Plato, Pythagoras, and Solon; fresco in St. George’s Church, Suceava, Romania, sixteenth century

Three Proposals for a Transmediale Discussion


I am going to be in conversation (remotely) with Thomas Moynihan at Transmediale.   I was supposed to propose something about technology and philosophy and here were the options I sent over to Thomas. He selected one, the others I may  expand upon at a later date.

1) Augury in the 21 century

Since the caves of Lascaux, humans have attempted to predict and influence the future. Today we have scenario planning and future studies that are supported by the methodology of simulation and empowered by computation.   In the past, there was a symbolic relationships between the world and the instruments of prediction e.g, bones in a certain formation meant rain was coming. Today prediction is a two step process, data collection, world building, and interpretation/selection. The bones and their environment (ie milieu) report data points that are reduced to quantitative values. These values are used to along with the perturbations of variables to construct a variety of worlds. We then pick the most likely of worlds as our prediction.  [THIS last sentence would want to rework – it is not phenomenological – but I cant think of the world I want to use, I also feel like I might want to talk about Simondon and his notion of the relationship between magic, aesthetics, science and ethics]

What is the relationship between the simulations of today and the folk practices of divination, and what can we learn from an archaeology of prediction?

2) Modalities of Data Visualization

Data visualization of often the end result of a simulation or some sort of numerical analysis, and used either for informative or aesthetic purposes.

When we engage in data visualization, we are engaging in data mapping. All these mappings are contingent since there is nothing in the data that forces the visualization to be a certain way: why a dot and not a line, or example. In the face of this radical contingency, how can we engage in data visualization or data mapping in a rigorous way?  One criterion that moves beyond modalities of necessary and contingent is coherence or incoherence, and this also has some history in the work of philosophers of science such as  Carnap. So perhaps a better visualization is which is more coherent and encompasses more variables.

How can we create a robust framework to ground data visualization, and data mapping in general?


3) Hypothetical Ethics

Most people would agree that we have a responsibility to clean an oil spill that we cause. How about if we run a simulation that predicts with 70% probability robots will create too many paperclip and thus destroy the world. Is it our responsibility to prevent this? The Nicomachean Ethics does not  have section on how to take responsibility for probabilistic future events. Neither does Kant’s  moral imperative address this issue.  I posit we are in new ethical territory created by computational simulation, and we need a new framework for understanding how we ought to act, taking into considerations notions of risk, probability, and simulation robustness.

What are the new rules of actions in regards to probabilistic future events predicted by a computer simulation?,_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_T%C3%A9m%C3%A9raire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken.jpg

Milieu and Mood


I feel like these are the modes of 21st century philosophy and I might be late to the game.  I figure the last big philosophical revolution was Deleuze and the notion that everything is style (note style is not form and this is my pet theory).

There is also the unnoticed revolution of Flusser and the notion of the techno-image which supplants the SUBJECT-OBJECT distinction with the PROJECT.

My whole problem with the PROJECT is that it is arbitrary. To use another au courant term – it is contingent. Context is contingent. This makes it unstable, or ungrounded, or flimsy.  Since we can no longer rely on truth to figure out what is correct, we need another form of judgement or consensus. Not each project is equal. How are they unequal? And what quality does this unequality exhibit?

There are a few ways we could go with this.  The first being – what is a project. Well, it is a world. Ok what kind of world. We have different worlds. We have simulated worlds that are constructed by rules, and we have environments (moods and milieus ) that are constructed by perception. We probably have other kinds or worlds too, but there are two kinds of people in the world and I am one of them.

I am reading Program Earth -because I owned it for years – and then I had a dream that I had to read it. This book is about the construction of milieus through sensors – like heat sensors and cameras etc to collect data about an ecosystem and present a world.  Creatures are dying or creatures are living or biodiversity is increasing or whatever the story is.

The milieu shifts as the sensors calibrate and the data is pruned and aggregated according to its own algorithms as well.   Both the sensors and the raw data is calibrated into the conscious act of world building or milieu building.

What is the landscape as perceived by the sensors and delineated by the data? It is probably not like Turner’s seascapes? Does it matter for us to aesthetically view these worlds? Are these worlds even for human consumption or are they for machine consumption or policy consumption or capitalist consumption? Is there anything involving pleasure in the creation of a landscape?

This is world building through data collection and calibration.  Calibration has now replaced cybernetics as the feedback loop that regulates a system. The sensors are the way we create the world.  Is every world equally useful?  What is the criterion here for using one world over another?