Time, Magic and the Self (I/III)

January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

There is.

Isn’t it? Would you agree? Well, I would not. In other words, to say ‘There is.’ is infinitesimally close to a misunderstanding. Or a neglect, if you prefer. It is not the missing of a referent, though, at least not in first instance. The problem would be almost the same if we would have said ‘There is x’. It is the temporal aspect that is missing. Without considering the various aspects of temporality of the things that build up our world, we could neither understand the things nor the world.

Nowadays, the probability for finding some agreement for such a claim is somewhat higher than it once was, in the high tides of modernism. For most urbanists and architects, time was nothing but a somewhat cumbrous parameter, yet nothing of any deeper structural significance. The modern city was a city without time, after breaking the traditions, even not creating new ones. Such was the claim, which is properly demonstrated by Simon Sadler [1] citing Ron Herron, group member of Archigram.

“Living City”1 curator Ron Herron described his appreciation of “Parallel of Life and Art”: It was most extraordinary because it was primarily photographic and with apparently no sequence; it jumped around like anything.

Unfortunately, and beyond the mere “functioning,” the well-organized disorg-anization itself became a tradition. Koolhaas called it Junkspace [2]. Astonishingly, and not quite compatible to the admiration of dust-like scatterings that negate relationality, Archigram claims to be interested in, if not focused to life and behavior. Sadler summarizes (p.55)

“Living City” and its catalogue were not about traditional architectural form, but its opposite: the formlessness of space, behavior, life.

Obviously, Sadler himself is not quite aware about the fact that behavior is predominantly a choreography, that is, it is about form and time as well as form in time. The concepts of form and behavior as implied by Archigram’s utopias are indeed very strange.

Basically, the neglect of time beyond historicity is typical for modern/modernist architects, urbanists and theorists up to our days, including Venturi [2], Tschumi [4] or Oswald [5]. Even Koolhaas does not refer expressis verbis to it, albeit he is constantly in a close orbit of it. This is astonishing since key concepts in the immediate neighborhood of time such as semiotics, narration or complexity are indeed mentioned by these authors. Yet, without a proper image of time one remains on the level of mere phenomena. We will discuss this topic of time on the one side and architects and architecture on the other later in more detail.

Authors like Sigfried Giedion [6] or Aldo Rossi [7] didn’t change much concerning the awareness for time in the practice of architecture and urbanism. Maybe, partly because their positions have been more self-contradictive than consistent. On the one hand they demanded for a serious consideration of time, on the other hand they still stuck to rather strong rationalism. Rationalist time, however, is much less than just half of the story. Another salient reason is certainly given by the fact that time is a subject that is notoriously difficult to deal with. As Mike Sandbothe cites Paul Ricoeur [8]:

Ultimately, for Ricoeur time marks the „mystery“ of our thinking, which resists representation by encompassing our Dasein in a way that is ineluctable for our thinking.2

This Essay

One of the large hypotheses that I have been following across the last essays is that we will not be able to understand the Urban3 and architecture without a proper image of differentiation. Both parts of this notion, the “image” and the “differentiation” need some explication.

Despite “differentiation” seems to be similar to change, they are quite different from each other. The main reason being that differentiation comprises an activity, which, according to Aristotle has serious consequences. Mary Louise Gill [9] summarizes his distinction as follows:

Whereas a change is brought about by something other than the object or by the object itself considered as other (as when a doctor cures himself), an activity is brought about by the object itself considered as itself. This single modification yields an important difference: whereas a change leads to a state other than the one an object was previously in, an activity maintains or develops what an object already is.4

In other terms, in case of change it is proposed that it is relatively unconstrained, hence with less memory and historicity implied, while activity, or active differentiation implies a greater weight of historicity, less contingency, increased persistence and thus an increased intensity of being in time.

Besides this fundamental distinction we may discern several modes of differentiation. The question then is, how to construct a proper “whole” of that. Obviously we can think of different such compound “wholes,” which is the reason for our claim that we need a proper image of differentiation.

Now to the other part of the notion of the “image of differentiation,” the image. An “image” is much more than a “concept.” It is more like a diagram about the possibility to apply the concept, the structure of its use. The aspect of usage is, of course, a crucial one. Actually, with respect to the relation between concepts and actions we identified the so-called “binding problem”. The binding problem claims that there is no direct, unmediated way from concepts to actions, or the reverse. Models are needed, both formalizable structural models, being more close to concepts, and anticipatory models, being more close to the implementation of concepts. The operationalization of concepts may be difficult. Yet, action without heading to get contact to concepts is simply meaningless. (The reason for the emptiness of ‘single case’-studies.) Our overall conclusion regarding the binding problem was that it is the main source for frictions and even failure in the control and management of society, if it is not properly handled, if concepts and actions are not mediated by a layer of “Generic Differentiation.” Only the layer of “Generic Differentiation” with its possibility for different kinds of models can provide the basic conditions to speak about and to conceive any of the mechanisms potentially relevant for the context at hand. Such, the binding problem is probably one of the most frequent causes for many, many difficulties concerning the understanding, designing and dealing with the Urban, or its instances, the concrete city, the concrete settlement or building, the concrete neighborhood.

This transition between concept and action (or vice versa) can’t be fully comprised by language alone. For a certain reasons we need a diagram. “Generic Differentiation”, comprising various species of probabilistic, generalized networks, is conceived as part of a larger compound—we may call it “critical pragmatics”—, as it mediates between concepts and actions. Finally we ended up with the following diagram.

Figure 1: “Critical Pragmatics for active Subjects.” The position of Generic Differentiation is conceived as a necessary layer between the domains of concepts and actions, respectively. See text below for details and the situs where we developed it.

basic module of the fractal relation between concept/conceptual, generic differentiation and operation/operational comprising logistics and politics that describes the active subject urban reason 4t

Note, that this diagram just shows the basic module of a more complete diagram, which in the end would form a moebioid fractal due to self-affine mapping: this module appears in any of the three layers in a nested fashion. Hence, a more complete image would show this module as part of a fractal image, which however could not be conceived as a flat fractal, such like a leaf of fern.5 The image of pragmatics as it is shown above is first a fractal due to the self-affine mapping. Second, however, the instances of the module within the compound are not independent, as in case of the fern. Important traces of the same concepts appear at various levels of the fractal mapping, leading to dimensional braids, in other words to a moebioid.

So, as we are now enabled for approaching it, let us return to the necessity of considering the various aspects of temporality. What are they in general, and what in case of architecture, the city, the Urban, or Urban Reason? Giedion, for instance, related to time with regard to the historicity and with regard to an adaptation of the concept of space-time from physics, which at that time was abundantly discussed in science and society. This adaptation, according to Giedion, can be found in simultaneity and movement. A pretty clear statement, one might think. Yet, as we will see, he conceived of these two temporal forms of simultaneity and movement in a quite unusual way that is not really aligned to the meaning that it bears in physics.

Rossi, focusing more on urban aspects, denotes quite divergent concepts of time. He did not however clearly distinguish or label them. He as well refers to history, but he also says that a city has “many times” (p.61 in [7]), a formulation that reminds to Bergson’s durée. Given the cultural “sediments” of a city within itself, its multiply folded traces of historical times, such a proposal is easy to understand, everybody could agree upon it.

Besides the multiplicity of referential historical time—we will make the meaning of this more clear below—, Rossi also proposes implicitly a locality of time through the acceleration of urbanization through primary elements such as “monuments”, or building that own a “monumental” flavor. Unfortunately, he neither does refer to an operationalization of his time concept nor does he provide his own. In other words, he still refers to time only implicitly, by describing the respective changes and differentiations on an observational level.

These author’s proposals provide important hints, no doubt. Yet, we certainly have to clarify them from the perspective of time itself. This equals firstly an inversion of the perspective from architectural or urbanismic vantage point taken by Giedion and Rossi, who in both cases started from built matter. Before turning to architecture, we have to be clear about time. As a second consequence, we have to be cautious when talking about time. We have to uncover and disclose the well-hidden snares before we are going to push the investigation of the relation between temporality and architecture further down.

For instance, both Giedion and Rossi delivered an analysis. This analyticity results in a pair of consequences. Either it is, firstly, just useful for sorting out the past, but not for deriving schemes for synthesis and production, or, secondly, it requires an instantiation that would allow to utilize the abstract content of their analysis for taking action. Such an instantiation could produce hints for a design process that is directed to the future. Yet, neither Giedion [6] nor Rossi [7] did provide such schemes. Most likely precisely due to the fact that they did not refer to a proper image of time!

This essay is the first of two in a row about the “Time of Architecture”. As Yeonkyung Lee and Sungwoo Kim [10] put it, there is much need for its investigation. In order to do so, however, one has to be clear about time and its conception(s). Insofar we will attempt to trace time as a property of architecture and less as an accessory, we also have to try to liberate time from its distinctive link to human consciousness without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human.

Hence, the layout of this essay is straightforward.

(a) First we will introduce a synopsis on various conceptions of time as brief as possible, taking into account a few, and probably the most salient sources. This will equip us with possible distinctions about modes or aspects of time as well as the differences between and interdependencies of time and space.

In architecture and urbanism, almost no reference can be found to philosophical discourses about time. Things are handled intuitively, leading to interesting but not quite valuable and usable approaches. We will see that the topic of “time” raises some quite fundamental issues, reaching at least into the field of hermeneutics, semiotics, narratology, and of course philosophy as well. The result will be a more or less ranked list of images of time as it is possible from a philosophical vantage point.

(b) Before the background of this explication and the awareness for all the possible misunderstandings around the issue of time, we will introduce a radically different perspective. We will ask how nature “creates time”. More precisely, we will ask about the abstract elements and mechanisms that are suitable for “creating time.” As weird this may seem at first, I think it is even a necessary question. And for sure nobody else posed this question ever before (outside of esoterics, perhaps, nut we do not engage in esoterics here!).

The particularity of that approach is that the proposed structure would work as a basis for deriving an operationalization for the interpretation of material systems as well as an abstract structure for a foundation of philosophical arguments about time. Of course, we have to be very careful here in order to avoid falling back into naturalist or phenomenological naiveties. Yet, carefulness will allow us to blend the several perspectives onto time into a single one, without—and that’s pretty significant—reducing time to either space or formal exercises like geometry. Such, the reward will be a completely new image of time, one that is much more general than any other and which overcomes the traditional separations, for instance that which pulls apart physical time and time of experience. Another effect will be that the question about the origin of time will vanish, a question which is continuously being discussed in cosmology (and theology, perhaps, as well).

(c) From the new perspective then we will revisit architecture and the Urban (in the next essay). We will not only return to Giedion, Rossi, or Koolhaas but we also will revisit the “Behavioral Turn that we have been introducing some essays ago.

Displayed in condensed form, our program comprises the following three sections:

  • (a) Time itself as a subject of philosophy.
  • (b) The creation of time.
  • (c) Time of Architecture.

Before we start a few small remark shall be in order. First, it may well appear as somewhat presumptuous to try to handle time in sufficient depth within just one or two sections of a single essay. I am fully aware about this. Yet, the pressure to condense the subject matter also helps to focus, to achieve a structural picture on the large scale. Second, it should be nevertheless clear that we can’t provide a comprehensive overview or summary about the various conceptions of time in philosophy and science, as interesting this would have been. It would exceed even the possibilities of a sumptuous book. Instead, I will lay out my arguments by means of a purposeful selection, enriched with some annotations.

On the other hand this will provide one of the very rare comprehensive inquiries about time, and the first one that synthesizes a perspective that is backward compatible to those authors to whom it should.

Somewhat surprising, this could even include (theoretical) physics. Yet, the issue is quite complex and very different from mainstream, versions of which you may find in [27, 28]. Even as there are highly interesting and quite direct links to philosophy, I decided to put this into a separate essay, which hopefully will happen soon. Just to give you a tiny glimpse on it: Once Richard Feynman called his mentor and adviser John Wheeler in the middle of the night, asking him, “How many electrons are there in the universe?” According to the transmission Wheeler answered: “There is exactly one.” Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Nevertheless it may be that there are indeed only a few of them, according to Robbert Dijkgraaf, who also proposes that space-time is an emergent “property,” while information could be conceived as more fundamental than those. This, however, has a rather direct counterpart in the metaphysics of Spinoza, who claimed that there is only 1 single attribute. Or (that’s not an unhumbleness), take our conception of information that we described earlier. Anyway, you may have got the point.

The sections in the remainder of this essay are the following. Note that in this piece we will provide only chapter 1 and 2. The other chapters from “Synthesis” onwards will follow as a separate piece.

1. Time in Philosophy—A Selection

Since antiquity people have been distinguishing two aspects of time. It was only in the course of the success of modern physics and engineering that this distinction has been gone forgotten in the Western world’s common sense. The belief set of modernism with its main pillar of metaphysical independence may have been contributing as well. Anyway, the ancient Greeks assigned them the two gods of chronos and kairos. While the former was referring to measurable clock-time, the second denoted the opportune time. The opportune time is a certain period of time that is preferential to accomplish an action, argument, or proof, which includes all parts and parties of the setting. The kairos clearly exceeds experience and points to the entirety of consummation. The advantage of taking into account means and ends is accompanied by the disadvantage of a significant inseparability.

Aristotle

Aristotle, of course, developed an image of time that is much richer, more detailed and much less mystical. For him, change and motion are apriori to time [11]. Aristotle is careful in conceiving change and motion without reference to time, which then gets determined as “a number of change with respect to the before and after” (Physics 219 b 1-2). Hence, it is possible for him to conceive of time as essentially countable, whereas change is not. Here, it is also important to understand Aristotle’s general approach of hylemorphism, which states that—in a quite abstract sense—substance always consists of a matter-aspect and a form-aspect [11]. So also for time. For him, the matter-aspect is given by its kinetic, which includes change, while the form aspect shows up in a kind of order6. Time is a kind of order is not, as is commonly supposed, a kind of measure, as Ursula Coope argues [13]. Aristotle’s use of “number” (arithmos) is more a potential for extending operations, as opposed to “measure” (metron), which is imposed to the measured. Hence, “order” does not mean that this order is necessarily monotone. It is an universal order within which all changes are related to each other. Of course, we could reconstruct a monotone order from that, but as said, it is not a necessity. Another of the remarkable consequences of Aristotle’s conception is that without an counting instance—call it observer or interpretant —there is no time.

This role of the interpreter is further explicated by Aristotle with respect to the form of the “now”. Roark summarizes that we have understand that

[…] phantasia (“imagination”) plays a crucial role in perception, as Aristotle understands it, and therefore also in his account of time. Briefly, phantasia serves as the basis for both memory and anticipation, thereby making possible the possession of mental states about the past and the future. (p.7)

Actually, the most remarkable property of Aristotle’s conception is that he is able to overcome the duality between experience and physical time by means of the interpretant.

Pseudo-Paradoxes

It is not by chance alone that Augustine denied the Aristotelian conception by raising his infamous paradox about time. He does so from within Christian cosmogony. First he argues that the present time vanishes, if we try to take close look. Then he claims that both past and future are only available in the present. The result is that time is illusory. Many centuries later, Einstein would pose the same claim. Augustine transposed the problem of time into one of the relation between the soul and God. For him, no other “solution” would have been reasonable. Augustine instrumentalises a misunderstanding of references, established by mixing incompatible concepts (or language games). Unfortunately, Augustine inaugurated a whole tradition of nonsense, finally made persistent by McTaggart’s purported proof of the illusion of time [14] where he extended Augustine’s already malformed argument into deep nonsense, creating on the way the distinction between A-series (past, present and future) and B-series (earlier, later) of time. It is perpetuated until our days by author’s like Oaklander [15][16] or Power [17]. Actually, the position is so nonsensical and misplaced—Bergson called it a wrong problem, Wittgenstein a grammatical mistake—that we will not deal with it further7.

Heidegger

Heidegger explicitly refers to phenomenology as it has been shaped by Edmund Husserl. Yet, Heidegger recognized that phenomenology—as well as the implied ontology of Being—suffers from serious defects. Thus, we have to take a brief look onto it.

With the rise of phenomenology towards the end of the 19th century, the dualistic mapping of the notion of time has been reintroduced and reworked. Usually, a distinction has been made between clock-time on the one hand and experiential time on the other. This may be regarded indeed as quite similar to the ancient position. Yet, philosophically it is not interesting to state such. Instead we have to ask about the relation between the two. The same applies to the distinction of time and space.

There are two main positions dealing with this dualism. On the one side we find Bergson, on the other Brentano and Husserl as founders of phenomenology. Both refer to consciousness as an essential element of time. Of course, we should not forget that this is one of the limitations we have to overcome, if we want to achieve a generalized image of time.

Phenomenology suffers from a serious defect, which is given by the assumption of subjects and objects as apriori entities. The object is implied as a consequence of the consciousness of the subject, yet this did not result in a constructivism à la Maturana. Phenomenology, as an offspring of 19th century modernism and a close relative of logicism, continued and radicalized the tendency of German Idealism to think that the world could be accessed “directly”. In the words of Thomas Sheehan [19]:

And finally phenomenology argued that the being of entities is known not by some after-the-fact reflection or transcendental construction but directly and immediately by way of a categorical intuition.

There are two important consequences of that. Firstly, it violates the primacy of interpretation8 and has to assume a world-as-such, which in other words translates into a fundamentally static world. Secondly, there is no relation between to appearances of an object across time.

Heidegger, in “Being and Time” [21] (original “Sein und Zeit” [22]), tried to correct this defect of phenomenology and ontology by a hermeneutic transformation of phenomenology. This would remove the central role of consciousness, which is replaced by the concept of the “Being-there” (Dasein) and so by the “Analysis of Subduity.” He clearly states (end of §3 in “Being and time”) that any ontology has to be fundamental ontology. The Being-there (Dasein) however needs— in order to be able to see its Being—temporality.

The fundamental ontological task of the interpretation of being as such, therefore, includes working out the Temporality of being. The concrete answer to the question of the sense of being is given for the first time in the exposition of the problematic of Temporality. ([22], p.19)

How is temporality described? In §65 Heidegger writes:

Coming back to itself futurally, resoluteness brings itself into the Situation by making present. The character of “having been” arises from the future, and in such a way that the future which “has been” (or better, which “is in the process of having been”) releases from itself the Present. This phenomenon has the unity of a future which makes present in the process of having been; we designate it as “temporality”.9

Time clearly “delimits” Being as a conditioning horizon:

[…] we require an originary explication of time as the horizon of the understanding of being in terms of temporality as the being of Dasein who understands being. ([22], p.17)

Heidegger examines thoroughly the embedding of Being-there into time and the conditioning role of “time.” For instance, we can understand a tool only with respect to its future use. Temporality itself is seen as the structure of “care”, a major constitutive of the being of Dasein, which similarly to anticipation carries a strong reference to the future:

The originary unity of the structure of care lies in temporality” ([22], p.327).

Temporality is the meaning and the foundation of Being.10 Temporality is an Existential. Existential analysis claims that Being-there does not fill space, it is not within spatiality (towards the end of §70):

Only on the basis of its ecstatico-horizontal temporality is it possible for Dasein to break into space. The world is not present-at-hand in space; yet, only within a world does space let itself be discovered. The ecstatical temporality of the spatiality that is characteristic of Dasein, makes it intelligible that space is independent of time; but on the other hand, this same temporality also makes intelligible Dasein’s ‘dependence’ on space—a ‘dependence’ which manifests itself in the well-known phenomenon that both Dasein’s interpretation of itself and the whole stock of significations which belong to language in general are dominated through and through by ‘spatial representations’. This priority of the spatial in the Articulation of concepts and significations has its basis not in some specific power which space possesses, but in Dasein’s kind of Being. Temporality is essentially deterioriating11, and it loses itself in making present; […]

This concept of temporality could have been used to overcome the difference between “vulgar time” (chronos) and experiential time, to which he clearly sub-ordinated the former. Well, “could have been” if Heidegger’s program would have been completable. But Heidegger finally failed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary. There are several closely related aspects for this failure. Ultimately, perhaps, as Cristina Lafont [24] argues, it is impossible to engage in a radical program of detranscendentalization and at the same time to try to achieve a fundamental foundation. This pairs with the inherited phenomenological habit to disregard the primacy of interpretation. The problem for Heidegger now is that the sign in the language is already in the world which has to be subdued. As Lafont brilliantly revealed, Heidegger still adheres to the concept of language as an “ontic” instrument, as something that is found in the outer world. Yet, this must count simply as a highly inappropriate reduction. Language constantly and refracted points towards the inwardly settled translation between body and thought and the outward directed translation between thought and community (of speakers), while translation is also kind of a rooting. Such we can conclude that ultimately Heidegger therefore still follows the phenomenological subject-object scheme. His attempt for a fundamental foundation while avoiding any reference to transcendent horizons must fail, even if this orientation towards the fundamental pretends to just serve as an indirect “foundation” (see below).

There is a striking similarity between Augustine and Heidegger. We could call it metaphysical linearity as a cosmological element. In case of Augustine it is induced by the believe in Salvation, in case of Heidegger by the believe into an absolute beginning paired with a (implicit) believe to step out of language. In a lecture held in 1963, that is 36 years after Being and Time, titled “Time and Being”, Heidegger revisits the issue of time. Yet, he simply capitulated from the problem of foundations, referring to “intuitional insight” as a foundation. In the speech “Time and Being” hold in 1962 [25], he said

To think the Being in its own right requires to dismiss Being as the originating reason of being-Being (des Seienden), in favor of the Giving that is coveredly playing in its Decovering (Entbergen), i.e. of the “There is as giving fateness.”12 (p.10)13

Here, Heidegger refutes foundational ontology in favour of the communal and external world by he concept of the Giving14. Yet, the step towards the communal still remains a very small step, since now not only the Other gets depersonalized as far as possible. The real serious issue here is that Heidegger now replaces the ontological conception of “ontic” language by the “ontic” communal. He still does not understand the double-articulation of the communal through language. We may say that Heidegger is struck by blindness (on his right eye).

Inga Römer [47] detects a certain kind of archaism throughout the philosophy of Heidegger, which comes along as a still not defeated thinking about origins.

