Songs of Birth

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Embryos do not sing.

For embryos do not live in a probabilistic world, there is no need for the negotiation of codes and playing with them, both the codes and the negotiations. We even may not ask how the world could look like for an embryo, because there is no world. The vast majority of all relations of an embryo are purely internal. Obviously, the embryo exhausts all its possibilities of becoming when submersed in a tank. Embryos are professional solipsists. They are their own environment.

Embryos are able to absorb violent transformations that are dictated by its plan. The condition of the embryonic transforms the plan into morphogenetic processes. Foldings, transfers, inversions, and above all, melting of tissue. The fingers of the hand of vertebrates, including humans, do not just simply grow out like a branch in a plant. Fingers exist because tissue is removed by melting and “recycling” it. Between the DNA and the body there is the embryo. It constitutes even a different kind of corporeality.

As always with the particular factuality of biological systems we have to take it along the road into abstractness if we would like to learn from it. This road is, of course, not prebuilt. It is never, to be more precise. If we will build it in a proper way, we will find neat junctions into architecture, urbanism and the theory of machine-based episteme as well. Of course, we are not the first ones delving into this subject matter. Think of Simondon and his individuation, or again Deleuze, to whom we owe so much also for this essay that actually is about the principle of embryonic with regard to Singapore, Rem Koolhaas and his writing “Singapore Songlines”.

Anyway, these transformations that embryos undergo, this violence is a direct consequence of the simultaneity of the presence of a plan and the absence of play. We may even turn this relation around: Wherever we find a plan and processes that implement its actualization we may describe the respective context is an embryological context. Wherever we find violence (of one kind or the other) and its tolerance (of one kind or the other), we may describe the respective context as an embryological context. Yet, we must be careful regarding our valuation. From the perspective of the embryo, even the most brutal processes of folding, melting, secondary morphogenesis and renewal are perhaps not brutal at all.

Here we also find cybernetics as a symptom for a societies’ infancy, if not for still being embryo. It is not by mere chance that Michel Serres came up with the idea of Hominiscence only in the late 1990ies (published 2001), well after the retreat of cybernetics. Any cybernetical structure is the materialized plan, it is apriori closed, anti-probabilistic, any structural extension would result in its collapse. Cybernetic structures—which are actually quite rare in natural systems—may be regarded even as being proto-embryonic, as they can’t result in morphogenesis. Cybernetics works only for perfect solipsists like embryos, or, in a slightly different perspective, for perfectly constrained sub-systems.

Embryos may be conceived as instances of a principle or a concept that actualizes the possibility of material differentiation and growth. Embryos develop. Etymologically, to develop relates to replace, unwrap (like the German “entwickeln”, Swedish “utwickla”, or Portugues “desenvolver”), the particle “en” melted away from “des-en-velop”. The something that needs to be there as the entity is going to be unwrapped is the plan.

From here we can develop this concept of the embryo in a straightforward manner. It is a construction by inversion. Inversion here means to select one of the key “properties” or elements of the concept and to invert it, which of course generates something very different, compared to its ancestor. Remarkably enough, “construction by inversion” also goes far beyond of negation and dialectics, it is a deeply positive move.

Well, in our context, there are two main routes for doing that. Either we drop its inherent solipsism, confronting the becoming with the probabilistic, open world. If we still focus on the more material aspects, we arrive at the concept of evolution. The second route of inversion drops the focus on the material. Usually, we call differentiation and growth in the domain of the immaterial.1 “learning”. Hence, it would not be reasonable at all to say that embryos learn, or that they evolve. Concerning the general concept of differentiation we found now a trinity of only slightly overlapping language games, comprising development, evolution and learning, or embryos, populations and brains, or plans, probabilization and mediatization. Admittedly, minds create secondary, immaterial or virtual embryonic morphogenesis as well as probabilized and highly volatile populations. The immanence of thought is located between populations of informational germ layers of interpretation, where the respective morphology settles in the realm of the symbolic. In more philosophical terms, we could express this trinity as form, process and virtualisation, and even more abstract the particular, the species and the general. By means of all these parallel perspectives it should be clear for now that this trinity establishes a fundamental space (which is an aspectional space) for the language game of change.

In any real system, these three aspects of differentiation as mentioned above overlap, of course. For there is, for instance, no clear separation between the material and the immaterial (see footnote 1); there is also no perfect solipsism, which could claim that there are no relations to some kind of “outside”. And everybody knows that plans are subject to failure precisely due to the probabilistic influences from this outside as well as from the processes going to implement them.

In biology, these three aspects are handled by, or even just applied as three perspectives for asking about the underlying mechanisms. During the last two decades or so, biologists started to drop the idealistic distinction between the individual and the species by talking about the respective problematic field as evo-devo. Both, evolutionary and embryonic differentiation are characterized by constraints and potentials that are inherently implied by the process “it-self” .

So what’s about other domains, such as the Urban.2, or machine-based episteme? Urban environments are full of change, are representatives of change par excellence, and so is the condition of the Urban. In many cities, even rather small ones, we find urban planning agencies or urban development offices. In Singapore, however, which will constitutes our target in this piece, we find an Urban Redevelopment Authority—note the “re-“ here! Yet, so far we won’t find any Urban Evolution Department… How to speak about change processes without invoking ideology, and, most significant, beyond the particularity of a given “case”? Could the concept of the abstract embryo be helpful for that? And if, how?

Restricting questions about change to the level of the embryonic seems to be tempting. Yet, design efforts directed to the Urban hardly can be limited to the first level. Doing so instead causes strange conditions such as extreme forms of neoteny, or even embryoteny. From the perspective of a embryotenic entity, birth is conceived as a threat. Above we have seen that the embryonic level is closely related to the particular, restricting design activity regarding the Urban to the first level thus means to get trapped by a representational fallacy. Any prolonged development activity does not only deny birth and the possibility of learning as a mechanism of smooth adaptation, it necessarily results in “re”-development and the violence of the embryonic.

Of course, in such domains outside of biological structures we do neither find “eggs” nor “placentas”, even not metaphorically. We should avoid to call a city an “organism”, or “super-organism”. Yet, asking about the instantiation and orchestration of change processes in cities (regarding the Urban) or machines (regarding understanding and consciousness), we certainly can apply a sufficiently generalized concept of differentiation, such as we put it above as the trinity of plans (embryos), probabilization (populations) and mediatization (brains). This trinity establishes an aspectional space of differentiability and its expressibility. This space also comprises the Deleuzean concept of the differential (as a structure) as well as Simendonean individuation (as a process).3, both in their full complexity.

The obvious question regarding any designed process of change thus concerns about the mechanisms and the implied changes of quality when moving around in this space of differentiability. Practically, in actual cases we have to choose a particular differential weighting regarding the trinity of development, evolution and learning.

Not all moves are possible in that space, and not all possible moves are smooth and painless. We also should not expect that those somehow disrupting transitions in this space such as birth are taking place only once, or as a unique event. Perhaps, we should not conceive the moves and movements in this space as transitions, since the relation

Embryos are still not born..

This Essay

This essay is the third of a row about Rem Koolhaas’ trilogy4 comprising three texts titled “The Generic City”, “Junkspace” and “Singapore Songlines”. The former two are much more abstract than the third, which actually seems to strive for some kind of understanding the Singaporean condition. It is thus the most extensive in the trilogy, bringing in a wealth of details.

The resulting trilogy of our own, established by “The Generic City – a Précis”, “Junkspace, extracted”, and this essay accompanies our investigation about the possibility and the form of a “Theoretical Architecture” as well as a “Theory of Architecture” and the role of “Theory in Architecture”. These theoretical moves are explored under the umbrella of a philosophically guided approach that we call Urban Reason.

Here, our main subject of interest is Singapore and its particular quality. Such it turns also into a critique of Koolhaas’ investigation. Our main proposal about Singapore is that it is best conceived as an Urban Embryo, where the notion of embryo as well as that of the Urban is a rather abstract one, of course. Yet, everything in Singapore starts making sense only before this background.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

Dreaming Koolhaas

Songlines refer to the cultural heritage. They convey something about the Life Form of the culture’s past as well as its presence, yet not about those things that could be clearly spoken about. Its a kind of myth, though it is less and at the same time more than a myth. Actually, even just referring to them establishes important constraints on any further individual and collective action. Songlines are like collective daydreams, often expressed in non-textual music or images or actions. Writing about someone else’s Songlines is thus a delicate issues, since one is going to confront the speakable with those issues about which we can’t speak, nor which we could show or demonstrate.

Previously, we called Rem Koolhaas a story-teller. More recently, his works showed a tendency towards cross-mediality and genericity. Such it seems as if he’d remembered his roots as journalist and experimental moviemaker. In an interview from 1999 (to a German newspaper), he describes himself, his major profession, as a writer and author—at that time—, yet not as an architect or even an urbanist.

Story-telling, .consolidated into a more or less secular and profane form first by Boccaccio through his Decamerone5 is a form and a mirror of human reason. Reason exceeds rationality by far, as for instance ethics can’t be fully determined by rationality, or the necessary contradictions inherent to complex, living entities and their social organization defy rationality as well.

At this point it is quite interesting to see that Koolhaas, in his earlier, still more modernist “configuration,” relates evolution and stories almost by definition. In Singapore Songlines [1]—which is from 1995—he writes:

Singapore is a city without qualities (maybe that is an ultimate form of deconstruction, and even of freedom). But its evolution—its songline—continues: from enlightened postwar UN triumvirate, first manifestation of belated CIAM apotheosis, overheated metabolist metropolis, now dominated by a kind of Confucian postmodernism in which the brutal early housing slabs are rehabilitated with symmetrical ornament. (p.1077/78)

Singapore Songlines appeared in S, M, X, XL [2], a remarkable cross-over-view about his oeuvre up to the mid-nineties. There he also demonstrates how AMO/OMA approached regional cultures, i.e. a particular city, by empiric studies for the purpose of learning about the city (e.g. the study about Lagos, Nigeria). In the case of Singapore, Koolhaas added a detailed investigation addressing the particular history of Singapore, resulting in an almost hermeneutical attitude.

The passage quoted above is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, he ascribes the historical course of Singapore a hidden tendency and consistency, which nevertheless consists for large parts of unintended effects (and affects), despite the particular culture of planning that prevails in Singapore.

Secondly, equating evolution with a songline, i.e. mythical sequential order of undefined dimensionality, but surely not of a single one. Such, he conceives of the evolution of a local cultural arrangement as kind of a generic story, but he also conceives of the songlines as evolution. The former bringing in inceptions, bursting fountains of dreamt cross-media from buried experiences, the latter invoking the element of probability, constraints, symbiosis, extinction and inheritance. The former purely immaterial, the latter constantly crossing the border between the material dimension of the differentiating body and the probabilistic, informational dynamics of populations

Equating both, .the songlines and evolution, is provocative in its own, especially if it is performed in such a parenthetic manner. Probably, it is used by Koolhaas to indicate a particular constitution regarding the “resistance of the existential”6. By qualifying Singapore as a “city without qualities” he is actually pointing to the same direction. In particular, Robert Musil described the advent of the age of the probabilized conditions—the times around 1910 in the agonizing Austrian monarchy—in his novel “The man without qualities” [5]. Far from being without qualities—his main figure Ulrich has been called of being without qualities as an offending act by another figure inside the novel—, Ulrich is described as a person who explicitly tries to develop the manifoldness based on his individuality, albeit he as an individual is detached from traditions and immersed into the upcoming “mass society”, that is, a population where everything gets probabilized. In his novel, Musil unfolded a broad view about the problematics of societal transformation, particularly the relation between the individual and the fundamentally changing society at large.

Without doubt, these references as introduced by Koolhaas en passant all apply to contemporary Singapore as well as to its history, the subject of Koolhaas’ 80-page essay. Yet, his piece constitutes also a particular point of departure for Koolhaas’ own Songlines, which should eventually be completed through “The Generic City” (also contained in S, M, X, XL) and particularly through “Junkspace,” besides his architectural works such as the Dutch embassy or the Casa da Musica.

In 1995, some seven years before his piece “Junkspace,” Koolhaas was still defending modernism despite he also felt uneasy about it. In his short critical piece “What ever happened to Urbanism?”, which also appeared in S,M,X,XL, he mentioned:

Modernism’s alchemistic promise—to transform quantity into quality through abstraction and repetition—has been a failure, a hoax: magic that didn’t work.

His defense in the Singapore Songlines, though being an implicit one, goes by emphasizing that its goals should not be separated from its way of operation, namely a mechanistic and rationalist program. This, of course, means that he proposes to leave precisely these mechanisms intact:

In Singapore—modernization in its pure form—the forces of modernity are enlisted against the demands of modernism. Singapore’s modernism is lobotomized: from modernism’s full agenda, it has adopted only the mechanistic, rationalistic program and developed it to an unprecedented perfection in a climate of streamlined “smoothness” generated by shedding modernism’s artistic, irrational, uncontrollable, subversive ambitions—revolution without agony.  (p.1041)

Koolhaas’ argument here is almost a romanticist one. First, modernism is no exception to the general condition that the goals of a movement are often shaped by the mixture of historical facts and metaphysical beliefs. Obviously, Koolhaas suggests that it is indeed possible to separate the goals from the operational setup. Such, he fails to recognize the core modernism itself, namely the way that the metaphysical beliefs characterizing modernism—above all “independence”—leads to its particular arrangement of operations.

The point now is that a similarity in the operations is by far not sufficient to conclude about the similarity regarding metaphysical beliefs. Yet, what are the metaphysical beliefs of Singaporeans? And how could a member of a Western society relate to it? For Koolhaas, the latter issue is clear: don’t forget to confirm your return flight (p.1087). This clarity does not hold for the former part; as Koolhaas was not aware about his own metaphysical setup, he barely could get aware that of the Singaporeans. No wonder he feels the whole subject as a troubling one:

[…] the most disconcerting question is: Where are these urgencies buried? (p.1017)

The answer would have been, of course: in his own metaphysical beliefs. At that time, in the mid-1990ies, Koolhaas had apparently been puzzled about what he experienced in Singapore. He was neither able to think appropriately about differentiation , nor, as a consequence, he could find sufficient distance that would have been necessary for an appropriate comparison. I think that at least some important conclusions about Singapore are mis-spelled, at least. In turn Koolhaas misses to construct a launching site for a general theory of urban development. The first thing such a theory would need is an appropriate conceptual work. Elements that could serve as building blocks as well as a basis to speak about changing urban structures or processes.

Koolhaas describes his strategy for approaching the particular constitution of Singapore by reference to biological systems:

I have tried to decipher its reverse alchemy, understand its genealogy, do an architectural genome project, re-create its architectural songlines. (p.1017)

As we already noted, invoking the image of the “songlines” serves Koolhaas as a metaphorical placeholder for evolution and its historical fabric, its abstract tendencies, contingencies and non-linearities. Like in dreams, it is impossible to forecast the results of the actualization of evolution, yet, beyond the contingency there is also a certain consistency in both cases. Such, Koolhaas set up another tuple that reminds to the major domains of living systems: the combinatorics of molecules (chemistry), the basic encoding (plan, genome), its becoming (genealogy, differentiating individuation), and finally the level of evolution.

Unfortunately, this is the only case where Koolhaas’ essay exhibits a tendency towards abstract structuralism that is inspired by the perspectives developed in biology. Even worse, Koolhaas got stuck in an almost phenomenological habit, blending delving and drowning unwittingly into each other. Of course, Koolhaas essay is a great source for any thorough view onto the historical constraints influencing Singapore’s actualization. In this regard, Singapore Songlines his a highly recommended reading. Yet, Koolhaas tried to do more than just bringing together important sources and describing its history. As a story-teller about the Urban, he is interested in a generally applicable approach. It is regarding this “more” where he didn’t succeed.

We already mentioned that his affiliation to modernism could be seen one of the major reasons for this failure. Later, Koolhaas will depart more and more from modernism, resulting in a rather critical attitude towards modernism. This is reflected in his work as well, of course, which—at least regarding some instances—became more and more relational, and thus Deleuzean.

Behind the Curtains

From this context, given by Koolhaas and Singapore, there are mainly two questions that may appear significant. First, how could we approach the case “Singapore” in a more appropriate way? That is, how could we ask about Singapore and learn from it, rather than being drowned by the amount of particular bits of facts about its peculiarity? Second, how could we read Koolhaas’1995-writing with his more recent achievements?

These interrelated achievements we already discussed previously, they could be summarized as three beyonds:

  • Beyond Erecting: story-telling (in its serious, thus playfully comparatist version) as a method and an effect in architecture, regarding the usage of the building—ultimately its Life Form—as well as the building’s relation to architecture itself;
  • – Beyond Form or Function: emphasizing relationality rather than individual form or functionality, with regard to the people using the building as well as the building’s embedding into a given arranged asset of other buildings;
  • Beyond the Differential Equation: employing time as an activated structural element or asset of building, overcoming the reductionist concept of time as a parameter or even as a (passive) dimension, as it appears in commonly used models of usage or change.

In more concise manner we could express these points also by saying that Koolhaas is on an evolutionary trajectory towards an animate architecture, where behavior is the main organizing paradigm. It is somewhat significant not to separate the three parts listed above. Story-telling does NOT mean that the architect is telling his or her own story as an egomaniac, a category populated by “star architects” and “deconstructivists”. It would be a serious misunderstanding to conceive of story-telling in the same vein as programmatic music once did (for instance Mussorgsky, and Bach earlier). Of course, these pieces can be beautiful, but you can’t listen to them very often. Programmatic, or theme-oriented, often also means “programmed”, i.e. closed.

It is much as Nigel Coates expresses it [6]

Heathrow has versions of Yates Wine Lodge. A debased form of narrative adorns every hotel lobby restaurant and ready-furnished apartment reaching out to the experience-hungry consumers. We live in a morass of meaningless quotation […] ( p.160)

It is more appropriate to conceive of story-telling as a particular game (or play) of braiding teller, listeners, the text, and the situation. The art of story-telling is to create a self-sustaining, nested story-process within each of the listeners by means of feeding and growing their interpretive activity. For good stories, and good story-telling events, the story told is never the story of the teller, it is always the story of the listeners. Having a rich history of telling is certainly helpful to create this, yet, it would be a fatal reduction to conceive of architects as “sources” of stories. Koolhaas referred to a similar issue in his essay about “Bigness”.

We repeatedly mentioned that modernism is characterized by the metaphysical belief in independence. As a corollary, time is usually conceived as a single thing, a primitive series of infinitesimal points. Change is usually described using this time as an external parameter, while the description itself, e.g. as some kind of formula, is symmetric with respect to time. this is paradigmatically realized in physics and, (not quite) astonishingly, also in modernist urbanism.

Taking historicity into consideration, as S.Giedion or Aldo Rossi did it, is just the first step towards a communal story-telling. Koolhaas, in contrast, applies a completely different concept of time. We could call this image of time semiotic (Peirce), cinematic (Deleuze), or complex (Prigogine). In any case, the naive physicalist image of time as a series of independent points vanishes. Not only is “presence” not point-like any more. Presence is as long as a particular “sign-process” is ongoing. There are also bundles of different times, created by different compartments that all host (more or less) separate forms of life.

