15.461 mind/body; art & information theory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 01:38:23 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 461.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Charles Ess <cmess@lib.drury.edu> (103)
             Subject: Re: 15.446 bandwidth? mind/body?

       [2] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (62)
             Subject: 10E14

             Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 06:25:07 +0000
             From: Charles Ess <cmess@lib.drury.edu>
             Subject: Re: 15.446 bandwidth? mind/body?

    Dear Willard et al.

    At the risk of self-promotion, let me offer a modest response to your
    comments about the importance of discussing the mind-body issue vis-a-vis
    humanities computing.
    As I point out in a forthcoming article (Cultures in Collision:
    Philosophical Lessons from Computer-Mediated Communication, _Metaphilosophy_
    33 (1/2))
    There is a burgeoning literature on embodiment (especially based in
    phenomenology and hermeneutics - perhaps most significantly, Merleau-Ponty)
    vis-a-vis the largely Cartesian mind/body dualism underlying much of the
    1980s and 1990s postmodern enthusiasm for various forms of liberation in
    cyberspace - ranging from Donna Haraway's famous Cyborg Manifesto to John
    Perry Barlow's 1996 Declaration - and found, more originally, in Gibson's
    _Neuromancer_'s interesting contempt for "meatspace."
    I'm working on a more complete bibilography, but I can happily mention here:

    ...a specifically philosophical discussion of the nature of the self as
    illuminated by interaction with computers is at work in the earliest stages
    of Artificial Intelligence, and the debates, for example, between more
    Cartesian views that emphasize the radical split between body and
    reason/mind as the intelligence to be replicated by the computer, and
    nondualistic views represented in the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart
    (see Bardini, 2000) and Winograd and Flores (1987).
    Bardini, T. (2000). Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the
    Origins of Personal Computing. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
    Winograd, T. & Flores, F. (1987). Understanding Computers and Cognition: a
    New Foundation for Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    [contra] the "ectopian" hopes of Hans Moravec (1988) [i.e., of downloading
    consciousness as a purely disembodied Cartesian mind into a computer] ...
    is increasingly supplanted by epistemologies and senses of self marked by
    the inextricable connection between body and mind. So, for example,
    Katherine Hayles characterizes the "post-human" in terms of a specific
    epistemological agenda: "reflexive epistemology replaces
    objectivismembodiment replaces a body seen as a support system for the
    mind; and a dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines
    replaces the liberal humanist subjects manifest destiny to dominate and
    control nature" (Hayles, 1999, 288). Hayles thus shifts from an objectivist
    epistemology (resting on a dualistic separation between subject-object, and
    thus between subjective vs. objective modes of knowledge, coupled with the
    insistence that only "objective" modes of knowledge are of value), to an
    epistemology which (echoing Kant) stresses the inextricable interaction
    between subject and object in shaping our knowledge of the world. In the
    same way, Hayles further focuses precisely on the meanings of embodiment in
    what many now see as a post-Cartesian understanding of mind-and-body in
    Hayles, K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
    Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Along these directions I would also recommend:

    Hillis (1999) critiques Virtual Reality as resting on postmodern/Cartesian
    dualisms, one resulting precisely in the sort of schizophrenia that
    Kaltenborn discusses (see especially Hillis, ch. 6, "Identity, Embodiment,
    and Place VR as Postmodern Technology).

    Hillis, Ken. (1999). Digital Sensations: Space, Identity and Embodiment in
    Virtual Reality. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
    Kaltenborn, Olaf. (2001). Der groe Karneval: Im Cyberspace ist das ganze
    Jahr Fasching [The Great Carnival: the Whole Year is Mardi Gras in
    Cyberspace]. Journal Phnomenologie 15:

    Alison Adam has written on embodiment vs. the mind/body split as embedded in
    technology, including an essay online:

    I'm especially fond of:
    Becker, Barbara. (2000). Cyborg, Agents and Transhumanists. Leonardo 33,
    (5): 361-365.
    ______. (2001). Sinn und Sinnlichkeit: Anmerkungen zur Eigendynamik und
    Fremdheit des eigenen Leibes [Sense and Sensibility: Remarks on the
    Distinctive Dynamics and Strangeness of Ones Own Body]. In Mentalitt und
    Medialitt , edited by L. Jger. Munich: Fink Verlag.