Finally, in „Being and Time“ Heidegger detects the origin of time in the event, which he dedicatedly determines as the provider [m: the Giving] of Being and time. This Giving is seen as being divested from itself. The event, determined by Heidegger elsewhere as a singular tantum, is eliminated from itself—and nevertheless the event is conceived as the origin of time.15 (p.289)

Many years after the publication of “Being and Time”, in the context of the seminar “Time and Being” Heidegger claimed that he did not conceive fundamental ontology as kind of a foundation. He described the role of the Daseins-analytics as proposed in “Being and Time” in the following way [23]:

Being and Time is in fact on the way to find, taking the route through the timeness of Dasein in the interpretation of Being as temporality, a conception of time, that Owned of “time”, whence “Being” reveals itself as Presenting. Such however it is said that the fundamental mentioned in the fundamental ontology can’t take reference and synthesis. Instead, the whole analytics of Dasein ought to be repeated, subsequent of possibly having thrown light upon the sense of Being, in a more pristinely and completely different manner.16

Indeed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary, Heidegger recognized the inherent incompatibility of the still transcendental alignment with the conception of the Dasein and was hence forced to shift the target of the Daseins-analytics [26](p.99). Being is not addressed from the vantage point of being-Being (Seiendes) anymore. It resulted in a replacement of the sense of Being by the question about the historical truth of Being as fateness. In the course of that shift, however, temporality lost its role, too, and was replaced by a thinking of a historized event. This event is conceived as kind of a non-spatial endurance [25]:

Time-Space (m: endurance) now denotes the open that in the mutually-serving-one-another of arrival, having been (Gewesenheit) and present clears itself. Only this open spacingly allows (räumt ein) the ordinarily known space its propagation. (p.19)17

As far as this move could be taken as a cure of the methodological problems in “Being and Time,” it turned out, however, to be far detrimental for Heidegger’s whole philosophy. He was forced to determine man by his ecstatic exposition and being-thrown (tossed?) into nothingness. Care as kind of cautious anticipation was replaced first by angst, then by incurable disgust through Sartre. While the early Heidegger precisely tried to cure the missing of primal relationality in phenomenology, the later Heidegger got trapped by an even more aggressive form of singularization and denial of relationality at all. This whole enterprise of existential philosophy suffers from this same deep disrespect if not abhorrence of the communal, of the practice of sharing joyfully a common language that turns into the Archimedic Point of being human. Well, how could he think differently given his particular political aberrancy?

Anyway, Heidegger’s shift to endurance brings us directly to the next candidate.

Bergson

Politically, in real life, Heidegger and Bergson could not be more different. The former more than sympathizing (up to open admiration) with totalitarianism in the form of Hitlerism and fascism, thereby matching his performative rejection of relationality, the latter engaging internationally in forming the precursor of the UN.

But, how does Bergson’s approach to time look like? For Bergson, logicism and the subject-object dichotomy are thoughts that are alien to him. Both actually have to assume a sequential order that yet have to be demonstrated in its genesis.18 The starting point for Bergson is the diagnosis that measurable time, or likewise measuring time, as it is done in physics as well by any clock-time introduces homogeneity, which in turn translates into quantificability [31]. As such, time is converted into a spatial concept, as these properties are also properties of space as physics conceives it. The consequence is that we create pseudo-paradoxes like that which has been explicated by Augustine. To this factum of quantificability Bergson then opposes qualitability. For him, quality and quantity remain incommensurable throughout his works.

At any rate, we cannot finally admit two forms of the homogeneous, Time and Space, without first seeking whether one of them cannot be reduced to the other […] Time, conceived under the form of an unbounded and homogeneous medium, is nothing but the ghost of space, haunting the reflective consciousness. ([32] p. 232)

So we can fix that time is essential a qualitative entity, or in other words, an intensity that is, according to Bergson, opposed to the extensity of spatial entities. Spatial entities are always external to each other, while for intensive entities—such as time—such an externalization is not possible. They can be thought only as a mutually interpenetrating beside-one-another, which however should be thought as an aterritorial “beside”. As Friedrich Kuemmel puts it, intensity, for Bergson, can be detached from extensity.19 Intensity then is being equipped by Bergson with a manifoldness or multiplicity that consequently establishes a reality apart from physical spatiality with its measurable time. This reality is the reality of consciousness and the soul. Bergson calls it “durée”, which of course must not be translated into “duration” (or into the German “Dauer”). Durée is more like the potential for communicable time, or in Deleuze’s words, a “potential number” ([33] p.45), to which we can refer in language literally as “referential time.”

Bergson’s notion of durée is quite easily determined (p.37)

It [durée] is a case of “transition,” of a “change,” a becoming, but it is a becoming that endures, a change that is substance itself. […] Bergson has no difficulty in reconciling the two fundamental characteristics of duration; continuity and heterogeneity. However, defined in this way, duration is not merely lived experience; […] it is already a condition of experience.

As a qualitative multiplicity, durée is opposed to quantitative multiplicity. For Bergson, this duality is a strict and unresolvable one, yet it does not set up an opposition, it is not subject of dialectic. It does, however, follow the leitmotif of Bergson, according to Deleuze ([33] p.23): People see quantitative differences where actually are differences in kind. (RRR)

Deleuze emphasizes that the two multiplicities have to be strictly distinguished ([33] p.38).

[…] the decomposition of the composite reveals to us two types of multiplicity. One is represented by space […]: it is a multiplicity of exteriority, of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, of order, of quantitative differentiation, of difference in degree; it is a numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual. The other type of multiplicity appears in pure duration: It is an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.

Here we may recall Aristotle’s notion of time as kind of order. This poses the question whether duration itself is a multiplicity. As Deleuze carves it out ([33] p.85):

At the heart of the question “Is duration one or multiple?” we find a completely different problem: Duration is a multiplicity, but of what type? Only the hypothesis of a single Time can, according to Bergson, account for the nature of virtual multiplicities. By confusing the two types – actual spatial multiplicity and virtual temporal multiplicity- Einstein has merely invented a new way of spatializing time.

Pushing Bergson’s architecture of time further, Deleuze develops his first accounts on virtuality. It becomes clear, that durée is a virtual entity. As such, it is outside of the realm of numbers, even outside of quantificability or quantitability. Speaking in Aristotelian terms we could say that time is a smooth manifold of kinds of orders. Again Deleuze (p.85):

Being, or Time, is a multiplicity. But it is precisely not “multiple”; it is One, in conformity with its type of multiplicity.

For Bergson, tenses are already actualizations of durée. The past is conceived as being different from the present in kind, and could not be compared to it. There is also possibility for a transition from a “past” to a “present.” It is the work of memory (as an abstract entity) that creates the link. Memory extends completely into present, though. Its main effect is to recollect the past. In this sense, memory is stepping forward. Durée and memory are co-extensive.

As we have seen, Bergson’s conception of time is strongly linked to consciousness and its particular memory. We also have seen that he considers physical time as a kind of a secondary phenomenon. He thinks that things surely have no endurance in the sense of a capability to actualize durée into an extended present.

This poses a problem: What is time in our outside? In Time and Free Will he writes [32],

Although things do not endure as we do ourselves, nevertheless, there must be some incomprehensible reason why phenomena are seen to succeed one another instead of being set out all at once. (p.227)

Well, what does this claim “things do not endure as we do ourselves” refer to? Is there endurance of things at all? And what about animals, thinking animals, or epistemic machines? As Deleuze explains, Bergson is able to solve this puzzle only by extending his durée into a cosmic principle ([33], pp.51). Yet, I think that in this case he mixes immaterial and material aspects in a quite inappropriate manner.

Bergson’s conception of time certainly has some appealing properties. But just as its much less potent rival phenomenology it is strongly anthropocentric. It can’t be generalized enough for our purposes that follow the question of time in architecture. Of course, we could conceive of architecture as a thing that is completely passive if nobody looks onto it or thinks about it. But what is then about cities? The perspective of passive things has been largely refuted, first by Heidegger through his hermeneutic perspective, and in a much more developed manner, by Bruno Latour and his Agent-Network-Theory.

In still other terms, we could say that Bergson’s philosophy suffers from a certain binding problem. I think it was precisely the binding problem that caused the hefty dispute between Einstein and Bergson. Just to be clear, in my opinion both of them failed.

Thus we need a perspective that allows to overcome the binding problem without sacrificing either the experiential time, or durée or the measurability of referential time. This perspective is provided by the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce.

Peirce

Peirce was an engineer, his formal accounts thus always pragmatic. This sets him apart from Bergson and his early devotion to mathematics. Where the former sees processes in which various parts engage, the latter sees abstract structures.

Being an engineer, Peirce looked at thought and time in a completely different manner. He starts with referential time, with clock-time. He does not criticize it at first hand as Bergson would later do.

The first step in our reconstruction of Peircean time is his move to show that neither thought nor, of course, consciousness can take place in an instant. Consciousness must be a process. Else, thought is a sign. One has to know that for Peirce, a sign is not to be mistaken as a symbol. For him it is an enduring situation. We will return to this point later.

In MS23720 (chapter IV in Writings 3) his primary concern is to explain how thinking could take place

A succession in time among ideas is thus presupposed in time-conception of a logical mind; but need this time progress by a continuous flow rather than by discrete steps?

Of course, he concludes that a “continuous time” is needed. Yet, at this point, Peirce starts to depart from a single, univoke time. He continues

Not only does it take time for an idea to grow but after that process is completed the idea cannot exist in an instant. During the time of its existence it will not be always the same but will undergo changes. […] It thus appears that as all ideas occupy time so all ideas are more or less general and indeterminate, the wider conceptions occupying longer intervals.

This way he arrives at a time conception that could be characterized as a multiplicity of continua. Even if it would be possible to determine a starting time and a time of completion for any of those intervals, it still remains that all those overlapping thoughts form a single consciousness.

Chapter 5 in “Writings 3” (MS239), titled “That the significance of thought lies in reference to the future” [35], starts in the following way.

In every logical mind there must be 1st, ideas; 2nd, general rules according to which one idea determines another, or habits of mind which connect ideas; and, 3rd, processes whereby such habitual connections are established.

The second aspect strongly reminds to our orthoregulation and the underlying “paradox of rule-following” first clearly stated by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1930ies [36]. The section ends with the following reasoning:

It appears then that the intellectual significance of all thought ultimately lies in its effect upon our actions. Now in what does the intellectual character of conduct consist? Clearly in its harmony to the eye of reason; that is in the fact that the mind in contemplating it shall find a harmony of purposes in it. In other words it must be capable of rational interpretation to a future thought. Thus thought is rational only so far as it recommends itself to a possible future thought. Or in other words the rationality of thought lies in its reference to a possible future.

In this brief paragraph we may find several resemblances to what we have said earlier, and elsewhere. First, Peirce’s conception of time within his semiotics provide us a means for referring to the binding problem. More precisely, thought as sign process is itself the mechanism to relate ideas and actions, where actions are always preceded, but never succeeded by their respective ideas.

Second, Peirce rejects the idea that a single purpose could be considered as reasonable. Instead, in order to justify reasonability, a whole population of remindable purposes, present and past, is required; all of them overlapping, at least potentially, all of them once pointing to the future. This multiplicity of overlapping and unmeasurable intervals creates a multiplicity of continuations. Even more important, this continuation is known before it happens. Hence, the present extends into the past as well as into the future. Given the fact that firstly the immediate effect of an action is rarely the same as the ultimate effect, and secondly the ultimate effect is often quite different to the expectation related to the purpose, we often do even not know “what” happened in the past. So, by applying ordinary referential time, our ignorance stretches to both sides of present, though not in the same way. It even exceeds the period of time of what could be called event.

Yet, by applying Peirce’s continuity, we find a possibility to simplify the description. For we then are faced by a single kind of ignorance that results in the attitude that Heidegger called “care” (Sorge).

The mentioned extension of the experienced ignorance as an ignorance within the present into the past and the future does not mean, of course, to propose a symmetry between the past and the future with respect to present, as we will see in a moment. Wittgenstein [40] is completely right in his diagnosis that

[…] in the grammar of future tense the conception of “memory” does not occur, even not with inverted sign.21 (p. 159)

The third issue, finally, concerns the way re relates rationality to the notion of “possible future.” This rationality is not claiming absolute objectivity, since it creates its own conditions as well as itself. Peirce’s rationality is a local one, at least at first sight. It is just this creating of the possible future that provides the conditions for the possibility of the experiencibility of future affairs.

The most important (methodological) feature of Peircean semiotics is, however, the possibility to jump out of consciousness, so to speak. Sign situations occur not only within the mind, they are also ubiquitous in interpersonal exchange, and even in the absorption of energy by different kinds of matter. Semiotics provides a cross-medial continuity. This argument has been extended later by John Dewey [37][38], Peirce’s pragmatist disciple .

Such we could say that, if (1) thought comprises signs, and (2) signs are sign situations, then it does not make sense to speak about “instantaneous” time regarding thought and consciousness in particular, but also regarding any interpretation in general, as interpretation is always part of a sign (-situation). Then, we also can say that presence lasts as long as a particular interpretation is “running”. Yet, signs refer to signs only. Interpretations are fundamentally open in its beginning as well as in its end. They are nested and occur in parallel, and are more broken than finished just contingently. Once the time string, or the interpretive chain, respectively, has been broken, past and future appear literally in their own right, i.e. de iure, and only by a formal act.22

The consequence of all that the probabilistic network of interpretations gives rise to a cloud of time strings, any of them with indeterminable ends. It is clear that signs and thus thinking would be absolutely impossible if there would be just one referential clock-time. But even more important, without the inner multiplicity of “sign time” there would be only the cold world of a single strictly causal process. There would be no life and no information. Only a single, frozen black hole.

Given the primacy of the cloud of time strings, it is easy to construct referential time as a clock-time. One just needs to enumerate the overlapping time strings in such a way that enumeration and counting coincide. Once this is done it is possible to refer to a clock. Yet, the clock would be without any meaning without such a enumerative counting. The clock the is suitably actualized in a more simple way by a perfectly repetitive process, that is, a process that actually is outside of time, much as Aristotle thought it is the case for celestial bodies. And once we have established clock time we can engage in interpersonal synchronization of our individual time string populations.

Peircean sign time thus not only allows to reconcile the two modi of time, the experiential time and referential time. It is also possible to extend the same process into historical time, rooting historicity in an alternative and much more appealing manner than it was proposed by Heidegger.

Wittgenstein

All the positions we met so far can be split into two sets. In the first part we find fundamental ontology and existential philosophy (Heidegger), analytic ontology (Oaklander), “folk approaches” (Augustine), idealistic conceptions (McTaggart) and physics with its reductionist perspective . In the second subset we find Aristotle, Bergson and Peirce.

The difference between the two parties lies in the way they root the concept of time. The former party roots it in reality; hence they ask about the inner structure of time, much like one would ask about the inner structure of wood. For the proponents of the second class time is primary experiential time and such always rooted in the interpretant, i.e. some kind of active observer, whether this refers to observers with or without consciousness. For all of them, though in different ways, the present is primary. For Aristotle it is kind of a substance, for Bergson durée, for Peirce the sign as process.

Wittgenstein does not say much time, since he seems to be convinced that there is not so much to say. He simply accepts the distinction between referential time of physics and experiential time and considers them to be incommensurable. [39]

Both ways of expressing it are okay and equitable, yet not blendable.23 ([40], p.81-82)

Already in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein wrote

We cannot compare any process with the “passage of time”—there is no such thing—but only with another process (say, with the movement of the chronometer).24 (TLP 6.3611)

Here it becomes clear that clock-time is nothing “built into matter”, but rather a communally negotiated reference, or in short, referential time. We all refer to the same particular process, whether this is length of a day or the number of state changes in Cs-133.25 Experiential time, on the other hand, can’t be considered as a geometrical entity, hence there is no such thing as a “point” in present. In experience, there is nothing to measure. The main reason for this being that experience is tightly linked to (abstract) modeling, and thus to the choreosteme. In short, experience is a self-generating process without an Archimedean Point.

“Now” does not denote a point in time. It is not a “name of a moment in time.”26 ([43], 157)

[…] yet it is nonsense to say ‚This is this‘, or ‚This is now‘.27 ([43], 159)

„Now“ is an indexical term, just as „I“, „this“ or „here“. Indexical terms do not refer to an index. Quite in contrast, sometimes, in more simple cases, they are setting an index, in more complicated cases indexical terms just denote the possibility for imposing an index onto a largely indeterminate context. Hence, it is for grammatical reasons that we can’t say “this is now.” Time is not an object. Time is nothing of which we could say that it does exist. Thus we also can not ask “What is time?” as this implies the existentialist perspective. The question about the reality of time is ungrammatical, it is like trying to play Chinese checkers28 on a chess board, or chess on a soccer field.

More precisely, there is no possibility to speak about “time as an object” in meaningful terms. For language is (i) a process itself, (ii) a process that intrinsically relates to the communal (there is no private language), and (iii) language is a strongly singular term. Thus we can conclude that there is no such thing as the objectification of time, or objective time.

Examples for such an objectification are easy to find. For instance, it is included in the question posed by Augustine “What is time?”  (Wittgenstein’s starting point for the Philosophical Investigations.) It is also included in the misunderstanding of an objective referential time. Or in the claim that time itself is flowing (like a river). Or in the attempt to proof that time itself is continuous.29

Instead, “now” is used as an indication of—or a pointer to—the present and the presence of the speaker. Its duration in terms of clock-time is irrelevant. It would be nonsense to attempt to measure this duration, because it would mean to measure the speaker and his act itself.

Accordingly, the temporal modi in language, the tenses, such as past, present time, future, reflect to the temporal modi of actions—including speech acts—, which take place in the “now” and are anchored in the future through their purpose ([42] p.142).

Confusing and mixing the two conceptions of time—referential time and experiential time—is the main reason, according to Wittgenstein, for enigmas and paradoxes regarding time (such as the distinction of A-series and B-series by McTaggart and in ontology).

For there is no such thing as the objectification of time, time is intrinsically a relational “entity”. As Deleuze brilliantly demonstrates in his reflections about Bergson [33], time can be thought only as durée, or in my words, as a manifold of anobjected time strings, that directly points to the virtual, which in turn is not isolated, but rather an intensity within the choreosteme.

The idealistic, phenomenological and existential approaches to temporality are deeply flawed, because it is not possible to take time apart, or to take time out of the game. Wittgenstein considers such attempts as a misuse of language. Expressions like „time itself“ or questions like “What is time?” are outside of any possible language.

In the ‘Philosophical Remarks’ he says

What belongs to the essence of the world could not be expressed by language. Only what we could imagine as being different language is able to tell.30 ([40] p.84).

Everything which we are able to describe at all, could also be different.31 ([45],p .173).

In order to play the game of “questioning reality of X” in a meaningful manner it has to be possible that it is not real, or partially. An alternative is needed, which however is missing in existential questions or attempts to find the essence. Thus it is meaningless (free of sense) to doubt (even implicitly) the reality of time, whether as present, as past or as future. It is similar to Moore’s paradox of doubting of having an arm. In the end, at least after Wittgenstein, one always have to begin with language. It is nonsense to begin with existence, or likewise essence.

Wittgenstein rejects the traditional philosophical reflection that always tried to find the eternal, necessary and general truth, essence or “true nature” as opposed to empirical—and pragmatical—impressions. The attempt to determine the reality of X as a being-X-as-such is a misuse of language, it is outside of the logic of language.

For Wittgenstein, the more interesting part of time points to memory, as clock-time is a mere convention. For him, memory is the sourcing wellspring (“Quelle”) of time, since the past is experienceable just as a recall of the past ([40] p.81f). Bergson called it recollection.

I think that there are one major consequence of Wittgenstein’s considerations. Time can be comprehended only as a transcendent structural condition of establishing a relation, hence also acting, speaking and thinking. Without such conditioning it is simply not possible to establish a relation. This extends, of course, also to the realm of the social [46]. Here we could even point to physics, particularly to the maximum speed of light, that is the maximum speed of exchanging information, which translates to the “establishment of time” as soon as a relation has been built. This includes that this building of a relation is irreversible. Within reversibility it does not make sense to speak about time. Even shorter, we could be tempted to say that within information there is no time, if it would be meaningful to think something like “within information”. Information itself is strictly bound to interpretation, which brings us back to Peircean semiotics.

Such we could say that we as humans “create” time mainly by means of language, albeit it is not the only possibility to “create” time. Yet, for us humans (as a collective individual beings32) there is hardly another possibility, for we can’t step out of language. Different languages and different uses of language “create” different times. It is this what Helga Nowotny calls “Eigenzeit” [46] (“self-owned time”).

It is rather important to understand that by means of these argument we don’t refer any more to something like “historical time” or “natural time”. Our argument is much more general.

Secondarily, then, we may conclude that we have to ask about the different ways we use the language game “time”.

Ricoeur

As other authors Paul Ricoeur proposes a strict discontinuity between historical time (“historicality”) and physical time. The former he also calls “time with present”, the latter “time without present.” Yet, unlike other authors he also proposes that this discontinuity can’t be reconciled or bridged. This hypothesis he proceeds to formulate by means of three aporias [47].

  • – Aporia 1, duality: Subjective time and objective time can’t be thought together in a single conception, and even more, they obscure them mutually.
  • – Aporia 2, false unity: Despite we take it for granted that there is one single time, we can’t justify it. We even contradict the insight—which appears as trivial—that there is subjective and objective time.
  • – Aporia 3, inscrutability: Thought can not comprehend time, since its origin can’t be grasped. Conceptually, time is ineluctable. Whenever philosophical thought starts to think about time, this thinking is already too late.

Ricoeur is the second author in our selection who takes a phenomenological stance. Heidegger’s “Being and Time” serves as his point of reference. Yet, Ricoeur is neither interested in the analysis of Being nor of the having-Been. The topic to which he refers in Heidegger, and at the same time his vantage point, is historicality, which he approaches in a very different manner. For Ricoeur, history and historicality can not only be understood just through narrativity; there is even a mutual structural determination. Experience of time as the source of historicality as well as the soil of it gets refigurated through narration. In the essay “On Narrative” [49] that he published while his major work “Time and Narration” [48] was in the making we can find his main hypothesis:

My […] working hypothesis is that narrativity and temporality are closely related—as closely as, in Wittgenstein’s terms, a language game and a form of life. Indeed, I take temporality to be that structure of existence that reaches language in narrativity and narrativity to be the language structure that has temporality as its ultimate referent. Their relationship is therefore reciprocal. (p.169)

Concerning narrativity, Ricoeur draws a lot, of course, on the structure of language and the structure of stories. On both levels various degrees of temporality and nonchronological proportions appear. On the level of language, we find short-range and long-range indicators of temporality, beyond mere grammar. Long-range indicators such as “while” or adverbs of time (“earlier”) do not have a clear boundary, neither structurally nor semantically. The same can be found on the level of the story, the plot as Ricoeur calls it. Here he distinguishes a episodic from a configurational dimension, the former presupposing ordinary, i.e. referential time. Taking into account that

To tell and to follow a story is already to reflect upon events in order to encompass them in successive wholes. (p.178)

it follows that any story comprises a

[…] twofold characteristic of confronting and combining both sequence and pattern in various ways.