But again, how would we start interesting communal story-telling? At first, it should be clear that there is always some story told by an urban context. For it is always possible to project some coherence to an urban arrangement, even if would be filled with crap urbanism, ugly store-houses, etc. Such, the mere notion of narrative architecture is just empty. What is at stake is the “proto-content” of the story and dynamics of its unfolding. I put it into quotation marks because it is of course clear, we just mentioned it, that the content can’t be predefined. The visible story is always and only the mediation of the actual story. And that is going to be braided by people, citizens, active listeners. Architecture and town design just has to provide suitable settings.

Nigel Coates tries to identify such elements of city design that could support a different kind of story telling. Yet, Coates fails, not only because he does not develop a proper theory of urban story-telling, which would include some reference or even assimilation of cultural theory. He also is not aware of city theory, e.g. that of David Shane. Yet, intuitively he strongly refers to heterotopias, albeit just by example, not by concept. Coates’ work generally suffers from the case-study approach, even as he tries to get some grip onto the more abstract level. In his advanced theory Shane, identifies several types of heterotopias. The common denominator for those is, however, complexity, either as we introduced it, or in the way Koolhaas is celebrating it as Bigness. Coates is far from understanding any of those. He just points to Koolhaas.

It is crucial to understand that those three beyonds  fom a few paragraphs above are deeply incompatible with the metaphysical belief system of modernism, first of all the sacrosanct independence as a primary element. To put it in another way, these three beyonds are actualizations of a deeply a-modern attitude. This includes any kind of post-modernism as well! Yet, so far Koolhaas didn’t develop his own songlines explicitly that follow these particular issues.

Teaching Singapore

Many people, at least the more sensitive ones, get irritated when visiting Singapore for the first time. Despite it reminds to Western urban arrangements at first sight, it turns out to be quite different. Despite Western guys may recognize some or even many elements that contribute to urban arrangements, at second sight these elements turn out to be choreographed in a strikingly different manner, or to establish a choreography of its own. In terms of animate architecture we could say, Singapore behaves differently.  (Just remember that we conceive of behavior quite abstractly, not in terms of organisms!)

Of course, we should understand that these “despites” are just evoked by underlying disappointments of illusions, created by inappropriate projections. In the case of Singapore the illusion that may be easily triggered by the visual similarity to sceneries in Western cities, perhaps spurred by a certain expectation regarding the effect of globalization. In a sense, traveling with a A380 is not traveling any more. There is just a little movement to and from the airport, but the flight as such is like staying overnight at a weird hotel.

Anyway, what remains is that difference at the second sight. And this difference is a very strong one. By now it should be clear that the peculiarity of Singapore can’t be found on the surface, where empiricists could hope that counting frequencies of whatsoever could show us “directly” the representative differences. Even a latent state variable analysis wouldn’t reveal anything meaningful. This applies, of course, not only to the case of Singapore.

Yet, again, what are the metaphysical beliefs of Singaporeans? Of which achievements are Singaporeans proud of?

In order to understand Singapore, on the level of the individual as well as on the level of the whole state, we have to be clear where they come from. In a sense, Singapore repeats the typical European transformation from non-urban to urban structures, yet in an extremely condensed form, both in the spatial as well as in the temporal dimension. This renders mechanisms visible that otherwise are hidden by vast amounts of historical and contingent particulars. To put it in Foucaultian terms: How could we describe the field of proposals, the space of everything that Singapore could think, and how could we describe the fields of forces that are at the roots of its specific governmentality? Such questions are part of what we could call “Archaelogy of the Urban”.

As a state, Singapore was born by an act of segregation. Yet, it didn’t set apart itself, it has been cast out by Malaysia. The Malayan government enforced the founding of the state because it considered the conditions on the island of Singapore as highly pathological, indeed so bad that it was considered as being incurable. Well, the conditions indeed have been quite bad. In the case of Singapore, the state was born into a chaos. The formal political state was not even accompanied by any organizational structure, nor such a thing as political awareness among its factual inhabitants. From the perspective of the perinatal Singapore there wasn’t anything to build upon.

At that time, in the beginning of the 1960ies, a lot of Chinese people have been living on the island. This brought the structure of the family as a clan into the political reality of Singapore, where it still prevails today. Undeniably, it is a kind of feudalism, yet, it can’t be directly compared to the European form of feudalism. After all, members of the clan are related to each other.

Operationally, the initial mess had to be cleaned up, and this wouldn’t have been possible without a strong plan of almost a military precision. Without any doubt, the political system was Singapore, and probably still is, an oligarchy, establishing a political elite de facto. Yet, it is also clear that it is not a tyranny or a dictatorship. The “big families” feel a serious responsibility about the welfare of the whole state. The political system is probably best described as a technocratic paternalistic oligarchy, using a parliament for the purpose of limited mediation. (In some way, not so dissimilar to the course of development of the E.U.) Else, in Singapore, you won’t see as much video surveillance as you could in London, and the reason is not a lack of potential funding.

In a sense, the Singaporeans did an incredible job. It is the successful improvement of the conditions by actualizing an incredible culture of planning that contributes most to the self-esteem of Singapore. This culture is orchestrated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which spends a lot of efforts to inform the public about the result of the planning process, not however about the process of planning itself. The emblematic item of the Singaporean culture of planning is a continuous exhibition run by the URA. Below I show just a few images from this exhibition, which covers historical aspects as well as planning aspects.

Generally, the exhibition tries to smooth the history and align intentions, means and effects. Center of the exhibition is a large, representational model, approximately of the size 15mx6m, where one can find all built houses, and all planned houses.

Figure 1a: Partial view of the city model at U.R.A.’s continuous exhibition. In the foreground, you can see Marina Bay, which extends to Singapore River to the background and to the left. The blueish color of the indicated buildings (each model of a high-rise approx 15 cm tall) indicates “being planned” and contracted. The material of blue models is plastic foam.

Figure 1b: Marina Bay, now in wood indicating that it is being built or that it has has been built.

Figure 2a: Poster about the Master Plan 2008. You can see an enormous grade of details. It is indeed a plan, not an open program.

Figure 2b: Exhibiting proudness, the Singaporean way.

Really smart, one could think about such enduring success regarding the implementation of large scale plans. Yet, one also can feel that something under its hood leaves a trace of acid. so, what’s wrong with it? Deleuze frequently insisted on the distinction of reality vs. actuality and possibility vs. potential. Plans are already denoting the possible, everything that is possible (such as denoted by a plan) is already real. Hence, the poster above (Fig.2b) tries to feed on a contrast where actually is none. Deleuze also analyzed and described in detail the origin and the setup of such a misunderstanding, which according to him suffers from the representationalist fallacy (see our earlier discussion here). It is nothing else than a nice match and confirmation that he describes such thinking also as an instance of the “dogmatic image of thought”.

What the author of the poster most likely was referring to is what we described earlier as the existential. Yet, the existential defies any control, even to speak about it, which is quite the opposite to what “planning” refers to. The transduction and implementation of plans as something we then could experience as  something “external” may succeed only, and here we repeat ourselves, if the conditions of such an implementation are completely fixed. Plans could be implemented successfully only if there is no potential. Thus, exhibiting proudness about the successful implementation of plans may be well considered as nothing else than the embryo saying “I am”. The doubts appear much later.

Within a comparably very short time, and without externalized violence, i.e.  bloody revolutions and riots, they transformed their society from level zero into a wealthy third-sector society. Yet, Singapore feels strange for a Western visitor nowadays, as we already pointed out. The reason is that Singapore still behaves as if there would be chaos to fight against, as if there would be a serious lack regarding material supplies, as if Singapore still would fall behind developed countries regarding the economical figures. Employing the umbrella of sustainability (see the next figure below), the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) readily declares the alternative to planning.

Figure 3: Beautiful new world. How much halves of the full story are appropriate?

why do we plan

Yet the declared alternative is at least incomplete, if not wrong, in two ways. Neither is it a necessity that the absence of planning results in bad conditions of industrialization (evolution and learning as alternatives), nor does a polished city mean that this city runs well-balanced on a larger scale (costs are likely to be externalized). In fact, solar energy is almost unknown in Singapore, and the “adoption process” has not even started. All electricity is generated by three power plants running on mineral oil.

Figure 4: Screen shot from the official website of the URA, where it is providing a lot of video and images for a virtual visit. The image below is showing the Clarke Quay at Singapore River mouth, near Marina Bay, which would follow right-hand. In this area you can find a lot of restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, French cuisine), where every aspect of them is choreographed. Hence, the whole arrangement does neither feel “native”, nor “smooth”.


William Gibson once mentioned that Singapore is like Disneyland with death penalty. This of course is a deeply misleading exaggeration. The grain of truth in it is the particular silliness due to the still rigorous adherence to the paradigm of planning. Singapore is not threatened by chaos, predatory capitalism, democratic trash or mis-understood materialism of the Marxian flavor. Singapore is threatened by blocking itself from giving birth to itself. Its silliness derives from its neoteny, which in this case is even kind of an embryoteny. Embryos claiming to be fully alive look silly, or troubling at least.

Nevertheless, we should be cautious in our valuation. As it is the case for embryos, we simply can’t apply any of the categories we are used to refer to when thinking about Western societies as Western enculturates. Note that this is not a question of Western vs. Asian though, as Koolhaas repeatedly mentions in his text.

The mystery of how […] the strategy of modern housing that failed in much more plausible conditions could suddenly “work” is left suspended between the assumption of greater authoritarianism and the inscrutable nature of the Asian mentality. (p.1037)

Koolhaas fails to recognize the particular setup of Singapore as an embryo. For grammatical reasons, his conclusions are thus inappropriate, despite his hermeneutical and thorough approach. Singapore is an urban embryo in Asia, its parents gifted it with a potentiality that is Asian, yet, Singapore itself can’t conceived as an Urban body so far. In a sense, it is not even Asian.

The example of Singapore demonstrates that for embryos the dimension of history does not exist at all. Melting and folding erases the possibility for history. Instead, the embryo “knows” only about the future. Even the presence is irrelevant to it. Embryonic morphogenesis means to live inside the plan. If you know that a particular structure is necessary for the next step, but also that this awaited next structure needs to be melt down afterwards again, well then you would start to speak about continuous renewal. Plans reduce the potential to the possible, their purpose being precisely to expel the unforeseeable. Koolhaas is therefore wrong when he repeatedly reproach Singaporean authorities for a certain violence or cruelty. If you live inside a plan, then there is no cruelty except the plan’s rationality, which however is not visible from within. Actually, the perspective from within a plan renders concepts like violence, rationality or moral freedom even meaningless. They could not even be debated within the life form of plans. Perhaps, here we meet the major argument against any close ties between politics and plans, whether in the form of “normal” bureaucracy or in the form of centralized governments.

Such, despite Koolhaas is certainly right to expose a certain “violence”, he definitely fails to find an appropriate category for it. Calling it some kind of “war” is probably not quite correct: War is an extreme form of politically organized externalized violence!

A regime like the one in power in Singapore is a radical movement: it has transformed the term urban renewal into the moral equivalent of war, […] (p. 1035)

[…] a perpetuum mobile where what is given is taken away in a convulsion of uprooting, a state of permanent disorientation. (p.1036)

All the new housing, accommodated in high-rises, close together, entirely devoid of the centrifugal vectors of modernism, obscuring both sky and horizon, precludes any notion of escape. In Singapore, each perspective is blocked by good intentions.  (p.1037)

How would an embryo “escape”? If it “escapes”, we call it birth. More significant, the “escape” of embryos is equivalent to a vary fundamental change of the life form. Not only relations change, even what could be called a relation changes during birth. For Singapore, it seems to me, the appropriate question could be how to initiate its birth?

The delicate situation of the planning authorities, probably of the whole city all together is described by a serious kind of impossibility. It would be the first embryo thinking about its own birth.

Well, today the URA established a rule that spectators should be enabled too get a glimpse to the sea each from high-rise building. (Of course, Koolhaas meant a different thing here… :)

Living inside a plan, likewise we could say that living as embryo creates a strange attitude towards the presence. Everything is known to be potentially replaced quite soon. So, why spend any efforts to make things beautiful? As beauty always means some kind of sustainably encoded luxury, it should be clear how it feels to be in Singapore, strolling around. For a Western soul it feels sterile, sharp, uncreative. I say this without any notion of reproach, of course. Nevertheless, it remains at least exciting to observe how Singapore will proceed to turn its paradigm of change from development to evolution. Sustainable adaptiveness is achievable only through the latter, and in a smart way only by overcoming evolution through a further turn towards virtuality and learning.

It is very important to understand that this current Singaporean paradigm of renewal has nothing to do with an open evolution. Precisely here we find the suture for intensive conflict. Unfortunately, Singapore apparently didn’t recognize the necessity for proceeding towards a more open style of development. What the SG authorities try nowadays is to plan leisure and the play, i.e. the playfulness of its citizens, which indeed sounds somewhat perverse. You can’t issue commands like “Play!”, “Be creative!”, “Develop tolerable sub-culture!” Nevertheless, this is exactly what the Singaporean government apparently is heading for.

It is a period of transition, revision, marginal adjustments, “New Orientations”; after “urbanization” comes “leisurization.”  “Singaporeans now aspire to the finer things in life to the arts, culture, and sports …”

The recent creation of a Ministry for Information and the Arts is indicative. As Yeo, its minister, warns, “It may seem odd, but we have to pursue the subject of fun very seriously if we want to stay competitive in the 21st century …” (p.1077)

Not recognizing the embryonic form of life Koolhaas was tempted into a further mistake. It is plainly wrong to call Singapore a semiotic state.

Singapore is perhaps the first semiotic state, a Barthian slate, a clean synthetic surface, a field at once active and neutralized where political themes or minimal semantic particles can be launched and withdrawn, tested like weather balloons. (p.1039)

Embryos need anything but open interpretation. Koolhaas would even be wrong if he would apply the (open) Peircean concept of the sign (he obviously sticks to the mechanistic and closed Saussurean model). Yet, Roland Barthes himself preferred the Peircean conception. Additionally, Koolhaas seriously misunderstands semiotics, as it has been made available for architecture e.g. by Venturi. In 1995, Koolhaas was still following the common modernist misconception regarding semantics, namely that semantics and thus meaning could be determined apriori. Semantic particles can’t be launched simply because they don’t exist (they are impossible). In fact, the city of Singapore lacks semiotic anchor points almost completely (so far at least), except perhaps the exaggerated tourismic choreographies around Marina Bay, not quite surprising due to the same misunderstanding. The semiotics of a city depends on its history, as it is impossible to introduce a symbolic value by declaration. Yet, living inside the plan, such a history is impossible. Trying to enforce the presence of history—which is nothing else than to pretend it—results just in more silly artificiality—regarding the Western setup. Yet, if we compare it to things like the “historical district” in San Diego, Singapore may not be that far off.

SingaPure Conclusions

Given the unique conditions that we can find in Singapore, or as Singapore, it is not really a surprise to find two highly renowned technical universities engaged in large projects. The Boston MIT and the Zurich ETH run “laboratories” in Singapore. The total budget spent in the 5-year period since 2010 well exceeds 400 mio. $, shared between Singapore and the universities. Of course, both parties address technical questions almost exclusively, attracting reductionist practitioners of all sorts (For most of them “complexity” is an offense). It has been proven difficult to bring in a more cultural perspective. Encouragingly, or should we say ironically, the Swiss fraction is housed in a building called the “Create Tower”.

Singapore is indeed a laboratory, .though a very special one. Yet, like in an experiment conducted in material science, the basic setup is known. No new natural laws are to be expected7, the main target being optimization of the embedding system. In such an experiment, you know how to set it up in advance. Hopefully, the Future Cities Laboratory, as the Swiss branch is called, will recognize the subtle complexity of that naming. Hopefully, Singapore will not serve as a template for other cities. Yet, just his seems to happen in China.

The main lesson we can learn from Singaporean Songlines is what it means to become embryonic. Without the implemented example we simply would not know. It  would not be possible to set up a theory about change, particularly not about change with respect to the Urban. In turn we may say that the actual Gestalt of the Urban—as a concept and as a Life Form—is highly dependent on the way one actualizes the concept of change. Thinking change means thinking time. And this is definitely different all around the Asian cultures as compared to the Western concept.

In our summary we claimed that everything in Singapore starts making sense only before the background of its embryonic condition. .This may easily be generalized into a generally applicable principle: Nothing regarding the Urban Makes Sense Except in the Light of the Orchestration of Change.8

Of course, everything always changes. Yet, we deliberately emphasize its orchestration as the important aspect. Cities that are not aware of that, instead just reacting on a daily basis to the never ending challenges without any reflection about the conditions for these actions and reactions, can hardly maintain the quality of the Urban. Such, the Orchestration of Change provides the transcendental conditions for the particular quality of the Form of Life that establishes in a certain city, maybe even as the Urban. Thus, it is clear that mere size is only a secondary condition for the appearance of the Urban. (For instance, Munich has been dubbed as a “large village” by Karl Krauss in the 1920ies, and it is quite likely that he would label it the same today.)

The perspective expressed above includes, of course, the conceptualization as well as the socio-political instantiation of change, the former implying the choreosteme, the latter all the (usually) highly complex mechanism associated with it. We have argued that change always implies embryonic, evolutionary and learning aspects (all in its abstract form). In the opposite direction we could say that any process of change or differentiation can be situated in the aspectional space spanned by these three aspect. Such we can sharpen the perspective onto differentiation that we have been developing earlier, in our essay about growth, where we distinguished different modes of growth. Now, we are able to transpose the “observation of growth” into the abstract, which allows us to derive a general approach to change. A very brief remark should be allowed here saying that this aspectional space conveys precisely the attitude of the late Putnam regarding essences or prototypes. They simply do not exist for him outside the collective process of settling down at a particular configuration (which then is considered as being an “essence”). (cf. [7])

With regard to the Urban this is particularly interesting for shrinking cities or neighborhoods. Gaps and local meltdowns in urban assets are anything but defects or pathological. Shrinking processes do not provide any reason to become desperate. Yet, they definitely deserve a vision, a long-term perspective, even if it won’t be implemented as rigorously as it is done in Singapore.

Singapore demonstrates what it means to “become positive”. The embryo is wholeheartedly positive. It is a punch to representational negativity, blaming the Western flavor of urbanism that got infected by it. Koolhaas was aware of this (“What ever happened to Urbanism?”), yet at that time without being able to point towards a possible release of this deadlock.

Our amalgamated wisdom can be easily caricatured: according to Derrida we cannot be Whole, according to Baudrillard we cannot be Real, according to Virilio we cannot be There.

