Ruminating on Code 46

I have been endeavouring to ingest more fiction lately, in part due to my perceived over reliance on Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles as the font from which all wackiness flows. Make no mistake I still think that text holds major sway over me and that the desired intention of Morrison’s hyper sigil was evinced over me. Nevertheless, thanks to the reservoir of recommendations that is Justin Pickard I have been watching a lot of interesting Sci Fi.

The film which has most impressed me was one recommended some while ago, by both Justin and David Bausola. That film is Code 46. It touches on a lot which interested me then and which continues to interest me now. My favourite part of the movie is the idea of the lead male protagonist inoculating himself with an intuition virus. This is set against a backdrop of a world where data collation, genome sequencing and the proliferation of databases as the dominant ontological technology have combined to create a world where the Sphinx (an assemblage of risk balancing statistical algorithms) has the say over where you go (it is the apex of the Societies of Control – see especially the first paragraph of 3. Program).

I don’t want to spoil the plot as I recommend you watch this excellent bit of cinema for yourself. But the aforementioned intuition virus is utilised to capture a rogue human element in the Sphinx’s network. Leading Tim Robbins to deliver a classic line, when probed regarding how he can be sure he’s caught the perpetrator:

“your not paying me for proof, what you’re paying for is intuition”

I loved the concept of a future where intuition is so highly prized and the whole movie articulates what I’ve recently been trying to work through in exploring the contrast between pattern recognition and intuition: i.e. what happens when the sum total of our psyche (the irrational reptile brain plus our cognitive, computer amenable, fore brain) interacts with an assemblage of algorithms (databases and their inherent atomising classification, statistics with their inherent abstraction) which produce a model of reality from which truth is derived. The idea is not to advocate luddite or tin hat positions regarding the advancement of these machinic assemblages but instead to ponder what happens when an abstract model begins to move us, when our forces and existence are subjected, in invisible ways, to the truth making database machine and this subjection is due in part to our willingness to believe in its prowess.


One last thing that I’d like to dwell on is the use of the virus itself: something of a major anomaly no matter which way you frame it. I first appreciated how useful its anomalous status was when Luciana Parisi explained second wave cybernetics and Maturana & Varela’s theory of autopoiesis to our class. The idea being that a cell reacts to anything which enters it membrane per the structures of organisation that are particular to it: which is to say the cell reacts to outside influence only insofar as it can fit with it’s predetermined ‘perspective’ of reality. Introducing a virus to this scenario punctures the concept: a virus reorders a cell according to its logic, not the cells. And indeed autopoiesis, given it’s concern for legitimising things ‘as living’ through it’s parameters, struggled with the status of a virus; is it alive or dead. The virus inhabits a liminal zone between what we can consider live or dead. I later learned that Luciana was only too happy to have us recognise the flaws in autopoiesis given her advocacy of fresher conceptions of cybernetics.

In the context of Code 46 the virus takes on iridescent inflections of importance. Again without spoiling the movie the virus can be considered to hold a pseudo-protagonistic role. It is as much a disruptor of the ‘order of things’ as is the rogue human element in the flick. I especially liked this idea of a virus being a basis for intuition, given its transversal nature. In addition to the problems it poses to autopoiesis the virus is also interesting for the way it moves between bodies indiscriminately: any given body is mere substrate for its vitality. When considered from a sufficiently dissociated scale, biological viruses are useful in disrupting the cognitive cohesion of self in a manner similar to bacteria (indeed, arguably more so and one needn’t dive into ideas of zombies for proof). Which provides an interesting juxtaposition to what I feel to be the central conflict of Code 46: a future where our vitality has become sufficiently entwined with the modes and models by which computation can make sense of our reality. These modes and models are, at a first principle level, derived from a different register to how we understand reality, and here again I am tipping my hat to the fact that we apprehend (and act upon) reality first and foremost through the faculties of our cognition which are not logical, rational and left brained. So for me Code 46, on some level, explores the tension that arises when power over us is derived from a system which is fundamentally alien to the primary way by which we enjoy reality. And playing a prime role in this tension is another non-human agent, a virus.


~ by Stephen Fortune on November 17, 2011.

One Response to “Ruminating on Code 46”

  1. […] I noted recently I have been seeking fiction injections to offset a habitual desire to consume factual and […]

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