In other words, a story creates a multiplicity of possible sequences and times, thereby opening a multiplicity of “planes of manifestation,” or in other words, a web of metaphors33.

[…] the narrative function provides a transition from within-time-ness to historicality.

Yet, according to Ricoeur the configurational dimension of the story has a particular effect on the ordinary temporality of a story as it is transported by the episodics. Through the triggered reflective act, the whole story may condense into a single “thought”.

Finally, the recollection of the story governed as a whole by its way of ending constitutes an alternative to the representation of time as moving from the past forward into the future, according to the well-known metaphor of the arrow of time. It is as though recollection inverted the so-called natural order of time. […] A story is made out of events to the extent that plot makes events into a story. The plot, therefore, places us at the crossing point of temporality and narrativity.

This single thought, the plot of a story as whole now is confronted particularly with the third aporia of inscrutability. Basically, for Ricoeur “not really thinking time” when thinking about time is aporetic. (fTR III 467/dZE III, 417) The aporia

[…] emerges right in that moment, where time, which eludes any attempt to be constituted, turns out to be associated to a constitutive order, which in turn always and already is assumed by the work of that constitution.

Any conception that we could propose about time is confronted with the impossibility of integrating this reflexively ineluctable reason. We never can subject time as an object of our reflexions completely. Inga Römer emphasizes (p.284)

Yet, and this is a crucial point for Ricoeur, “what is brought to its failure here is not thinking, in all its meanings, but rather the drive, better the hubris that our thinking seduces to attempt to dominate sense”. For this failure is only a relative one, the inscrutability is not faced with a lapse into silence, but rather with a polymorphy of arrangements and valuations.34

The items of this polymorphy are incommensurable for Ricoeur. Now, for Ricoeur this polymorphy of time experience is situated in a constitutive and reciprocal relationship with narrativity (see his main hypothesis in “On Narrative” that we cited above). Thereby, our experience of time refigurates and reconfigurates itself continuously. In other words, narration represents a practical and poetic mediation of heterogeneous experiences of time. This interplay, so Ricoeur, can overcome the limitations of philosophical inquiries of time.

Interestingly, Ricoeur rejects any systematicity of his arguments, as Römer points out: (p.454)

This association of withdrawal of grounds at the one hand and the challenge for a thinking-more and thinking-different is the strongest argument for Ricoeur’s explicit refusal of a system regarding the three aporias of time as well as their narrative answers.35 (p.454)

The result of this is pretty clear. The Ricoeurean aporetics starts to molt itself into a narration, constantly staggering and oscillating between its claiming, its negation, its negative positivity and its positive negativity, beginning to dazzle and getting incomprehensible.

Temporality tends to get completely merged in narrativity, which in turn becomes synonymous with the experience of time. Such, there are only two possibilities for Ricoeur, neither of which he actually did follow. The first is the denial of temporality that could be thought independent of narration. The second would be that life is equated with narration.

I think, Ricoeur would favour the second alternative. As Römer summarizes:

Historical practice allows us to mediate experienced time with linear time in its own creation, the historical time.36 (p.326)

Such, however, Ricoeur would introduce a secondary re-mystification, which actually is even an autolog one, since Ricoeur has been starting with it as an inscrutability. At this point, all his arguments vanish and turn into a simple pointing to experience.

In the end, the notion of historical practice remains rather questionable. Ricoeur uses the concepts of witness or testimony as well as “trace,” which of course reminds to Derrida’s infamous trace: an uninterpretable remnant of history. Despite Ricoeur emphasizes the importance of the reader as the situs of the completion of text, he never seems to accept interpretation as a primacy. Here, he closely follows the inherited phenomenological misconceptions of the object that exists independent from and outside of the subject. Other difficulties of it is the denial of transcendence and abstraction, which together with its logicism causes the wrong problem of freedom. Phenomenology never understood, whether in Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, Ricoeur or analytic philosophy, that comparing things can’t take place on the same level as the compared things. Even the most simple comparison implies the Differential, requiring a considerable amount of constructive activity.

Outside phenomenology, Ricoeur’s attempt is only little convincing, albeit he describes many interesting observations around narration and texts. His aporetics of time appears half-baked, through and through, so to speak. Poisoned by phenomenology, and strangely enough forgetting about language in the formulation of his aporias, he commits almost all of the possible mistakes already in his premises. He objectifies time and he treats it as an existential, which could be explained. After all, his main objection that we “can’t really think time”, does not hit a unique. case. Any thinking of any concept is unable to “really think it.”

Our conclusion is not a rejection of Ricoeur’s basic idea of a mutual relationship between “thinking time” and narration. Yet, obviously thinking about narration and phenomenology is an impossibility itself.

One of interesting observations around narration is the distinction between the episodic and the configurational dimension of a plot. This introduces multiplicity, reversibility, and extended present as well as an additional organizational layer. Yet, Ricoeur failed to step out of his affections with narration in order to get aware of the opportunities attached to it.

Kant

Introducing transcendence into our game, we have to refer to Kant, of course, and his conception of time in his “Transzendentale Ästhetik der Kritik der reinen Vernunft”. Kant’s merit is the emancipation of transcendental thinking from the imagined divinity, albeit he did not push this move far enough.

By no means Kant demonstrated the irreality of time, as Einstein as well as McTaggard boldly claim. Kant just demonstrated that time can’t “have” a reality independent from a subject. Accordingly, the idea of an illusionary or irreal time itself is based on a fiction: the fiction of naïve realism. It claims that there is the possibility of an access to “nature” in a way that is independent of subject. Conversely, this does not mean that time as a reality is constructed by human thinking, of course.

The reason for misunderstanding Kant lies in the fact that Kant still argues completely within the realm of the human, while physicists like Einstein talk about the fiction of primarily unrelated entities. It is a major methodological element of the theoretic constitution of physics to assume so, in order to become able, so the fiction, to describe the relations then objectively. Well, actually this does not make much sense, yet physicists usually believe in it.

Far from showing that time is illusionary, Kant tried to secure the objectivity of time under conditions of empirical constitutions, that is, after the explicit and final departure from still scholastic pre-established harmonies that are guaranteed by God. In order to accomplish that he had to invent kind of an intrinsic transcendentality of empirical arrangements. This common basis he found in the transcendent sensual intuition.

For Kant time is a form of intuition (Anschauung), or more precisely, a transcendental and insofar pure form of sensual intuition. It is however of utmost importance, as Mike Sandbothe writes, that Kant himself relativized the universality that is introduced by the transcendentality of time, or in still other words, the intuition of the transcendental subject.

[…] die Form der Anschauung bloss Mannigfaltiges, die formale Anschauung aber Einheit der Vorstellung gibt.” ([47]p.154, B 160f)

The formal account in the intuition now refers to the use of symbols. Thus, it can’t be covered completely as a subject by the pure reason. Here, we find a possible transition to Wittgenstein, since symbols are symbols by convention. Note that this does not refer to a particular symbol, of course, but to the symbolicity that accompanies any instance of talking about time. On the one hand this points towards the element of historicity, which has been developed by Heidegger in a rather limited manner (because he restricted history to the realm of the Dasein, i.e. consciousness).

On the other hand, however, we could extend Kant’s insight of a two-fold constitution of time into more abstract, and this means a-human regions. In a condensed way Kant shows that we need sensual intuitions and symbolicity in order to access temporal aspects of the world. Sensual intuitions, then, require, in the widest sense, kind of match between sensed and the sensing. In human thinking these are the schemata, in particle physics it is the filter built deeply into matter. We could call this transverse excitability. In physics, it is called quantum.

Yet, the important thing is the symbolicity. We can immediately translate this into quantificability and quantitability. And again we are back at Aristotle’s conception.

2. Synopsis

So, after having visited some of the most important contributions to the issue of time we may try to approach a synopsis of those. Again, we have to emphasize that we disregarded many highly interesting ideas, among others those of Platon in his Timaios with his three “transcendental” categories of Being, Space and Becoming, or those of Schelling (cf. in [31]); or those of Deleuze in his cinema books, where he distinguished the “movement image” (presupposing clock time) from the “time image” that is able to provide a grip onto “time itself,” which, for Deleuze, is the virtual to which Bergson’s durée points to; likewise, any of the works by the authors we referred to should have been discussed in much more detail in order to do justice to them. Anyway.

Our intermediate goal was to liberate time from its human influences without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human. We need to do so in order to investigate the relation between time and architecture. This liberation, however, still has to obey to the insight of Wittgenstein that we must not expect to find an “essence” of time. Taking all the aspects together, we indeed may ask, as careful as possible,

How should we conceive of time?

The answer is pretty clear, yet, it comes as a compound consisting of three parts. And above all it is also pretty simple.

(1) Time is best conceived as a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation.

This “transcendent condition” is not possible without a respective plane of immanence, which in turn comprises the unfolding of virtuality. Much could be said about that, of course, with respect to the philosophical implications, its choreostemic references, or its architectonic vicinity. For instance, this determination of time suggests a close relationship to the issue of information and its correlate, causality. Or we could approach other conceptions of time by means of something like a “reverse synthesis.”

It is perhaps at least indicated to emphasize—particularly for all those that are addicted to some kind of science—that this transcendent condition does not, by no means, exclude any consideration of “natural” systems, even not in its material(ist) contraction. On the other hand, this in turn does not mean, of course, that we are doing “Naturphilosophie” here, neither of the ancient nor the scholastic type.

It is clear that we need to instantiate the subjects of this conception in order to achieve a practical relevance of it. It is in this instantiation that different forms of temporality appear, i.e. durée on the one hand and clock-time on the other. Nothing could be less surprising, now, as an incompatibility of the two forms of temporality. Actually, the expectation of a compatibility is already based on the misunderstanding that claims the possibility of a “direct” comparison (which is an illusion). Quite to the contrast, we have to understand that the phenomenal incommensurability just points to a differential of time, which we formulated as a transcendent condition above.

Now, one of the instantiations, clock-time, or referential time, is pretty trivial. We don’t need to deal with it any further. The other branch, where we find Peirce and Bergson, is more interesting.

As we have seen in our discussion about their works, multiplicity is an essential ingredient of relational time. Peirce and Bergson arrived at it on different ways, though. For Peirce it is a consequence of the multiplicity of thoughts about something, naturally derived from his semiotics. For Bergson, it is a multiplicity within experience, or better the experiencing consciousness. So to speak, they take inverse positions regarding the mediality. We already said that we prefer the Peircean perspective due to its more prominent potential for generalization. Yet, I think the two perspectives could be reconciled quite easily. Both conceptions conceive primal time as “experiential” time (in the widest sense).

Our instantiation of time as a transcendent condition is thus:

(2) Transcendent time gets instantiated as a probabilistic, distributed and manifold multiplicity of—topologically spoken—open time strings.

Each time string represents a single and local present, where “local” does not refer to a “spatial place”, but rather to a particular sign process.

This multiplicity is not an external multiplicity, despite it is triggered or filled from the external. It is also not possible to “count” the items in it, without loosing present. If we count, we destroy the coherence between the overlapping strings of present, thus creating countable referential time. This highlights a further step of instantiation, the construction of expressibility.

(3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific space of expressibility.

Symbolization may be actualized by means of numbers, as already mentioned before. This would allow us to comprehend and speak of movement. We also have seen that we could construct a web of proceeding metaphors and their virtual movement. This would put us in midst the narration and into metaphoricology, as I call it, which refers to the perspective that conceives of being human and of human beings as parts of lively metaphors. In other words, culture itself becomes the story and the narrative.

As still another possibility we could address the construction of a space of expressibility of temporality quite directly. Such a space need to be an aspectional space, of course. Just keep in mind that the aspectional space is not a space of quantities, as it is the case for a Cartesian space. The aspectional space is a space that is characterized by a “smooth” blending of intensity and quantity. We may call it intensive quantities, or quantitable intensities. It is a far-reaching generalization of the “ordinary” space conceptions that we know from mathematics. As the aspects —the replacement of dimensions—of that space we could choose the modes of temporality—such as past, present, future—, the durée, the referential time, or implicit time as it occurs and shows up in behavior or choreostemic space. We also could think of an aspection that is built by a Riemannian manifold, allowing to comprise linearity and circularity as just a single aspect.

The tremendous advantage of such a space is manifold, of course, because an infinite amount of particular time practices can be constructed, even as a continuum. This contiguous and continuous plurality is of a completely different kind as the unmediatable items in the plurality of time conceptions that has been proposed by Mike Sandbothe [8].

The aspectional space of transcendent time offers, I mentioned it, the possibility for expressing time, or more precisely, a particular image of time. There are several of those spaces, and each of them is capable to hold an infinite number of different images of time.

It is now easy to understand that collapsing the conditions for building relations with the instantiation into a concrete time form, or even with the action (or the “phenomenon”) results in nothing else than a terrible mess. Actually, it is precisely the mess that physicists or phenomenology create in different ways. “Phenomenal” observables of this mess are pseudo-paradoxes or dualities. We also could say that such mess is created due to a wrong application of the grammar of time.

There is one important aspect of time and temporality, or perspective onto them, that we mentioned only marginally so far, the event. We met it in Heidegger’s “Being and Time” as the provider [m: the Giving] and insofar also the origin of Being and time. We also saw that Ricoeur uses them as building bricks for stories that combine them into successive wholes. For Dewey (“Time and Individuality”, “Context of Thought”) the concept of an event involves both the individual pattern of growth and the environmental conditions. Dewey, as Ricoeur, emphasizes that there is no geometrical sequence, no strict seriality to which events could be arranged. Dewey calls it concurrence, which could not be separated from occurrence of an event.

Yet, for both of them time remains something external to the conception of event, while Heidegger conceives it as the source of time. Considering our conception of time as a proceeding actualization of Differential Time we could say the the concept of event relates to the actualization of the relation within the transcendence of its conditions. Such it could be said to accompany creation of time, integrating transcendent and practical conditions as well as all the more or less contingent choices associated with it. In some way we can see that we have proceduralized (differentiated) Heidegger’s “point of origin”.37. Marc Rölli [52] sharpens this point by referring to Deleuze’s conception as “radically empiricist”, dismissing Heidegger through the concepts of actuality and virtuality. Such we can see that the immediate condition that is embedding the possibility of experience is the “event,” which in turn can be traced back to a proper image of time. Time, as a condition, is mediated towards experience by the event, as a condition. Certainly, however, the “event” could not be thought without an explicitly formulated conception of time. Without it, a multitude of misunderstandings must be expected. If we accept the perspective that insofar time is preceding substance, which resolves of course into a multiplicity in a Deleuzean perspective, we also could say that the trinity of time, event and experience contributes to the foil of immanence, or even builds it up, where experience in turn refers to the choreostemic constitution of being in the world.

In order to summarize our conception as an overview… here is how we propose to conceive of time

  • (1) Time is a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation, or likewise a quality.
  • (2) It gets instantiated as a probabilistic multiplicity of open time strings that, by the completion of all instantiations, present presence.
  • (3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific, aspectional space of expressibility.
  • (4) Any particular “choice” of a situs in this space of intensive quantities represents the respective image of time, which then may emerge in worldly actualizations.

Particularly regarding this last element we have to avoid the misunderstanding of a seriality of the kind “I choose then I get”. This choice is an implicit one, just as the other instantiations, and can be “observed” only in hindsight, or more precise, they show themselves only within performance. Only in this way we can say that it brings time into a particular Lebenswelt and its contexts as a matter (or subject) of design.

Nevertheless, we now could formulate kind of a recipe for creating a particular “time”, form of temporality, or “time quality.” This would work also in the reverse direction, of course. It is possible to construct a comparative of time qualities across authors, architects or urban neighborhoods. Hopefully, this will help to improve urban practices. In order to make this creational aspect more clear, we now have to investigate the possibilities to create time “itself”.

to be continued …

(The next part will deal with the question whether it could be possible to identify the mechanisms needed to create time…)

Notes

1. “Living City” was Archigram’s first presentation to the public, which has been curated by Ron Herron in 1963. 

2. German orig.: „Zuletzt markiert die Zeit für Ricoeur das “Mysterium” unseres Denkens, das sich der Repräsentation verweigert, indem es unser Dasein auf eine für das Denken uneinholbare Weise umgreift.“

3. As in the preceding essays, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept in the vicinity of Urban Reason, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

4. remark about state and development.

5. We discussed them in the essay about growth patterns. The fractal is a consequence of self-affine mapping, roughly spoken, a local replacement by a minor version of the original diagram.

6. It is tempting to relate this position to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Yet, we won’t deal with contemporary physics here, even as it would be interesting to investigate the deficiencies of physical conceptions of time.

7. McTaggart paper about time that has been cited over and over again and became unfortunately very influential. Yet, it is nothing but a myth. For a refutation see Tegtmeier [18]. For reasons of its own stupidity and the boldly presented misinterpretation of the work of Kant, McTaggart’s writing deserves the title of a “most developed philanosy” (Grk: anoysia ανοησία, nonsense, or anosia, immunity). It is not even worthwhile, as we will see later through our discussion of Wittgenstein’s work regarding time, to consider it seriously, as for instance Sean Power does .

8. There is a distant resemblance to Georg Berkley’s “esse est percipi.” [20] Yet, in contrast to Berkley, we conceive of interpretation as an activity that additionally is deeply rooted in the communal.

9. German original: SZ: 326: „Zukünftig auf sich zurückkommend, bringt sich die Entschlossenheit gegenwärtigend in die Situation. Die Gewesenheit entspringt der Zukunft, so zwar, dass die gewesene (besser gewesende) Zukunft die Gegenwart aus sich entlässt. Dies dergestalt als gewesend-gegenwärtigende Zukunft einheitliche Phänomen nennen wir die Zeitlichkeit.

10. One has to consider that Heidegger conceives of Being only in relation to the Being-there (“Dasein”), while the “Being-there” is confined to conscious beings.

11. The translators used ”falling”, which however does not match the German “verfallend”. (Actually, I consider it as a mistake.) Hence, I replaced it by a more appropriate verb.

12. Note that Heidegger always used to write in a highly ambigue fashion, which makes it nearly impossible to translate him literally from German to English. In everyday language “Es gibt” is surely well translated by “There is.” Yet, in this text he repeatedly refers to “giving”. Turning perspective to “giving” opens the preceding “Es” away from its being as impersonate corpuscle towards impersonal “fateness”. This interpretation matches the presentation of the affair in [24].

13. German original: “Das Sein eigens denken, verlangt, das Sein als den Grund des Seienden fahren zu lassen zugunsten des im Entbergen verborgen spielenden Gebens, d.h. des „Es gibt“.“

14. see also: Marcel Mauss, Die Gabe. Form und Funktion des Austauschs in archaischen Gesellschaften. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2009 [1925].

15. German orig.: „In “Zeit und Sein” schliesslich sieht Heidegger den Ursprung der Zeit im Ereignis, welches er ausdrücklich als den [sich ] selbst entzogenen Geber von Sein und Zeit bestimmt. Das Ereignis, von Heidegger andernorts bestimmt als singulare tantum, ist selbst grundsätzlich entzogen – und dennoch ist das Ereignis der Ursprung der Zeit.“

16. German original (my own translation): “Sein und Zeit ist vielmehr dahin unterwegs, auf dem Wege über die Zeitlichkeit des Daseins in der Interpretation des Seins als Temporalität einen Zeitbegriff, jenes Eigene der “Zeit” zu finden, von woher sich “Sein” als Anwesen er-gibt. Damit ist aber gesagt, daß das in der Fundamentalontologie gemeinte Fundamentale kein Aufbauen darauf verträgt. Stattdessen sollte, nachdem der Sinn von Sein erhellt worden wäre, die ganze Analytik des Daseins ursprünglicher und in ganz anderer Weise wiederholt werden.“ [21]

17. German original (my translation): “Zeit-Raum nennt jetzt das Offene, das im Einander-sich-reichen von Ankunft, Gewesenheit und Gegenwart sich lichtet. Erst dieses Offene und nur es räumt dem uns gewöhnlich bekannten Raum seine mögliche Ausbreitung ein.“

18. This also holds for any of the attempts hat can be found in physics. The following sources may be considered as the most prominent sources, though they are not undisputed: Carroll [22], Price [23][24], Penrose [25]. Physics always and inevitably conceives of time as a measurable “thing”, i.e. as something which already has been negotiated in its relevance for the communal aspects of thinking. See Aristotle’s conception of time.

19. hint to Schelling, for whom intensity is not accessible at all, but could be conceived only as a force that expands into extensity.

20. You will find Peirce’s writings online here: http://www.cspeirce.com/; the parts reference here for instance at http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/bycsp/logic/ms237.htm,

21. German original (my transl.): „Denn in der Grammatik der Zukunft tritt der Begriff des ,Gedächtnis’ nicht auf, auch nicht mit umgekehrten Vorzeichen.“

22. In meditational practices one can extend the interpretive chain in various ways. The result is simply the stopping of referential time.

23. German orig.: „Beide Ausdrucksweisen sind in Ordnung und gleichberechtigt, aber nicht miteinander vermischbar“.

24. German orig.: „Wir können keinen Vorgang mit dem ,Ablauf der Zeit’ vergleichen – diesen gibt es nicht – sondern nur mit einem anderen Vorgang (etwa mit dem Gang des Chronometers).“ translation taken from here.

25. 1 second is currently defined as the duration of 9192631770 transitions between two energy levels of the caesium-133 atom. [39] Interestingly, this fits nicely to Aristotle’s conception of time. The reason to take the properties of Cs-133 as a reference is generality. The better the resolution of the referential scale the more general it could be applied.

26. German orig.: „„Jetzt“ bezeichnet keinen Zeitpunkt. Es ist kein „Name eines Zeitmomentes“.“

27. German orig.: „[…] es ist aber Unsinn zu sagen ‘Dies ist dies’, oder ‘Dies ist jetzt’.“

28. In German “Halma”.

29. Much could be said about physics here, regarding the struggling of physicists to “explain” the so-called arrow of time, or regarding the theory of relativity or quantum physics with its Planck time, but it is not close enough to our interests here. Physics always tries to objectify time, which happens through claiming an universally applicable scale, hence they run into paradoxes. In other terms, the fact of the necessity of conceptions like Planck time, or time dilatation, is precisely that without observer there is nothing. The mere possibility of observation (and the observer) vanishes at the light of speed, or at the singularity “within” black holes”. In some way, physics all the time (tries to) proof(s) their own nonsensical foundations.

