Digital Milieu

Philosophy of Digital Objects

Note: Tetsurô and Simondon’s concept of the milieu (1)

In Sein und Zeit, Heidegger attempted to reduce space to time, this reduction was carried out in two steps, firstly Hediegger reduces space to spatiality; secondly he analysed spatiality according to temporal structures, which he calls care, or Sorge. The Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsurô came to Germany in 1927, when Heidegger just published Sein und Zeit and took over Husserl’s position in Freiburg. Tetsurô, was recently appointed as professor of ethics in Kyoto university, like most of his Japanese contemporaries, such as Keiji Nishitani, were shocked by the through analysis of existence in this work. Tetsurô spent the following year in Europe, studying and travelling. The next year, when he went back to Japan, he started planning his most well known book Fūdo, which has been translated into different european languages: Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study (1961), Fūdo – Wind und Erde. Der Zusammenhang zwischen Klima und Kultur (1992, German), and Fūdo, le milieu humain (2011, French). The Kanji of Fūdo(風土) literally means wind and earth as we see in the German translation, but it wouldn’t mean too much. The german subtitle, as the english one, emphasizes the relation between climate and culture. But Fūdo doesn’t only mean climate, it carries something more subtle, it could also means sentiment of belongingness, and material-social conditions. The french translation, le milieu humain seems to me closer to what Tetsurô really means. Read the rest of this entry »

The condition of Reading (1) – Katherine Hayles and Nicolas Carr

From Hayle’s website/UCLA

Originally posted at the Hybrid Publishing Lab Notepad

Publications expect readers, unless the author ignores the publicin his publication. Understanding reading is one of the major conditions for imagining new ways of publishing. The condition of reading also depends on means of writing, writing means publishing, then we enter a circle of reading-writing, that constitutes without exaggeration the social, political, economical condition for acting and thinking. Jack Goody has explored in The Domestication of the Savage Mind, how the emergence of writing, in its most primitive form, transform these conditions in human history. The use of tablets in the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamian as writing system become today we may call the first system of metadata, that record stocks of potteries, cattle, etc. And David Graeber further in his Debt- The First 5,000 Years, showed that such a writing system is actually a book-keeping system, usually a new conquerer destroyed this annotation-writing system to resettle all debts, and restarts a new economic, social and political regime (And it is from this example, Graeber proposed a destruction of the current global accounting system to start anew). It is also true when writing spread out in ancient Greece, it made laws accessible to citizens in the polis, that is also to say the concept of democracy.

These technics of writing are in constant progress, from pictogram, phonogram, to stamp making, to printing, and now we arrive at digital publication at the mid of last century. We have to bear in mind that technical innovation always underlines displacement, displacement doesn’t mean replacement, displacing something means rendering something before it obsolete, but it doesn’t mean it could replace it, including all its values and functions. The emergence of the web brought us a new perspective of publication which is no longer linear, but one that allows one jumps from one reading to another. This vision of hypertext was already imagined by Ted Nelson before the invention of the web. In order words the web realized some of the visions of Nelson, particularly on the aspect that the web is a hypertext system that links all relevant literatures together. Then came the war of reference-searching (or an economy of links), this is what we know today as search engines, and then we have the history of Yahoo, Archie, Veronica, Altavista, Google, etc. Searching is an experience which cannot be separated from online reading today, it can be searching the definition of a word, searching theory of an person not well explained in the reading, etc. The new possibilities, not only those of business and innovation but also new way of acquiring knowledge – reading – open a new terrain to reconsidering the condition of reading-writing and the social-political transformation corresponding to these conditions. And these questions are are the core of digital humanities, if we still want to keep this name. Read the rest of this entry »

The notion of information in Simondon [1]

What exactly is information in the thoughts of Gilbert Simondon? Is it different from what has been understood by Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener? This question seems to be crucial to understand firstly the concepts of transduction, individuation, amplification, disparity etc; secondly the relation between Simondon and cybernetics: is Simondon a cybernetician? But it seems to me that the responses from the commentators of Simondon remain unsatisfactory, firstly there is a misunderstanding of “information” in cybernetics; secondly Simondon tries to distant himself from his fellow cyberneticians, but in fact in his lecture notes and conference papers [60s and 70s] Simondon spoke like a neuroscientist today.