Of course, the actual issue with all of those three guys is that they are caricatures of themselves. Trying to reason about the whole and its actuality as romanticist hyper-modernists is a contradictio in adiecto. Methodological stupidity. It is stupid (or childish) to believe—as modernists actually do—in metaphysical independence of everything, thus splitting everything into metaphysical and empirical dust, and then at the same time tying to pretend to say anything about the imagined whole, which even worse is often assumed to be out there as such. Yet, the positivism of Singapore is just following the negative of this negativity, because it takes the positive itself again representational. There is no free choice in a plan. If it would, it would not be a plan anymore. The metaphysical setup of Singapore is characterized by the belief in transcendental identity as the primary element, shaped by the historic need for rigorous planning. We already have been discussing several times the problem with concepts that are based on the principle of identity. Yet, in an engineered city it matches the general habit.

Both together, planning within the paradigm of identity, resulted in the city-state’s embryonic character. The abstract embryo is the only being that could claim identity, since it is the only being that also could claim being a solipsist. As it is typical for embryos, the Singaporean model is possible only on this apriori spatially restricted island of 600 square kilometers (a bit more than the Lake of Constance in the middle of Europe). Indeed, it could prove quite hard to adopt a more relational attitude.

No wonder Singapore attracts engineers and reductionist urbanists. By no means Singapore could be considered a “model” city in the sense that one could transfer “experiences” to other cases. (Except similarly brutal cases of city planning in China.) Time will reveal whether Singapore once will develop into a model case. For that, however, it must find some way to get born.

Regarding Koolhaas and his Singapore Songlines, we have seen that he was not able to depart far enough from his own modernist setup. Despite he is able to observe that…

Singapore is incredibly “Western” for an Asian city, […]. This perception is a Eurocentric misreading. The “Western” is no longer our exclusive domain. (p.1013)

…he is not able to develop an appropriate perspective to the change model that is implemented in Singapore. Neither the assignment of ugliness nor that of absurdity actually makes sense. Who would say that embryos are ugly? Or chaotic? Or a Potemkinic entity?

It is managed by a regime that has excluded accident and randomness: even its nature is entirely remade. It is pure intention: if there is chaos, it is authored chaos; if it is ugly, it is designed ugliness; if it is absurd, it is willed absurdity. Singapore represents a unique ecology of the contemporary. (p.1011)

The problem of Singapore, its problematic field, is provoked by its addiction to embryonism. In order to avoid an increase of the intensity of violence there is no other possibility than to transform the centralized, representationalist embryonism into its probabilized version, a steady, multiplied and manifold nativity on the level of the individual or small social groups. I am (not so) sure that they will find a plan how to accomplish this….


.1. This distinction between the material and immaterial is a secondary distinction. Previously, in the essay about behavior, we argued that this distinction is due to the existential fallacy. That distinction implicitly assumes that we could speak about the material in its or as an existence before any perception, any language and any conceptual work. This of course is not possible. Distinguishing between the material and the immaterial pretends a problematics, yet it only gets trapped by a misunderstanding.
Thus, this distinction should be regarded as a coarse approximation only. 

.2. As always, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept (particularly the one we are developing in this series), in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective, and additionally to avoid any reference to any kind of “-ism”. 

.3. For discussion of Simendon’s individuation see Bühlmann [3] who discussed him with respect to mediality; also see Kenneth Dean [4] who refers to him in a concise way: “Gilbert Simendon ( 1989; 1992) has analysed the process of individuation of living organisms, individuals, and social collectives. He argues that an individual is generated out of a complex metastable field of preindividual forces, potential forms, and possible coalescences of matter. The moment of individuation is determinative in physical processes, such as in the formation of a crystal. Even after attaining the consistency of energy, form, and matter that constitutes a crystal, the crystal continues to interact with its milieu, in order to maintain its consistency. In the case of living organisms, the realm of virtuosity Simendon refers to as the preindividual is carried along throughout the living being’s lifetime of continuous individuation. Thus, attaining a particular identity is only one, and but a temporary, aspect of a continuous interaction with the milieu, and a continuous process of individuation drawing upon the virtual, or preindividual, realm. Many of the forces that move through a living being undergoing these processes may be described as transindividual. This is particularly the case with regard to the establishment of an individual identity vis-a-vis a social collective.” (p.31). 

.4. Note that Koolhaas didn’t conceive those texts as a trilogy by himself, at least as far as I know. Rather, putting these texts into a close neighborhood is due to our interpretation.

.5. The Decamerone is commonly regarded as the first instance of the novel, (it. novella), indeed a novel thing, usually about novel stories, though the same stories have been told innumerable ways before.

.6. We introduced “resistance of the existential” as an accidens of corporeality. There is always something about the material arrangement that we can’t speak of, as any speaking or thinking already refers to modeling, or more precisely, to the choreosteme. Yet, despite we can infer any outside and its materiality only indirectly, we are faced with it. Saying this we also have to emphasize that materiality is not limited to the outside (of the mind, or the choreosteme), since symbols always acquire a quasi-materiality.

.7. Unless the experimentator does not just play around, as it happened in case of the discovery of ceramic high-temperature super conductivity by Bednorz and Müller in 1986. Accordingly, there is still no theory that explains the physical phenomenon of high-temperature super conductivity.

.8. This is a mirror of Dobzhansky’s famous “principle” for biology as a science. He mentioned that “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”, American Biology Teacher vol. 35 (March 1973)


  • [1] Rem Koolhaas (1995), Singapore Songlines – Portrait of a Potemkin Metropolis …or Thirty Years of Tabula Rasa.  In: O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997. p.1009-1089.
  • [2] O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997.
  • [3] Vera Bühlmann. Inhabiting media. Thesis University of Basel (CH) 2009.
  • [4] Kenneth Dean, Lord of the Three in One: The Spread of a Cult in Southeast China. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1998.
  • [5] Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities.
  • [6] Nigel Coates, Narrative Architecture: Architectural Design Primers series Wiley, London 2012.
  • [7] Ian Hacking (2007), Putnam’s Theory of natural Kinds and their Names is not the Same as Kripke’s. Principia, 11(1) (2007), pp. 1–24.


Urban Reason II: Scopes & Scapes

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Architecture is strongly based on models.

Everybody knows that architecture could not be practiced without models. This particularly strong relation between model and practice led to the use of the concept of “architecture” in areas quite different from building houses, for instance regarding software systems, the design of processes or organizational design. Since the advent of urbanism in the mid of the 20th century, this relation between architecture and the model became more and more problematic, the main reason being that the categories of the “observer” and the “observed” lost their mere possibility. In case of urban culture they can’t be separated without implying considerable costs.

This opened the question how to position urbanism, and there is still no (acceptable) answer to this question so far. Positioning urbanism includes any possibility to relate ourselves to what we call city, or urban arrangement, our expectations, hopes and fears about it, personally or politically, from a design perspective or the inhabitance perspective (again as far as those could be separated). For sure, scientism doesn’t provide the full answer, if any at all. The further question is why science must fail here despite it is an important ingredient to deal with the city. Else, the use of models when dealing with the city is inevitable, just as it is for any other relation to the world. Yet, which kind of models are appropriate, and even more important, how do we structure and organize our talking about it? Which kind of theoretical stance would be appropriate?

Among others, Koolhaas and his OMA/AMO setup has been working for a long time now to find new approaches. The other question is whether any answer to the former issue of positioning urbanism can be found within architecture or urbanism itself. Koolhaas’ guess is not quite positive, as he displayed it in his Junkspace. As an an-architect, Koolhaas has other means at his disposal than architecture itself, such like writing or movie making, to investigate the problematic field of the urban as a quality.

The general idea I am going to propose here is fundamentally different to common approaches in urbanism. Roughly spoken, it follows the grand cultural perspective, considering the Form of Life (as conceived by Wittgenstein) as an ineluctable “fact”. From this perspective, we radicalize Koolhaas’ rhetoric question “What ever happened to Urbanism?” (in S,M,X,XL), proposing to deny the reasonability of an “-ism” regarding the city and the Urban, simply because “The City” does not exist anymore.

The “architecture” of the argument uses philosophical techniques to organize conceptual elements which in turn refer to the contributions from the sciences. The outcome should allow to keep everything about the city in a single perspective, without totalizing or dominating any particular stance or attitude. In other words, we will not provide a recipe for achieving a solution in any particular case. In contrast, in the end we will provide a conceptual basis for deriving such solutions, a conceptual tool box, a techné. In still other words, it is, as always, I suppose, a matter to organize the use of language.

This Essay

This essay will collect some arguments in favor of the reasonability of the program that we call “Urban Reason”. We begin with a (very brief) discussion of the status of the model and of theory in architecture and urbanism. We conclude the first part by guessing that there is no theory about the Urban. The second part “Departure…” explores the site of departure towards an Urban Reason. This site is being illuminated by the observation of the inseparability of language and the form of life. Both affect the way of thinking and even what we can think at all. Now, if the form of life is Urban, what and how could we think? Finally, the third part “Approaching…” introduces the notion of the critique. Only the critique of the concept of “reason” allows to take an appropriate stance to it. The final section provides a glimpsy outlook to the effects of the turn towards the Urban Reason,

One of the consequences of that perspectival turn towards Urban Reason is a detachment of the Urban (see this footnote) as a quality from certain kinds of built environment (that we call city). In other words, our approach is heading towards a non-representational conceptualization of the city and the Urban. I am deeply convinced—as Deleuze also always was, we will return to this issue—that this dismissal of the representational attitude is mandatory for any attempt what is going on in our urban culture. Koolhaas demonstrated it some years ago in his trial called “The Generic City”. Generally spoken, I don’t see any other possibility for going non-representational with regard to the Urban than by means of the proposed turn. Without it, any approach to the city will got stuck in naivity, always constrained by the illusion of the particularity of the phenomenon, even if the pretending urbanist would start to engage in empirical counting activities. On the other hand, addressing the quality of the Urban just by philosophical means establishes what we will call the “binding problem”: The Urban requires a particular construction to enable philosophy to get a grip on it.

The Scope of Current Approaches to Theory

Actually, the problematic field as established by the model as a practice and as a concept has been part of architecture since Vitruv, as Werner Oechslin demonstrates [1]. Thus, in architectural writing we can find traces of a discussion that spans, with some gaps, more than 2000 years. Some sciences did not even detect that field up today. We may even say that architecture becomes architecture only through this problematic field. For only the model opens the process of building into the divergence of the question of form on the one hand and the status of architecture as a theoretical concern on the other. Hence, in the same move as the model, regardless its actualization, brings us to the form it also enforces us to think about theory. How do we come to build that model and this form? As we have argued in an earlier essay, Oechslin as well emphasizes that theory is not antipodic to practice. Instead, now in my words, theory is linked to the irreversibility of the act through the model. In turn, any practice implies a theory, and of course, also models. Oechslin writes:.

The model is definitely located in such an intermediate area made from abstract conceptions and contingent realities. ([1], p.131).1

This lets us guess that, regarding architecture, there is definitely something more about the model than just the physical model, the act of representation designed to convince the sponsor of the project. As the master of the history of architecture Oechslin refers to Vitruv directly and as well to authors from the Renaissance in his “ldea materialis” [1], where he writes as a closing remark:

In the Vitruvian precincts and in the succession to Alberti the model has been discussed particularly regarding the (anticipating) sensory perception, therefore often called also visation. […] the model, which often seems to be reduced to an image of itself, .lost its power that it contributed to the ‘process of becoming’. ([1], p.155).2

Werner Oechslin, an amicable person stuffed with incredible energy, runs a likewise incredible library and foundation about the history and theory of architecture. Hundreds of books from all times can be found there. It is indeed a sacred place, somehow, as far as we may consider culture and its book-like stuff as one of the most important parts of the conditio humana.

So, how is Oechslin conceiving “Architectural Theory”? On the website of the library foundation the following can be found [2]:

This project systematically collects and evaluates the literature of architectural theory, pursuing comprehensive coverage of the discipline and a catalogue (census) of all printed sources. The project is the basis for specific individual investigations regarding particular aspects and questions of the formation of architectural theory (such as drawings, models, relations between image and text, the genesis of concepts, strategies of design, etc.). The census is based on research done since 1989 at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH Zurich. [my emphasis]

In earlier essays we argued that probably the only reasonable way to conceive of theories is as orthoregulation of modeling. According to this perspective theories are not related to empiric issues, but just to the practice of modeling. Theories do not contain hypotheses at all, since hypotheses are always about something experienceable. Oechslin’s almost perfectly represents that. We have to be perfectly clear about this status of theory! Many proclaimed theories are in fact just models, e.g. Newton’s “theory” of gravitation. In fact, up today we do not have such a theory of gravitation at our disposal. What is missing in Oechslin’s explication is the embedding in language as a life form. The issue is only implicitly invoked.

In a more elaborated notion about theory in architecture that serves as the introduction to the Vitruv Colloquium, Oechslin still does not bring in language. Yet, he cites Aristotle’s formula “Habitus faciendi cum ratione“. (Nicomachean Ethics). Oechslin leaves this untranslated, and wisely so, since facere could mean {produce, erect, build, exert, act, make, do} and ratio {cause, modality, calculation, reason, clarification, explanation, invoice, principle ,theory, proportion}. Note that the Latin ratio is already a translation from the Greek logos, or logike, which adds further dimensions. Anyway, the implication is clear.

An appropriate concept about theory denies the separation of theory and practice. We may regard theory as almost the same as practice. What could not be subsumed to theory is performance, which is an answer to the “resistance of the existential”. The existential, however, could neither be a part of any theory nor of any kind of model. We can’t even speak about it, nor could we point to it or demonstrate it. Realism, deconstructivism and phenomenology—which are closely related to each other—all fail in their attempt to take an appropriate stance towards the existential. To be clear, this is not a matter of attitude, it is a matter of methodology.

Above we already introduced the question “How do we come to build that model and this form?” as the hallmark of a theory of architecture. This question about the “How do we come to …” asks about the conditions of doing so. An eminently important part of these conditions is language and languagability. How do we speak about this how to? About this practice? How if not by philosophical means should we address that question? Architectural theory is not possible without references to philosophy. This, of course, holds for biology or physics in the same manner.

For 2000 years architectural theory has been a theoretical engagement targeting architectural questions, that is questions about the form of an individual building and its close surround. This tradition led to Junkspace. The medium that created Junkspace was swarm architecture. Quite obviously, we have to adapt the scope of our theoretical concerns. The scope of architectural theory—which dedicatedly includes a corresponding and inseparable practice, as we have seen above—can’t be any longer that of individual buildings. And this scope is the city and the quality of the Urban..

A theory about the city, and even more about the Urban.3, poses a serious challenge, though. For large parts of culture relates to it, or is even already a major constituent of it. A theory about culture, however, would have to be a self-referential theory. In our piece called “A Deleuzean Move” we tried to develop such a structure, which is not related specifically to any kind of theory about the urban any more.

David Shane, in his “Recombinant Urbanism”[3] devises considerable efforts to clarify his concept of theory. It is not the only feature that makes his book is so outstanding. Despite he does not completely arrive at a general or generally applicable concept about “theory”, his efforts come close to what we described earlier (“Theory (of Theory)”, and in the further course of his synthetic investigations he tightly follows his theoretical outline. Yet, he calls his theory a “theory about the city”, not a theory about the Urban. According to which we said in the preceding paragraph, he is totally correct about that. Throughout his book he demonstrates how to build models about the city. Probably Shane’s contribution may be conceived even as the only theory of the city we currently have available.

Yet, here we are not interested in a theory of the city, that is a theory about modeling and investigating urban arrangement, thereby doubling the great work of Shane. Our goal is a quite different one. In a preliminary fashion we could say that we are interested in the foundations of urbanism. A “City Theory” like that of Shane is certainly an important part of urbanism. Yet, it can’t be considered as the only part. First, urbanism is not only about the almost “physical” mechanisms of urban agglomerations. A collection of buildings is as less a city as a collection of trees is already a forest. .The important things about a particular city and as well about the Urban are far beyond traffic control or the legislative regulations about erecting buildings4, albeit such rules and controls­­­—though again not as particulars—are necessary ingredients to allow for the emergence of the Urban. Of course, the same holds for the practice of erecting buildings itself, stripped from relational concerns. This was clearly recognized by Fumihiko Maki as early as in 1964 [6]:

There is nothing less urbane, nothing less productive of cosmopolitan mixture than raw renewal, which displaces, destroys, and replaces, in that mechanistic order;’

Secondly, for addressing the Urban it is not sufficient to think about the way of how to speak about the models about the city. Such would represent the more scientific and reductionist attitude that takes the city and the urban processes as an observable. Yet, such a separation is not a sound alternative, because the scientific description is—by its own definition—only about the sayable. One could easily misunderstand this as a rejection of science as a whole. Of course, I don’t opt for that. Science may well practice analyticity and reductionism within a defined framework and an established community that adhere to scientific methodology. But science should not attempt to export its standards as the structure of choice for any other area. Outside science, science is just an element (in the sense we discussed it here). Nevertheless, science excludes any aspect of performance and the demonstrable apriori. Reducing cities to the scientifically observable aspects could be regarded even as a methodological fault if it comes (i) to the qualitative aspects of urban life and, more important, (ii) to the conditions of the Urban and the way of speaking that we could employ regarding any putative theory of the Urban.

The foundations of urbanism comprise the topic of the conditions for the possibility of creating models about the change of urban environments, and here we deliberately include the social, political and cultural aspects at large. Hence, without those foundations we can’t hope to get any reasonable grip to what is going on in the cities, putting emphasis here is on reasonable. The difference is the same as we have discussed previously (“Koolhaas the story-teller”) with regard to story-telling. It makes a huge difference to be part of a story or likewise to provide an arbitrary something that is then assimilated by the story, or to deal consciously with the Urban.

In the remainder of this writing I will present a brief outline about a potential argumentation that would support our conviction that the concept of Urban Reason is a reasonable program.

Departure to Urban Reason

As one of the more salient starting points for such arguments, though there are certainly others, one could take the inseparability of language and the life form in the Wittgensteinian sense. Since the times of ancient Rome humans have experienced the particular conditions of urban life. These conditions regard anything, from the supply of food, water and energy, up to the social aspects of life and questions of organization and power. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that everything that could be conceived as human culture today is specifically related to the form of the city. Today, and certainly for a long time, the Urban stains the rural, the country-side of the Urban is everything that is not the city, let it even be the Sahara or the Amazonas jungle. The rural is the surround, a dislocated source for a diversity of fundamental streams: Water, energy (be it electricity, be it food), for some parts also space or a particular quality of time, for which there is no replenishment achievable within most urban agglomerations.

The. city and its surround represent entangled forms of life, yet, the cultural dynamics, particularly as a semiosis (generation of signs5) or as mediagenesis (the generation of media and mediality6) is clearly dominated by the Urban. Think of books, theater, the arts, the press, the construct of the news, etc. All of that and—most significant regarding our interests here—all the related thinking and living belongs to the quality of the Urban, it contributes to it and it derives from it. Note that it would be missing the point to say that these qualities could be “found only in the city”, since the book and its companions are just constitutive of the urban itself. Separating the whole of the Urban from its drivers results in a tautology. The locational, or better: the territorial speaking is modernist, analytic, not having left behind the 19th century, at most.