30. German orig.: „Was zum Wesen der Welt gehört, kann die Sprache nicht ausdrücken. (…) Nur was wir uns auch anders vorstellen können, kann die Sprache sagen.”

31. German orig.: ,,Alles was wir überhaupt beschreiben können, könnte auch anders sein”.

32. Note that in case of a city we meet somewhat the inverse of it. We could conceive of a city as “an individual being made from a collective.”

33. see also Paul Ricoeur (1978), “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” Critical Inquiry, 1978.

34. German orig.: „Aber, und das ist für Ricoeur entscheidend, “was hier zum Scheitern gebracht wird, ist nicht das Denken, in allen Bedeutungen des Wortes, sondern der Trieb, besser die hybris, die unser Denken dazu verleitet, sich zu Herrn des Sinns zu machen“. Aufgrund dieses nur relativen Scheiterns stehe der Unerforschlichkeit kein Verstummen, sondern vielmehr eine Polymorphie der Gestaltungen und Bewertungen der Zeit gegenüber.“

35. German orig.: „Diese Zusammengehörigkeit von Entzug des Grundes und Herausforderung um Mehr- und Andersdenken ist der stärkste Grund für Ricoeurs explizite Ablehnung eines Systems sowohl der drei Aporien der Zeit selbst wie auch ihrer narrativen Antworten.“

36. German orig.: „Historische Praxis erlaubt uns, die erlebt Zeit mit der linearen Zeit in einer ihr eigenen Schöpfung, der historischen Zeit, zu vermitteln.“

37. Much more would be to say about the event, of course (cf. [51]). Yet, I think that our characterization not only encompasses most conceptions or fits to most of the contribution to the “philosophy of the event,” it also clarifies and sheds light (kind of x-rays?) on them.

References

  • [1] Simon Sadler, Archigram – Architecture without Architecture. MIT Press, Boston 2005.
  • [2] Koolhaas, Junkspace
  • [3] Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. 1977 [1966].
  • [4] Bernard Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction. MIT Press, Boston 1996.
  • [5] Franz Oswald and Peter Baccini, Netzstadt: Einführung zum Stadtentwerfen. Birkhäuser, Basel 2003.
  • [6] Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition. 1941.
  • [7] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. Oppositions 1984 [1966].
  • [8] Mike Sandbothe, „Die Verzeitlichung der Zeit in der modernen Philosophie.“ in: Antje Gimmler, Mike Sandbothe und Walther Ch. Zimmerli (eds.), Die Wiederentdeckung der Zeit. Primus & Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1997. available online.
  • [9] Mary Louise Gill, Aristotle’s Distinction between Change and Activity. in: Johanna Seibt (ed.), Process Theories: Crossdisciplinary Studies in Dynamic Categories. p.3-22.
  • [10] Yeonkyung Lee and Sungwoo Kim (2008). Reinterpretation of S. Giedion’s Conception of Time in Modern Architecture – Based on his book, Space, Time and Architecture. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 7(1):15–22.
  • [11] Tony Roark, Aristotle on Time: A Study of the Physics.
  • [12] Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy. The Revolution in Modern Science. Harper, New York 1962.
  • [13] Ursula Coope, Time for Aristotle, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • [14] John Ellis McTaggart (1908). The Unreality of Time. Mind: A Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy 17: 456-473.
  • [15] L. Nathan Oaklander, Quenin Smith (eds.), The New Theory of Time. Yale University Press, New Haven (CT) 1994.
  • [16] L. Nathan Oaklander (2004). The Ontology of Time (Studies in Analytic Philosophy)
  • [17] Sean Power, The Metaphysics of Temporal Experience. forthcoming.
  • [18] Erwin Tegtmeier (2005). Three Flawed Distinctions in the Philosophy of Time. IWS 2005.
  • [19] Thomas Sheehan, “Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976)” in: Edward Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, New York 1998, IV, p.307-323.
  • [20] George Berkley, Eine Abhandlung über die Prinzipien der menschlichen Erkenntnis (1710). Vgl. vor allem die ‚Sectionen‘ III-VII und XXV, Übers. F. Überweg, Berlin 1869.
  • [21] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. transl. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (based on 7th edition of “Sein und Zeit”), Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1962. available online.
  • [22] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit. Tübingen 1979 [1927].
  • [23] Martin Heidegger, Protokoll zu einem Seminar über den Vortrag “Zeit und Sein”. in: Zur Sache des Denkens. Gesamtausgabe Band 14, p.34. Klostermann, Frankfurt 2007 [1967].
  • [24] Cristina Lafont (1993). Die Rolle der Sprache in Sein und Zeit. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung, Band 47, 1.
  • [25] Martin Heidegger, Zur Sache des Denkens. Gesamtausgabe Band 14. Klostermann, Frankfurt 2007.
  • [26] Christian Bermes, Ulrich Dierse (eds.), Schlüsselbegriffe der Philosophie des 20. Jahrhunderts. Meiner, Hamburg 2010.
  • [27] Sean Carroll, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. Oneworld, Oxford 2011.
  • [28] Huw Price, Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996.
  • [29] Huw Price (1994). Reinterpreting the Wheeler-Feynman Absorber Theory: Reply to Leeds. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (4), pp. 1023-1028.
  • [30] Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. Vintage, London 2004.
  • [31] Friedrich Kuemmel, Über den Begriff der Zeit. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1962.
  • [32] Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, transl., F.L. Pogson, Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, original date, 1910 (orig. 1889).
  • [33] Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism.
  • [34] Lawlor, Leonard and Moulard, Valentine, “Henri Bergson”, in: Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), available online.
  • [35] Charles Sanders Peirce, Writings 3, 107-108, MS239 (Robin 392, 371), 1873. available online.
  • [36] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. §201
  • [37] John Dewey, “Time and Individuality,” in: Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), Later Works of John Dewey, Vol.14. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale 1988.
  • [38] John Dewey, “Experience and Nature,” in: Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), Later Works of John Dewey, Vol.1. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale 1981 , p. 92.
  • [39] Rudolf F. Kaspar und Alfred Schmidt (1992). Wittgenstein über Zeit. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung, Band 46(4): 569-583.
  • [40] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Bemerkungen. in: Werkausgabe Bd. 2. Frankfurt 1984.
  • [41] “International System of Units (SI)”. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures. 2006.
  • [42] Peter Janich (1996). Die Konstitution der Zeit durch Handeln und Reden. Kodikas/Code Ars Semeiotica 19, 133-147.
  • [43] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Eine Philosophische Betrachtung (Das Braune Buch). in: Suhrkamp Werkausgabe Bd. 5. Frankfurt 1984.
  • [44] Andrea A. Reichenberger, „Was ist Zeit?“ Wittgensteins Kritik an Augustinus kritisch betrachtet. in: Friedrich Stadler, Michael Stöltzner (eds.), Papers of the 28th International Wittgenstein Symposium 7-13 August 2005. Zeit und Geschichte – Time and History. ALWS, Kirchberg am Wechsel 2005.
  • [45] Tagebücher 1924-1916. in: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Werkausgabe Bd.1, Frankfurt 1984.
  • [46] Helga Nowotny, Eigenzeit: Entstehung und Strukturierung eines Zeitgefühls. Suhrkamp 1993.
  • [47] Inga Römer, Das Zeitdenken bei Husserl, Heidegger und Ricoeur. Springer, Dordrecht & Heidelberg 2010.
  • [48] Paul Ricoeur, Zeit und Erzählung, Bd. 3: Die erzählte Zeit, München, Fink , München 1991. (zuerst frz.: Paris 1985).
  • [49] Paul Ricoeur (1980). On Narrative. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 169-190.
  • [50] Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in: Wolfgang Weischedel (ed.), Immanuel Kant., Werke in sechs Bänden, Bd. 2, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1983.
  • [51] Marc Rölli, Ereignis auf Französisch. Von Bergson bis Deleuze. Fink, München 2004.
  • [52] Marc Rölli, “Begriffe für das Ereignis: Aktualität und Virtualität. Oder wie der radikale Empirist Gilles Deleuze Heidegger verabschiedet”, in: Marc Rölli (ed.), Ereignis auf Französisch. Von Bergson bis Deleuze. Fink, München 2004

۞

Advertisements

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….

Notes 

.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)

References

  • [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.

..

Notes

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”).

References

  • [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.

۞

Modernism, revisited (and chunked)

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

There can be no doubt that nowadays “modernism”,

due to a series of intensive waves of adoption and criticism, returning as echoes from unexpected grounds, is used as a label, as a symbol. It allows to induce, to claim or to disapprove conformity in previously unprecedented ways, it helps to create subjects, targets and borders. Nevertheless, it is still an unusual symbol, as it points to a complex history, in other words to a putative “bag” of culture(s). As a symbol, or label, “modernity” does not point to a distinct object, process or action. It invokes a concept that emerged through history and is still doing so. Even as a concept, it is a chimaera. Still unfolding from practice, it did not yet move completely into the realm of the transcendental, to join other concepts in the fields most distant from any objecthood.

This Essay

Here, we continue the investigation of the issues raised by Koolhaas’ “Junkspace”. Our suggestion upon the first encounter has been that Koolhaas struggles himself with his attitude to modernism, despite he openly blames it for creating Junkspace. (Software as it is currently practiced is definitely part of it.) His writing bearing the same title thus gives just a proper list of effects and historical coincidences—nothing less, but also nothing more. Particularly, he provides no suggestions about how to find or construct a different entry point into the problematic field of “building urban environments”.

In this essay we will try to outline how a possible—and constructive—archaeology of modernism could look like, with a particular application to urbanism and/or architecture. The decisions about where to dig and what to build have been, of course, subjective. Of course, our equipment is, as almost always in archaeology, rather small, suitable for details, not for surface mining or the like. That is, our attempts are not directed towards any kind of completeness.

We will start by applying a structural perspective, which will yield the basic set of presuppositions that characterizes modernism. This will be followed by a discussion of four significant aspects, for which we will hopefully be able to demonstrate the way of modernist thinking. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, meaning, empiricism and machines. The third major section will deal with some aspects of contemporary “urbanism” and how Koolhaas relates to that, particularly with respect to his “Junkspace”. Note, however, that we will not perform a literary study of Koolhaas’ piece, as most of his subjects there can be easily deciphered on the basis of the arguments as we will show them in the first two sections.

The final section then comprises a (very) brief note about a possible future of urbanism, which actually, perhaps, already has been lifting off. We will provide just some very brief suggestions in order to not appear as (too) presumptuous.

Table of Content (active links)

1. A structural Perspective

According to its heterogeneity, the usage of that symbol “modernity” is fuzzy as well. While the journal Modernism/modernity, published by John Hopkins University Press, concentrates „on the period extending roughly from 1860 to the mid-twentieth century,“ while galleries for “Modern Art” around the world consider the historical period since post-Renaissance (conceived as the period between 1400 to roughly 1900) up today, usually not distinguishing modernism from post-modernism.

In order to understand modernism we have to take the risk of proposing a structure behind the mere symbolical. Additionally, and accordingly, we should resist the abundant attempt to define a particular origin of it. Foucault called those historians who were addicted to the calendar and the idea of the origin, the originator, or more abstract the “cause”, “historians in short trousers” (meaning a particular intellectual infantilism, probably a certain disability to think abstractly enough) [1]. History does not realize a final goal either, and similarly it is bare nonsense to claim that history came to an end. As in any other evolutionary process historical novelty builds on the leftover of preceding times.

After all, the usage of symbols and labels is a language game. It is precisely a modernist misunderstanding to dissect history into phases. Historical phases are not out there, or haven’t been  there. It is by far more appropriate to conceive it as waves, yet not of objects or ideas, but of probabilities. So, the question is what happened in the 19th century that it became possible to objectify a particular wave? Is it possible to give any reasonable answer here?

Following Foucault, we may try to reconstruct the sediments that fell out from these waves like the cripples of sand in the shallow water on the beach. Foucault’s main invention put forward then in his “Archaeology” [1] is the concept of the “field of proposals”. This field is not 2-dimensional, it is high-dimensional, yet not of a stable dimensionality. In many respects, we could conceive it as a historian’s extension of the Form of Life as Wittgenstein used to call it. Later, Foucault would include the structure of power, its exertion and objectifications, the governmentality into this concept.

Starting with the question of power, we can see an assemblage that is typical for the 19th century and the latest phase of the 18th. The invention of popular rights, even the invention of the population as a conscious and a practiced idea, itself an outcome of the French revolution, is certainly key for any development since then. We may even say that its shockwaves and the only little less shocking echoes of these waves haunted us till the end of the 20th century. Underneath the French Revolution we find the claim of independence that traces back to the Renaissance, formed into philosophical arguments by Leibniz and Descartes. First, however, it brought the Bourgeois, a strange configuration of tradition and the claim of independence, bringing forth the idea of societal control as a transfer from the then emerging intensification of the idea of the machine. Still exhibiting class-consciousness, it was at the roots of the modernists rejection of tradition. Yet, even the Bourgeois builds on the French Revolution (of course) and the assignment of a strictly positive value to the concept of densification.

Without the political idea of the population, the positive value of densification, the counter-intuitive and prevailing co-existence of the ideas of independence and control neither the direction nor the success of the sciences and their utilization in the field of engineering could have been emerging as it actually did. Consequently, right to the end of the hot phase of French Revolution, it was argued by Foucroy in 1794 that it would be necessary to found a „Ecole Polytechnique“1. Densification, liberalism and engineering brought another novelty of this amazing century: the first spread of mass media, newspapers in that case, which have been theorized only approx. 100 years later.

The rejection of tradition as part of the answer to the question “What’s next?” is perhaps one of the strongest feelings for the modernist in the 19th century. It even led to considerable divergence of attitudes across domains within modernism. For instance, while the arts rejected realism as a style building on “true representation,” technoscience embraced it. Yet, despite the rejection of immediate visual representations in the arts, the strong emphasis on objecthood and apriori objectivity remained fully in charge. Think of Kandinsky’s “Punkt und Linie zu Fläche“ (1926), or the strong emphasis of pure color (Malevich), even of the idea of purity itself, then somewhat paradoxically called abstractness, or the ideas of the Bauhaus movement about the possibility and necessity to objectify rules of design based on dot, line, area, form, color, contrast etc.. The proponents of Bauhaus, even their contemporary successors in Weimar (and elsewhere) never understood that the claim for objectivity particularly in design is impossible to be satisfied, it is a categorical fault. Just to avoid a misunderstanding that itself would be a fault of the same category: I personally find Kandinsky’s work mostly quite appealing, as well as some of the work by the Bauhaus guys, yet for completely different reasons that he (they) might have been dreaming of.

Large parts of the arts rejected linearity, while technoscience took it as their core. Yet, such divergences are clearly the minority. In all domains, the rejection of tradition was based on an esteem of the idea of independence and resulted predominantly in the emphasis of finding new technical methods to produce unseen results. While the emphasis of the method definitely enhances the practice of engineering, it is not innocent either. Deleuze sharply rejects the saliency of methods [10]:

Method is the means of that knowledge which regulates the collaboration of all the faculties. It is therefore the manifestation of a common sense or the realisation of a Cogitatio natura, […] (p.165)

Here, Deleuze does not condemn methods as such. Undeniably, it is helpful to explicate them, to erect a methodology, to symbolize them. Yet, culture should not be subordinated to methods, not even sub-cultures.

The leading technoscience of these days had been physics, closely followed by chemistry, if it is at all reasonable to separate the two. It brought the combustion engine (from Carnot to Daimler), electricity (from Faraday to Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla), the control of temperature (Kelvin, Boltzmann), the elevator, and consequently the first high-rise buildings along with a food industry. In the second half of 19th century it was fashionable for newspapers to maintain a section showing up the greatest advances and success of technoscience of the last week.

In my opinion it is eminently important to understand the linkage between the abstract ideas, growing from a social practice as their soil-like precursory condition, and the success of a particular kind of science. Independence, control, population on the one side, the molecule and its systematics, the steam and the combustion engine, electricity and the fridge on the other side. It was not energy (in the form of wood and coals) that could be distributed, electricity meant an open potential for an any  of potential [2]. Together they established a new Form of Life which nowadays could be called “modern,” despite the fact that its borders blur, if we could assume their existence at all. Together, combined into a cultural “brown bag,” these ingredients led to an acceleration, not to the least also due to the mere physical densification, an increase of the mere size of the population, produced (literally so) by advances in the physical and biomedical sciences.

At this point we should remind ourselves that factual success does neither legitimize to expect sustainable success nor to reason about any kind of universal legitimacy of the whole setup. The first figure would represent simply naivety, the second the natural fallacy, which seduces us to conclude from the actual (“what is”) to the deontical and the normative (“what should be”).

As a practice, the modern condition is itself dependent on a set of beliefs. These can neither be questioned nor discussed at all from within the “modern attitude,” of course. Precisely this circumstance makes it so difficult to talk with modernists about their beliefs. They are not only structurally invisible, something like a belief is almost categorically excluded qua their set of conditioning beliefs. Once accepted, these conditions can’t be accessed anymore, they are transcendental to any further argument put forward within the area claimed by these conditions. For philosophers, this figure of thought, the transcendental condition, takes the role of a basic technique. Other people like urbanists and architects might well be much less familiar with it, which could explain their struggling with theory.

What are these beliefs to which a proper modernist adheres to? My list would look like as that given below. The list itself is, of course, neither a valuation nor an evaluation.

  • – independence, ultimately taken as a metaphysical principle;
  • – belief in the primacy of identity against the difference, leading to the primacy of objects against the relation;
  • – linearity, additivity and reduction as the method of choice;
  • – analyticity and “lawfulness” for descriptions of the external world;
  • – belief in positively definable universals, hence, the rejection of belief as a sustaining mental figure;
  • – the belief in the possibility of a finally undeniable justification;
  • – belief that the structure of the world follows a bi-valent logic2, represented by the principle of objective causality, hence also a “logification” and “physicalization” of the concept of information as well as meaning; consequently, meaning is conceived as being attached to objects;
  • – the claim of a primacy of ontology and existential claims—as highlighted by the question “What is …?”—over instances of pragmatics that respect Forms of Life—characterized by the question “How to use …?”;
  • – logical “flatness” and the denial of creativity of material arrangements; representation
  • – belief in the universal arbitrariness of evolution;
  • – belief in the divine creator or some replacement, like the independent existence of ideas (here the circle closes).

It now becomes even more clear that is not quite reasonable to assign a birth date to modernism. Some of those ideas and beliefs haven been around for centuries before their assembly into the 19th century habit. Such, modernism is nothing more, yet also nothing less than a name for the evolutionary history of a particular arrangement of attitudes, believes and arguments.

From this perspective it also becomes clear why it is somewhat difficult to separate so-called post-modernism from modernism. Post-modernism takes a yet undecided position to the issue of abstract metaphysical independence. Independence and the awareness for the relations did not amalgamate yet, both are still, well, independent in post-modernism. It makes a huge, if not to say cosmogonic difference to set the relation as the primary metaphysical element. Of course, Foucault was completely right in rejecting the label of being a post-modernist. Foucault dropped the central element of modernism—independence—completely, and very early in his career as author, thinking about the human world as horizontal (actual) and vertical (differential) embeddings. The same is obviously true for Deleuze, or Serres. Less for Lyotard and Latour, and definitely not for Derrida, who practices a schizo-modernism, undulating between independence and relation. Deleuze and Foucault never have been modern, in order to paraphrase Latour, and it would be a serious misunderstanding to attach the label of post-modernism to their oeuvre.

As a historical fact we may summarize modernism by two main achievements: first, the professionalization of engineering and its rhizomatically pervasive implementation, and second the mediatization of society, first through the utilization of mass media, then by means of the world wide web. Another issue is that many people confess to follow it as if they would follow a program, turning it into a movement. And it is here where difficulties start.

2. Problems with Modernism

We are now going to deal with some of the problems that are necessarily associated to the belief set that is so typical for modernism. In some way or another, any basic belief is burdened by its own specific difficulties. There is no universal or absolute way out of that. Yet, modernism is not just an attitude, up to now it also has turned into a large-scale societal experiment. Hence, there are not only some empirical facts, we also meet impacts onto the life of human beings (before any considerations of moral aspects). Actually, Koolhaas provided precisely a description of them in his “Junkspace” [3]. Perhaps, modernism is also more prone to the strong polarity of positive and negative outcomes, as its underlying set of believes is also particularly strong. But this is, of course, only a quite weak suggestion.

In this section we will investigate four significant aspects. Together they hopefully provide kind of a fingerprint of “typical” modernist thinking—and its failure. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, empiricism, meaning and machines.

Before we start with that I would like to visit briefly the issue raised by the role of objects in modernism. The metaphysics of objects in modernism is closely related to the metaphysical belief of independence as a general principle. If you start to think “independence” you necessarily end up with separated objects. “Things” as negotiated entities do barely exist in modernism, and if so, then only as kind of a error-prone social and preliminary approximation to the physical setup. It is else not possible, to balance objects and relations as concepts. One of them must take the primary role.

Setting objects as primary against the relation has a range of problematic consequences. In my opinion, these consequences are inevitable. It is important that neither the underlying beliefs nor their consequences can’t be separated from each other. For a modernist, it is impossible, to drop one of these and to keep the other ones without stepping into the tomb of internal inconsistency!

The idea of independence, whether in its implicit or its explicit version, can be traced back at least to scholastics, probably even to the classic where it appeared as Platonic idealism (albeit this would be an oversimplification). To its full extent it unfolded through the first golden age of the dogma of the machine in the early 17th century, e.g. in the work of Harvey or the philosophy of Descartes. Leibniz recognized its difficulties. For him perception is an activity. If objects would be conceived as purely passive, they would not be able to perceive and not to build any relation at all. Thus, the world can’t be made of objects, since there is a world external to the human mind. He remained, however, being caught by theism, which brought him to the concept of monads as well as to the concept of the infinitesimal numbers. The concept of the monads should not be underestimated, though. Ultimately, they serve the purpose of immaterial elements that bear the ability to perceive and to transfer them to actual bodies, whether stuffed with a mind or not.

The following centuries brought just a tremendous technical refinement of Cartesian philosophy, despite there have been phases where people resisted its ideas, as for instance many people in the Baroque.

Setting objects as primary against the relation is at the core of phenomenology as well, and also, though in a more abstract version, of idealism. Husserl came up with the idea of the “phenomenon”, that impresses us, notably directly, or intuitively, without any interpretation. Similarly, the Kantian “Erhabenheit”, then tapered by Romanticism, is out there as an independent instance, before any reason or perception may start to work.

