The Planetary Experiment

Orit Halpern

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal

Wednesday, 1 December 2021, 5:30 pm

ONLINE Lecture, hosted by the Warburg Institute.

Free and open to all via Zoom; please book in advance for this event via the Warburg Institute website.

ALMA Telescope Array, 2017 Image: Orit Halpern

On April 10, 2019, the first image of a black hole appeared to humanity. To produce this miracle demanded that scientists and engineers from a team spanning the globe turn the Earth itself into a vast sensor to gather data from black holes: the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Only a dish the size of this planet could create a sensor sensitive enough to collect weak electromagnetic signals from more than 50 million light years away in order to provide, at long last, empirical evidence supporting Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The opening question is how did we come to envision the entire planet as a medium for computation and as a sensor for data collection? And how might we reflect on this condition and its implications for our present? This talk will visit the landscape of the Atacama desert to probe the integration of high technology, experimentation, and new forms of extraction to plot a road map to our planetary and post-planetary future imaginaries.  

The Bilderfahrzeuge Lecture series 2021/22: “Pattern Recognition”

The term “pattern recognition” owes its ubiquity across a wide range of sciences to advances in fields like computer programming, statistics and cybernetics after the Second World War. Yet the basic process of ordering raw data or visual images into identifiable structures has existed for much longer, also within traditionally humanistic contexts. Aby Warburg’s multidirectional and nonlinear science of images (Bildwissenschaft) began with the research of patterns and ‘pathos formulas’ in the historical record of European and Near Eastern art. Today, as our interactions with images are increasingly shaped by nonhuman intelligences, the practice of visual pattern recognition offers new ways of historicizing the changing relationships between psychology and technology, intuition and automation, cognition and control. This lecture series explores how pattern recognition has functioned and continues to function as a distinct modality of image-based knowledge production, from the study of global ornaments in the nineteenth century to digital surveillance and profiling in the twenty-first. 

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