We may express it in a condensed manner: In the city we experience thinking, it is within the practice of the abstract Urban, where thinking happens, and where densified thinking takes place, there we may experience or attribute the Urban. Some of the conditioning requirements for those bursts upon densification are the abstract associativity, the networks, the streams, the concepts that are kept flying around, the vortices and clinamen appearing on those streams, etc.

Such determines and deeply affects thinking, language and the life form and hence also the kind of rationality and reason that could arise and emerge from it. The relationship between thinking and life form is not limited to urban life, of course, it is a quite general principle. The novelty here is that it happens as a particular urban issue on a global scale, instead of its previously regional instantiation within a particular rural.

So, if we for now accept the idea that there is a specific instance of thinking in the cultural environment of the city, constituting an Urban Reason, and including the way to deal with the “resistance of the existential”, then we can start to ask particular questions that are not possible without that move. This move towards the Urban Reason would allow to develop urbanity along a completely different storyline. We may even say that it constitutes the possibility for such a storyline at all. Koolhaas notion of “The Generic City”, provided as an imaginary script for a movie, now appears as a very early pre-cursor of that.

A quite interesting topic is presented by the concept and the practice of trust. Trust builds a bridge between the animal-corporeal and the medial-cultural. Along with the development of the city since the 12th century, trust became more and more probabilized. We may even turn the perspective that allows to conceive of the city as an organizational form to probabilize trust. In some agglomerations this endeavor fails, and it is difficult, if not impossible to regard such agglomerations as urban or as city at all. All shades and grades between the two poles can be observed, of course. The successful probabilization of trust may be the most important difference between the urban and the non-urban.

The changed concept of trust also changes the concept of politics, or governmentality, as Foucault has been identifying it. The late Foucault has been increasingly interested in governmentality and its relation to the exertion of power. A long time before once he was starting his journey towards the bio-power with investigations about thing, order and violence, continuing after a more broad assimilation of Wittgensteinian philosophy with his particular concept of historicity. Bio-power refers to a certain attitude and assignment of importance to the concept of the body, namely the biological aspect of the body. His fears and projections did not fully develop (so far), yet, the importance of the question about the body and its status remained intact. We just have to ask about the body, and of course the model of the body (e.g. [7])

So far, there is no discussion at all in urbanism about the relation between the form and government, the exertion of power and the organization of probabilized trust. Neither monarchies nor elite-constrained oligarchies as their modernized form—think of the E.U.—, in short no kind of strongly centralized government could be considered as an adequate form for Urban societies. Just think of the difference between Tokyo (in fact 24 autonomous cities operating under the same label) and Moscow, or, vice versa, the resemblance between Tokyo and the political organization of Switzerland and its 25 cantons (despite all differences…).

Approaching the Critique of Urban Reason

Given the concept’s reasonability we may ask, how then could we go about for Urban Reason?

Of course, Immanuel Kant’s investigation of reason and rationality immediately pops in with his distinction into pure reason, practical reason, ethics and aesthetics, if it is allowed to talk in such a coarse manner about his work. Yet, I don’t think that the Kantian way is not suitable any longer, for at least three reasons.

First, Kant has been strongly influenced by physics and kind of a first-level scientism, seriously affected (and limited) by thinking in cause-and-effect schemata. Kant did not have at his disposal the concept of probabilization as we can use it today. Neither was the population established as a life form—it just had been invented as the French Revolution when Kant was writing the concluding parts—, nor could he have been consequently aware about the realm of information. Physics served Kant as an ideal, yet, physics is still not able to say anything about complexity and emergence. Today we even could reason, as we did above, that science itself doesn’t represent a generalizable image of thought at all. At best, it provides an acceptable contribution.

Secondly, the Kantian distinction is vulnerable against idealism and all its detrimental consequences. For starting with the “pureness” always relies on the identity as the ruling transcendental principle. Identity thinking is methodologically faulty and politically disastrous. We had to wait until Deleuze who successfully demonstrated how philosophy, thinking and acting could be re-oriented towards the principle of transcendental difference [8]. Accordingly, Kant did not recognize the working of abstraction through the differential. Thus, Kant always had serious difficulties to link the idea, the abstract, the concept to the dimension of practice and performance.

Thirdly, and this is related to the second point, Kant was quite too early to be able to recognize the role of language. Without incorporating the linguistic turn (in its non-analytical form, of course) it may prove to be quite difficult (if not hopeless) to find a suitable link between mental life (whether internal or external), practice and performance (down to logistics, politics and the so-called “public space”) and the philosophical “habit”. The combination of these three missing issues in Kantian philosophy—probabilization, transcendental difference, linguistic turn—causes a fourth one, which is the blindness against mediality.

Saying this I feel obliged to emphasize the great achievement of the Kantian philosophy. Firstly, there is the concept of transcendence, or more precisely, the working of transcendence and its continuous presence in any thought. Secondly, and that’s a methodological trick, Kant didn’t engage in explaining or describing reason, instead he introduced philosophy as a technique, as a critique. After specifying it, we should check it’s conditions and consequences, we should “criticize” it.

The concept of Urban Reason thus is probably less a concept as a particular image of culture. Deleuze once proposed a new image of thought that he based on the notion of the transcendental difference. This image he directed against the “dogmatic image of thought” and the closely related syndrome of representationalist thinking. Yet, even if we refer to the image of thought as a “framework” or a habit, or even as a philosophical stance (whatever this could mean), we could compare it to other such arrangements. We already proposed a proto-philosophical structure that guarantees a conceptual consistency for all its derivates and applications. We developed it in a Deleuzean perspective and called it the “choreostemic space”. We argued that this space allows to map and to compare not only any style of thinking, but rather any stance towards the world, without falling prey to a methodological petitio principii. Such, we will also have to investigate the attractors of the Urban Reason as a framework as well as the particular instance of Urban Reason as it arises in a particular (class of) urban arrangements. I would expect even before the started the development of Urban Reason (as a framework) that such an abstract cartography will yield important insights into the long-term dynamics of cities.

Even as we dismiss the Kantian distinction, we nevertheless may distinguish different stages in the instantiation of Urban Reason until we arrive at a practical or political guideline, or even as a utilization in an empiric research program. A general and exemplary outline of those steps will be given in the next essay.

Conclusion and Outlook

For now we have to ask about the questions that could be uniquely addressed on the basis of Urban Reason. Of course, we can just provide some examples as the full list is possibly quite large, or even practically infinite.

First of all, and not to the least importance, the perspective of Urban Reason allows to address the relation between abstract categories about the Urban (“Urban Theory”) and the practical concerns that appear in a city for any kind of stake holder. Today, the lack of such a suitable bridge between category and operation may constitute one of the major problems of urbanism. The missing of an appropriate binding between those also contributes to the tendency of urbanism to take a largely reductionist attitude.

Such, the practical affairs in Urban Reason in terms of ”actions taken” are largely influenced by a varying mixture of four attitudes, which supposedly are: (i) make-up of values mostly due to historical constraints, as in its most extreme form in the case of Singapore, (ii) just as a unreflected alignment to arbitrary contingencies, determined by the structure of local political processes (e.g. Munich, Berlin, Tokyo or also Zurich), or finally (iv) due to ideological considerations (most salient examples: Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hanoi, Shanghai, Stone Town Zanzibar).

Any of these four motivational centers do not address the city as a life form in its own right. No wonder can we observe any degree and any kind of violence in the urban processes on any of the time scales, illegitimate as well as legitimate ones, indeed so much that nowadays violence and the Urban often appear as close relatives. It may well be expected that the “binding problem” of urbanism provides an improved capability to navigate through the evo-devo of the city.

Solving the binding problem of urbanism also means that urbanism could integrate concepts from other disciplines more readily. Here I not only refer to concepts from the hard sciences, but rather to holistic conceptualizations or areas like literature science or even philosophy (taken here as a technique for asking about the conditionability of issues). A relatively significant topic is that of differentiation. Currently, urbanism does not have means even to talk appropriately about it, mainly due to the fact that physics prevails as the ideal (still). Yet, physical differentiation refers just to the level of the existential, to be or not be. Physics is a deeply non-relational science and thus totally unsuitable to guide any research program in urbanism. Differentiation includes growth (of different kinds), partial deletion, transformation, but also the issues of individuation, associativity, emergence or fluidity, among others. .While there are already practical adoptions of the topic of differentiation, mainly triggered by the state of market affairs in architecture7, an appropriate theory is not available. On the other hand, differentiation could not be conceived as a purely political topic either, for this would neglect the autonomy, meta-stability and persistence of the city as a complex system. Once, in his short piece “What ever happened to Urbanism?” (part of S,M,X,XL) Koolhaas pointed in a somewhat desperate manner to this fact:

Together, all attempts to make a new beginning have only discredited the idea of a new beginning. A collective shame in the wake of this fiasco has left a massive crater in our understanding of modernity and modernization.

What makes this experience disconcerting and (for architects) humiliating is the city’s defiant persistence and apparent vigor, in spite of the collective failure of all agencies that act on it or try to influence it-creatively, logistically, politically.

The professionals of the city are like chess players who lose to computers. A perverse automatic pilot constantly outwits all attempts at capturing the city, exhausts all ambitions of its definition, ridicules the most passionate assertions of its present failure and future impossibility, steers it implacably further on its flight forward. Each disaster foretold is somehow absorbed under the infinite blanketing of the urban.

At this point I again would like to emphasize that Urban Reason and its critique is not an analytical endeavor. It should not be misunderstood as a kind of logic, or a set of fixed rules, nor as a kind of rationality at all. Story-telling in ancient Bagdad at night is a kind of reason as contemporary mathematics is. Thus, instead of drawing on logic, it may be much more appropriate to conceive of “Urban Reason” in terms of Foucault’s concept of the field of proposals and propositions, where arrangements of proposals, in short: stories, are made from proper elements. This will allow us to find a proper organization for the layout of the genealogy of our critique… which we will start with in one of the next pieces, at least as soon as possible.



1.. German orig.: “Das Modell liegt durchaus in einem solchen Zwischenbereich von abstrakten Vorstellungen und kontingenten Wirklichkeiten.”

2.. German orig.: “Das Modell wurde im vitruvianischen Umfeld und in der Nachfolge Albertis insbesondere im Hinblick auf die Hilfestellung für die (antizipierende) Sinneswahrnehmung diskutiert und deshalb auch häufig Visierung genannt. […] dem Modell, das oftmals auch nur auf ein Bild seiner selbst reduziert erscheint, ist die spekulative Potenz im ‚Prozess des Werdens‘ abhanden gekommen.” ([1] p.155)

3.. We use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective.

4.. for a collection of such rules cf. Axel Lehnerer [4].

5.. Here we refer, as always, to the conception of the sign as it has been developed by Charles S. Peirce. The differences to de Saussures concept of the signs are tremendous. The Peircean sign is open, dynamic, volatile and refers only to other signs, never directly to an object, as the phenomenological structure of de Saussures sign does. Such, the Peircean sign is largely synonymic with the interpretation situation and the respective processes itself.

6.. Vera Bühlmann argued for an intimate relationship between mediality as a transcendental and practical entity and architecture, coining the label of “inhabiting media”. [5]

7.. There is a growing awareness in architectural research and education, particularly in Europe, that architecture might be more and more engaged in transformation processes upon existing buildings or arrangements of building instead of building anew. Cf. the master courses titled “Planning and Building within Assets” at the University of Siegen (Germany) (orig. “Planen und Bauen im Bestand”).


  • [1] Werner Oechslin, Architekturmodell »ldea materialis«, in: Wolfgang Sonne (ed.), Die Medien und die Architektur. Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin 2011, S. 131-155.
  • [2] Website of the Werner Oechslin Library Foundation. last accessed 29th Sep, 2012.
  • [3] David Shane, Recombinant Urbanism. 2005.
  • [4] Axel Lehnerer 2010. Thesis, ETH Zürich.
  • [5] Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, University of Basel (CH) 2009.
  • [6] Fumihiko Maki, Investigations in Collective Form. 1964. cited after: Rem Koolhaas, Singapore Songlines [9].
  • [7] Klaus Wassermann. The Body as Form – or: Desiring the Modeling Body. in: Vera Bühlmann, Martin Wiedmer (eds.), pre-specifics: Some comparatistic investigations on research in design and art. JRP Ringier, Zürich 2008. pp.351-360. available online.
  • [8] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition.
  • [9] Rem Koolhaas, Singapore Songlines. in Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. 1995. p.1009-1089.


Urban Reason I

September 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Rem Koolhaas is not an architect. Neither could he be regarded.

as an urbanist. Well, in some way it is undeniable that he is engaged in architecture or the design and arrangement of urban environments. So it seems that he sometimes behaves as architects or urbanists do. Yet, there is something more about his way.

Koolhaas is a story-teller. As a good story-teller he also is a great listener. Koolhaas is treating builts and buildings in a very special way. Not as built matter, but rather as a story. Story-telling always means, and so also in the case of Koolhaas, to weave a particular fabric. The specialty of the fabric established through the story is the densification of potentiality that appears in the course of telling a story and listening to it. As the fabric, the story starts with a series, a thin thread, recurring to almost the same place after it has been departing to almost the same distant.

A story differs in precise way from a “normal” text. Alike, story-telling is not presenting. By means of the story one does not try to say something particular. One does not try to say.  Quite in contrast, stories play with the potentiality to do some magic with the particulars. Particulars are much like the facts after we have fixed them, after we have stopped talking about and playing with them (The same holds for universals.) The story makes them vanish at some point and re-appear at another point. Even the point here is a deliberate, that is a designed illusion. Magic is best if words and acts amalgamate, denying such the importance they pretend. Think of Shakespeare and his plays.

Stories are not bound to particular media. We can create it as a novel, as a play in the theater, as a “tele novela”, as a movie, but also as the unfolding of possible events in a building or the arrangement of potentiality in urban builts. As a play with potentiality, the story is not even bound to a particular form. We could tell the same story in very different ways, yet, it is impossible to tell the same story as an exact copy a second time. Story-telling results in a deep alignment between the story-teller and the story-listeners. And between the listeners. And between the stories. Stories never come as a single one, as a particular. These alignments remain established only as long as it is not spoken about. If there is any methodology Koolhaas follows at all we may say that he aligns stories and aligns through stories.

Stories don’t actualize a particular function as well, of course. Telling a story means to play with them as magicians do. Letting them appear and vanish, not only at will, but also for one’s delight. It is in this secondary plane of the stories’ immanence where the notion of an object or materiality becomes meaningful at all. Just by the power of the story to let them appear, to make them created, to make them vanish. The story is a transfer of power while there is neither a clear origin nor an identifiable goal of this transfer.

The story tells something that neither can be spoken about nor what could be demonstrated. Story-telling is not explication, but implication. It is not just unfolding. It transcends unfolding by wrapping it into the fabric it creates. The format of the story is the only adequate response to entities that are autonomous. Behaving entities, in other words. We discussed the issue of behavior with regard to text and the urban last time.

Koolhaas the story-teller. Only as a story-teller you can invent. Skyscraper that do not scrape the (physical) skies, for instance, but rather the way of story-telling (CCTV). The skyscraper as a loop. Taken as a particular, that’s just pure craziness, a collapse of categories. Taken as a story, e.g. about the fact that the alignment by a story always comes as loop, it easily appears as a reasonable consequence.

Figure 1: Closing the Loop as story-telling by building a building that is used to produce story-telling (TV).

Figure 2: Approaching the Loop. Rendering for the Science Center Hamburg. The building as metaphor: Science is the story of telling a story about doing it over and over again. Though the loop is not a smooth one.

Without stories there is only habit, and here I mean a blind collective habit, swarms, the fashion of the neurons. Only as a story-teller you can transcend matter, the built, the particular, the structure and the grammar. Only by means of stories new materiality is created, usually first in the realm of the symbolic, as or by new symbols. In the beginning there is the story. Without stories, the world is full of necessities and givens, the world would be even almost synonymical to those. Without them there would be reality only (which fortunately is not possible), but no potential. Stories and necessities are mutually exclusive. I prefer the story. It is the story, and only the story, that opens the future, creates potential relationality that establishes culture as the Conditional II, III, IV …

Koolhaas the cross-medialist, who happens to tell stories by building and buildings. Humans can’t be without stories, of course. Even if not explicitly told, any social alignment brings it to the surface, at least implicitly. Even if there is no story at first place, it will invade the dead claim of the given, like the plants, the animals, small and large, the relations, close and distant, like the succession of an ecosystem on a blanked piece of rock. Stories are invasive. Koolhaas is invasive, patiently.

Of course there are rules, particular structural elements, weights and preferences. Such like the box, the ramp, the script, the surprise, the opening and the closing (e.g. of perspectives and views), the pattern in the fabric, the randolation. These rules are completely irrelevant as particular, despite they are necessary. Stories play also with the rules. Koolhaas developed his use of boxes, boxes in the box, vanishing of the boxed boxes, the block as the ultra-box, the entity of the antithetic box (the ramp), the box as module and as figure, the dematerialization of the box (the script), the re-materialization of the box as behavior, into his way of story-telling and building, just to put all this something into the box again (The Dutch embassy), yet without refraining to demonstrate that the box is a box only if there is something other, the non-box. In one word, story-telling.

Figure 3a: The story about the evolution of the Box: The Box and its Surround. Note that the wall-like surround is a building of the embassy, too, containing flats for the personnel of the embassy. It is an essential pat of the whole arrangement, providing the space for cube to be perceived as a cube. Metaphorically, and such extending the story-telling, Koolhaas refers here to the ex-territorial nature of embassies.

Figure 3b: The Box that denies to be a Box. What you see here is the main functional element of the embassy, the room for diplomatic meetings. Providing a function as the purpose of the building that is outside of it and its boxedness. Of course, this not architecture, but rather story-telling.

Figure 3c: The Box and its incorporated anti-thesis (the ramp). Some years before turning fully into an architectural embryologist (Porto, see figure 4 below), Koolhaas employed the principle of creating space by melting for the first time. At that time, the ramp was already a well-established element in Koolhaas’ toolbox (see the Seattle Public Library for its mastering). The result is a simple external shape and a rich and dynamic interior structure, much like in an animal organism, but quite different from plants or even crystals (see this for different models of growth).

Figure 3d: The script as the Ariadne thread of Architecture. Where others talk about the “program” to be fulfilled by the building and try to optimize it by means of computers (e.g. Kees Christianse in Zurich near the main station), leading almost necessarily, i.e. grammatically to logically “structured” ugliness, Koolhaas refers to scripts and stories, such creating a multi-leveled and above all open coherence and consistency. Which way do you prefer?