So, what is the significance of setting objects as primary constituents of the world? Where do we have to expect which effects?

2.1. Dust, Coherence, Patterns

When interpreted as a natural principle, or as a principle of nature, the idea of independence provokes and supports physical sciences. Independence matches perfectly with physics, yet it is also an almost perfect mismatch for biological sciences as far as they are not reducible to physics. The same is true for social sciences. Far from being able to recognize their own conditionability, most sociologist just practice methods taken more or less directly from physics. Just recall their strange addiction to statistics, which is nothing else than methodology of independence. Instead of asking for the abstract and factual genealogy of the difference between independence and coherence, between the molecule and harmony, they dropped any primacy of the relation, even its mere possibility.

The effects in architecture are well-known. On the one hand, modernism led to an industrialization, which is reaching its final heights in the parametrism of Schumacher and Hadid, among others. Yet, by no means there is any necessity that industrialization leads to parametrism! On the other hand, if in the realm of concepts there is no such thing as a primacy of relation, only dust, then there is also no form, only function, or at least a maximized reduction of any form, as it has been presented first by Mies von der Rohe. The modularity in this ideology of the absence of form is not that of living organisms, it is that of crystals. Not only the Seagram building is looking exactly like the structural model of sodium chloride. Of course, it represents a certain radicality. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the elementary cells of the crystal follows straight lines, or whether there is some curvature in their arrangements. Strange enough, for a modernist there is never a particular intention in producing such stuff. Intentions are not needed at all, if the objects bear the meaning. The modernists expectation is that everything the human mind can accomplish under such conditions is just uncovering the truth. Crystals just happen to be there, whether in modernist architecture or in the physico-chemistry of minerals.

Strictly spoken, it is deeply non-modern, perhaps ex-modern, to investigate the question why even modernists feel something like the following structures or processes mysteriously (not: mystical!) beautiful, or at least interesting. Well, I do not know, of course, whether they indeed felt like that, or whether they just pretended to do so. At least they said so… Here are the artefacts3:

Figure 1: a (left): Michael Hansmeyer column [4] ,b (right): Turing-McCabe-pattern (for details see this);

.

These structures are neither natural nor geometrical. Their common structural trait is the local instantiation of a mechanism, that is, a strong dependence on the temporal and spatial local context: Subdivision in case (a), and a probabilistically instantiated set of “chemical” reactions in the case of (b). For the modernist mindset they are simply annoying. They are there, but there is no analytical tool available to describe them as “object” or to describe their genesis. Yet, both examples do not show “objects” with perceivable properties that would be well-defined for the whole entity. Rather, they represent a particular temporal cut in the history of a process. Without considering their history—which includes the contingent unfolding of their deep structure—they remain completely incomprehensible, despite the fact that on the microscopical level they are well-defined, even deterministic.

From the perspective of primary objects they are separated from comprehensibility by the chasm of idealism, or should we say hyper-idealistic conditioning? Yet, for both there exists a set of precise mathematical rules. The difference to machines is just that these rules describe mechanisms, but not anything like the shape or on the level of the entirety. The effect of these mechanism on the level of the collective, however, can’t be described by those rules for the mechanism. They can’t be described at all by any kind of analytical approach, as it possible for instance in many areas in physics and, consequently in engineering, which so far is by definition always engaged in building and maintaining fully determinate machines. This notion of the mechanism, including the fact that only the concept of mechanism allows for a thinking that is capable to comprehend emergence and complexity—and philosophically potential—, is maybe one of the strongest differences between modernist thinking and “organicist” thinking (which has absolutely nothing to do with bubble architecture), as we may call it in a preliminarily.

Here it is probably appropriate to cite the largely undervalued work of Charles Jencks, who proposed as one of the first in the domain of architecture/urbanism the turn to complexity. Yet, since he had not a well-explicated formulation (based on an appropriate elementarization) at his disposal, we had neither been able to bring his theory “down to earth” nor to connect it to more abstract concepts. People like Jencks, Venturi, “parts of” Koolhaas (and me:)—or Deleuze or Foucault in philosophy—never have been modernist. Except the historical fact that they live(d) in a period that followed the blossoming of modernism, there is not any other justification to call them or their thinking “post-modern”. It is not the use of clear arguments that those reject, it is the underlying set of beliefs.

In modernism, that is, in the practice of the belief set as shown above, collective effects are excluded apriori, metaphysically as well as methodologically, as we will see. Statistics is by definition not able to detect “patterns”. It is an analytic technique, of which people believe that its application excludes any construction. This is of course a misbelief, the constructive steps are just shifted into the side-conditions of the formulas, resulting in a deep methodological subjectivity concerning the choice of a particular technique, or formula respectively.

This affects the perspective onto society as well as individual perception and thought. Slightly metaphorically spoken, everything is believed to be (conceptual) dust, and to remain dust. The belief in independence, fired perhaps by a latent skepticism since Descartes, has invaded the methods and the practices. At most, such the belief, one could find different kinds of dust, or different sizes of the hives of dust, governed by a time-inert, universal law. In turn, wherever laws are imposed to “nature”, the subject matter turns into conceptual dust.

Something like a Language Game, let it even be in combination with transcendental conditionability, must almost be incomprehensible for a modernist. I think they even do not see there possibility. While analytic philosophy is largely the philosophy that developed within modernism (one might say that it is thus not philosophy at all), the philosophical stances of Wittgenstein, Heidegger or Deleuze are outside of it. The instances of misunderstanding Wittgenstein as a positivist are countless! Closely related to the neglect of collective effects is the dismissal of the inherent value of the comparative approach. Again, that’s not an accusation. Its just the description of an effect that emerges as soon as the above belief set turns into a practice.

The problem with modernism is indeed tricky. On the one hand it blossomed engineering. Engineering, as it has been conceived since then, is a strictly modernist endeavor. With regard to the physical aspects of the world it works quite well, of course. In any other area, it is doomed to fail, for the very same reasons, unfortunately. Engineering of informational aspects is thus impossible as it is the engineering of architecture or the engineering of machine-based episteme, not to mention the attempt to enable machines to deal with language. Or to deal with the challenges emerging in the urban culture. Just to avoid misunderstandings: Engineering is helpful to find technical realizations for putative solutions, but it never can deliver any kind of solution itself, except the effect that people assimilate and re-shape the produces of urban engineering through their usage, turning them into something different than intended.

2.2. Meaning

The most problematic effects of the idea  of “primary objects” are probably the following:

  • – the rejection of creational power of unconscious or even purely material entities;
  • – the idea that meaning can be attached to objects;
  • – the idea that objects can be represented and must be represented by ideas.

These strong consequences do not concern just epistemological issues. In modernism, “objectivity” has nothing to do with the realm of the social. It can be justified universally and on purely formal grounds. We already mentioned that this may work in large parts of physics—it is challenged in quantum physics—but certainly not in most biological or social domains.

In his investigation of thought, Deleuze identifies representationalism ([9], p.167) as one of the eight major presuppositions of large parts of philosophy, especially idealism in the line from Platon, Hegel, and Frege up to Carnap.

(1) the postulate of the principle, or the Cogitatio natura universalis (good will of the thinker and good nature of thought); (2) the postulate of the ideal, or common sense (common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution which guarantees this concord); (3) the postulate of the model, or of recognition (recognition inviting all the faculties to exercise themselves upon an object supposedly the same, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty); (4) the postulate of the element, or of representation (when difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed); (5) the postulate of the negative, or of error (in which error expresses everything which can go wrong in thought, but only as the product of external mechanisms); (6) the postulate of logical function, or the proposition (designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralised double or the infinite doubling of the proposition); (7) the postulate of modality, or solutions (problems being materially traced from propositions or, indeed, formally defined by the possibility of their being solved); (8) the postulate of the end, or result, the postulate of knowledge (the subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method). Together they form the dogmatic image of thought.

Deleuze by no means attacks the utility of these elements in principle. His point is just that these elements work together and should not be taken as primary principles. The effect of these presuppositions are disastrous.

They crush thought under an image which is that of the Same and the Similar in representation, but profoundly betrays what it means to think and alienates the two powers of difference and repetition, of philosophical commencement and recommence­ment. The thought which is born in thought, the act of thinking which is neither given by innateness nor presupposed by reminiscence but engendered in its genitality, is a thought without image.

As engineer, you may probably have been noticing issue (5). Elsewhere in our essay we already dealt with the fundamental misconception to start from an expected norm, instead from an open scale without imposed values. Only the latter attitude will allow for inherent adaptivity. Adaptive systems never will fail, because failure is conceptually impossible. Instead, they will cease to exist.

The rejection of the negative, which includes the rejection of the opposite as well as dialectics, the norm, or the exception, is particularly important if we think about foundations of whatsoever (think about Hegel, Marx, attac, etc.) or about political implications. We already discussed the case of Agamben.

Deleuze finally will arrive at this “new imageless image of thought” by understanding difference as a transcendental category. The great advantage of this move is that it does not imply a necessity of symbols and operators as primary, as it is the case if we would take identity as primary. The primary identical is either empty (a=a), that is, without any significance for the relation between entities, or it needs symbolification and at least one operator. In practice, however, a whole battery of models, classifications and the assumptions underlying them is required to support the claim of identity. As these assumptions are not justifiable within the claim of identity itself, they must be set, which results in the attempt to define the world. Obviously, attempting so would be quite problematic. It is even self-contradicting if contrasted with the modernists claim of objectivity. Setting the difference as primary, Deleuze not only avoids the trap of identity and pre-established harmony in the hive of objects, but also subordinates the object to the relation. Here he meets with Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Together, the presupposition of identity and objecthood is necessarily and in a bidirectional manner accompanied with another quite abundant misunderstanding, according to which logic should be directly applicable to the world. World here is of course “everything” except logic, that is (claimed) objects, their relations, measurement, ideas, concepts and so on. Analytic philosophy, positivism, external realism and the larger movement of modernism all apply the concept of bi-valent logic to empirical entities. It is not really a surprise that this leads to serious problems and paradoxa, which however are pseudo-paradoxa. For instance, universal justification requires knowledge. Without logical truity in knowledge universal justification can’t be achieved. The attempt to define knowledge as consisting of positive content failed, though. Next, the formula of “knowledge as justified belief” was proposed. In order not to fall prey to the Gettier-problem, belief itself would have to be objectified. Precisely this happened in analytic philosophy, when Alchourron et al. (1985) published their dramatically (and overly) reduced operationalization of “belief”. Logic is a condition, it is transcendental to its usage. Hence, it is inevitable to instantiate it. By means of instantiation, however, semantics invades equally inevitable.

Ultimately due to the presupposed primacy of identity, modernists are faced with a particular difficulty in dealing with relations. Objects and their role should not be dependent on their interpretation. As a necessary consequence, meaning—and information—must be attached to objects as quasi-physical properties. There is but one single consequence: tyranny. Again, it is not surprising that at the heights of modernism the bureaucratic tyranny was established several times.

Some modernists would probably allow for interpretation. Yet, only as a means, not as a condition, not as a primacy. Concerning their implications, the difference between the stances is a huge one. If you take it simply as a means, keeping the belief into the primacy of objects, you still would adhere to the idea of “absolute truth” within the physical world. Ultimately, interpretation would be degraded into an error-prone “method”, which ideally should have no influence onto the recognition of truth, of course. The world, at least the world that goes beyond the mere physical aspects, appears as a completely different one if relations, and thus interpretation is set as primary. Obviously, this implies also a categorical difference regarding the way one approaches that world, e.g. in science, or the way one conceives of the possible role of design. Is a nothing else than myth that a designer, architect, or urbanist designs objects. The practitioners in these professions design potentials, namely that for the construction of meaning by the future users and inhabitants (cf. [5]). There is nothing a designer can do to prevent a particular interpretation or usage. Koolhaas concludes that regarding Junkspace this may lead to a trap, or kind of a betrayal [3]:

Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us: we cannot stop noticing—no sequence is too absurd, trivial, meaningless, insulting… Through our ancient evolutionary equipment, our irrepressible attention span, we helplessly register, provide insight, squeeze meaning, read intention; we cannot stop making sense out of the utterly senseless… (p.188)

I think that on the one hand Koolhaas here accepts the role of interpretation, yet, and somewhat contradictory, he is not able to recognize that it is precisely the primacy of interpretation that enables for an transformation through assimilation, hence the way out of Junkspace. Here he remains modernist to the full extent.

The deep reason being that for the object-based attitude there is no possibility at all to recognize non-representational coherence. (Thus, a certain type of illiteracy regarding complex texts is prevailing among “true” modernists…)

2.3. Shades of Empiricism

Science, as we understand it today—yet at least partially also as we practice it—is based on the so-called hypothetico-deductive approach of empiricism (cf. [6]). Science is still taken as a synonym for physics by many, even in philosophy of science, with only very few exceptions. There, the practice and the theory of Life sciences are not only severely underrepresented, quite frequently biology is still reduced to physics. Physicists, and their philosophical co-workers, often claim that the whole world can be reduced to a description in terms of quantum mechanics (among many others cf. [7]). A closely related reduction, only slightly less problematic, is given by the materialist’s claim that mental phenomena should be explained completely in biological terms, that is, using only biological concepts.

The belief in empiricism is implemented into the methodological framework that is called “statistics”. The vast majority of the statistical tests rest on the assumption that observations and variables are independent from each other. Some tests are devised to test for independence, or dependence, but this alone does not help much. Usually, if dependency is detected, then the subsequent tests are rearranged as to fit again the independence assumption. In other words, any possibly actual coherence is first assumed to be nonexistent. By means of the method itself, the coherence is indeed destroyed. Yet, once it is destroyed, you never will get it back. It is quite simple: The criteria for any such construction are just missing.

From this perspective, statistics is not scientific according to science’s own measures; due to its declared non-critical and  non-experimental stance it actually looks more like ideology. For a scientific method would perform an experiment for testing whether something could be assumed or not. As Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz said: I never needed statistics to do my work. What would be needed instead is indeed a method that is structurally independent of any independence assumption regarding the observed data. Such a method would propose patterns if there are sufficiently dense hints, and not , otherwise. Without proposing one or the other apriori. From that perspective, it is more the representationalism in modernism that brings the problem.

This framework of statistics is far from being homogeneous, though. Several “interpretations” are fiercely discussed: frequentism, bayesianism, uncertainty, or propensity. Yet, any of them faces serious internal inconsistencies, as Alan Hajek convincingly demonstrated [8]. To make a long story short (the long version you can find over here), it is not possible to build a model without symbols, without concepts that require interpretation and further models, and outside a social practice, or without an embedding into such. Modernists usually reject such basics and eagerly claim even universal objectivity for their data (hives of dust). More than 50 years ago, Quine proofed that believing otherwise should be taken just as nothing else than a dogma [9]. This dogma can be conceived as a consequence of the belief that objects that are the primary constituents of the world.

Of course, the social embedding is especially important in the case of social affairs such like urbanism. The claim that any measurement of data then treated by statistical modeling (they call it wrongly “analysis”) could convey any insight per se is nothing but pretentious.

Dealing with data always results in some kind of construction, base don some methods. Methods, however, respond differentially to data, they filter. In other words, even applying “analytical” methods involves interpretation, often even a strong one. Unfortunately for the modernist, he excluded the possibility of the primacy of interpretation at all, because there are only objects out there. This hurdle is quickly solved, of course, by the belief that the meaning is outside of interpretation. As result, they believe, that there is a necessary progress towards the truth. For modernists: Here you may jump back to subsection 3.2. …

2.4. Machines

For le Corbusier a house is much like a “machine for living in”. According to him, a building has clear functions, that could be ascribed apriori, governed by universal relations, or even laws. Recently, people engaged in the building economy recognized that it may turn problematic to assign a function apriori, as it simply limits the sales arguments. As a result, any function from the building as well as from the architecture itself tends to be stripped away. The “solution” is a more general one. Yet, in contrast to an algebraic equation that will be instantiated before used, the building actually exists after building it. It is there. And up today, not in a reconfigurable form.

Actually, the problem is created not by the tendency for more general, or even pre-specific solutions. It turns critical if it generality amalgamates with the modernist attitude. The category of machines, which is synonymic to ascribing or assigning a function (understood as usage) apriori, doesn’t accept any reference to luxury. A machine that would contain properties or elements that don’t bear any function, at least temporarily, other than pleasure (which does not exist in a world that consists only of objects) would be badly built. Minimalism is not just a duty, it even belongs to the grammar of modernism. Minimalism is the actualization and representation of mathematical rigidity, which is also a necessity as it is the only way to use signs without interpretation. At least, that is the belief of modernists.

The problem with minimalism is that it effectively excludes evolution. Either the produce fits perfectly or not at all. Perfectness of the match can be expected only, if the user behaves exactly as expected, which represents nothing else than dogmatism, if not worse. Minimalism in form excludes alternative interpretations and usages, deliberately so, it even has  to exclude the possibility for the alternative. How else to get rid of alternatives? Koolhaas rightly got it: by nothingness (minimalism), or by chaos.

3. Urbanism, and Koolhaas.

First, we have of course to make clear that we will be able to provide only a glimpse to the field invoked by this header. Else, our attempts here should not be understood as a proposal to separate architecture from urbanism. Both, regarding theory and implementation they more and more overlap. When Koolhaas explains the special situation of the Casa do Musica in Porto, he refers to processes like continuation of certain properties and impressions from the surround to be continued inside of the building. Inversely, any building, even any persistent object in a city shifts the qualities of its urban surround.

Rem Koolhaas, once journalist, then architect, now for more than a decade additionally someone doing comparative studies on cities has performatively demonstrated—by means of his writings such as “S,M,L,XL”, “Generic City” or “Junkspace”—that a serious engagement about the city can’t be practiced as a disciplinary endeavor. Human culture moved irrevocably into a phase where culture largely means urban culture. Urbanists may be seen as a vanishing species that became impossible due to the generality of the field. “Culturalist” is neither a proper domain nor a suitable label. Or perhaps they moult into organizers of research in urban contexts, similarly as architects are largely organizers for creating buildings. Yet, there is an important difference: Architects may still believe that they externalize something. Such a belief is impossible for urbanists, because they are part of the culture. It is thus questionable, if a project like the “Future Cities Laboratory” should indeed be called such. It is perhaps only possible to do so in Singapore, but that’s the subject of one of the next essays.

Rem Koolhaas wrote “Delirious New York” before turning to architecture and urbanism as a practitioner. There, he praised its diversity and manifoldness that, in or by means of his dreams, added up to the deliriousness of Manhattan, and probably also of his own.

Without any doubt, the particular quality of Manhattan is its empowering density, which is not actualizing as the identical, but rather as heterotopia, as divergence. In some way, Manhattan may be conceived as the urban precursor of the internet [11], built first in steel, glass and concrete. Vera Bühlmann writes:

Manhattan space is, if not yet everywhere, so at least in the internet potentially everywhere, and additionally not limited to three, probably even spatial dimensions.4

Urbanism is in urgent demand of an advanced theory that refers to the power of networks. It was perhaps this “network process” that brought Koolhaas to explore the anti-thesis of the wall and the plane, the absolute horizontal and vertical separation. I say anti-thesis, because Delirious New York itself behaves quite ambiguously, half-way between the Hegelian, (post-)structuralist dialectics and utopia on the one side and an affirmation of heterotopias on the other hand as a more advanced level of conceptualization alienating processes, which always are also processes of selection and individuation into both directions, the medium and the “individual”. Earlier scholars like Aldo Rossi have been too early to go into that direction as networks weren’t recognizable as part of the Form of Life. Even Shane is only implicitly referring to their associative power (he does not refer to complexity as well). And Koolhaas was not either, and probably is still not aware of this problematics.

Recently, I have been proposing one of the possible approaches to build such a theory, the according concepts, terms and practices (for more details see [12]). It is rather important, to distinguish two very basic forms of networks, logistic and associative networks. Logistic networks are used everywhere in modernist reasoning about cities and culture. Yet, they exclusively refer to the network as a machine, suitable to optimize the transport of anything. Associative networks are completely different. They do not transfer anything, they swallow, assimilate, rearrange, associate and, above all, they learn. Any associative network can learn anything. The challenge is, particularly for modernist attitudes, that it can’t be controlled what exactly an associative network is going to learn. The interesting thing about it is that the concept of associative networks provides a bridge to the area of advanced “machine”-learning and to the Actor-Network-Theory (ANTH) of Bruno Latour. The main contribution of ANTH is its emphasis of agency, even of those mostly mineral material arrangements that are usually believed to have no mental capacity.

It is clear, that an associative network may not be perceived at all under the strictly practiced presupposition of independence, as it is typical for modernism. Upon its implementation, the  belief set of modernism tends to destroy the associativity, hence also the almost inevitable associations between the more or less mentally equipped actors in urban environments.

When applied to cities, it breaks up relations, deliberately. Any interaction of high-rise buildings, so typical for Manhattan, is precluded intentionally. Any transfer is optimized just along one single parameter: time, and secondarily, space as a resource. Note that optimization always requires the apriori definition of a single function. As soon as would allow for multiple goals, you would be faced with the necessity of weighting and assigning subjective expectations, which are subjective precisely due to the necessity of interpretation. In order to exclude even the possibility for it, modernists agree hastily to optimize time (as a resource under the assignment of scarcity and physicality), once being understood as a transcendental condition.

As Aldo Rossi remarked already in the 1960ies [13], the modernist tries to evacuate any presence of time from the city. It is not just that history is cut off and buried, largely under false premises and wrong conclusions, reducing history just to institutional traditions (remember, there is no interpretation for a modernist!). In some way, it would have been even easy to predict Koolhaas’ Junkspace already in the end of the 19th century. Well, the Futurologists did it, semi-paradoxically, though. Quite stringent, Futurism was only a short phase within modernism. This neglect of time in modernism is by no means a “value” or an intention. It is a direct logical consequence of the presupposed belief set, particularly independence, logification and the implied neglect of context.

Dis-assembling the associative networks of a city results inevitably in the modernist urban conceptual dust, ruled by the paradigm of scarce time and the blindness against interpretation, patterns and non-representational coherence. This is in a nutshell, what I would like to propose as the deep grammar of the Junkspace, as it has been described by Koolhaas. Modernism did nothing else than to build and to actualize it conceptual dust. We may call it tertiary chaos, which has been—in its primary form—equal to the initial state of indiscernability concerning the cosmos as a whole. Yet, this time it has been dictated by modernists. Tertiary chaos thus can be set equal to the attempt to make any condition for the possibility of discernability vanishing.

