From financial markets to climate systems, medical training to architecture, models are occupying an increasingly substantial role in a wide range of fields. In this series of Schemas of Uncertainty, Modelling Uncertainty, we explore the modelling process and its relationship to futurity. The contributions, each in their own way, aim to problematise the role modelling plays in fixing what ‘the future’ might be, and thus the texts aim to provide other possibilities in conceiving of our collective futures. As Sven Lütticken has recently written, “Today’s expectations of the future—and current methods of accessing future scenarios and risks—have a performative effect; they can challenge and perpetuate a seemingly entrenched present.”1 With this series, we seek to ask: how do models act in such performative ways within capitalism? What assumptions about the world are made in the process of modelling? What are the political and theoretical implications of an over-reliance on models? What kinds of epistemologies resist or even evade modelling?
Understood as systems of approximation and analogy, models occupy a peculiar space between phenomena in the world and their translation to an object available to be studied. Regardless of their ingrained ideology or fidelity, models are attempts to map meaning onto the complexities and inconsistencies of existence. The process of mediation between the world and the model is one of questioning what is necessary to be included, involving layers upon layers of reduction.
The process of mediation between the world and the model is one of questioning what is necessary to be included, involving layers upon layers of reduction.
Speaking within the context of scientific modelling, Pamela Carralero describes this translation process as “an interstitial space between the inaccessible and accessible that is open and productive as a setting of construction and play between scientific conclusions and interpretations”2 Throughout our research in the past year, we have been interested in this space that modelling occupies between the “inaccessible and the accessible,” approaching models as another way of mediating uncertainty, akin to processes of divination we have explored previously.
A heading record
In this series, through contributions addressing a range of topics from financial models to animal traps, we explore this translation between the world and the model. In her essay The Mysteries Of Finance And The Observation Of Observers, Elena Esposito elaborates on this connection, unpacking the relationship between divination and models in managing uncertainty within financial markets. Esposito argues that “the uncertainty of the future, multiplied by the uncertainty of the behaviour of others […] becomes the prerequisite for producing money and wealth, even if not for everyone.” Here, models are instrumentalised in order to gamble on different potential and parallel futures so that some few may extract profit from their inherent uncertainty. This form of prediction deems the kind of future that might materialise secondary to the possibility of its financialisation.
In their contribution, Parallel Futures: Of Spirits and Androids in Cinema, Pedro Neves-Marques thinks through the concept of ‘parallel futures’ by comparing scenes from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Remember His Past Lives (2010) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1984). Neves-Marques deals with forms of mediation between the accessible and the inaccessible, by presenting two different ways of working through ‘incommensurable worlds’ in film. The relationship between fiction and models is elaborated in further detail by Elvia Wilk during her interview with Callum Copley, Conspiratorial Reality and Ecosystemic Fiction, where she traces the boundaries of the two concepts. Traversing contemporary conspiracy theory, climate change communication and gaming, the conversation questions the distinction between storytelling and modelling and the roles agents play within these processes.
Whilst Wilk unpacks the myriad of ways in which individuals (co-)produce their futures in reciprocal processes, Max Haiven uses his essay to focus on how individuals are, alternatively, subjects to the predictions about the future made by others. His text Notes towards a theory of risk management as human sacrifice (and vice versa), explores how the economic logic of risk management becomes an arbiter of whose lives are worth living within neoliberal global capitalism. As Haiven writes, “risk management is, ultimately, not (just) a scientific process for managing resources. It is (also) the liturgical and ceremonial (i.e. magical) trappings of a cosmology that (as most cosmologies do) mistakes itself for the natural and normal order of the universe. And yet, on their underside, this social order creates a vast, global scene of human sacrifices whose doom is normalised as the inevitable, indeed natural, progress of the market.” As Haiven suggests, technical processes such as risk-management become embedded within a wider cosmology that normalises their existence.