Story-telling is weaving of potentiality and weaving with potentiality. Story-telling is aterritorial, non-geological. Nothing could be more different from story-telling than geology. (Just think of Libeskind’s or Eisenman’s titanic geomorphisms, thrown rocks [Aronoff Center, Victoria and Albert Museum], canyons made from concrete [Jewish Museum in Berlin].) As story-telling materializes particular relations it also implies the randolation. Koolhaas the String theorist. He plays a special kind of music on strings without ends. He even manages to organize whole populations of those strings and their tones, sometimes at least. As a musician-urbanist, Koolhaas belongs to the rare species of builders that are completely aware of time. He not only doesn’t try to expel it from the city, to make the city timeless, as all the modernists are trying. As a story-teller he plays with time, he creates Eigen-times, sheafs of times, planes of time, he uses choreographing deriving as a kind of applied embryology (Casa da Musica, Porto), when he melts the space out of the block, as it happens with organisms before their nativity. By that, Koolhaas is aware of time as a tool for building, not just a parameter of a formula addressing change. He also employs a concept of morphological differentiation and growth far ahead of any of his colleagues. Koolhaas, the accoucheur. Or the breeder. The pander. In “Mars attacks” the journalist asked: Do they have two sexes?”

Figure 4: Traces of Time. Koolhaas at the final demonstration of his concept for the Casa da Musica (Porto). You can see his showing of the removal of inner space, reminding strongly to the embryological principle of establishing form and space through melting tissue generating implicitly structured space, rather than by enclosing space through explicit enclosure. This way time is established as the historicity of constraints during development, quite in contrast to the time-inert procedure of enclosing.

Koolhaas is pretty conscious about what he is doing. That’s certainly not true for many other architects. They could not be regarded as story-tellers. They are commas. Like a rule itself. Even if there is pretentious wording around. Else, story-telling is never deconstructivist. Derrida tried to tell a story without telling a story, by denying it. Not quite reasonable, I guess, except if you are addicted to the ancient Egyptian underworld of shadows (as Derrida was). Stories are purely positive, yet without being positivist. Denying story-telling and by the same time pretending to do it causes a downward spiral. It leads you to the point zero on the scale of human affairs, geology, physics, and titans. Consequently, Eisenman and Libeskind, and even Gehry, arrived just there, in praising the titanic geosphere. (With that mind set, they should design oil drilling platforms instead)

Thus, either all those architects are not architects at all (which is a view difficult to hold), or Koolhaas is not an architect. Here we could say, q.e.d., but that’s a different story.

Well, probably that came a bit too strong now. For it is not possible for human activities to separate story from non-story. We are language-beings, down to the last quantum. First, we all take part in the unfolding of culture, which establishes kind of a (big) story and consists of many, many smaller and tiny stories. Second, we can’t step out into a zone free of language. Third, language always triggers what can be conceived as the differential locutionarity that comes with the use of language. The concept of locutionarity has been introduced by Austin with regard to the different perspectives and scopes that we can observe and employ in language. The distinction he made is straightforward: We say something as an almost physical performance, we say what we think is and what we want, we say something for strategic reasons. These three dimensions have been described by Austin in his Speech Act Theory as locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary. .Yet, concerning story telling there is a further level. Perhaps we could call it the delocutionary aspect and this aspect is the playing with the other indeed serious levels, playfully challenging their seriousness. It is here, and only here, where culture becomes pleasant.

A similar distinction could be made for architecture. It is quite obvious that any architecture below the delocutionary aspect can easily be reduced to cause and effect, to necessities, amenable to analytic reasoning. Fortunately the world is not like that, neither in language, nor in architecture. Or should I say: hopefully? I can’t follow this trail of the possibility of “architectural acts” further here. Yet, the point should have become a bit more clear.

Koolhaas mingles texting and building, text and built. Like a chef de cuisine Koolhaas knows the procedures for creating a runaway mediatization, a self-sustaining, if not self-accelerating explosion of interpretations. A good story defies the single interpretation, the function, the strategy, the territory. It sweeps away the claim of the apriori necessary. It not only carries you to unknown shores, it even creates new currents in every moment. To be more precise here, it is not the story that causes this. It is more appropriate to say that the story is created anew in each and any moment, in statu nascendi, if the “well-formed” series (requires an author!) and networks of symbols and references invades your mind as an listener and interpreter. Many things happen through such encounters. Even a short list would distrack us here. The point is: Some pieces (stories) evoke more, taking the step into sustained imagination, others less, being kept in a static factualism that could not count as a story, perhaps as a report, at most, and some close to nil, stumbling babbling. Yet, the example of Singapore demonstrates that things are more complicated than it might appear, for the whole culture could be devoted to plans and development instead of imagination and evolution.

Koolhaas created a trilogy of texts that form their own story: The Generic City (the script), Junkspace (the play), and Singapore Songlines (the music). It is often said that The Generic City is about the city. Nothing could be more wrong than that. It would be as if one would say that the movie by Godard is about the movement of the actors, or even of the celluloid. In an interview Godard once said that he is not making movies. He pretended not to be interested in movies as such. His interest is the shaping of time. The Generic City is a story that performatively explores the story that unfolds if we conceive a movie script that could be thought to create a city. Of course, there is something generic about it, yet there is nothing about the generics of cityness, isn’t it? I suppose it is due to the gap established by the different mediality that prevents to take The Generic City as a piece about architecture, at least no more so than Blade Runner is, or Playtime (J.Tati).

It is often said the Junkspace is a (desperate) critique of the outcome of the work of swarm architects. Well, this perspective is not completely out of the world. Though it is probably more reasonable to take it (the written piece) as a staged play. Remember, there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no enumerations, no structure, no analytics. There are just waves of words. Where these waves densify, the junk becomes a medium. In Junkspace, Koolhaas explores—and struggles with—the mediality of concertant activity. Of words, of swarm architects.

Koolhaas is not an architect. And architecture is not about form. To say so, would be much like to conflate literature science as literature. Or to take Shakespeare as a person capable of writing. Or Umberto Eco as funky professor of semiotics. (The trace of semiotics we didn’t explore here, despite we could have done so.)

Of course, there is structure, of course form is important, of course there is a grammatology. But all this is not about what architecture and the urban is about. The question then is, what is the about of the city? One part of the aboutness of the city is clearly performance, and by this I do not refer to the durability of materials, as architects usually are going to interpret this term. Performance is about situating one’s own body, one could add, as part of a delicately urban story.

Figure 4a: Performance as a response to the question of the “Situated Body”, or how to situated the body in the city. Heinrich Lueber near the Paradeplatz, Bahnhofstrasse Zurich, Switzerland (2005?). Space is where bodies can relate. Relations are inevitable, even if bodies get fixed. The categorical borders to buildings blur.

Figure 4b: Yves Klein, Leap into the Void (1960). Space is where nothingness is. Despite being avantgarde, and in contrast to Lueber, Klein remains modernist as he just transposes the claim of modernism for metaphysical independence.

Performance challenges what we have called before the existential resistance of things and (situative) arrangements. Of course, the body and its image, our model about the body are rather significant for the outcome of this challenge. The other part concerns talking about that performance. Understanding this talking about implies to think about the coming along, or a bit more clearly, to think about the conditions of this talking about. This will be the subject of the second part about Urban Reason (and the story behind it).

In his more recent works Koolhaas undeniably is approaching the field of differentiation. Unlike other architects, he employs a strictly non-analytical way of creating structure, one that strongly reminds to the differentiation processes in embryos. The resulting emphasis of rich internal structure, where each of the contained sites and locations is unique, results in a much more animal-like characteristics than it is the case for any other  architectural designer. This introduces behavior as an important immaterial component of buildings, and explicitly so. it is of a major significance that this creates the context for Koolhaas’ story telling. In, or by, a crystalline building, from Seagram to Eastern Berlin, even in a fractal one, you can’t tell any story, simply because the immaterial make-up does not allow to do so in these cases. As a matter of fact, Koolhaas has been fascinated by internal differentiation and the resulting structures even before he’d built any building at all, as everyone can read in his Delirious New York.

Recently, this tendency to explore the issue of differentiation strengthened again when he published his “Project Japan” [2] together with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. This book is a collection of interviews with all the still alive propagators of the Metabolism movement. Metabolism deliberately turned away from the machine perspective, stressing the adaptivity of buildings (and partially also of cities), which should be achieved through an imitation of animal life cycles, i.e. through adaptation of the principles of birth and growth. Here, we just want to note that Metabolism took a rather simple stance towards the issue of differentiation. It does not satisfy any advanced theoretical intentions. Nevertheless it represents an important starting point. And as we just mentioned, it is highly significant, and supportive for our perspective here, that Koolhaas brought these ideas to the fore, and with it the topic of differentiation.

Koolhaas certainly and confidently departed from those positions he explored (and criticized so much) in his trilogy of the mid-1990ies (Generic City, Junkspace, Singapore Songlines). In some way he practically demonstrated the future directions of theory in architecture (and urbanism, if you still want to separate those). Yet, it would be a mistake to conceive his answer to the above mentioned theoretical explorations, particularly given by Casa da Musica and the Dutch Embassy, as inconsistent or contradictory. Those texts remain fully valid, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Jacques Herzog in his “How Do Cities Differ?” [1] Herzog eagerly writes:

The Ideal City abdicated ages ago, as have Aldo Rossi’s Rational City, Rem Koolhaas’s Generic City and Venturi’s Strip. Not to mention Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse. All of these attempts to describe the city, to comprehend and reinvent it, were both necessary and useful. But today they leave us cold. Like water under the bridge, they no longer concern us. We cannot relate to them because they refer to a world that is no longer ours. The time has come to relinquish our longing for labels, to abandon manifestos and theories. They don’ t hit the mark; they simply brand the author for life. There are no theories of cities; there are only cities.

In this text, Herzog and his partner deMeuron stress the point that cities have a body, a corporeality. Cities can be, after, all vulnerated, injured or even destroyed. HdM do not follow the infamous (ridiculous?) approach of so-called emergency design. Yet, HdM are nevertheless wrong in several aspects, particularly in his overt dismissal of theory. Theory is inevitable, even for amoebas. In a previous essay we spent some space on the role of theory. Astonishingly, shortly after this dismissal the office run by Herzog and deMeuron published a space atlas for Switzerland, depicting their suggestions for a better planning in the whole country. How would one do that without theory? In the same way as in Singapore? Not so astonishingly thus is the almost dictatorial attitude they employ in this atlas.

Both, Koolhaas and Herzog & deMeuron discover the importance of corporeality, the individual materiality of the city, bundling, comprising and compressing all the historical contingency and continuity. The answers, however, that they gave could not be more different. HdM got deeply stuck in a pseudo-paradoxon:

Urban development today does not begin with Barthes’ punctum and it does not seek the most worthwhile targets; it occurs wherever a plot of land happens to be or become available. Yet the Twin Towers affect every city and their destruction affects urban dwellers everywhere. Terrorists see in them the destruction of a symbol; urban dwellers see in them a massive attack on their neighborhoods and their homes. The specific, the unique, that which distinguishes us from others, the indestructible: all these have become vulnerable, and so we have to protect ourselves. Time and again. But how? The best protection would be to aspire to “indistinguishability,” the “Indistinguishable City.” And that is the greatest illusion of all.

I just would like to remember that the “indistinguishability” may be conceived as the holy grail of modernists. Without theory, one inevitably gets drowned in factuality, one get totally disabled to see any immaterial effect of design, the associativity of material arrangements, where we find upstream and downstream effects. No wonder he denies the importance of Barthes and his semiotics. Herzog even moves the symbolic from everyday life to the side of the aggressor, which is almost a scandalous denunciation. The poor guy seems to think that neighborhoods and homes are without symbols, without symbolicity. Indeed a poor guy. A complaining modernist. Condemned to blind actions, sticking to the arbitrariness of the physical (“…wherever a plot of land happens become available.”). Obviously, HdM do not know about Immanuel Kant’s insight: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” [3]

Well, as we mentioned before, the contrast to the animate building(s) of Koolhaas could not be greater. With his theoretical and practical explorations of the topos of differentiation Koolhaas left them far behind. We will return to this topos of differentiation in the next pieces, since it is by no means a trivial one. Above all, it is a crucial yet so far completely neglected element for any concept of sustainability of urban environments. Honestly, how could sustainability be thought of at all without a proper concept of differentiation? Hence, Koolhaas’ contribution to this problematic area is drastically undervalued as well.


  • [1] Jacques Herzog, How do Cities differ? Introductory text to the course of study on the cities of Naples – Paris – The Canary Islands – Nairobi at the ETH Studio Basel – Contemporary City Institute. In: Gerhard Mack (Ed.). Herzog & de Meuron 1997-2001. The Complete Works. Volume 4. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 2008. Vol. No. 4. pp. 241-244.First published in: Jacques Herzog: Terror sin Teoría. Ante la ‘Ciudad indiferente’. In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). Arquitectura Viva. Herzog & de Meuron, del Natural. Vol. No. 91, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva, 07.2003. p. 128. available online.
  • [2] Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Taschen, Berlin 2011.
  • [3] Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (KrV B75, A51)



September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Animals behave. Of course, one could say.

Yet, why do we feel a certain naturalness here, in this relation between the cat as an observed and classified animal on the one side and the language game “behavior” on the other? Why don’t we say, for instance, that the animal happens? Or, likewise, that it is moved by its atoms? To which conditions does the language game “behavior” respond?

As strange as this might look like, it is actually astonishing that physicists easily attribute the quality of “behavior” to their dog or their cat, albeit they rarely will attribute them ideas (for journeys or the like). For physicists usually claim that the whole world can be explained in terms of the physical laws that govern the movement of atoms (e.g. [1]). Even physicists, it seems, exhibit some dualism in their concepts when it comes to animals. Yet, physicists claimed for a long period of time, actually into the mid of the 1980ies, that behavioral sciences actually could not count as a “science” at all, despite the fact that Lorenz and Tinbergen won the Nobel prize for medical sciences in 1973.

The difficulties physicists obviously suffer from are induced by a single entity: complexity. Here we refer to the notion of complexity that we developed earlier, which essentially is built from the following 5 elements.

  • – Flux of entropy, responsible for dissipation;
  • – Antagonistic forces, leading to emergent patterns;
  • – Standardization, mandatory for temporal persistence on the level of basic mechanisms as well as for selection processes;
  • – Compartmentalization, together with left-overs leading to spatio-temporal persistence as selection;
  • – Self-referential hypercycles, leading to sustained 2nd order complexity with regard to the relation of the whole to its parts.

Any setup for which we can identify this set of elements leads to probabilistic patterns that are organized on several levels. In other words, these conditioning elements are necessary and sufficient to “explain” complexity. In behavior, the sequence of patterns and the sequence of more simple elements within patterns are by far not randomly arranged, yet, it is more and more difficult to predict a particular pattern the higher its position in the stack of nested patterns, that is, its level of integration. Almost the same could be said about the observable changes in complex systems.

Dealing with behavior is thus a non-trivial task. There are no “laws” that would be mapped somehow into the animal such that an apriori defined mathematical form would suffice for a description of the pattern, or the animal as a whole. In behavioral sciences, one first has to fix a catalog of behavioral elements, and only by reference to this catalog we can start to observe in a way that will allow for comparisons with other observations. I deliberately avoid the concept of “reproducibility” here. How to know about that catalog, often called behavioral taxonomy? The answer is we can’t know in the beginning. To reduce observation completely to the physical level is not a viable alternative either. Observing a particular species, and often even a particular social group or individual improves over time, yet we can’t speak about that improvement. There is a certain notion of “individual” culture here that develops between the “human” observer and the behaving system, the animal. The written part of this culture precipitates in the said catalog, but there remains a large part of habit of observing that can’t be described without performing it. Observations on animals are never reproducible in the same sense as it is possible with physical entities. The ultimate reason being that the latter are devoid of individuality.

A behavioral scientist may work on quite different levels. She could investigate some characteristics of behavior in relation to the level of energy consumption, or to differential reproductive success. On this level, one would hardly go into the details of the form of behavior. Quite differently to this case are those investigations that are addressing the level of the form of the behavior. The form becomes an important target of the investigation if the scientist is interested in the differential social dynamics of animals belonging to different groups, populations or species. In physics, there is no form other than the mathematical. Electrons are (treated in) the same (way) by physicists all over the world, even across the whole universe. Try this with cats… You will loose the cat-ness.

It is quite clear that the social dynamics can’t be addressed by means of mere frequencies of certain simple behavioral elements, such like scratching, running or even sniffing at other animals. There might be differences, but we won’t understand too much of the animal, of course, particularly not with regard to the flow of information in which the animal engages.

The big question that arose during the 1970ies and the 1980ies was, how to address behavior, its structure, its patterning, and thereby to avoid a physicalist reduction?

Some intriguing answers has been given in the respective discourse since the beginning of the 1950ies, though only a few people recognized the importance of the form. For instance, to understand wolves Moran and Fentress [2] used the concept of choreography to get a descriptional grip on the quite complicated patterns. Colmenares, in his work about baboons, most interestingly introduced the notion of the play to describe the behavior in a group of baboons. He distinguished more than 80 types of social games as an arrangement of “moves” that span across space and time in a complicated way; this behavioral wealth rendered it somewhat impossible to analyze the data at that time. The notion of the social game is so interesting because it is quite close to the concept of language game.

Doing science means to translate observations into numbers. Unfortunately, in behavioral sciences this translation is rather difficult and in itself only little standardized (so far) despite many attempts, precisely for the reason that behavior is the observable output of a deeply integrated complex system, for instance the animal. Whenever we are going to investigate behavior we carefully have to instantiate the selection of the appropriate level we are going to investigate. Yet, in order to understand the animal, we even could not reduce the animal onto a certain level of integration. We should map the fact of integration itself.

There is a dominant methodological aspect in the description of behavior that differs from those in sciences more close to physics. In behavioral sciences one can invent new methods by inventing new purposes, something that is not possible in classic physics or engineering, at least if matter is not taken as something that behaves. Anyway, any method for creating formal descriptions invokes mathematics.

Here it becomes difficult, because mathematics does not provide us any means to deal with emergence. We can’t, of course, blame mathematics for that. It is not possible in principle to map emergence onto an apriori defined set of symbols and operations.

The only way to approximate an appropriate approach is by a probabilistic methodology that also provides the means to distinguish various levels of integration. The first half of this program is easy to accomplish, the second less so. For the fact of emergence is a creative process, it induces the necessity for interpretation as a constructive principle. Precisely this has been digested by behavioral science into the practice of the behavioral catalog.

1. This Essay

Well, here in this essay I am not interested mainly in the behavior of animals or the sciences dealing with the behavior of animals. Our intention was just to give an illustration of the problematic field that is provoked by the “fact” of the animals and their “behavior”.  The most salient issue in this problematic field is the irreducibility, in turn caused by the complexity and the patterning resulting from it. The second important part on this field is given by the methodological answers to these concerns, namely the structured probabilistic approach, which responds appropriately to the serial characteristics of the patterns, that is, to the transitional consistency of the observed entity as well as the observational recordings.

The first of these issues—irreducibility—we need not to discuss in detail here. We did this before, in a previous essay and in several locations. We just have to remember that empiricist reduction means to attempt for a sufficient description through dissecting the entity into its parts, thereby neglecting the circumstances, the dependency on the context and the embedding into the fabric of relations that is established by other instances. In physics, there is no such fabric, there are just anonymous fields, in physics, there is no dependency on the context, hence form is not a topic in physics. As soon as form becomes an issue, we leave physics, entering either chemistry or biology. As said, we won’t go into further details about that. Here, we will deal mainly with the second part, yet, with regard to two quite different use cases.