Modernists may not be aware that there is not only already a theory of discernability, which equals to the Peircean theory of the sign, there is also an adaptation and application to urbanism and architecture. Urbanists probably may know about the name “Venturi”, but I seriously doubt that semiotics is on their radar. If modernists talk about semiotics at all, they usually refer to the structuralist caricature of it, as it has been put forward by de Saussure, establishing a closed version of the sign as a “triangle”. Peircean signs—and these have been used by Venturi—establish as an interpretive situation. They do not refer to objects, but just to other signs. Their reference to the world is provided through instances of abstract models and a process of symbolification, which includes learning as an ability that precedes knowledge. (more detail here in this earlier essay) Unfortunately, Venturi’s concept have scarcely been updated, except perhaps in the context of media facades [14]. Yet, media facades are mostly and often vastly misunderstood as the possibility to display adverts. There are good arguments supporting the view that there is more about them [15].

Modernists, including Koolhaas employ a strange image of evolution. For him (them), evolution is pure arbitrariness, both regarding the observable entities and processes as well as regarding the future development. He supposes to detect “zero loyalty-and zero tolerance-toward configuration“ ([3] p.182). In the same passage he simultaneously and contradictory misses the „”original” condition“ and blames history for its corruptive influence: „History corrupts, absolute history corrupts absolutely.“ All of that is put into the context of a supposedly “”permanent evolution.”“ (his quot. marks). Most remarkably, even biologists as S.J. Gould, pretending to be evolutionary biologist, claims that evolution is absolutely arbitrary. Well, the only way out of the contrasting fact that there is life in the form we know about it is to assume some active divine involvement. Precisely this was the stance of Gould. People like Gould(and perhaps Koolhaas) commit the representationalist fault, which excludes them from recognizing (i) the structural tendency of any evolution towards more general solutions, and (ii) the there is an evolution of evolutionarity. The modernist attitude towards evolution can again be traced back to the belief into metaphysical independence of objects, but our interest here is different.

Understanding evolution as a concept has only little to do with biology and the biological model that is called “natural evolution”. Natural evolution is just an instance of evolution into physico-chemical and then biological matter. Bergson has been the first who addressed evolution as a concept [16], notably in the context of abstract memory. In a previous essay we formalized that approach and related it to biology and machine-learning. At its basics, it requires a strict non-representational approach. Species and organisms are expressed in terms of probability. Our conclusion was that in a physical world evolution inevitably takes place if there at least two different kinds or scales of memory. Only on that abstract level we can adopt the concept of evolution into urbanism, that is, into any cultural context.

Memory can’t be equated to tradition, institutions or even the concrete left-overs of history, of course. They are just instances of memory. It is of utmost importance here, not to contaminate the concept of memory again with representationalism. This memory is constructive. Memory that is not constructive, is not memory, but a stock, a warehouse (although these are also kinds of storage and contribute as such to memory). Memory is inherently active and associative. Such memory is the basic, non-representative element of a generally applicable evolutionary theory.

Memory can not be “deposited” into almost geological layers of sediments, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Eisenman, whom Rajchman follows closely in his “Constructions”.

The claim of “storable memory” is even more disastrous than the the claim that information could be stored. These are not objects and items that are independent of an interpretation, they are the processes of constructive of guided interpretation. Both “storages” would only become equal to the respective immaterial processes under the condition of a strictly deterministic set of commands. Even the concept of the “rule” is already too open to serve the modernist claim of storable memory.

It is immediately clear that the dynamic concept of memory is highly relevant for any theory about urban conditions. It provides a general language to derive particular models and instances of association, stocks and flows, that are not reducible to storage or transfers. We may even expect that whenever we meet kind of material storage in an urban context, we also should expect association. The only condition for that just being that there are no modernists around… Yet, storage without memory, that is, without activity remains dead, much like but even less than a crystal. Cripples in the sand. The real relevance of stocks and flows is visible only in the realm of the non-representational, the non-material, if we conceive it as waves in abstract density, that is as media, conveying the potential for activity as a differential. Physicalists and modernists like Christianse or Hillier will never understand that. Just think of the naïve empirics, calling it cartography, they are performing around the world.

This includes deconstructivism as well. Derrida’s deconstructivism can be read as a defense war against the symbolification of the new, the emerging, the complex, the paradox of sense. His main weapon is the “trail”, of which he explicitly states that it could not be interpreted at all. Such, Derrida as master of logical flatness and modernist dust is the real enemy of progress. Peter Sloterdijk, the prominent contemporary German “philosopher”5, once called Derrida the “Old Egyptian”. Nothing would fit better to Derrida, who lives in the realm of shadows and for whom life is just a short transitory phase, hopefully “survived” without too much injuries. The only metaphor being possible on that basis is titanic geology. Think of some of Eisenman’s or Libeskind’s works.

Figure 2: Geologic-titanic shifts induced by the logical flatness of deconstructivism

a: Peter Eisenman, Aronoff Center for Design and Art in Cincinnati (Ohio) (taken from [11]); the parts of building are treated blocks, whose dislocation reminds to that of geological sediments (or the work of titans).

b: Daniel Libeskind, Victoria and Albert Museum Boilerhouse Extension. Secondary chaos, inducing Junkspace through its isolationist “originality”, conveying “defunct myths” (Koolhaas in [3], p.189).

Here we finish our exploration of generic aspects of the structure of modernist thinking. Hopefully, the sections so far are sufficiently suited to provide some insights about modernism in general, and the struggles Koolhaas is fighting with in “Junkspace”.

4. Redesigning Urbanism

Redesigning urbanism, that is to unlock it from modernist phantasms is probably much more simple than it may look at first sight. Well, not exactly simple, at least for modernists. Everything is about the presuppositions. Dropping the metaphysical believe of independence without getting trapped by esotericism or mysticism might well be the cure.Of course, metaphysical independence need to be removed from any level and any aspect in urbanism, starting from the necessary empirical work, which of course is already an important part of the construction work. We already mentioned that the notion of “empirical analysis” pretends neutrality, objectivity (as independence from the author) and validity. Yet, this is pure illusion. Independence should be abandoned also in its form of searching for originality or uniqueness, trying to set an unconditional mark in the cityscape. By that we don’t refer to morphing software, of course.

The antidote against isolationism, analyticity and logic is already well-known. To provide coherence you have to defy splintering and abjure the believe in (conceptual) dust. The candidate tool for it is story-telling, albeit in a non-representational manner, respecting the difference and heterotopias from the beginning. In turn this also means to abandon utopias and a-topias, but to embrace complexity and a deep concept of prevailing differentiation (in a subsequent essay we will deal with that). As citizens, we are not interested in non-places and deserts of spasmodic uniqueness (anymore) or the mere “solution of problems” either (see Deleuze about the dogmatic image of thought as cited above). Changing the perspective from the primacy of analysis to the primacy story-telling immediately reveals the full complexity of the respective Form of Life, to which we refer here as a respectful philosophical concept.

It is probably pretentious to speak such about urbanism as a totality. There are of course, and always have been, people who engaged in the urban condition based on a completely different set of believes, righteous non-modern. Those people start with the pattern and never tear them apart. Those people are able to distinguish structure, genesis and appearance. In biology, this distinction has been instantiated into the perspectives of the genotype, the phenotype, and, in bio-slang, evo-devo, the compound made from development, growth and evolution. These are tied together (necessarily) by complexity. In philosophy, the respective concepts are immanence, the differential, and the virtual.

For urbanism, take for instance the work of David Shane (“Recombinant Urbanism“). Shane’s work, which draws much on Kelly’s, is a (very) good starting point not only for any further theoretical work, but also for practical work.

As a practitioner, one has to defy the seduction for the totality of a master plan, as the renowned parametricists actualize in Istanbul, Christianse and his office did recently in Zürich at the main station. Both are producing pure awfulness, castles of functional uniformity, because they express the totality of the approach even visually. Even in Singapore’s URA (Urban Development Authority), the master plan has been relativised in favor of a (slightly) more open conceptualization. Designer’s have to learn that not less is more, but rather that partial nothingness is more. Deliberately non-planning, as Koolhaas has repeatedly emphasized. This should not be taken representationally, of course. It does not make any sense to grow “raw nature”, jungles within the city, neither for the city, nor for the “jungle”. Before a crystal can provide soil for real life, it must decay, precisely because it is a closed system (see next figure 3). Adaptive systems replace parts, melt holes to build structures, without decaying at all. We will return to this aspect of differentiation in a later article.

Figure 3: Pruitt-Igoe (St.Louis), getting blasted in 1972. Charles Jencks called this event “one of the deaths of modernism”. This had not been the only tear-down there. Laclede, a neighborhood nearby Pruitt-Igoe, made from small, single-flat houses failed as well, the main reasons being an unfortunate structure of the financial model and political issues, namely separation of “classes” and apartheid. (see this article).

The main question for finding a practicable process therefore is: How to ask, which questions should we address in order to build an analytics under the umbrella of story-telling, that avoids the shortfalls of modernism?

We might again take a look to biology (as a science). As urbanism, biology is also confronted with a totality. We call it life. How to address reasonable, that is fruitful questions to that totality? Biology already found a set of answer, which nevertheless are not respected by the modernist version of this science, mainly expressed as genetics. The first insight was, that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”[17] Which would be the respective question for urbanism? I can’t give an answer here, but it is certainly not independence. This we can know through the lesson told by “Junkspace”. Another, almost ridiculous anti-candidate is sustainability, as far as it is conceived in terms of scarcity of mainly physical resources instead of social complexity. Perhaps we should remember the history of the city beyond its “functionality”. Yet, that would mean to first develop an understanding of (abstract) evolution, to instantiate that, and then to derive a practicable model for urban societies. What does it mean to be social, what does it mean to think, both taken as practice in a context of freedom? Biology then developed a small set of basic contexts along to which any research should be aligned to, without loosing the awareness (hopefully) that there are indeed four of such contexts. These have been clearly stated by Nobel laureate Tinbergen [18]. According to him research in biology is suitably structured by four major per­spectives: phylogeny, ontogeny, physiology and behavior. Are there similarly salient dimensions for structuring thought in urbanism, particularly in a putative non-modernist (neither modernist, not post-modernist) version? Particularly interesting are, imho, especially the intersections of such sub-domains.

Perhaps differentiation (as a concept) is indeed a (the) proper candidate for the grand perspective. We will discuss some aspects of this in the next essay: it includes growth and its modes, removal, replacement, deterioration, the problem of the generic, the difference between development and evolution, and a usable concept of complexity. to name but a few. In the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, particularly the Thousand Plateaus, Difference and Repetition and the Fold, we already can find a good deal of theoretical work about he conceptual issues around differentiation. Differentiation includes learning, individually and collectively (I do NOT refer to swarm ideology here, nor to collectivist mysticism either!!!), which in turn would bring in the (abstract) mental into any consideration of urbanism. Yet, wasn’t mankind differentiating and learning all the time? The challenge will be to find a non-materialist interpretation of those in these materialist times.

Notes

1. Cited after [11]

2. Its core principles are the principle of excluded middle (PEM) and the  principle of non-contradictivity (PNC). Both principles are equivalent to the concept of macroscopic objects, albeit only in a realist perspective, i.e. under the presupposition that objects are primary against relations. This is, of course, quite problematic, as it excludes an appropriate conceptualisation of information.

Both, the PEM and PNC allow for the construction of paradoxes like the Taylor Paradox. Such paradoxes may be conceived as “Language Game Colliders”, that is as conceptual devices which commit a mistake concerning the application of the grammar of language games. Usually, the bring countability and the sign for non-countability into conflict. First, it is a fault to compare a claim with a sign, second, it is stupid to claim contradicting proposals. Note, that here we are allowed to speak of “contradiction”, because we are following the PNC as it is suggested by the PNC claim. The Taylor-Paradox is of course, like any other paradox, a pseudo-problem. It appears only due to an inappropriate choice or handling of the conceptual embedding, or due to the dismissal of the concept of the “Language Game”, which mostly results in the implicit claim of the existence of a “Private Language”.

3. Vera Bühlmann, “Articulating quantities, if things depend on whatever can be the case“, lecture held at The Art of Concept, 3rd Conference: CONJUNCTURE — A Series of Symposia on 21st Century Philosophy, Politics, and Aesthetics, organized by Nathan Brown and Petar Milat, Multimedia Institute MAMA in Zagreb, Kroatia, June 15-17 2012.

4. German orig.: “Manhattan Space ist, wenn schon nicht überall, so doch im Internet potentiell überall, und zudem nicht mehr auf drei vielleicht gar noch räumliche Dimensionen beschränkt.”

5. Peter Sloterdjik does not like to be called a philosopher

References

  • [1] Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge. Routledge 2002 [1969].
  • [2] Vera Bühlmann, Printed Physics, de Gruyter, forthcoming.
  • [3] Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press
  • [4] Michael Hansmeyer, his website about these columns.
  • [5] “Pseudopodia. Prolegomena to a Discourse of Design”. In: Vera Bühlmann and Martin Wiedmer . pre-specifics. Some Comparatistic Investigations on Research in Art and Design. JRP| Ringier Press, Zurich 2008. p. 21-80 (English edition). available online;
  • [6] Wesley C. Salmon, Causality and Explanation. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998.
  • [7] Michael Epperson (2009). Quantum Mechanics and Relational Realism: Logical Causality and Wave Function Collapse. Process Studies, 38(2): 339-366.
  • [8] Alan Hájek (2007). The Reference Class Problem is Your Problem Too. Synthese 156 (3):563-585.
  • [9] W.v.O. Quine (1951), Two Dogmas of Empiricism. The Philosophical Review 60: 20-43.
  • [10] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, New York 1994 [1968].
  • [11] Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, University of Basel (CH), 2009.
  • [12] Klaus Wassermann (2010). SOMcity: Networks, Probability, the City, and its Context. eCAADe 2010, Zürich. September 15-18, 2010. (pdf)
  • [13] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1982 [1966].
  • [14] Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345.
  • [15] Klaus Wassermann, Vera Bühlmann, Streaming Spaces – A short expedition into the space of media-active façades. in: Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345. available here. available here
  • [16] Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. (Matière et Mémoire 1896) transl. N.M. Paul & W.S. Palmer. Zone Books 1990.
  • [17] Theodore Dobzhansky, Genetics and the Origin of Species, Columbia University Press, New York 1951 (3rd ed.) [1937].
  • [18] Niko Tinbergen (1963). On Aims and Methods in Ethology, Z. Tierpsych., (20): 410–433.

۞

Transformation

May 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the late 1980ies there was a funny, or strange, if you like,

discussion in the German public about a particular influence of the English language onto the German language. That discussion got not only teachers engaged in higher education going, even „Der Spiegel“, Germany’s (still) leading weekly news magazine damned the respective „anglicism“. What I am talking about here considers the attitude to „sense“. At those times well 20 years ago, it was meant to be impossible to say „dies macht Sinn“, engl. „this makes sense“. Speakers of German at that time understood the “make” as “to produce”. Instead, one was told, the correct phrase had to be „dies ergibt Sinn“, in a literal, but impossible translation something like „this yields sense“, or even „dies hat Sinn“, in a literal, but again wrong and impossible translation, „this has sense“. These former ways of building a reference to the notion of „sense“ feels even awkward for many (most?) speakers of German language today. Nowadays, the English version of the meaning of the phrase replaced the old German one, and one even can find in the “Spiegel“ now the analogue to “making” sense.

Well, the issue here is not just one historical linguistics or one of style. The differences that we can observe here are deeply buried into the structure of the respective languages. It is hard to say whether such idioms in German language are due to the history of German Idealism, or whether this particular philosophical stance developed on the basis of the structures in the language. Perhaps a bit of both, one could say from a Wittgensteinian point of view. Anyway, we may and can be relate such differences in “contemporary” language to philosophical positions.

It is certainly by no means an exaggeration to conclude that the cultures differ significantly in what their languages allow to be expressible. Such a thing as an “exact” translation is not possible beyond trivial texts or a use of language that is very close to physical action. Philosophically, we may assign a scale, or a measure, to describe the differences mentioned above in probabilistic means, and this measure spans between pragmatism and idealism. This contrast also deeply influences philosophy itself. Any kind of philosophy comes in those two shades (at least), often expressed or denoted by the attributes „continental“ and „anglo-american“. I think these labels just hide the relevant properties. This contrast of course applies to the reading of idealistic or pragmatic philosophers itself. It really makes a difference (1980ies German . . . „it is a difference“) whether a native English speaking philosopher reads Hegel, or a German native, whether a German native is reading Peirce or an American guy, whether Quine conducts research in logic or Carnap. The story quickly complicates if we take into consideration French philosophy and its relation to Heidegger, or the reading of modern French philosophers in contemporary German speaking philosophy (which is almost completely absent).1

And it becomes even more complicated, if not complex and chaotic, if we consider the various scientific sub-cultures as particular forms of life, formed by and forming their own languages. In this way it may well seem to be rather impossible—at least, one feels tempted to think so—to understand Descartes, Leibniz, Aristotle, or even the pre-Socratics, not to speak about the Cro-Magnon culture2, albeit it is probably more appropriate to reframe the concept of understanding. After all, it may itself be infected by idealism.

In the chapters to come you may expect the following sections. As we did before we’ll try to go beyond the mere technical description, providing the historical trace and the wider conceptual frame:

A Shift of Perspective

Here, I need this reference to the relativity as it is introduced in—or by­ —language for highlighting a particular issue. The issue concerns a shift in preference, from the atom, the point, from matter, substance, essence and metaphysical independence towards the relation and its dynamic form, the transformation. This shift concerns some basic relationships of the weave that we call “Lebensform” (form of life), including the attitude towards those empiric issues that we will deal with in a technical manner later in this essay, namely the transformation of “data”. There are, of course, almost countless aspects of the topos of transformation, such like evolutionary theory, the issue of development, or, in the more abstract domains, mathematical category theory. In some way or another we already dealt with these earlier (for category theory, for evolutionary theory). These aspects of the concept of transformation will not play a role here.

In philosophical terms the described difference between German and English language, and the change of the respective German idiom  marks the transition from idealism to pragmatism. This corresponds to the transition from a philosophy of primal identity to one where difference is transcendental. In the same vein, we could also set up the contrast between logical atomism and the event as philosophical topoi, or between favoring existential approaches and ontology against epistemology. Even more remarkably, we also find an opposing orientation regarding time. While idealism, materialism, positivism or existentialism (and all similar attitudes) are heading backwards in time, and only backwards, pragmatism and, more generally, a philosophy of events and transformation is heading forward, and only forward. It marks the difference between settlement (in Heideggerian „Fest-Stellen“, English something like „fixing at a location“, putting something into the „Gestell“3) and anticipation. Settlements are reflected by laws of nature in which time does not—and shall not—play a significant role. All physical laws, and almost all theories in contemporary physics are symmetric with respect to time. The “law perspective” blinds against the concept of context, quite obviously so. Yet, being blinded against context also disables to refer to information in an adequate manner.

In contrast, within a framework that is truly based on the primacy of interpretation and thus following the anticipatory paradigm, it does not make sense to talk about “laws”. Notably, issues like the “problem” of induction exist only in the framework of the static perspective of idealism and positivism.

It is important to understand that these attitudes are far from being just “academic” distinctions. There are profound effects to be found on the level of empiric activity, how data are handled using which kind of methods. Further more, they can’t be “mixed”, once one of them have been chosen. Despite we may switch between them in a sequential manner, across time or across domains, we can’t practice them synchronously as the whole setup of the life form is influenced. Of course, we do not want to rate one of them as the “best”, we just want to ensure that it is clear that there are particular consequences of that basic choice.

Towards the Relational Perspective

As late as 1991, Robert Rosen’s work about „Relational Biology“ has been anything but nearby [1]. As a mathematician, Rosen was interested in the problematics of finding a proper way to represent living systems by formal means. As a result of this research, he strongly proposed the “relational” perspective. He identifies Nicolas Rashevsky as the originator of it, who mentioned about it around 1935 for the first time. It really sounds strange that relational biology had to be (re-)invented. What else than relations could be important in biology? Yet, still today the atomistic thinking is quite abundant, think alone about the reductionist approaches in genetics (which fortunately got seriously attacked meanwhile4). Or think about the still prevailing helplessness in various domains to conceive appropriately about complexity (see our discussion of this here). Being aware of relations means that the world is not conceived as made from items that are described by inputs and outputs with some analytics, or say deterministics, in between. Only such items could be said that they “function”. The relational perspective abolishes the possibility of the reduction of real “systems” to “functions”.

As it is already indicated by the appearance of Rashevsky, there is, of course, a historical trace for this shift, kind of soil emerging from intellectual sediments.5 While the 19th century could be considered as being characterized by the topos of population (of atoms)—cf. the line from Laplace and Carnot to Darwin and Boltzmann—we can observe a spawning awareness for the relation in the 20th century. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus started to oppose Frege and has been always in stark contrast to logical positivism, then accompanied by Zermelo (“axiom” of choice6), Rashevsky (relational biology), Turing (morphogenesis in complex systems), McLuhan (media theory), String Theory in physics, Foucault (field of propositions), and Deleuze (transcendental difference). Comparing Habermas and Luhmann on the one side—we may label their position as idealistic functionalism—with Sellars and Brandom on the other—who have been digging into the pragmatics of the relation as it is present in humans and their culture—we find the same kind of difference. We also could include Gestalt psychology as kind of a pre-cursor to the party of “relationalists,” mathematical category theory (as opposed to set theory) and some strains from the behavioral sciences. Researchers like Ekman & Scherer (FACS), Kummer (sociality expresses as dynamics in relative positions), or Colmenares (play) focused the relation itself, going far beyond the implicit reference to the relation as a secondary quality. We may add David Shane7 for architecture and Clarke or Latour8 for sociology. Of course, there are many, many other proponents who helped to grow the topos of the relation, yet, even without a detailed study we may guess that compared to the main streams they still remain comparatively few.

These difference could not be underestimated in the field of information sciences, computer sciences, data analysis, or machine-based learning and episteme. It makes a great difference whether one would base the design of an architecture or the design of use on the concept of interfaces, most often defined as a location of full control, notably in both directions, or on the concept of behavioral surfaces.9. In the field of empiric activities, that is modeling in its wide sense, it yields very different setups or consequences whether we start with the assumption of independence between our observables or between our observations or whether we start with no assumptions about the dependency between observables, or observations, respectively. The latter is clearly the preferable choice in terms of intellectual soundness. Even if we stick to the first of both alternatives, we should NOT use methods that work only if that assumption is satisfied. (It is some kind of a mystery that people believe that doing so could be called science.) The reason is pretty simple. We do not know anything about the dependency structures in the data before we have finished modeling. It would inevitably result in a petitio principii if we’d put “independence” into the analysis, wrapped into the properties of methods. We would just find. . . guess what. After destroying facts—in the Wittgensteinian sense understood as relationalities—into empiristic dust we will not be able to find any meaningful relation at all.