This series of notes attempt to understand the notion of information in Simondon and its relevant implications to address the current technological development. In fact, the misunderstanding of information seems to be normal, because even in cybernetics Shannon and Wiener share two different understandings of ‘information’. It seems that some commentators of Simondon tend to propose such correlation: Cybernetics- form, Simondon- information even though the term information was firstly made known by the cyberneticians. For example in Muriel Combes’s Simondon Individu et collectivité –Pour une philosophie du transindividuel, while explaining Simondon’s critique of hylomorphism Read the rest of this entry »

The Theatre of Engineers – Materialism on an uncanny Stage

The Theatre of Engineers – Materialism on an uncanny Stage, YUK HUI

An invited speech given at the Atelier “Philosophie et Ingénierie”, at Chambery, France, 16 May, 2011. This is also a drafted paper in preparation for publication.

This talk is a reflection on what Tim Berners-Lee calls ‘philosophical engineering’. There are several ways we can discuss about philosophy and engineering. For example, we can talk about the philosophical implication within the discipline engineering, especially how philosophical logic and philosophical understanding of language can be used to build machines, in this sense, philosophy becomes kind of conceptual-engineering, and engineering is necessarily philosophical. We can also work on the question of ethics and technology which is becoming more and more important. We can also have a philosophical reflection on engineering in order to discover a cultural history, and also to reflect on its development. For examples, we can see in the works of Martin Heidegger, Jacques Ellul, Gilbert Simondon, Carl Mitcham etc. But it is surprising to note that there hasn’t been much discussion about engineers, what we can find are only historical materials or biographies of genius engineers, for example Leonardo da Vinci. In most of the philosophical reflections, it seems as if the engineers didn’t exist or do not have a place to act, but only machines and humans. But such carelessness nevertheless ignores that engineers are the one who are building the world, they do it by projecting their own ways of seeing, and hence transformed the way of our seeing. On the one hand we have to ask how can we understand their practice, and engage more with the engineers’ work? On the other hand, the engineers have to reflect on the reality and their way of acting. This paper attempts to tackle this ignored question, and sketch a possible way of interventions. It starts and ends with a reflection on what Tim Berners-Lee calls philosophical engineers:

We are not analyzing a world, we are building it. We are not experimental philosophers, we are philosophical engineers. We declare “this is the protocol”. When people break the protocol, we lament, sue, and so on. But they tend to stick to it because we show that the system has very interesting and useful properties.

This title ‘philosophical engineers’ is probably one of the most dangerous words if we understand it intuitively. Though Berners-Lee proposed this term since physics was once called practical philosophy, so engineering can be related to philosophy as well. But isn’t engineering itself philosophical at the very beginning? This is one of the things I wanted to demonstrate. Also, having the prefix ‘philosophical’ kind of suggests that engineers are now judges of truth, and that makes it dangerous. In fact, we can easily associate Berners-Lee’s statement with Marx’s thesis on Feuerbach. In this famous short text, Marx criticized Feuerbach’s materialism that he only concerns how humans are affected by the world, but forgets that humans are the one who change the world. The criticism is concretized in the last sentence: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. Marx’s tone is repeated today not by the revolutionaries, but Tim Berners-Lee: engineers build the world, even if you refuses, finally you will have to live with it. But if we didn’t clarify the above questions, the word ‘philosophical engineer’ remains obscure. We may want to ask do these philosophical engineers with Marx’s gesture, miss Feuerbach’s point? This demands a hermeneutics interpretation of the engineering culture, which is always a looking back (après coup) and also a projection (le projet).
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