We will approach these cases, the empirical treatment of “observations” in computational linguistics and in urbanism, first from the methodological perspective, as both share certain conditions with the “analysis” of animal behavior. In chapter 8 we will give more pronounced reasons about this alignment, which at first sight may seem to be, well, a bit adventurous. The comparative approach, through its methodological arguments, will lead us to the emphasis of what we call “behavioral turn”. The text and the city are regarded as behaving entities, rather than the humans dealing with them.

The chapters in this essay are the following:

Table of Content (active links)

2. The Inversion

Given the two main conceptual landmarks mentioned above—irreducibility and the structured probabilistic approach—that establish the problematic field of behavior, we now can do something exciting. We take the concept and its conditions, detach it from its biological origins and apply it to other entities where we meet the same or rather similar conditions. In other words, we practice a differential as Deleuze understood it [3]. So, we have to spend a few moments for dealing with these conditions.

Slightly re-arranged and a bit more abstract than it is the case in behavioral sciences, these conditions are:

  • – There are patterns that appear in various forms, despite they are made from the same elements.
  • – The elements that contribute to the patterns are structurally different.
  • – The elements are not all plainly visible; some, most or even the most important are only implied.
  • – Patterns are arranged in patterns, implying that patterns are also elements, despite the fact that there is no fixed form for them.
  • – The arrangement of elements and patterns into other patterns is dependent on the context, which in turn can be described only in probabilistic terms.
  • – Patterns can be classified into types or families; the classification however, is itself non-trivial, that is, it is not supported.
  • – The context is given by variable internal and external influences, which imply a certain persistence of the embedding of the observed entity into its spatial, temporal and relational neighborhood.
  • – There is a significant symbolic “dimension” in the observation, meaning that the patterns we observe occur in sequence space upon an alphabet of primitives, not just in the numerical space. This symbolistic account is invoked by the complexity of the entity itself. Actually, the difference between symbolic and numerical sequences and patterns are much less than categorical, as we will see. Yet, it makes a large difference either to include or to exclude the methodological possibility for symbolic elements in the observation.

Whenever we meet these conditions, we can infer the presence of the above mentioned problematic field, that is mainly given by irreducibility and­­­—as its match in the methodological domain—the practice of a structured probabilistic approach. This list provides us an extensional circumscription of abstract behavior.

A slightly different route into this problematic field draws on the concept of complexity. Complexity, as we understand it by means of the 5 elements provided above (for details see the full essay on this subject), can itself be inferred by checking for the presence of the constitutive elements. Once we see antagonisms, compartments, standardization we can expect emergence and sustained complexity, which in turn means that the entity is not reducible and in turn, that a particular methodological approach must be chosen.

We also can clearly state what should not be regarded as a member of this field. The most salient one is the neglect of individuality. The second one, now in the methodological domain, is the destruction of the relationality as it is most easy accomplished by referring to raw frequency statistics. It should be obvious that destroying the serial context in an early step of the methodological mapping from observation to number also destroys any possibility to understand the particularity of the observed entity. The resulting picture will not only be coarse, most probably it also will be utterly wrong, and even worse, there is no chance to recognize this departure into the area that is free from any sense.

3. The Targets

At the time of writing this essay, there are currently three domains that suffer most from the reductionist approach. Well, two and a half, maybe, as the third, genetics, is on the way to overcome the naïve physicalism of former days.

This does not hold for the other two areas, urbanism and computational linguistics, at least as far as it is relevant for text mining  and information retrieval1. The dynamics in the respective communities are of course quite complicated, actually too complicated to achieve a well-balanced point of view here in this short essay. Hence, I am asking to excuse the inevitable coarseness regarding the treatment of those domains as if they would be homogenous. Yet, I think, that in both areas the mainstream is seriously suffering from a mis-understood scientism. In some way, people there strangely enough behave more positivist than researchers in natural sciences.

In other words, we follow the question how to improve the methodology in those two fields of urbanism and computerized treatment of textual data. It is clear that the question about methodology implies a particular theoretical shift. This shift we would like to call the “behavioral turn”. Among other changes, the “behavioral turn” as we construct it allows for overcoming the positivist separation between observer and the observed without sacrificing the possibility for reasonable empiric modeling.2

Before we argue in a more elaborate manner about this proposed turn in relation to textual data and urbanism, we first would like two accomplish two things. First, we briefly introduce two methodological concepts that deliberately try to cover the context of events, where those events are conceived as part of a series that always also develops into kind of a network of relations. Thus, we avoid to conceive of events as a series of separated points.

Secondly, we will discuss current mainstream methodology in the two fields that we are going to focus here. I think that the investigation of the assumptions of these approaches, often remaining hidden, sheds some light onto the arguments that support the reasonability of the “behavioral turn”.

4. Methodology

The big question remaining to deal with is thus: how to deal with the observations that we can make in and about our targets, the text or the city?

There is a clear starting point for the selection of any method as a method that could be considered as appropriate. The method should inherently respond to the seriality of the basic signal. A well-known method of choice for symbolic sequences are Markov chains, another important one are random contexts and random graphs. In the domain of numerical sequences wavelets are the most powerful way to represent various aspects of a signal at once.

Markov Processes

A Markov chain is the outcome of applying the theory of Markov processes onto a symbolic sequence. A Markov process is a neat description of the transitional order in a sequence. We also may say that it describes the conditional probabilities for the transitions between any subset of elements. Well, in this generality it is difficult to apply. Let us thus start with the most simple form, the Markov process of 1st order.

A 1st order Markov process describes just and only all pairwise transitions that are possible for given “alphabet” of discrete entries (symbols). These transitions can be arranged in a so-called transition matrix if we obey to the standard to use the preceding part of the transitional pair as row header and the succeeding part of the transitional pair as a column header. If a certain transition occurs, we enter a tick into the respective cell, given by the address row x column, which derives from the pair prec -> succ. That’s all. At least for the moment.

Such a table captures in some sense the transitional structure of the observed sequence. Of course, it captures only a simple aspect, since the next pair does not know anything about the previous pair. A 1st order Markov process is thus said to have no memory. Yet, it would be a drastic misunderstanding to generalize the absence of memory to any kind of Markov process. Actually, Markov processes can precisely be used to investigate the “memories” in a sequence, as we will see in a moment.

Anyway, on any kind of such a transition table we can do smart statistics, for instance to identify transitions that are salient for the “exceptional” high or low frequency. Such a reasoning takes into account the marginal frequencies of such a table and is akin to correspondence analysis. Van Hooff developed this “adjusted residual method” and  has been applying it with great success in the analysis of observational data on Chimpanzees [4][5].

These residuals are residuals against a null-model, which in this case is the plain distribution. In other words, the reasoning is simply the same as always in statistics, aiming at establishing a suitable ratio of observed/expected, and then to determine the reliability of a certain selection that is based on that ratio. In the case of transition matrices the null-model states that all transitions occur with the same frequency. This is of course, simplifying, but it is also simple to calculate. There are of course some assumptions in that whole procedure that are worthwhile to be mentioned.

The most important assumption of the null-model is that all elements that are being used to set up the transitional matrix are independent from each other, except their 1st order dependency, of course. This also means that the null-model assumes equal weights for the elements of the sequence. It is quite obvious that we should assume so only in the beginning of the analysis. The third important assumption is that the process is stationary, meaning the kind and the strength of the 1st order dependencies do not change for the entire observed sequence.

Yet, nothing enforces us to stick to just the 1st order Markov processes, or to apply it globally. A 2nd order Markov process could be formulated which would map all transitions x(i)->x(i+2). We may also formulate a dense process for all orders >1, just by overlaying all orders from 1 to n into a single transitional matrix.

Proceeding this way, we end up with an ensemble of transitional models. Such an ensemble is suitable for the comparatist probabilistic investigation of the memory structure of a symbolic sequence that is being produced by a complex system. Matrices can be compared (“differenced”) regarding their density structure, revealing even spurious ties between elements across several steps in the sequence. Provided the observed sequence is long enough, single transition matrices as well as ensembles thereof can be resampled on parts of sequences in order to partition the global sequence, that is, to identify locally stable parts of the overall process.

Here you may well think that this sounds like a complicated “work-around” for a Hidden Markov Model (HMM). Yet, despite a HMM is more general than the transition matrix perspective in some respect, it is also less wealthy. In HMM, the multiplicity is—well—hidden. It reduces the potential complexity of sequential data into a single model, again with the claim of global validity. Thus, HMM are somehow more suitable the closer we are to physics, e.g. in speech recognition. But even there their limitation is quite obvious.

From the domain of ecology we can import another trick for dealing with the transitional structure. In ecosystems we can observe the so-called succession. Certain arrangements of species and their abundance follow rather regularly, yet probabilistic to each other, often heading towards some stable final “state”. Given a limited observation about such transitions, how can we know about the final state? Using the transitional matrix the answer can be found simply by a two-fold operation of multiplying the matrix with itself and intermittent filtering by renormalization. This procedure acts as a frequency-independent filter. It helps to avoid type-II errors when applying the adjusted residuals method, that is, transitions with a weak probability will be less likely dismissed as irrelevant ones.


The method of Markov processes is powerful, but is suffers from a serious problem. This problem is introduced by the necessity to symbolize certain qualities of the signal in advance to its usage in modeling.

We can’t use Markov processes directly on the raw textual data. Doing so instead would trap us in the symbolistic fallacy. We would either ascribe the symbol itself a meaning—which would result in a violation of the primacy of interpretation—or it would conflate the appearance of a symbol with its relevance, which would constitute a methodological mistake.

The way out of this situation is provided by a consequent probabilization. Generally we may well say that probabilisation takes the same role for quantitative sciences as the linguistic turn did for philosophy. Yet, it is still an attitude that is largely being neglected as a dedicated technique almost everywhere in any science. (for an example application of probabilisation with regard to evolutionary theory see this)

Instead of taking symbols as they are pretended to be found “out there”, we treat them as outcome of an abstract experiment, that is, as a random variable. Random variables establish them not as dual concepts, as 1 or 0, to be or not to be, they establish themselves as a probability distribution. Such a distribution contains potentially an infinite number of discretizations. Hence, probabilistic methods are always more general than those which rely on “given” symbols.

Kohonen et al. proposed a simple way to establish a random context [6]. The step from symbolic crispness to a numerical representation is not trivial, though. We need a double-articulated entity that is “at home” in both domains. This entity is a high-dimensional random fingerprint. Such a fingerprint consists simply of a large number, well above 100, of random values from the interval [0..1]. According to the Lemma of Hecht-Nielsen [7]  any two of such vectors are approximately orthogonal to each other. In other words, it is a name expressed by numbers.

After a recoding of all symbols in a text into their random fingerprints it is easy to establish  probabilistic distributions of the neighborhood of any word. The result is a random context, also called a random graph. The basic trick to accomplish such a distribution is to select a certain, fixed size for the neighborhood—say five or seven positions in total—and then arrange the word of interest always to a certain position, for instance into the middle position.

This procedure we do for all words in a text, or any symbolic series. Doing so, we get a collection of random contexts, that overlap. The final step then is a clustering of the vectors according to their similarity.

It is quite obvious that this procedure as it has been proposed by Kohonen sticks to strong assumptions, despite its turn to probabilization. The problem is the fixed order, that is, the order is independent from context in his implementation. Thus his approach is still limited in the same way as the n-gram approach (see chp.5.3 below). Yet, sometimes we meet strong inversions and extensions of relevant dependencies between words. Linguistics speak of injected islands with regard to wh*-phrases. Anaphors are another example. Chomsky critized the approach of fixed–size contexts very early.

Yet, there is no necessity to limit the methodology to fixed-size contexts, or to symmetrical instances of probabilistic contexts. Yes, of course this will result in a situation, where we corrupt the tabularity of the data representation. Many rows are different in their length and there is (absolutely) no justification to enforce a proper table by filling “missing values” into the “missing” cells of the table

Fortunately, there is another (probabilistic) technique that could be used to arrive at a proper table, without distorting the content by adding missing values. This technique is random projection, first identified by Johnson & Lindenstrauss (1984), which in the case of free-sized contexts has to be applied in an adaptive manner (see [8] or [9] for a more recent overview). Usually, a source (n*p) matrix (n=rows, p=columns=dimensions) is multiplied with a (p*k) random matrix, where the random numbers follow a Gaussian distribution), resulting in a target matrix of only k dimensions and n rows. This way a matrix of 10000+ columns can be projected into one made only from 100 columns without loosing much information. Yet, using the lemma of Hecht-Nielsen we can compress any of the rows of a matrix individually. Since the random vectors are approximately orthogonal to each other we won’t introduce any information across all the data vectors that are going to be fed into the SOM. This stepwise operation becomes quite important for large amounts of documents, since in this case we have to adopt incremental learning.

Such, we approach slowly but steadily the generalized probabilistic context that we described earlier. The proposal is simply that in dealing with texts by means of computers we have to apply precisely the most general notion of context, which is devoid from structural pre-occupations as we can meet them e.g. in the case of n-grams or Markov processes.

5. Computers Dealing with Text

Currently, so-called “text mining” is a hot topic. More and more of human communication is supported by digitally based media and technologies, hence more and more texts are accessible to computers without much efforts. People try to use textual data from digital environments for instance to do sentiment analysis about companies, stocks, or persons, mainly in the context of marketing. The craziness there is that they pretend to classify a text’s sentiment without understanding it, more or less on the frequency of scattered symbols.

The label “text mining” reminds to “data mining”; yet, the structure of the endeavors are drastically different. In data mining one is always interested in the relevant variables n order to build a sparse model that even could be understood by human clients. The model then in turn is used to optimize some kind of process from which the data for modeling has been extracted.

In the following we will describe some techniques, methods and attitudes that are highly unsuitable for the treatment of textual “data”, despite the fact that they are widely used.

Fault 1 : Objectivation

The most important difference between the two flavor of “digital mining” concerns however, the status of the “data”. In data mining, one deals with measurements that are arranged in a table. This tabular form is only possible on the basis of a preceding symbolization, which additionally is strictly standardized also in advance to the measurement.

In text mining this is not possible. There are no “explanatory” variables that could be weighted. Text mining thus just means to find a reasonable selection of text in response to a “query”. For textual data it is not possible to give any criterion how to look at a text, how to select a suitable reference corpus for determining any property of the text, or simply to compare it to other texts before its interpretation. There are no symbols, no criteria that could be filled into a table. And most significant, there is no target that could be found “in the data”.

It is devoid of any sense to try to optimize a selection procedure by means of a precision/recall ratio. This would mean that the meaning of text could be determined objectively before any interpretation, or, likewise, that the interpretation of a text is standardisable up to a formula. Both attempts are not possible, claiming otherwise is ridiculous.

People responded to these facts with a fierce endeavor, which ironically is called “ontology”, or even “semantic web”. Yet, neither will the web ever become “semantic” nor is database-based “ontology” a reasonable strategy (except for extremely standardized tasks). The idea in both cases is to determine the meaning of an entity before its actual interpretation. This of course is utter nonsense, and the fact that it is nonsense is also the reason why the so-called “semantic web” never started to work. They guys should really do more philosophy.

Fault 2 : Thinking in Frequencies

A popular measure for describing the difference of texts are variants of the so-called tf-idf measure. “tf” means “term frequency” and describes the normalized frequency of a term within a document. “idf” means “inverse document frequency”, which, actually, refers to the frequency of a word across all documents in a corpus.

The frequency of a term, even its howsoever differentialized frequency, can hardly be taken as the relevance of that term given a particular query. To cite the example from the respective entry in Wikipedia, what is “relevant” to select a document by means of the query “the brown cow”? Sticking to terms makes sense only if and only if we accept an apriori contract about the strict limitation to the level of the terms. Yet, this has nothing to do with meaning. Absolutely nothing. It is comparing pure graphemes, not even symbols.

Even if it would be related to meaning it would be the wrong method. Simply think about a text that contains three chapters: chapter one about brown dogs, chapter two about the relation of (lilac) cows and chocolate, chapter three about black & white cows. There is no phrase about a brown cow in the whole document, yet, it would certainly be selected as highly significant by the search engine.

This example nicely highlights another issue. The above mentioned hypothetical text could nevertheless be highly relevant, yet only in the moment the user would see it, triggering some idea that before not even was on the radar. Quite obviously, despite the search would have been different, probably, the fact remains that the meaning is neither in the ontology nor in the frequency and also not in text as such—before the actual interpretation by the user. The issue becomes more serious if we’d consider slightly different colors that still could count as “brown”, yet with a completely different spelling. And even more, if we take into account anaphoric arrangement.

The above mentioned method of Markov processes helps a bit, but not completely of course.

Astonishingly, even the inventors of the WebSom [6], probably the best model for dealing with textual data so far, commit the frequency fallacy. As input for the second level SOM they propose a frequency histogram. Completely unnecessary, I have to add, since the text “within” the primary SOM can be mapped easily to a Markov process, or to probabilistic contexts, of course. Interestingly, any such processing that brings us from the first to the second layer reminds somewhat more to image analysis than to text analysis. We mentioned that already earlier in the essay “Waves, Words and Images”.

Fault 3 : The Symbolistic Fallacy (n-grams & co.)

Another really popular methodology to deal with texts is n-grams. N-grams are related to Markov processes, as they also take the sequential order into account. Take for instance (again the example from Wiki) the sequence “to be or not to be”. The transformation into a 2-gram (or bi-gram) looks such “to be, be or, or not, not to, to be,” (items are between commas), while the 3-gram transformation produces “to be or, be or not, or not to, not to be”. In this way, the n-gram can be conceived as a small extract from a transition table of order (n-1). N-grams share a particular weakness with simple Markov models, which is the failure to capture long-range dependencies in language. These can be addressed only by means of deep grammatical structures. We will return to this point later in the discussion of the next fault No.4 (Structure as Meaning).

The strange thing is that people drop the tabular representation, thus destroying the possibility of calculating things like adjusted residuals. Actually, n-grams are mostly just counted, which is committing the first fault of thinking in frequencies, as described above.

N-gram help to build queries against databases that are robust against extensions of words, that is prefixes, suffixes, or forms of verbs due to flexing. All this has, however, nothing to do with meaning. It is a basic and primitive means to make symbolic queries upon symbolic storages more robust. Nothing more.

The real problem is the starting point: taking the term as such. N-grams start with individual words that are taken blindly as symbols. Within the software doing n-grams, they are even replaced by some arbitrary hash code, i.e. the software does not see a “word”, it deals just with a chunk of bits.

This way, using n-grams for text search commits the symbolistic fallacy, similar to ontologies, but even on a more basic level. In turn this means that the symbols are taken as “meaningful” for themselves. This results in a hefty collision with the private-language-argument put forward by Wittgenstein a long time ago.