Positioning Transformation (again)

Similarly, if we treat data as a “true” mapping of an outside “reality”, as “givens” that eventually are distorted a bit by more or less noise, we will never find multiplicity in the representations that we could derive from modeling, simply because it would contradict the prejudice. We also would not recognize all the possible roles of transformation in modeling. Measurement devices act as a filter10, and as such it does not differ from any analytic transformation of the data. From the perspective of the associative part of modeling, where the data are mapped to desired outcomes or decisions, “raw” data are simply not distinguishable from “transformed” data, unless the treatment itself would not be encoded as data as well. Correspondingly, we may consider any data transformation by algorithmic means as additional measurement devices, which are responding to particular qualities in the observations on their own. It is this equivalence that allows for the change from the linear to a circular and even a self-referential arrangement of empiric activities. Long-term adaptation, I would say even any adaptation at all is based on such a circular arrangement. The only thing we’d to change to earn the new possibilities was to drop the “passivist” representationalist realism11.

Usually, the transformation of data is considered as an issue that is a function of discernibility as an abstract property of data (Yet, people don’t talk like that, it’s our way of speaking here). Today, the respective aphorism as coined by Bateson already became proverbial, despite its simplistic shape: Information is the difference that makes the difference. According to the context in which data are handled, this potential discernibility is addressed in different ways. Let us distinguish three such contexts: (i) Data warehousing, (ii) statistics, and (iii) learning as an epistemic activity.

In Data Warehousing one is usually faced with a large range of different data sources and data sinks, or consumers, where the difference of these sources and sinks simply relates to the different technologies and formats of data bases. The warehousing tool should “transform” the data such that they can be used in the intended manner on the side of the sinks. The storage of the raw data as measured from the business processes and the efforts to provide any view onto these data has to satisfy two conditions (in the current paradigm). It has to be neutral—data should not be altered beyond the correction of obvious errors—and its performance, simply in terms of speed, has to be scalable, if not even independent from the data load. The activities in Data Warehousing are often circumscribed as “Extract, Transform, Load”, abbreviated ETL. There are many and large software solutions for this task, commercial ones and open source (e.g. Talend). The effect of DWH is to disclose the potential for an arbitrary and quickly served perspective onto the data, where “perspective” means just re-arranged columns and records from the database. Except cleaning and simple arithmetic operations, the individual bits of data itself remain largely unchanged.

In statistics, transformations are applied in order to satisfy the conditions for particular methods. In other words, the data are changed in order to enhance discernibility. Most popular is the log-transformation that shifts the mode of a distribution to the larger values. Two different small values that consequently are located nearby are separated better after a log-transformation, hence it is feasible to apply log-transformation to data that form a left-skewed distribution. Other transformations are aiming at a particular distribution, such as the z-score, or Fisher’s z-transformation. Interestingly, there is a further class of powerful transformations that is not conceived as such. Residuals are defined as deviation of the data from a particular model. In linear regression it is the square of the distance to the regression line.

The concept, however, can be extended to those data which do not “follow” the investigated model. The analysis of residual has two aspects, a formal one and an informal one. Formally, it is used as a complex test whether the investigated model does fit or whether it does not. The residual should not show any evident “structure”. That’s it. There is no institutional way back to the level of the investigated model, there are no rules about that, which could be negotiated in a yet to establish community. The statistical framework is a linear one, which could be seen as a heritage from positivism. It is explicitly forbidden to “optimize” a correlation by multiple actualization. Yet, informally the residuals may give hints on how to change the basic idea as represented by the model. Here we find a circular setup, where the strategy is to remove any rule-based regularity, i.e. discernibility form the data.

The effect of this circular arrangement takes completely place in the practicing human as kind of a refinement. It can’t be found anywhere in the methodological procedure itself in a rule-based form. This brings us to the third area, epistemic learning.

In epistemic learning, any of the potentially significant signals should be rendered in such a way as to allow for an optimized mapping towards a registered outcome. Such outcomes often come as dual values, or as a small group of ordinal values in the case of multi-constraint, multi-target optimization. In epistemic learning we thus find the separation of transformation and association in its most prominent form, despite the fact that data warehousing and statistics as well also are intended to be used for enhancing decisions. Yet, their linearity simply does not allow for any kind of institutionalized learning.

This arbitrary restriction to the linear methodological approach in formal epistemic activities results in two related quite unfavorable effects: First, the shamanism of “data exploration”, and second, the infamous hell of methods. One can indeed find thousands, if not 10s of thousands of research or engineering articles trying to justify a particular new method as the most appropriate one for a particular purpose. These methods themselves however are never identified as a „transformation“. Authors are all struggling for the “best” method, the whole community being neglecting the possibility—and the potential—of combining different methods after shaping them as transformations.

The laborious and never-ending training necessary to choose from the huge amount of possible methods then is called methodology… The situation is almost paradox. First, the methods are claimed to tell something about the world, despite this is not possible at all, not just because those methods are analytic.  It is an idealistic hope, which has been abolished already by Hume. Above all, only analytic methods are considered to be scientific. Then, through the large population of methods the choice for a particular one becomes aleatory, which renders the whole activity into a deeply non-scientific one. Additionally, it is governed by the features of some software, or the skills of the user of such software, not by a conceptual stance.

Now remember that any method is also a specific filter. Obviously, nothing could be known about the beneficiality of a particular method before the prediction that is based on the respective model had been validated. This simple insight renders “data exploration” into meaninglessness. It can only play its role within linear empirical frameworks, which are inappropriate any way. Data exploration is suggested to be done “intuitively”, often using methods of visualization. Yet, those methods are severely restricted with regard to the graspable dimensionality. More than 6 to 8 dimensions can’t be “visualized” at once. Compare this to the 2n (n: number of variables) possible models and you immediately see the problem. Else, the only effect of visualization is just a primitive form of clustering. Additionally, visual inputs are images, above all, and as images they can’t play a well-defined epistemological role.12

Complementary to the non-concept of “exploring” data13, and equally misconceived, is the notion of “preparing” data. At least, it must be rated as misconceived as far as it comprises transformations beyond error correction and arranging data into tables. The reason is the same: We can’t know whether a particular “cleansing” will enhance the predictive power of the model, in other words, whether it comprises potential information that supports the intended discernibility, before the model has been built. There is no possibility to decide which variables to include before having finished the modeling. In some contexts the information accessible through a particular variable could be relevant or even important. Yet, if we conceive transformations as preliminary hypothesis we can’t call them “preparation” any more. “Preparation” for what? For proofing the petitio principii? Certainly the peak of all preparatory nonsense is the “imputation” of missing values.

Dorian Pyle [11] calls such introduced variables “pseudo variables”, others call them “latent” or even “hidden variables”.14 Any of these labels is inappropriate, since the transformation is nothing else than a measurement device. Introduced variables are just variables, nothing else.

Indeed, these labels are reliable markers: whenever you meet a book or article dealing with data exploration, data preparation, the “problem” of selecting a method, or likewise, selecting an architecture within a meta-method like the Artificial Neural Networks, you can know for sure that the author is not really interested in learning and reliable predictions. (Or, that he or she is not able to distinguish analysis from construction.)

In epistemic learning the handling of residuals is somewhat inverse to their treatment in statistics, again as a result of the conceptual difference between the linear and the circular approach. In statistics one tries to prove that the model, say: transformation, removes all the structure from the data such that the remaining variation is pure white noise. Unfortunately, there are two drawbacks with this. First, one has to define the model before removing the noise and before checking the predictive power. Secondly, the test for any possibly remaining structure again takes place within the atomistic framework.

In learning we are interested in the opposite. We are looking for such transformations which remove the noise in a multi-variate manner such that the signal-noise ratio is strongly enhanced, perhaps even to the proto-symbolic level. Only after the de-noising due to the learning process, that is after a successful validation of the predictive model, the structure is then described for the (almost) noise-free data segment15 as an expression that is complementary to the predictive model.

In our opinion an appropriate approach would actualize as an instance of epistemic learning that is characterized by

  • – conceiving any method as transformation;
  • – conceiving measurement as an instance of transformation;
  • – conceiving any kind of transformation as a hypothesis about the “space of expressibility” (see next section), or, similarly, the finally selected model;
  • – the separation of transformation and association;
  • – the circular arrangement of transformation and association.

The Abstract Perspective

We now have to take a brief look onto the mechanics of transformations in the domain of epistemic activities.16 For doing this, we need a proper perspective. As such we choose the notion of space. Yet, we would like to emphasize that this space is not necessarily Euclidean, i.e. flat, or open, like the Cartesian space, i.e. if quantities running to infinite. Else, dimensions need not be thought of as being “independent”, i.e. orthogonal on each other. Distance measures need to be defined only locally, yet, without implying ideal continuity. There might be a certain kind of “graininess” defined by a distance D, below which the space is not defined. The space may even contain “bubbles” of lower dimensionality. So, it is indeed a very general notion of “space”.

Observations shall be represented as “points” in this space. Since these “points” are not independent from the efforts of the observer, these points are not dimensionless. To put it more precisely, they are like small “clouds”, that are best described as probability densities for “finding” a particular observation. Of course, this “finding” is kind of an inextricable mixture of “finding” and “constructing”. It does not make much sense to distinguish both on the level of such cloudy points. Note, that the cloudiness is not a problem of accuracy in measurement! A posteriori, that is, subsequent to introducing an irreversible move17, such a cloud could also be interpreted as an open set of the provoked observation and virtual observations. It should be clear by now that such a concept of space is very different from the Euclidean space that nowadays serves as a base concept for any statistics or data mining. If you think that conceiving such a space is not necessary or even nonsense, then think about quantum physics. In quantum physics we also are faced with the break-down of observer and observable, and they ended up quite precisely in spaces as we described it above. These spaces then are handled by various means of renormalization methods.18 In contrast to the abstract yet still physical space of quantum theory, our space need not even contain an “origin”. Elsewhere we called such a space aspectional space.

Now let us take the important step in becoming interested in only a subset of these observations. Assume we not only want to select a very particular set of observations—they are still clouds of probabilities, made from virtual observations—by means of prediction. This selection now can be conceived in two different ways. The first way is the one that is commonly applied and consists of the reconstruction of a “path”. Since in the contemporary epistemic life form of “data analysts” Cartesian spaces are used almost exclusively, all these selection paths start from the origin of the coordinate system. The endpoint of the path is the point of interest, the “outcome” that should be predicted. As a result, one first gets a mapping function from predictor variables to the outcome variable. All possible mappings form the space of mappings, which is a category in the mathematical sense.

The alternative view does not construct such a path within a fixed coordinate system, i.e. with a space with fixed properties. Quite to the contrast, the space itself gets warped and transformed until very simple figures appear, which represent the various subsets of observations according to the focused quality.

Imagine an ordinary, small, blown-up balloon. Next, imagine a grid in the space enclosed by the balloon’s hull, made by very thin threads. These threads shall represent the space itself. Of course, in our example the space is 3d, but it is not limited to this case. Now think of two kinds of small pearls attached to the threads all over the grid inside the balloon, blue ones and red ones. It shall be the red ones in which we are interested. The question now is what can we do to separate the blue ones from the red ones?

The way to proceed is pretty obvious, though the solution itself may be difficult to achieve. What we can try is to warp and to twist, to stretch, to wring and to fold the balloon in such a way that the blue pearls and the red pearls separate as nicely as possible. In order to purify the groups we may even consider to compress some regions of the space inside the balloon such that they are turn into singularities. After all this work—and beware it is hard work!—we introduce a new grid of threads into the distorted space and dissolve the old ones. All pearls automatically attach to the threads closest nearby, stabilizing the new space. Again, conceiving of such a space may seem weird, but again we can find a close relative in physics, the Einsteinian space of space-time. Gravitation effectively is warping that space, though in a continuous manner. There are famous empirical proofs of that warping of physical space-time.19

Analytically, these two perspectives, the path reconstruction on the hand and the space warping on the other, are (almost) equivalent. The perspective of space warping, however, offers a benefit that is not to be underestimated. We arrive at a new space for which we can define its own properties and in which we again can define measures that are different from those possible in the original space. The path reconstruction does not offer such a “a derived space”. Hence, once the path is reconstructed, the story stops. It is a linear story. Our proposal thus is to change perspective.

Warping the space of measurability and expressibility is an operation that inverts the generation of cusp catastrophes.20 (see Figure 1 below). Thus it transcends the cusp catastrophes. In the perspective of path reconstruction one has to avoid the phenomenon of hysteresis and cusps altogether, hence loosing a lot of information about the observed source of data.

In the Cartesian space and the path reconstruction methodology related to it, all operations are analytic, that is organized as symbolic rewriting. The reason for this is the necessity for the paths remaining continuous and closed. In contrast, space warping can be applied locally. Warping spaces in dealing with data is not an exotic or rare activity at all. It happens all the time. We know it even from (simple) mathematics, when we define different functions, including the empty function, for different sets of input parameter values.

The main consequence of changing the perspective from path reconstruction to space warping is an enlargement of the set of possible expressions. We can do more without the need to call it “heuristics”. Our guess is that any serious theory of data and measurement must follow the opened route of space warping, if this theory of data tries to avoid positivistic reductionism. Most likely, such a theory will be kind of a renormalization theory in a connected, relativistic data space.

Revitalizing Punch Cards and Stacks

In this section we will introduce the outline of a tool that allows to follow the circular approach in epistemic activities. Basically, this tool is about organizing arbitrary transformations. While for analytic (mathematical) expressions there are expression interpreters it is also clear that analytic expressions form only a subset of the set of all possible transformations, even if we consider the fact that many expression interpreters have been growing to some kind of programming languages, or script language. Indeed, Java contains an interpreting engine for JavaScript by default, and there are several quite popular ones for mathematical purposes. One could also conceive mathematical packages like Octave (open source), MatLab or Mathematica (both commercial) as such expression interpreters, even as their most recent versions can do much, much more. Yet, using MatLab & Co. are not quite suitable as a platform for general purpose data transformation.

The structural metaphor that proofed to be as powerful as it was sustainable for more than 10 years now is the combination of the workbench with the punch card stack.

Image 1: A Punched Card for feeding data into a computer

Any particular method, mathematical expression or arbitrary computational procedure resulting in a transformation of the original data is conceived as a “punch card”. This provides a proper modularization, and hence standardization. Actually, the role of these “functional compartments” is extremely standardized, at least enough to define an interface for plugins. Like the ancient punch cards made from paper, each card represents a more or less fixed functionality. Of course, these functionality may be defined by a plugin that itself connects to Matlab…

Else, again like the ancient punch cards, the virtualized versions can be stacked. For instance, we first put the treatment for missing values onto the stack, simply to ensure that all NULLS are written as -1. The next card then determines minimum and maximum in order to provide the data for linear normalization, i.e. the mapping of all values into the interval [0..1]. Then we add a card for compressing the “fat tail” of the distribution of values in a particular variable. Alternatively we may use a card to split the “fat tail” off into a new variable! Finally we apply the card=plugin for normalizing the data to the original and the new data column.

I think you got the idea. Such a stack is not only maintained for any of the variables, it is created on the fly according to the needs as these got detected by simple rules. You may think of the cards also as the set of rules that describe the capabilities of agents, which constantly check the data whether they could apply their rules. You also may think of these stacks as a device that works like a tailored distillation column , as it is used for fractional distillation in petro-chemistry.

Image 2: Some industrial fractional distillation columns for processing mineral oil. Dependent on the number of distillation steps different products result.

These stacks of parameterized procedures and expressions represent a generally programmable computer, or more precisely, operating system, quite similar to a spreadsheet, albeit the purpose of the latter, and hence the functionality, actualizes in a different form. The whole thing may even be realized as a language! In this case, one would not need a graphical user-interface anymore.

The effect of organizing the transformation of data in this way, by means of plugins that follow the metaphor of the “punch card stack”, is dramatic. Introducing transformations and testing them can be automated. At this point we should mention about the natural ally of the transformation workbench, the maximum likelihood estimation of the most promising transformations that combine just two or three variables into a new one. All three parts, the transformation stack engine, the dependency explorer, and the evolutionary optimized associative engine (which is able to create a preference weighting for the variables) can be put together in such a way that finding the “optimal” model can be run in a fully automated manner. (Meanwhile the SomFluid package has grown into a stage where it can accomplish this. . . download it here, but you need still some technical expertise to make it running)

The approach of the “transformation stack engine” is not just applicable to tabular data, of course. Given a set of proper plugins, it can be used as a digester for large sets of images or time series as well (see below).

Transforming Data

In this section we now will take a more practical and pragmatic perspective. Actually, we will describe some of the most useful transformations, including their parameters. We do so, because even prominent books about “data mining” have been handling the issue of transforming data in a mistaken or at least seriously misleading manner.21,22

If we consider the goal of the transformation of numerical data, increasing the discernibility of assignated observations , we will recognize that we may identify a rather limited number of types of such transformations, even if we consider the space of possible analytic functions, which combine two (or three) variables.

We will organize the discussion of the transformations into three sub-sections, whose subjects are of increasing complexity. Hence, we will start with the (ordinary) table of data.

Tabular Data

Tables may comprise numerical data or strings of characters. In its general form it may even contain whole texts, a complete book in any of the cells of a column (but see the section about unstructured data below!). If we want to access the information carried by the string data, we more sooner than later have to translate them into numbers. Unlike numbers, string data, and the relations between data points made from string data, must be interpreted. As a consequence, there are always several, if not many different possibilities of that representation. Besides referring to the actual semantics of the strings that could be expressed by means of the indices of some preference orders, there are also two important techniques of automatic scaling available, which we will describe below.

Besides string data, dates are further multi-dimensional category of data. A date encodes not only a serial number relative to some (almost) arbitrarily chosen base date, which we can use to express the age of the item represented by the observation. We have, of course, day of week, day of month, number of week, number of month, and not to forget about season as an approximate class. It depends a bit on the domain whether these aspects play any role at all. Yet, think about the rhythms in the city or on the stock markets across the week, or the “black Monday/ Tuesday/Friday effect” in production plants or hospitals then it is clear that we usually have to represent the single date value by several “informational extracts”.

A last class of data types that we have to distinguish are time values. We already mentioned the periodicity in other aspects of the calendar. In which pair of time values we find a closer similarity, T1( 23:41pm, 0:05pm), or T2(8:58am;3:17pm)? In case of any kind of distance measure the values of T2 are evaluated as much more similar than those in T1. What we have to do is to set a flag for “circularity” in order to calculate the time distances correctly.

Numerical Data: Numbers, just Numbers?

Numerical data are data for which in principle any value from within a particular interval could be observed. If such data are symmetrically normal distributed then we have little reasons to guess that there is something interesting within these sample of values. As soon as the distribution becomes asymmetrical, it starts to become interesting. We may observe “fat tails” (large values are “over-represented), or multi-modal distributions. In both cases we could suspect that there are at least two different processes, one dominating the other differentially across peaks. So we should split the variable into two (called “deciling”) and ceteris paribus check out the effect on the predictive power of the model. Typically one splits the values at the minimum between the peaks, but it is also possible to implement an overlap, where some records are present in both of the new variables.

Long tails indicate some aberrant behavior of the items represented by the respective records, or, like in medicine even pathological contexts. Strongly left-skewed distribution often indicate organizational or institutional influences. Here we could compress the long tail, log-shift, and then split the variable, that is decile it into two. 21

In some domains, like the finances, we find special values at which symmetry breaks. For ordinary money values the 0 is such a value. We know in advance that we have to split the variable into two, because the semantic and the structural difference between +50$ and -75$ is much bigger than between 150$ and 2500$… probably. As always, we transform it such that we create additional variables as kind of a hypotheses, for which we have to evaluate their (positive) contribution to the predictive power of the model.

In finances, but also in medicine, and more general in any system that is able to develop meta-stable regions, we have to expect such points (or regions) with increased probability of breaking symmetry and hence strong semantic or structural difference. René Thom first described similar phenomena by his theory that he labeled “catastrophe theory”. In 3d you can easily think about cusp catastrophes as a hysteresis in x-z direction that is however gradually smoothed out in y-direction.

Figure 1: Visualization of folds in parameters space, leading to catastrophes and hystereses.

In finances we are faced with a whole culture of rule following. The majority of market analysts use the same tools, for instance “stochasticity,” or a particularly parameterized MACD for deriving “signals”, that is, indicators for points of actions. The financial industries have been hiring a lot of physicists, and this population sticks to greatly the same mathematics, such as GARCH, combined with Monte-Carlo-Simulations. Approaches like fractal geometry are still regarded as exotic.23

Or think about option prices, where we find several symmetry breaks by means of contract. These points have to be represented adequately in dedicated, means derived variables. Again, we can’t emphasize it enough, we HAVE to do so as a kind of performing hypothesizing. The transformation of data by creating new variables is, so to speak, the low-level operationalization of what later may grow into a scientific hypothesis. Creating new variables poses serious problems for most methods, which may count as a reason why many people don’t follow this approach. Yet, for our approach it is not a problem, definitely not.

In medicine we often find “norm values”. Potassium in blood serum may take any value within a particular range without reflecting any physiologic problem. . . if the person is healthy. If there are other risk factors the story may be a different one. The ratio of potassium and glucose in serum provides us an example for a significant marker. . . if the person has already heart problems. By means of such risk markers we can introduce domain-specific knowledge. And that’s actually a good message, since we can identify our own “markers” and represent it as a transformation. The consequence is pretty clear: a system that is supposed to “learn” needs a suitable repository for storing and handling such markers, represented as a relational system (graph).

Let us return to the norm ranges briefly again. A small difference outside the norm range could be rated much more strongly than within the norm range. This may lead to the weight functions shown in the next figure, or more or less similar ones. For a certain range of input values, the norm range, we leave the values unchanged. The output weight equals 1. Outside of this range we transform them in a way that emphasizes the difference to the respective boundary value of the norm range. This could be done in different ways.

Figure 2: Examples for output weight configurations in norm-range transformation

Actually, this rationale of the norm range can be applied to any numerical data. As an estimate of the norm range one could use the 80% quantile, centered around the median and realized as +/-40% quantiles. On the level of model selection, this will result in a particular sensitivity for multi-dimensional outliers, notably before defining any criterion apriori of what an outlier should be.

