Manifesto for the Environmental Ecology Lab


Written towards the end of the lab’s 18 months, the document provides some insights into the motivation of its founders, their hopes and sources of inspiration.

E.E.L., Inc. might best be characterized as a “post-industrial” laboratory. It is dedicated to challenging many of the precepts upon which the industrial and scientific revolutions of the 19th and early 20th centuries were based. The challenge is not one taken up simply for its own sake, but rather has become inevitable and obligatory as a result of the advance of the “information sciences.” 

Prior to the technological development of “self-organizing systems,” the benchmark of scientific validity was the demonstration that a measurement could be repeated or that a process could be performed quite irrespective of the purposes to which the measurement or the process might be put. Truth was thought something to be established and it existed in some “holy, high, eternal noon.” Searchable. But somehow irrefutable. Analysis became enshrined as the first step to anywhere and when a research effort failed it was assumed that the analysis had been inadequate. Upon this rock the social sciences almost foundered until statistics were brought to bear so that results could fit the ordained mold. But even there dissatisfaction lurked because the individual was asked to fit his purposes to the average or pay the price of custom tailoring. The price was high. Because the machines which science had so lovingly invented were unable to adapt their products to the individual. Mass production was good! Wasn’t it?

Not for its own sake it isn’t, although it was for people who had need of things — for people who hungered. We are not hungry now but we have appetites, and appetites arise in wanting something that responds to us. THE PRINCIPAL ACTIVITY AT E.E.L. IS THE SEARCH FOR RELEVANCE. Consider for yourself: what kind of clothes you buy, what kind of transportation, what kind of office do you work in? what foods do you consume? How much of your daily time and effort is involved either in adapting the above to your purposes or in tolerating their unrelenting permanence? Consider transportation. Oh sure, you can select the car you want from among 200 models! Then get behind the wheel. Where can you go in backed-up traffic? You may be waiting for the highway department to widen, and lengthen, and make safer and cleaner the roads you drive on. But let us be quite clear on this: Every step which makes driving more convenient proliferates the future use of more automobiles than it will serve. This foregoing concern illustrates our attitudes as ecologists. Consider, though, another aspect of our cars. One great advantage of the horse was that he learned your most accustomed routes, and could proceed along it without further attention on your part. The automobile, however... What E.E.L. can demonstrate is that self-organizing systems can take over redundant, repetitious matters and let you operate in a manner more suited to your talents. It is not our goal to isolate the operator from his performance. Far from it.

We want instead to allow him the freedom to remain in touch with those parts of the process where the maximum of information lies that is of relevance to him. We don’t want to throw out TV. We would rather make it more relevant to the viewer by changing itself in a manner that depends upon where he is looking. We don’t want to eliminate telephones. We merely have come to distrust the reliance of Western man on totally verbal communication. And adding a TV picture to the process does not improve communications all that much. It is simply the Western way. E.E.L. is ready to develop a system which would allow you to hold hands at a distance. We call it Telegrasp. Or Communicouch. E.E.L.’S INTEREST IN COMMUNICATION IS THAT OF THE TOTAL ECOLOGY OF HUMAN DIALOGUE. 

How did E.E.L. come to where it is at present? Was it planned? Did it follow a program? Where did the money come from? What return on the investment was promised or expected? The roots of E.E.L. go back in time a few years but can best be summarized as arising from the ideas and personal associations of a common mentor, Dr. Warren S. McCulloch, one of the fathers of the field of Cybernetics. It was he, directly or indirectly, who introduced most of us to each other, and who gave us the confidence that the ideas we wanted to work out in some form of embodiment had the timeliness we hoped for, and had the momentum of history behind them. Another individual, who must remain anonymous at his own request, saw the potential for the ideas that were on their way to becoming concrete and provided the capital for a one-and-one-half year all-out effort of a half dozen people to commit themselves solely to the project.

No return commitment was demanded although if the “next round” of E.E.L. is successful, there is a built-in return to the original investor which would hardly allow more than a break-even. The loft space at 33 Lewis Wharf was obtained in late 1967 and two computers and an avalanche of tools and materials were brought together there. 

The initial effort was not so much terminated as interrupted in July of 1969 and a period of metamorphosis was entered upon to promote a reassessment of the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the various projects which had been pursued and to look outward toward industry and other sources of funds for a continuation of the laboratory. During the active period of the laboratory’s operation a considerable amount of film footage was exposed showing laboratory people and projects in process — both in “real time” and in speeded-up “time-lapse” photography — and a 20-minute digest with soundtrack was edited from it. 

The results do not necessarily yet speak for themselves. One of our big problems to date is the essential difficulty of setting into verbal or visual form what we consider to be expressible only in some as-yet-to-be-invented direct language of experience. It is, in fact, toward an implementation of such a language that we have been working. If we had at hand working prototypes of the devices about which we talk so much, we would not have to talk. The ability to connect another person into a complex, interactive, responsive system would convey the message. He would walk away perhaps also unable to name it; but now he would “know”. He would truly have “grasped” rather than merely having been touched.

Many of the devices we talk about have worked in prototype form at one time, only to have evolved. Some were for the process of evolving into new embodiments that they “worked” only by and only recognizably to the inventor. We do not apologize for that. The devices and their erstwhile working have become our “words” for describing the processes of exploration and evolution. Those that are relevant can be made to work again, and work better than before. The range of applications to which we would like to put our emergent technology is vast and touches everywhere that man would like to have a closer communication with his environment. 

We want to put him into control of a responsive dialogue with perceptual grasping of communication about himself inside and outside and in time and space, larger and smaller than he has had access to formerly in his living spaces: on earth and in houses, under the water, in his clothes, at his job, outdoors, his communication with others, his understanding of cultural flow and change, his transportation systems, his reuse and recycling of waste materials, his potential for communication with other species, his potential for high-information exchange: verbal, non-verbal, physical, metaphysical, with technology, without technology, his understanding of how complex systems work by being able to plunge his hands or himself into a facsimile or computer-based model and thereby become part of that system; such embodiments require on-line, real-time application of a “dedicated” computer. 

We at E.E.L. claim that the realization of the above-mentioned projects in workable form is well within the current state-of-the-art and that in fact we already have the necessary components developed. We invite inquiry. ENVIRONMENTAL ECOLOGY LABORATORY 33 Lewis Wharf Boston, Massachusetts 02110 (617)-523-6167