N-grams are certainly more advanced than the nonsense based on tf-idf. Their underlying intention is to reflect contexts. Nevertheless, they fail as well. The ultimate reason for the failure is the symbolistic starting point. N-grams are only a first, though far too trivial and simplistic step into probabilization.

There is already a generalisation of n-grams available as described in published papers by Kohonen & Kaski: random graphs, based on random contexts, as we described it above. Random graphs overcome the symbolistic fallacy, especially if used together with SOM. Well, honestly I have to say that random graphs imply the necessity of a classification device like the SOM. This should not be considered as being a drawback, since n-grams are anyway often used together with Bayesian inference. Bayesian methods are, however, not able to distil types from observations as SOM are able to do. That now is indeed a drawback since in language learning the probabilistic approach necessarily must be accompanied with the concept of (linguistic) types.

Fault 4 : Structure as Meaning

The deep grammatical structure is an indispensable part of human languages. It is present from the sub-word level up to the level of rhetoric. And it’s gonna get really complicated. There is a wealth of rules, most of them to be followed rather strict, but some of them are applied only in a loose manner. Yet, all of them are rules, not laws.

Two issues are coming up here that are related to each other. The first one concerns the learning of a language. How do we learn a language? Wittgenstein proposed, simply by getting shown how to use it.

The second issue concerns the status of the models about language. Wittgenstein repeatedly mentioned that there is no possibility for a meta-language, and after all we know that Carnap’s program of a scientific language failed (completely). Thus we should be careful when applying a formalism to language, whether it is some kind of grammar, or any of the advanced linguistic “rules” that we know of today (see the lexicon of linguistics for that). We have to be aware that these symbolistic models are only projective lists of observations, arranged according to some standard of a community of experts.

Linguistic models are drastically different from models in physics or any other natural science, because in linguistics there is no outer reference. (Computational) Linguistics is mostly on the stage of a Babylonian list science [10], doing more tokenizing than providing useful models, comparable to biology in the 18th century.

Language is a practice. Language is a practice of human beings, equipped with a brain and embedded in a culture. In turn language itself is contributing to cultural structures and is embedded into it. There are many spatial, temporal and relational layers and compartments to distinguish. Within such arrangements, meaning happens in the course of an ongoing interpretation, which in turn is always a social situation. See Robert Brandom’s Making it Explicit as an example for an investigation of this aspect.

What we definitely have to be aware of is that projecting language onto a formalism, or subordinating language to an apriori defined or standardized symbolism (like in formal semantics) looses essentially everything language is made from and referring to. Any kind of model of a language is implicitly also claiming that language can be detached from its practice and from its embedding without loosing its main “characteristics”, its potential and its power. In short, it is the claim that structure conveys meaning.

This brings us to the question about the role of structure in language. It is a fact that humans not only understand sentences full of grammatical “mistakes”, and quite well so, in spoken language we almost always produce sentences that are full of grammatical mistakes. In fact, “mistakes” are so abundant that it becomes questionable to take them as mistakes at all. Methodologically, linguistics is thus falling back into a control science, forgetting about the role and the nature of symbolic rules such as it is established by grammar. The nature is an externalization, the role is to provide a standardization, a common basis, for performing interpretation of sentences and utterances in a reasonable time (almost immediately) and in a more or less stable manner. The empirical “given” of a sentence alone, even a whole text alone, can not provide enough evidence for starting with interpretation, nor even to finish it. (Note that a sentence is never a “given”.)

Texts as well as spoken language are nothing that could be controlled. There is no outside of language that would justify that perspective. And finally, a model should allow for suitable prediction, that is, it should enable us to perform a decision. Here we meet Chomsky’s call for competence. In case of language, a linguistic models should be able to produce language as a proof of concept. Yet, any attempt so far failed drastically, which actually is not really a surprise. Latest here it should become clear that the formal models of linguistics, and of course all the statistical approaches to “language processing” (another crap term from computational linguistics) are flawed in a fundamental way.

From the perspective of our interests here on the “Putnam Program” we conceive of formal properties as Putnam did in his “Meaning of “Meaning””. Formal properties are just that: properties among other properties. In our modeling essay we proposed to replace the concept of properties by the concept of the assignate, in order to emphasize the active role of the modeling instance in constructing and selecting the factors. Sometimes we use formal properties of terms and phrases, sometimes not, dependent on context, purpose or capability. There is neither a strict tie of formal assignates to the entity “word” or “sentence” nor could we detach them as part of formal approach.

Fault 5 : Grouping, Modeling and Selection

Analytic formal models are a strange thing, because such a model essentially claims that there is no necessity for a decision any more. Once the formula is there, it claims a global validity. The formula denies the necessity for taking the context as a structural element into account. It claims a perfect separation between observer and the observed. The global validity also means that the weights of the input factors are constant, or even that there are no such weights. Note that the weights translates directly into the implied costs of a choice, hence formulas also claim that the costs are globally constant, or at least, arranged in a smooth differentiable space. This is of course far from any reality for almost any interesting context, and of course for the contexts of language and urbanism, both deeply related to the category of the “social”.

This basic characteristic hence limits the formal symbolic approach to physical, if not just to celestial and atomic contexts. Trivial contexts, so to speak. Everywhere else something rather different is necessary. This different thing is classification as we introduced it first in our essay about modeling.

Searching for a text and considering a particular one as a “match” to the interests expressed by the search is a selection, much like any other “decision”. It introduces a notion of irreversibility. Searching itself is a difficult operation, even so difficult that is questionable whether we should follow this pattern at all. As soon as we start to search we enter the grammatological domain of “searching”. This means that we claim the expressibility of our interests in the search statement.

This difficulty is nicely illustrated by an episode with Gary Kasparov in the context of his first battle against “Deep Blue”. Given the billions of operations the super computer performed, a journalist came up with the question “How do find the correct move so fast?” Obviously, the journalist was not aware about the mechanics of that comparison. Kasparov answered: “ I do not search, I just find it.” His answer is not perfectly correct, though, as he should have said “I just do it”. In a conversation we mostly “just do language”. We practice it, but we very rarely search for a word, an expression, or the like. Usually, our concerns are on the strategic level, or in terms of speech act theory, on the illocutionary level.

Such we arrive now at the intermediary result that we have some kind of non-analytical models on the one hand, and the performance of their application on the other. Our suggestion is that most of these models are situated on an abstract, orthoregulative level, and almost never on the representational level of the “arrangement” of words.

A model has a purpose, even if it is an abstract one. There are no models without purpose. The purpose is synonymic to the selection. Often, we do not explicitly formulate a purpose, we just perform selections in a consistent manner. It is this consistency in the selections that imply a purpose. The really important thing to understand is also that the abstract notion of purpose is also synonymic to what we call “perspective”, or point of view.

One could mention here the analytical “models”, but those “models” are not models because they are devoid of a purpose. Given any interesting empirical situation, everybody knows that things may look quite different, just dependent on the “perspective” we take. Or in our words, which abstract purpose we impose to the situation. The analytic approach denies such a “perspectivism”.

The strange thing now is that many people mistake the mere clustering of observation on the basis of all contributing or distinguished factors as a kind of model. Of course, that grouping will radically change if we withdraw some of the factors, keeping only a subset of all available ones. Not only the grouping changes, but also the achievable typology and any further generalization will be also very different. In fact, any purpose, and even the tuning of the attitude towards the risk (costs) of unsuitable decisions changes the set of suitable factors. Nothing could highlight more the nonsense to call naïve take-it-all-clustering a “unsupervised modeling”. First, it is not a model. Second, any clustering algorithm or grouping procedure follows some optimality criterion, that is it supervises it despite claiming the opposite. “Unsupervised modeling” claims implicitly that it is possible to build a suitable model by pure analytic means, without any reference to the outside at all. This is, f course, not possible. It is this claim that is introducing a contradiction to the practice itself, because clustering usually means classification, which is not an analytic move at all. Due to this self-contradiction the term “unsupervised modeling” is utter nonsense. It is not only nonsense, it is even deceiving, as people get vexed by the term itself: they indeed believe that they are modeling in a suitable manner.

Now back to the treatment of texts. One of the most advanced procedures—it is a non-analytical one—is the WebSom. We described it in more detail in previous essays (here and here). Yet, as the second step Kohonen proposes clustering as a suitable means to decide about the similarity of texts. He is committing exactly the same mistake as described before. The trick, of course, is to introduce (targeted) modeling to the comparison of texts, despite the fact that there are no possible criteria apriori. What seems to be irresolvable disappears, however, as a problem if we take into account the self-referential relations of discourses, which necessarily engrave into the interpreter as self-modifying structural learning and historical individuality.

6. The Statistics of Urban Environments

The Importance of Conceptual Backgrounds

There is no investigation without implied purpose, simply because any investigation has to perform more often many selections rather than just some. One of the more influential selections that has to be performed considers the scope of the investigation. We already met this issue above when we discussed the affairs as we can meet it in behavioral sciences.

Considering investigations about social entities like urban environments, architecture or language. “scope” largely refers to the status of the individual, and in turn, to the status of time that we instantiate in our investigation. Both together establish the dimension of form as an element of the space of expressibility that we choose for the investigation.

Is the individual visible at all? I mean, in the question, in the method and after applying a methodology? For instance, as soon as we ask about matters of energy, individuals disappear. They also disappear if we apply statistics to raw observations, even if at first hand we would indeed observe individuals as individuals. To retain the visibility of individuals as individuals in a set of relations we have to apply proper means first. It is clear, that any cumulative measure like those from socio-economics also cause the disappearance of the context and the individual.

If we keep the individuals alive in our method, the next question we have to ask concerns the relations between the individuals. Do we keep them or do we drop them? Finally, regarding the unfolding of the processes that result from the temporal dynamics of those relations, we have to select whether we want to keep aspects of form or not. If you think that the way a text unfolds or the way things are happening in the urban environment is at least as important as their presence,  well in this case you would have to care about patterns.

It is rather crucial to understand that these basic selections determine the outcome of an investigation as well as of any modeling or even theory building as grammatological constraints. Once we took a decision on the scope, the problematics of that choice becomes invisible, completely transparent. This is the actual reason for the fact that choosing a reductionist approach as the first step is so questionable.

In our earlier essay about the belief system in modernism we emphasized the inevitability of the selection of a particular metaphysical stance, ways before we even think about the scope of an investigation in a particular domain. In case of modernistic thinking, from positivism to existentialism, including any shape of materialism, the core of the belief system is metaphysical independence, shaping all the way down towards politics methods, tools, attitudes and strategies. If you wonder whether there is an alternative to modernistic thinking, take a look to our article where we introduce the concept of the choreostemic space.

Space Syntax

In the case of “Space Syntax” the name is program. The approach is situated in urbanism; it has been developed and is still being advocated by Bill Hillier. Originally, Hillier was a geo-scientist, which is somewhat important to follow his methodology.

Put into a nutshell, the concept of space syntax claims that the description of the arrangement of free space in a built environment is necessary and sufficient for describing the quality of a city. The method of choice to describe that arrangement is statistics, either through the concept of probabilistic density of people or through the concept of regression, relating physical characteristics of free space with the density of people. Density in turn is used to capture the effect of collective velocity vectors. If people start to slow down, walking around in different directions, density increases. Density of course also increases as a consequence of narrow passages. Yet, in this case the vectors are strongly aligned.

The spatial behavior of individuals is a result and a means of social behavior in many animal species. Yet it makes a difference whether we consider the spatial behavior of individuals or the arrangement of free space in a city as a constraint of the individual spatial behavior. Hillier’s claim of “The Space is the Machine” is mistaking the one for the other.

In his writings, Hillier over and over again commits the figure of the petitio principii. He starts with the strong belief in analytics and upon that he tries to justify the use of analytical techniques. His claim of “The need for an analytic theory of architecture” ([11], p.40) is just one example. He writes

The answer proposed in this chapter is that once we accept that the object of architectural theory is the non-discursive — that is, the configurational — content of space and form in buildings and built environments, then theories can only be developed by learning to study buildings and built environments as non-discursive objects.

Excluding the discourse as a constitutional element only the analytic remains. He drops any relational account, focusing just the physical matter and postulating meaning of physical things, i.e. meaning as an apriori in the physical things. His problem is just his inability to distinguish different horizons of time, of temporal development. Dismissing time means to dismiss memory, and of course also culture. For a physicalist or ultra-modernist like him this blindness is constitutive. He never will understand the structure of his failure.

His dismissal of social issues as part of a theory serves eo ipso as his justification of the whole methodology. This is only possible due to another, albeit consistent, mistake, the conflation of theory and models. Hillier is showing us over and over again only models, yet not any small contribution to an architectural theory. Applying statistics shows us a particular theoretical stance, but is not to be taken as such! Statistics instantiates those models, that is his architectural theory is following largely the statistical theory. We repeatedly pointed to the problems that appear if we apply statistics to raw observations.

The high self-esteem Hillier expresses in his nevertheless quite limited writings is topped by treating space as syntax, in other words as a trivial machine. Undeniably, human beings have a material body, and buildings take space as material arrangements. Undeniably matter arranges space and constitutes space. There is a considerably discussion in philosophy about how we could approach the problematic field of space. We won’t go into details here, but Hillier simply drops the whole stuff.

Matter arranges in space. This becomes quickly a non-trivial insight, if we change perspective from abstract matter and the correlated claim of the possibility of reductionism to spatio-temporal processes, where the relations are kept taken as a starting point. We directly enter the domain of self-organization.

By means of “Space Syntax” Hillier claimed to provide a tool for planning districts of a city, or certain urban environments. If he would restrict his proposals to certain aspects of the anonymized flow of people and vehicles, it would be acceptable as a method. But it is certainly not a proper tool to describe the quality of urban environments, or even to plan them.

Recently, he delivered a keynote speech [12] where he apparently departed from his former Space Syntax approach, that reaches back to 1984. There he starts with the following remark.

On the face of it, cities as complex systems are made of (at least) two sub-systems: a physical sub-system, made up of buildings linked by streets, roads and infrastructure; and a human sub-system made up of movement, interaction and activity. As such, cities can be thought of as socio-technical systems. Any reasonable theory of urban complexity would need to link the social and technical sub-systems to each other.

This clearly is much less reductionist, at first sight at least, than “Space Syntax”. Yet, Hillier remains aligned to hard-core positivism. Firstly, in the whole speech he fails to provide a useful operationalization of complexity. Secondly, his Space Syntax simply appears wrapped in new paper. Agency for him is still just spatial agency. The relevant urban networks for him is just the network of streets. Thirdly, it is bare nonsense to separate a physical and a human subsystem, and then to claim the lumping together of those as a socio-technical system. He obviously is unaware of more advance and much more appropriate ways of thinking about culture, such as ANT, the Actor-Network-Theory (Bruno Latour), which precisely drops the categorical separation of physical and human. This separation has been first critized by Merlau-Ponty in the 1940ies!

Hillier served us just as an example, but you may have got the point. Occasionally, one can meet attempts that at least try to integrate a more appropriate concept of culture and human being in urban environments. Think about Koolhaas and his AMO/OMA, for instance, despite the fact that Koolhaas himself also struggles with the modernist mindset (see our introductions into “JunkSpace” or “The Generic City”). Yet, he at least recognized that something is fundamentally problematic with that.

7. The Toolbox Perspective

Most of the interesting and relevant systems are complex. It is simply a methodological fault to use frequencies of observational elements to describe these systems, whether we are dealing with animals, texts, urban environments or people (dogs, cats) moving around in urban environments.

Tools provide filters, they respond to certain issues, both of the signal and of the embedding. Tools are artifacts for transformation. As such they establish the relationality between actors, things and processes. Tools produce and establish Heidegger’s “Gestell” as well as they constitute the world as a fabric of relations as facts and acts, as Wittgenstein emphasized so often and already in the beginning of the Tractatus.

What we like to propose here is a more playful attitude towards the usage of tools, including formal methods. By “playful” we refer to Wittgenstein’s rule following, but also to a certain kind of experimentation, not induced by theory, but rather triggered by the know-how of some techniques that are going to be arranged. Tools as techniques, or techniques as tools are used to distil symbols from the available signals. Their relevancy is determined only by the subsequent step of classification, which in turn is (ortho-)regulated by strategic goal or cultural habits. Never, however, should we take a particular method as a representative for the means to access meaning from a process, let it a text or an urban environment.

8. Behavior

In this concluding chapter we are going to try to provide more details about our move to apply the concept of behavior to urbanism and computational linguistics.


Since Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1830ies, hermeneutics is emphasizing a certain kind of autonomy of the text. Of course, the text itself is not a living thing as we consider it for animals. Before it “awakes” it has to be entered into mind matter, or more generally, it has to be interpreted. Nevertheless, an autonomy of the text remains, largely due to the fact that there is no Private Language. The language is not owned by the interpreting mind. Vilem Flusser proposed to radically turn the perspective and to conceive the interpreter as medium for texts and other “information”, rather than the other way round.

Additionally, the working of the brain is complex, least to say. Our relation to our own brain and our own mind is more that of an observer than that of a user or even controller. We experience them. Both together, the externality of language and the (partial) autonomy of the brain-mind lead to an arrangement where the text becomes autonomous. It inherits complimentary parts of independence from both parts of the world, from the internal and the external.

Furthermore, human languages are unlimited in their productivity. It is not only unlimited, it also is extensible. This pairs with its already mentioned deep structure, not only concerning the grammatical structure. Using language, or better, mastering language means to play with the inevitable inner contradictions that appear across the various layers, levels, aspects and processes of applied language. Within practiced language, there are many time horizons, instantiated by structural and semantic pointers. These aspects render the original series of symbols into an associative network of active components, which contributes further to the autonomy of texts. Roland Barthes notes (in [17]) that

The Plural of the Text depends … not on the ambiguity of its contents but on what might be called the sterographic plurality of its weave of signifiers (etymologically, the text is a tissue, a woven fabric). The reader of the Text may be compared to someone at a loose end.

Barthes implicitly emphasizes that the text does not convey a meaning, the meaning is not in the text, it can’t be conceived as something externalizable. In this essay he also holds that a text can’t be taken as just a single object. It is a text only in the context of other texts, and so the meaning that it develops upon interpretation is also dependent on the corpus into which it is embedded.

Methodologically, this (again) highlights the problematics that Alan Hajek called the reference class problem [13]. It is impossible for an interpreter to develop the meaning of a text outside of a previously chosen corpus. This dependency is inherited by any phrase, any sentence and any word within the text. Even a label like “IBM” that seems to be bijectively unique regarding the mapping of the graphem to its implied meaning is dependent on that. Of course, it will always refer somehow to the company. Yet, without the larger context it is not clear in any sense to which aspect of that company and its history the label refers to in a particular case. In literary theory this is called intertextuality. Further more, it is almost palpable here in this example that signs refer only to signs (the cornerstone of Peircean semiotics), and that concepts are nothing that could be defined (as we argued earlier in more detail).