    As well:
    Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Identity. In Unspun, edited by T. Swiss, pp.
    17-29. New York: New York University Press. Available online:

    Brown, J.S. & P. Duguid. (2000). The Social Life of Information. Stanford:
    Stanford University Press.

    Dertouzos, M. (2001). The unfinished revolution: Human-centered computers
    and what they can do for us. New York: HarperCollins.

    Finally, the work of philosophers of technology Don Ihde - most especially,
    so far as I can tell second-hand, his _Bodies in Technology_ - and Hubert
    Dreyfus, _On the Internet_ - include attention to embodiment as ways of
    grounding their critiques of some of the more extravagant claims made for
    electronic culture in the 1990s.

    I hope this is useful. In turn, I would ask HUMANISTS who may have some
    bibliographic suggestions to share to send them my way, if they also care to

    So, dear Willard: feel like you just invented a field?


    Charles Ess
    Director, Interdisciplinary Studies Center
    Drury University
    900 N. Benton Ave. Voice: 417-873-7230
    Springfield, MO 65802 USA FAX: 417-873-7435
    Home page: http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
    Co-chair, CATaC 2002: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/catac02/
    "...to be non-violent, we must not wish for anything on this earth which the
    meanest and lowest of human beings cannot have." -- Gandhi

             Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 06:26:13 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: 10E14


    I have been fond of pointing to Judith Schlanger's call in _Invention
    intellectuelle_ to the recognize the importance and productive nature of
    the activity of popularization. It is that discursive retransmission
    through various combinations and permutations of concepts, ideas and
    expressions that eventually sets the ground for the incremental emergence
    of novelty.

    It was with great pleasure that I read recently an article that both
    popularized information theory and gave some excellent examples of the
    kind of combinatory art that the massification of bits implies.
    Jean-Claude Chirollet in "Art et theorie de l'information dans l'oeuvre
    d'Abraham MOLES (1920-1992)" published in the Octover 2001 issue of
    _Archee_ gives a wonderful synposis of the literary machine that is
    Raymond Queneau's _Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes_ . Taking up a 1962
    manifesto by Moles, Chirollet suggests that, in a mannerist turn, art has
    now become intrigued by the nature of possibility and that criticism
    should follow suit. The aesthetic object is a field of permanent
    permutations. The ludic is privileged.

    Information theory as presented by Chriollet appears to have been centred
    on messages and has assumed stable receivers. Entropy affects messages:
    "tout message, y compre le message artistique, possede une tendence
    naturelle a evoluer, par usure et degradation de l'information qu'il
    enferme, ver la banalite d'un bruit informe." Since I had chosen to print
    out this text, and suspecting that Chirollet's example of Queneau assumed
    a reader that had already mastered the machine's instructions (i.e. one
    that did not need to learn how to produce the subsitutions or even the
    natural language of the text), I quickly turned over the page and sketched
    out a quadrant with the vertical axis representing the reciever and the
    horizontal, the aesthetic object, and applied the devolution towards
    entropy to both:

    - - - +
    + - + +

    (-, -) both receiver and object are stable (entropy poor)
    (-, +) the object degrades and the receiver stays stable
    (+, -) the receiver's organization falters or is not yet mature
    (-, -) maximum information for both object and receiver

    I then wondered if a general systems approach where the user is considered
    as part of the machine could not produce a quadrant where aesthetic
    response could be modelled in a program/data relation.

    What resulted was a typology for the various ways one can interact with a
    computing machine or rather how one could describe how a user shifts from
    one type of interaction to another:

    (-,-) neither program nor data change

    (-, +) same program, different data
    (+, -) change program, same data

    (+, +) change program, change data

    Authoring in multimedia, where one does change programs and data often,
    would be an example of a situation of potentially great fluidity in the
    consciousness of the reciever and in the shape of the aesthetic object.
    Text encoding of a corpus could fall under the head of "same program,
    different data". "Same data, different program" could be exemplified by
    comparative stylistics. Interactions where neither the program nor the
    data change are games.

    There are different ways to map such a typology to the activities of
    computing humanists. This particular mapping raises a question where the
    concerns of Tito Orlandi and Andrew Mctavish might intersect: games as a
    route to formalism?

    The URL to Archee is

    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    the networks teem with teams

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