplify it through our communities and families, and store it in revered spaces that hold our own generational force. We can use technology that is intentionally small, local, and humble to the natural world.