We may settle here that a text as well as any part of it is established even through the selection of the embedding corpus, or likewise, a social practice, a life-form. Without such an embedding the text simply does not exist as a text. We just would find a series of graphemes. It is a hopeless exaggeration , if not self-deception, if people call the statistical treatment of texts “text mining”. reading it in another way, it may be considered even as a cynical term.

It is this dependence on local and global contexts, synchronically and diachronically, that renders the interpretation of a text similar to the interpretation of animal behavior.

Taken together, conceiving of texts as behaving systems is probably less a metaphor than it appears at first sight. Considering the way we make sense of a text, approaching a text is in many ways comparable with approaching an animal of a familiar species. We won’t know exactly what is going to happen, the course of events and action depends significantly on ourselves. The categories and ascribed properties necessary to establish an interaction are quite undefined in the beginning, also available only as types of rules, not as readily parameterized rules itself. And like in animals, the next approach will never be a simple repetition of the former one, even one knows the text quite good.

From the methodological perspective the significance of such a “behavioral turn”3 can’t be underestimated. For instance, nobody would interpret an animal by a rather short series of photographs, and keep the conclusion thereof once and for all. Interacting with a text as if it would behave demands for a completely different set of procedures. After all, one would deal with an open interaction. Such openness must be responded to with an appropriate attitude of the willingness for open structural learning.  This holds not only for human interpreters, but rather also for any interpreter, even if it would be software. In other words, the software dealing with text must itself be active in a non-analytical manner in order to constitute what we call a “text”. Any kind of algorithm (in the definition of Knuth) does not deal with text, but just and blindly with a series of dead graphemes.

The Urban

For completely different material reasons cities can be considered also as autonomous entities. Their patterns of growth and differentiation looks much more like that of ensembles of biological entities than that of minerals. Of course, this doesn’t justify the more or less naïve assignment of the “city as organism”. Urban arrangements are complex in the sense we’ve defined it, they are semiogenic and associative. There is a continuous contest between structure as regulation and automation on the one side and liquification as participation and symbolization on the other, albeit symbols may play for both parties.

Despite this autonomy, it remains a fact that without human activity cities are as little alive as texts are. This raises the particular question of the relationships between a city and its inhabitants, between the people as citizens of the city that they constitute. This topic has been subject of innumerable essay, novels, and investigations. Recently, a fresh perspective onto that has been opened by Vera Bühlmann’s notion of the “Quantum City”.[14]

We can neither detach the citizens from their city, not vice versa. Nevertheless, the standardized and externalized collective contribution across space and time creates an arrangement that produces dissipative flows and shows a strong meta-stability that transcends the activities of the individuals. This stability should not be mistaken as a “state”, though. Like for any other complex system, including texts, we should avoid to try to assign a “state” to a particular city, or even a part of it. Everything is a process within a complex system, even if it appears to be rather stable. yet, this stability depends on the perspective of the observer. In turn, the seeming stability does not mean that a city-process could not be destroyed by human activity, let it be by individuals (Nero), by a collective, or by socio-economic processes. Yet, again as in case of complex systems, the question of causality would be the wrong starting point for addressing the issue of change as it would be a statistical description.

Cities and urban environments are fabrics of relations between a wide range of heterogenic and heterotopic (See Foucault or David Shane [15]) entities and processes across a likewise large range of temporal scales, meeting any shade between the material and the immaterial. There is the activity of single individuals, of collectives of individuals, of legislative and other norms, the materiality of the buildings and their changing usage and roles, different kinds of flows and streams as well as stores and memories.

Elsewhere we argued that this fabric may be conceived as a dynamic ensemble of associative networks [16]. Those should be clearly distinguished from logistic networks, whose purpose is given by organizing any kind of physical transfer. Associative networks re-arrange, sort, classify and learn. Such, they are also the abstract location of the transposition of the material into the immaterial. Quite naturally, issues of form and their temporal structure arise, in other words, behavior.

Our suggestion thus is to conceive of a city as en entity that behaves. This proposal has (almost) nothing to do with the metaphor of the “city as organism”, a transfer that is by far too naïve. Changes in urban environments are best conceived as “outcomes” of probabilistic processes that are organized as overlapping series, both contingent and consistent. The method of choice to describe those changes is based on the notion of the generalized context.

Urban Text, Text and Urbanity, Textuality and Performance

Urban environments establish or even produce a particular kind of mediality. We need not invoke the recent surge of large screens in many cities for that. Any arrangement of facades encodes a rich semantics that is best described employing a semiotic perspective, just as Venturi proposed it. Recently, we investigated the relationship between facades, whether made from stone or from screens, and the space that they constitute [17].

There is yet another important dimension between the text and the city. For many hundred years now, if not even millenia, cities are not imaginable without text in one or the other form. Latest since the early 19th century, text and city became deeply linked to one another with the surge of newspapers and publishing houses, but also through the intricate linkage between the city and the theater. Urban culture is text culture, far more than it could be conceived as an image culture. This tendency is only intensified through the web, albeit urbanity now gets significantly transformed by and into the web-based aspects of culture. At least we may propose that there is a strong co-evolution between the urban (as entity and as concept) and mediality, whether it expresses itself as text, as movie or as webbing.

The relationship between the urban and the text has been explored many times. It started probably with Walter Benjamin’s “flâneur” (for an overview see [18]). Nowadays, urbanists often refer to the concept of the “readability” of a city layout, a methodological habit originated by Kevin Lynch. Yet, if we consider the relation between the urban and the textual, we certainly have to take an abstract concept of text, we definitely have to avoid the idea that there are items like characters or words out there in the city. I think, we should at least follow something like the abstract notion of textuality, as it has been devised by Roland Barthes in his “From Work to Text” [19] as a “methodological field”. Yet, this probably is still not abstract enough, as urban geographers like Henri Lefebvre mistook the concept of textuality as one of intelligibility [20]. Lefebvre obviously didn’t understand the working of a text. How should he, one might say, as a modernist (and marxist) geographer. All the criticism that was directed against the junction between the urban and textuality conceived­—as far as we know—text as something object-like, something that is out there as such, awaiting passively to be read and still being passive as it is being read, finally maybe even as an objective representation beyond the need (and the freedom for) interpretation. This, of course, represents a rather limited view on textuality.

Above we introduced the concept of “behaving texts”, that is, texts as active entities. These entities become active as soon as they are mediatized with interpreters. Again: not the text is conceived as the media or in a media-format, but rather the interpreter, whether it is a human brain-mind or a a suitable software tat indeed is capable for interpreting, not just for pre-programmed and blind re-coding. This “behavioral turn” renders “reading” a text, but also “writing” it, into a performance. Performances, on the other hand, comprise always and inevitable a considerable openness, precisely because they let collide the immaterial and the material from the side of the immaterial. Such, performances are the counterpart of abstract associativity, yet also settling at the surface that sheds matter from ideas.

In the introduction to their nicely edited book ”Performance and the City” Kim Solga, D.Hopkins and Shelley Orr [18] write, citing the urban geographer Nigel Thrift:

Although de Certeau conceives of ‘walking in the city’ not just as a textual experience but as a ‘series’ of embodied, creative’ practices’ (Lavery: 152), a ‘spatial acting-out of place’ (de Certeau: 98, our emphasis), Thrift argues that de Certeau: “never really leaves behind the operations of reading and speech and the sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit claim that these operations can be extended to other practices. In turn, this claim [ … ] sets up another obvious tension, between a practice-based model of often illicit ‘behaviour’ founded on enunciative speech-acts and a text-based model of ‘representation’ which fuels functional social systems.” (Thrift 2004: 43)

Quite obviously, Thrift didn’t manage to get the right grip to Certeau’s proposal that textual experience may be conceived—I just repeat it— as a series of embodied, creative practices. It is his own particular blindness that lets Thrift denunciate texts as being mostly representational.

Solsa and colleagues indeed emphasize the importance of performance, not just in their introduction, but also through their editing of the book. Yet, they explicitly link textuality and performance as codependent cultural practices. They write:

While we challenge the notion that the city is a ‘text’ to be read and (re)written, we also argue that textuality and performativity must be understood as linked cultural practices that work together to shape the body of phenomenal, intellectual, psychic, and social encounters that frame a subject’s experience of the city. We suggest that the conflict, collision, and contestation between texts and acts provoke embodied struggles that lead to change and renewal over time. (p.6)

Such, we find a justification for our “behavioral turn” and its application to texts as well as to the urban from a rather different corner. Even more significant, Solsa et al. seem to agree that performativity and textuality could not be detached from the urban at all. Apparently, the urban as a particular quality of human culture more and more develops into the main representative of human culture.

Yet, neither text nor performance, nor their combination count for a full account of the mediality of the urban. As we already indicated above, the movie as kind of a cross-media from text, image, and performance is equally important.

The relations between film and the urban, between architecture and the film, are also quite wide-spread. The cinema, somehow the successor of the theatre, could be situated only within the city. From the opposite direction, many would consider a city without cinemas as being somehow incomplete. The co-evolutionary story between both is still being under vivid development, I think.

There is particularly one architect/urbanist who is able to blend the film and the building into each other. You may know him quite well, I refer to Rem Koolhaas. Everybody knows that he has been an experimental moviemaker in his youth. It is much less known that he deliberately organized at least one of his buildings as kind of a movie: The Embassy of the Netherlands in Berlin (cf. [21]).

Here, Koolhaas arranged the rooms along a dedicated script. Some of the views out of the window he even trademarked to protect them!

Figure 1: Rem Koolhaas, Dutch Embassy, Berlin. The figure shows the script of pathways as a collage (taken from [21]).

9. The Behavioral Turn

So far we have shown how the behavioral turn could be supported and which are some of the first methodological consequences, if we embrace it. Yet, the picture developed so far is not complete, of course.

If we accept the almost trivial concept that autonomous entities are best conceived as behaving entities—remember that autonomy implies complexity—, then we further can ask about the structure of the relationship between the behaving subject and its counterpart, whether this is also a behaving subject or whether it is conceived more like passive object. For Bruno Latour, for instance, both together form a network, thereby blurring the categorical distinction between both.

Most descriptions of the process of getting into touch with something nowadays is dominated by the algorithmic perspective of computer software. Even Designer started to speak about interfaces. The German term for the same thing—“Schnittstelle”—is even more pronounced and clearly depicts the modernist prejudice in dealing with interaction. “Schnittstelle” implies that something, here the relation, is cut into two parts. A complete separation between interacting entities is assumed apriori. Such a separation is deeply inappropriate, since it would work only in strictly standardized environments, up to being programmed algorithmically. Precisely this was told us over and over again by designers of software “user interfaces”. Perhaps here we can find the reason for so many bad designs, not only concerning software. Fortunately, though just through a slow evolutionary process, things improve more and more. So-called “user-centric” design, or “experience-oriented” design became more abundant in recent years, but their conceptual foundation is still rather weak, or a wild mixture of fashionable habits and strange adaptations of cognitive science.

Yet, if we take the primacy of interpretation serious, and combine it with the “behavioral turn” we can see a much more detailed structure than just two parts cut apart.

The consequence of such a combination is that we would drop the idea of a clear-cut surface even for passive objects. Rather, we could conceive objects as being stuffed with a surrounding field that becomes stronger the closer we approach the object. By means of that field we distinguish the “pure” physicality from the semiotically and behaviorally active aspects.

This field is a simple one for stone-like matter, but even there it is still present. The field becomes much more rich, deep and vibrant if the entity is not a more or less passive object, but rather an active and autonomous subject. Such as an animal, a text, or a city. The reason being that there are no apriori and globally definable representative criteria that we could use to approach such autonomous entities. We only can know about more or less suitable procedures about how to derive such criteria in the particular case, approaching a particular individual {text, city}. The missing of such criteria is a direct correlate for their semantic productivity, or, likewise, for their unboundedness.

Approaching a semantically productive entity—such entities are also always able to induce new signs, they are semiosic entities—is reminds to approaching a gravitational field. Yet it is also very different from a gravitational field, since our semio-behavioral field shows increasing structural richness the closer the entities approach to each other. It is quite obvious that only by means of such a semio-behavioral field we can close the gap between the subject and the world that has been opened, or at least deepened by the modernist contributions from the times of Descartes until late computer science. Only upon a concept like the semio-behavioral field, which in turn is a consequence of the behavioral turn, we can overcome the existential fallacy as it has been purported and renewed over and over again by the dual pair of material and immaterial. The language game that separates the material and immaterial inevitably leads into the nonsensical abyss of existentialism. Dual concepts always come with tremendous costs, as they prevent any differentiated way of speaking about the matter. For instance, it prevents to recognize the materiality of symbols, or more precisely, the double-articulation of symbols between the more material and the more immaterial aspects of the world.

The following series of images may be taken as a metaphorical illustration of that semio-behavioral field. We call it the zona extima of the behavioral coating of entities.

Figure 2a: The semio-behavioral field around an entity.

Figure 2b: The situation as another entity approaches perceptively.

Figure 2c: Mutual penetration of semio-behavioral fields.

Taken together we may say, that whenever {sb,sth} gets into contact with {sb, sth}, we do so through the behavioral coating. This zone is of contact is not intimate (as Peter Sloterdijk describes it), it is rather extimate, though there is a smooth and graded change of quality from extimacy to intimacy as the distance decreases. The zona extima is a borderless (topological) field, driven by purposes (due to modelling), it is medial, behaviorally  choreographed as negotiation, exposure, call & request.

The concept of extimation, or also the process of extimating, is much more suitable than “interaction” to describe what‘s going on when we act, behave, engage, actively perceive, encounter with or towards the other. The interesting thing with the web-based media is that some aspects of zona extima can be transferred.

10. Conclusion

In this essay we try to argument in favor of a behavioral turn as a general attitude when it comes to conceive the interaction of any kind of two entities. The behavioral turn is a consequence of three major and interrelated assumptions:

  • – primacy of interpretation in the relation to the world;s;
  • – primacy of process and relation against matter and point;
  • – complexity and associativity in strongly mediatized environments.

All three assumptions are strictly outside of anything that phenomenological, positivist or modernist approaches can talk about or even practice.

It particularly allows to overcome the traditional and strict separation between the material and the immaterial, as well as the separation between the active and the passive. These shifts can’t be underestimated; they have far-reaching consequences upon the way we practice and conceive our world.

The behavioral turn is the consequence of a particular attitude that respects the bi-valency of world as a dynamic system of populations of relations. It is less the divide between the material and the immaterial, which anyway is somewhat an illusion deriving from the metaphysical claim of the possibility of essences. For instance, the jump that occurs between the realms of the informational and the causal establishes as a pair of two complimentary but strictly and mutually exclusive modes of speaking about the orderliness in the world. In some way, it is also the orderliness in the behavior of the observer—as repetition—that creates the informational that the observer than may perceive. The separation is thus a highly artificial one, in either direction. It is simply silly to discuss the issue of causality without referring to the informational aspects (for a full discussion of the issue see this essay). In any real-world case we always find both aspects together, and we find it as behavior.

Actually, the bi-valent aspect that I mentioned before refers to something quite different, in fact so different that we even can’t speak properly about it. It refers to these aspects that are apriori to modeling or any other comprehension, that are even outside to the performance of the individual itself. What I mean is the resistance of existential arrangements, inclusive the body that the comprehending entity is partially built from. This existential resistance introduces something like outer space for the cultural sphere. Needless to say that we can exist only within this cultural sphere. Yet, any action upon the world enforces us to take a short trip into the vacuum, and if we are lucky the re-entrance is even productive. We may well expect an intensification of the aspect of the virtual, as we argued here. Far from being suitable to serve as a primacy (as existentialism misunderstood the issue), the existential resistance, the absolute outside, enforces us to bark on the concept of behavior. Only “behavior” as a perceptional and performative attitude allows to extract coherence from the world without neglecting the fact of that resistance or contumacy.

The behavioral turn triggers a change in the methodology for empiric investigations as well. The standard set of methods for empiric descriptions changes, using the relation and the coherent series always as the starting point, best in its probabilized form, that is, as generalized probabilistic context. This also prevents the application of statistical methods directly to raw data. There should always be some kind of grouping or selection preceding the statistical reasoning. Otherwise we would try to follow the route that Wittgenstein blocked as a “wrong usage of symbols” (in his rejection of the reasonability of Russel/Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica). The concept of abstract behavior inclusive the advanced methodology that avoids to start with representational symbolification is clearly a sound way out of this deep problem from which any positivist empiric investigation suffers.

Interaction, including any action upon some other entity, when understood within the paradigm of behavior, becomes a recurrent, though not repetitive, self-adjusting process. During this process means and symbols may change and be replaced all the way down until a successful handshake. There is no objectivity in this process other than the mutual possibility for anticipation. Despite the existential resistance and contumacy that is attached to any re-shaping of the world, and even more so if we accomplish it by means of tools, this anticipation is, of course, greatly improved upon the alignment to cultural standards, contributing to the life-world as a shared space of immanence.

This provides us finally a sufficiently abstract, but also a sufficiently rich or manifold perspective on the issue of the roles of symbols regarding the text, the urban and the anime, the animal-like. None of those could be comprehended without first creating a catalog or a system of symbols. These symbols, both material and immaterial and thus kind of a hinge, a double-articulation, are rooted both in the embedding culture (as a de-empirifying selective force) and the individual, which constitutes another double-articulation. The concept of abstract behavior, given as a set of particular conditions and attitudes, allows to respond appropriately to the symbolic.

The really big question concerning our choreostemic capabilities—and those of the alleged machinic—therefore is: How to achieve the fluency in dealing with the symbolic without presuming it as a primary entity? Probably by exercising observing. I hope that the suggestions expressed so far in these essay provide some robust starting points. …we will see.


1. Here we simply cite the term of “information retrieval”, we certainly do not agree that the term is a reasonable one, since it is deeply infected by positivist prejudices. “Information” can’t be retrieved, because it is not “out there”. Downloading a digitally encoded text is neither a hunting nor a gathering for information, because information can’t be considered to be an object. Information is only present during the act of interpretation (more details about the status of information you can find here). Actually, what we are doing is simply “informationing”.

2. The notion of a “behavioral turn” is known from geography since the late 1960ies [22][23], and also from economics. In both fields, however, the behavioral aspect is related to the individual human being. In both areas, any level of abstraction with regard to the concept of behavior is missing. Quite in contrast to those movements, we do not focus on the neglect of the behavioral domain when it comes to human society, but rather the transfer of the abstract notion of behavior to non-living entities.

Another reference to “behavioral sciences” can be found in social sciences. Yet, in social sciences “behavioral” is often reduced to “behaviorist”, which of course is nonsense. A similar misunderstanding is abundant in political sciences.

3. Note that the proposed „behavioral turn“ should not be mistaken as a “behavioristic” move, as sort of a behaviorism. We strictly reject the stimulus-response scheme of the behaviorism. Actually, behaviorism as it has been developed by Watson and Pavlov has only little to do with behavior at all. It is nothing else than an overt reductionist program, rendering any living being into a trivial machine. Unfortunately, the primitive scheme of behaviorism is experiencing kind of a come-back in so-called “Behavioral Design”, where people talk about “triggers” much in the same way as Pavlov did (c.f. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model).


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