From Strings to Orders to Numbers

Many data come as some kind of description or label. Such data are described as nominal data. Think for instance about prescribed drugs in a group of patients included into an investigation of risk factors for a disease, or think about the name or the type of restaurants in a urbanological/urbanistic investigation. Nominal data are quite frequent in behavioral, organizational or social data, that is, in contexts that are established mainly on a symbolic level.

It should be avoided to perform measurements only on the nominal scale, yet, sometimes it is not possible to circumvent it. It could be avoided at least partially by including further properties that can be represented by numerical values. For instance, instead using only the names cities in a data set, one can use the geographical location, number of inhabitants, or when referring to places within a city one can use descriptors that cover some properties of the respective area, such items as density of traffic, distance to similar locations, price level of consumer goods, economical structure etc. If a direct measurement is not possible, estimates can do the job as well, if the certainty of the estimate is expressed. The certainty then can be used to generate surrogate data. If the fine grained measurement creates further nominal variables, they could be combined for form a scale. Such enrichment is almost always possible, irrespective the domain. One should keep in mind, however, that any such enrichment is nothing else than a hypothesis.

Sometimes, data on the nominal level, technically a string of alphanumerical characters, already contains valuable information. For instance, the contain numerical values, as in the name of cars. If we would deal with things like names of molecules, where these names often come as compounds, reflecting the fact that molecules themselves are compounds, we can calculate the distance of each name to a virtual “average name” by applying a technique called “random graph”. Of course, in case of molecules we would have a lot of properties available that can be expressed as numerical values.

Ordinal data are closely related to nominal data. Essentially, there are two flavors of them. In case of the least valuable of them the numbers to not express a numerical value, the cipher is just used as kind of a letter, indicating that there is a set of sortable items. Sometimes, values of an ordinal scale represent some kind of similarity. Despite this variant is more valuable it still can be misleading, because the similarity may not scale isodistantly with the numerical values of the ciphers. Undeniably, there is still a rest of a “name” in it.

We are now going to describe some transformations to deal with data from low-level scales.

The least action we have to apply to nominal data is a basic form of encoding. We use integer values instead of the names. The next, though only slightly better level would be to reflect the frequency of the encoded item in the ordinal value. One would, for instance not encode the name into an arbitrary integer value, but into the log of the frequency. A much better alternative, however, is provided by the descendants of the correspondence analysis. These are called Optimal Scaling and the Relative Risk Weight. The drawback for these method is that some information about the predicted variable is necessary. In the context of modeling, by which we always understand target-oriented modeling—as opposed to associative storage24—we usually find such information, so the drawback is not too severe.

First to optimal scaling (OSC). Imagine a variable, or “assignate” as we prefer to call it25, which is scaled on the nominal or the low ordinal scale. Let us assume that there are just three different names or values. As already mentioned, we assume that a purpose has been selected and hence a target variable as its operationalization is available. Then we could set up the following table (the figures are denoting frequencies).

Table 1: Summary table derived from a hypothetical example data set. av(i) denote three nominally scaled assignates.

outcometv

av1

av2

av3

marginal sum

ta

140

120

160

420

tf (focused)

30

10

40

80

marginal sum

170

130

200

500

From these figures we can calculate the new scale values by the formula

For the assignate av1 this yields

Table 2: Here, various encodings are contrasted.

assignate

literal encoding

frequency

normalized log(freq)

optimal scaling

normalized OSC

av1

1

170

0.62

0.176

0.809

av2

2

130

0.0

0.077

0.0

av3

3

200

1.0

0.200

1.0

Using these values we could replace any occurrence of the original nominal (ordinal) values by the scaled values. Alternatively—or better additionally—, we could sum up all values for each observation (record), thereby collapsing the nominally scaled assignates into a single numerically scaled one.

Now we will describe the RRW. Imagine a set of observations {o(i)} where each observation is described by a set of assignates a(i). Also let us assume that some of these assignates are on the binary level, that is, the presence of this quality in the observation is encoded by “1”, its missing by “0”. This usually results in sparsely filled (regions of ) the data table. Depending on the size of the “alphabet”, even more than 99.9% of all values could simply be equal to 0. Such data can not be grouped in a reasonable manner. Additionally, if there are further assignates in the table that are not binary encoded, the information in the binary variables would be neglected almost completely without applying a rescaling like the RRW.

For the assignate av1 this yields

As you can see, the RRW uses the marginal from the rows, while the optimal scaling uses the marginal from the columns. Thus, the RRW uses slightly more information. Assuming a table made from binary assignates av(i), which could be summarized into table 1 above, the formula yields the following RRW factors for the three binary scaled assignates:

Table 3: Relative Risk Weights (RRW) for the frequency data shown in table 1.

Assignate

raw RRWi

RRWi

normalized RRW

av1

1.13

0.33

0.82

av2

0.44

0.16

0.00

av3

1.31

0.36

1.00

The ranking of av(i) based RRW is equal to that returned by OSC, even the normalized score values are quite similar. Yet, while in the case of nominal variables assignates are usually not collapsed, this will be done always in case of binary variables.

So, let us summarize these simple methods in the following table.

Table 4: Overview about some of the most important transformations for tabular data.

Transformation

Mechanism

Effect, New Value

Properties, Conditions

log-transform

analytic function

analytic combination

explicit analytic function (a,b)→f(a,b)

enhancing signal-to-noise ratio for the relationship between predictors and predicted, 1 new variable

targeted modeling

empiric combinational recoding

using simple clustering methods like KNN or K-means for a small number of assignates

distance from cluster centers and, or cluster center as new variables

targeted modeling

Deciling

upon evaluation of properties of the distribution

2 new variables

Collapsing

based on extreme-value quantiles

1 new variable, better distinction for data in frequent bins

optimal scaling

numerical encoding and/or rescaling using marginal sums

enhancing the scaling of the assignate from nominal to numerical

targeted modeling

relative risk weight

dto.

collapsing sets of sparsely filled variables

targeted modeling

Obviously, the transformation of data is not an analytical act, on both sides. Left-hand it refers to structural and hence semantic assumptions, while right hand it introduces hypotheses about those assumptions. Numbers are never ever just values, much like sentences and words do not consists just from letters. After all, the difference between both is probably less than one could initially presume. Later we will address this aspect from the opposite direction, when it comes to the translation of textual entities into numbers.

Time Series and Contexts

Time series data are the most valuable data. They allow the reconstruction of the flow of information in the observed system, either between variables intrinsic to the measurement setup (reflecting the “system”) or between treatment and effects. In the recent years, so-called “causal FFT” gained some popularity.

Yet, modeling time series data poses the same problematics as tabular data. We do not know apriori which variables to include, or how to transform variables in order to reflect particular parts of the information in the most suitable way. Simply pressing a FFT onto the data is nothing but naive. FFT assumes a harmonic oscillation, or a combination thereof, which certainly is not appropriate. Even if we interpret a long series of FFT terms as an approximation to an unknown function, it is by no means clear whether the then assumed stationarity26 is indeed present in the data.

Instead, it is more appropriate to represent the aspects of a time series in multiple ways. Often, there are many time series available, one for each assignate. This brings the additional problem of careful evaluation of cross-correlations and auto-correlations, and all of this under the condition that it is not known apriori whether the evolution of the system is stationary.

Fortunately, the analysis of multiple time series, even from non-stationary processes, is quite simple, if we follow the approach as outlined so far. Let us assume a set of assignates {a(i)} for which we have their time series measurement available, which are given by equidistant measurement points. A transformation then is constructed by a method m that is applied to a moving window of size md(k). All moving windows of any size are adjusted such that their endpoints meet at the measurement point at time t(m(k)). Let us call this point the prediction base point, T(p). The transformed values consist either from the residuals resulting from this methods values and the measurement data, or the parameters of the method fitted to the moving window. A example for the latter case are for instance given by the wavelet coefficients, which provide a quite suitable, multi-frequency perspective onto the development up to T(p). Of course, the time series data of different assignates could be related to each other by any arbitrary functional mapping.

The target value for the model could be any set of future points relative to t(m(k)). The model may predict a singular point, averages some time in the future, the volatility of the future development of the time series, or even the parameters of a particular mapping function relating several assignates. In the latter case the model would predict several criteria at once.

Such transformations yield a table that contain a lot more variables than originally available. The ratio may grow up to 1:100 in complex cases like the global financial markets. Just to be clear: If you measure, say the index values of 5 stock markets, some commodities like gold, copper, precious metals and “electronics metals”, the money market, bonds and some fundamentals alike, that is approx. 30 basic input variables, even a superficial analysis would have to inspect 3000 variables… Yes, learning and gaining experience can take quite a bit! Learning and experience do not become cheaper only for that we use machines to achieve it. Just exploring is more easy nowadays, not requiring life times any more. The reward consists from stable models about complex issues.

Each point in time is reflected by the original observational values and a lot of variables that express the most recent history relative to the point in time represented by the respective record. Any of the synthetic records thus may be interpreted as a set of hypothesis about the future development, where this hypothesis comes as a multidimensional description of the context up to T(p). It is then the task of the evolutionarily optimized variable selection based on the SOM to select the most appropriate hypothesis. Any subgroup contained in the SOM then represents comparable sets of relations between the past relative to T(p) and the respective future as it is operationalized into the target variable.

Typical transformations in such associative time series modeling are

  • – moving average and exponentially decaying moving average for de-seasoning or de-trending;
  • – various correlational methods: cross- and auto-correlation, including the result parameters of the Bartlett test;
  • – Wavelet-, FFT-, or Walsh- transforms of different order, residuals to the denoised reconstruction;
  • – fractal coefficients like Lyapunov coefficient or Hausdorff dimension
  • – ratios of simple regressions calculated over moving windows of different size;
  • – domain specific markers (think of technical stock market analysis, or ECG.

Once we have expressed a collection of time series as series of contexts preceding the prediction point T(p), the further modeling procedure does not differ from the modeling of ordinary tabular data, where the observations are independent from each other. From the perspective of our transformation tool, these time series transformation are nothing else than “methods”, they do not differ from other plugin methods with respect to the procedure calls in their programing interface.

„Unstructurable“ „Data“: Images and Texts

The last type of data for which we briefly would like to discuss the issue of transformation is “unstructurable” data. Images and texts are the main representatives for this class of entities. Why are these data “unstructurable”?

Let us answer this question from the perspective of textual analysis. Here, the reason is obvious, actually, there are several obvious reasons. Patrizia Violi [17] for instance emphasizes that words are creating their own context, upon which they are then going to be interpreted. Douglas Hofstadter extended the problematics to thinking at large, arguing that for any instance of analogical thinking—and any thinking he claimed as being analogical—it is impossible to define criteria that would allow to set up a table. Here on this site we argued repeatedly that it is not possible to define any criteria apriori that would capture the “meaning” of a text.

Else, understanding language, as well as understanding texts can’t be mapped to the problematics of predicting a time series. In language, there is no such thin as a prediction point T(p), and there is no positively definable “target” which could be predicted. The main reason for this is the special dynamics between context (background) and proposition (figure). It is a multi-level, multi-scale thing. It is ridiculous to apply n-grams to text, then hoping to catch anything “meaningful”. The same is true for any statistical measure.

Nevertheless, using language, that is, producing and understanding is based on processes that select and compose. In some way there must be some kind of modeling. We already proposed a structure, or more, an architecture, for this in a previous essay.

The basic trick consists of two moves: Firstly, texts are represented probabilistically as random contexts in an associative storage like the SOM. No variable selection takes place here, no modeling and no operationalization of a purpose is present. Secondly, this representation then is used as a basis for targeted modeling. Yet, the “content” of this representation does not consist from “language” data anymore. Strikingly different, it contains data about the relative location of language concepts and their sequence as they occur as random contexts in a text.

The basic task in understanding language is to accomplish the progress from a probabilistic representation to a symbolic tabular representation. Note that any tabular representation of an observation is already on the symbolic level. In the case of language understanding precisely this is not possible: We can’t define meaning, and above all, not apriori. Meaning appears as a consequence of performance and execution of certain rules to a certain degree. Hence we can’t provide the symbols apriori that would be necessary to set up a table for modeling, assessing “similarity” etc.

Now, instead of probabilistic non-structured representation we also could say arbitrary unstable structure. From this we should derive a structured, (proto-)symbolic and hence tabular and almost stable structure. The trick to accomplish this consists of using the modeling system itself as measurement device and thus also as a “root” for further reference in the then possible models. Kohonen and colleagues demonstrated this crucial step in their WebSom project. Unfortunately (for them), they then actualized several misunderstandings regarding modeling. For instance, they misinterpreted associative storage as a kind of model.

The nice thing with this architecture is that once the symbolic level has been achieved, any of the steps of our modeling approach can be applied without any change, including the automated transformation of “data” as described above.

Understanding the meaning of images follows the same scheme. The fact that there are no words renders the task more complicated and more simple at the same time. Note that so far there is no system that would have learned to “see”, to recognize and to understand images, despite many titles claim that the proposed “system” can do so. All computer vision approaches are analytic by nature, hence they are all deeply inadequate. The community is running straight into the method hell as the statisticians and the data miners did before, mistaking transformations as methods, conflating transformation and modeling, etc.. We discussed this issues at length above. Any of the approaches might be intelligently designed, but all are victimized by the representationalist fallacy, and probably even by naive realism. Due to the fact that the analytic approach is first, second and third mainstream, the probabilistic and contextual bottom-up approach is missing so far. In the same way as a word is not equal to the grapheme, a line is not defined on the symbolic level in the brain. We else and again meet the problem of analogical thinking even on the most primitive graphical level. When is a line still a line, when is a triangle still a triangle?

In order to start in the right way we first have to represent the physical properties of the image along different dimensions, such as textures, edges, or salient points, and all of those across different scales. Probably one can even detect salient objects by some analytic procedure. From any of the derived representations the random contexts are derived and arranged as vectors. A single image is represented as a table that contains random contexts derived from the image as a physical entity. From here on, the further processing scheme is the same as for texts. Note, that there is no such property as “line” in this basic mapping.

In case of texts and images the basic transformation steps thus consist in creating the representation as random contexts. Fortunately, this is “only” a question of the suitable plugins for our transformation tool. In both cases, for texts as well as images, the resulting vectors could grow considerably. Several thousands of implied variables must be expected. Again, there is already a solution, known as random projection, which allows to compress even very large vectors (say 20’000+) into one of say maximal 150 variables, without loosing much of the information that is needed to retain the distinctive potential. Random projection works by multiplying a vector of size N with a matrix of uniformly distributed random values of size NxM, which results in a vector of size M. Of course, M is chosen suitably (100+). The reason why this works is that with that many dimension all vectors are approximately orthogonal to each other! Of course, the resulting fields in such a vector do not “represent” anything that could be conceived as a reference to an “object”. Internally, however, that is from the perspective of a (population of) SOMs, it may well be used as a (almost) fixed “attribute”. Yet, neither the missing direct reference not the subjectivity poses a problem, as the meaning is not a mental entity anyway. Q.E.D.

Conclusion

Here in this essay we discussed several aspects related to the transformation of data as an epistemic activity. We emphasized that an appropriate attitude towards the transformation of data requires a shift in perspective and the focus of another vantage point. One of the more significant changes in attitude consider, perhaps, the drop of any positivist approach as one of the main pillars of traditional modeling. Remember that statistics is such a positivist approach. In our perspective, statistical methods are just transformations, nothing less, but above all also nothing more, characterized by a specific set of rather strong assumptions and conditions for their applicability.

We also provided some important practical examples for the transformation of data, whether tabular data derived from independent observations, time series data or “unstructurable” “data” like texts and images. According to the proposed approach we else described a prototypical architecture for a transformation tool, that could be used universally. In particular, it allows a complete automation of the modeling task, as it could be used for instance in the field of so-called data mining. The possibility for automated modeling is, of course, a fundamental requirement for any machine-based episteme.

Notes

1. The only reason why we do not refer to cultures and philosophies outside Europe is that we do not know sufficient details about them. Yet, I am pretty sure that taking into account Chinese or Indian philosophy would severe the situation.

2. It was Friedrich Schleiermacher who first observed that even the text becomes alien and at least partially autonomous to its author due to the necessity and inevitability of interpretation. Thereby he founded hermeneutics.

3. In German language these words all exhibit a multiple meaning.

4. In the last 10 years (roughly) it became clear that the gene-centered paradigms are not only not sufficient [2], they are even seriously defect. Evely Fox-Keller draws a detailed trace of this weird paradigm [3].

5. Michel Foucault [4]

6. The „axiom of choice“ is one of the founding axioms in mathematics. Its importance can’t be underestimated. Basically, it assumes that “something is choosable”. The notion of “something choosable” then is used to construct countability as a derived domain. This implies three consequences. First, this avoids to assume countability, that is, the effect of a preceding symbolification, as a basis for set theory. Secondly, it puts performance at the first place. These two implications render the “Axiom of Choice” into a doubly-articulated rule, offering two docking sites, one for mathematics, and one for philosophy. In some way, it thus can not count as an  “axiom”. Those implications are, for instance, fully compatible with Wittgenstein’s philosophy. For these reasons, Zermelo’s “axiom” may even serve as a shared point (of departure) for a theory of machine-based episteme. Finally, the third implication is that through the performance of the selection the relation, notably a somewhat empty relation is conceived as a predecessor of countability and the symbolic level. Interestingly, this also relates to Quantum Darwinism and String Theory.

7. David Grahame Shane’s theory on cities and urban entities [5] is probably the only theory in urbanism that is truly a relational theory.  Additionally, his work is full of relational techniques and concepts, such as the “heterotopy” (a term coined by Foucault).

8. Bruno Latour developed the Actor-Network-Theory [6,7], while Clarke evolved “Grounded Theory” into the concept of “Situational Analysis” [8]. Latour, as well as Clarke, emphasize and focus the relation as a significant entity.

9. behavioral coating, and behavioral surfaces ;

10. See Information & Causality about the relation between measurement, information and causality.

11. „Passivist“ refers to the inadequate form of realism according to which things exist as-such independently from interpretation. Of course, interpretation does affect the material dimension of a thing. Yet, it changes its relations insofar the relations of a thing, the Wittgensteinian “facts”, are visible and effective only if we assign actively significance to them. The “passivist” stance conceives itself as a re-construction instead of a construction (cf. Searle [9])

12. In [10] we developed an image theory in the context of the discussion about the mediality of facades of buildings.

13. nonsense of „non-supervised clustering“

14. In his otherwise quite readable book [11], though it may serve only as an introduction.

15. This can be accomplished by using a data segment for which the implied risk equals 0 (positive predictive value = 1). We described this issue in the preceding chapter.

16. hint to particle physics…

17. See our previous essay about the complementarity of the concepts of causality and information.

18. For an introduction of renormalization (in physics) see [12], and a bit more technical [13]

19. see the Wiki entry about so-called gravitational lenses.

20. Catastrophe theory is a concept invented and developed by French mathematician Rene Thom as a field of Differential Topology. cf. [14]

21.  In their book, Witten & Eibe [15] recognized the importance of transformation and included a dedicated chapter about it. They also explicitly mention the creation of synthetic variables. Yet, they do also explicitly retreat from it as a practical means for the reason of computational complexity (=here, the time needed to perform a calculation in relation to the amount of data). After all, their attitude towards transformation is somehow that towards an unavoidable evil. They do not recognize its full potential. After all, as a cure for the selection problem, they propose SVM and their hyperplanes, which is definitely a poor recommendation.

22. Dorian Pyle [11]

23. see Benoit Mandelbrot [16].

24. By using almost meaningless labels target-oriented modeling is often called supervised modeling as opposed to “non-supervised modeling”, where no target variable is being used. Yet, such a modeling is not a model, since the pragmatics of the concept of “model” invariably requires a purpose.

25. About assignates: often called property, or feature… see about modeling

26. Stationarity is a concept in empirical system analysis or description, which denotes the expectation that the internal setup of the observed process will not change across time within the observed period. If a process is rated as “stationary” upon a dedicated test, one could select a particular, and only one particular method or model to reflect the data. Of course, we again meet the chicken-egg problem. We can decide about stationarity only by means of a completed model, that is after the analysis. As a consequence, we should not use linear methods, or methods that depend on independence, for checking the stationarity before applying the “actual” method. Such a procedure can not count as a methodology at all. The modeling approach should be stable against non-stationarity. Yet, the problem of the reliability of the available data sample remains, of course. As a means to “robustify” the resulting model against the unknown future one can apply surrogating. Ultimately, however, the only cure is a circular, or recurrent methodology that incorporates learning and adaptation as a structure, not as a result.

References
  • [1] Robert Rosen, Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. Columbia University Press, New York 1991.
  • [2] Nature Insight: Epigenetics, Supplement Vol. 447 (2007), No. 7143 pp 396-440.
  • [3] Evelyn Fox Keller, The Century of the Gene. Harvard University Press, Boston 2002. see also: E. Fox Keller, “Is There an Organism in This Text?”, in P. R. Sloam (ed.), Controlling Our Destinies. Historical, Philosophical, Ethical, and Theological Perspectives on the Human Genome Project, Notre Dame (Indiana), University of Notre Dame Press, 2000, pp. 288-289
  • [4] Michel Foucault, Archeology of Knowledge. 1969.
  • [5] David Grahame Shane. Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory
  • [6] Bruno Latour. Reassembling The Social. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005.
  • [7] Bruno Latour (1996). On Actor-network Theory. A few Clarifications. in: Soziale Welt 47, Heft 4, p.369-382.
  • [8] Adele E. Clarke, Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA 2005).
  • [9] John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. Free Press, New York 1995.
  • [10] Klaus Wassermann & Vera Bühlmann, Streaming Spaces – A short expedition into the space of media-active façades. in: Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345. available here
  • [11] Dorian Pyle, Data Preparation for Data Mining. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco 1999.
  • [12] John Baez (2009). Renormalization Made Easy. Webpage
  • [13] Bertrand Delamotte (2004). A hint of renormalization. Am.J.Phys. 72: 170-184. available online.
  • [14] Tim Poston & Ian Stewart, Catastrophe Theory and Its Applications. Dover Publ. 1997.
  • [15] Ian H. Witten & Frank Eibe, Data Mining. Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques (2nd ed.). Elsevier, Oxford 2005.
  • [16] Benoit Mandelbrot & Richard L. Hudson, The (Mis)behavior of Markets. Basic Books, New York 2004.
  • [17] Patrizia Violi (2000). Prototypicality, typicality, and context. in: Liliana Albertazzi (ed.), Meaning and Cognition – A multidisciplinary approach. Benjamins Publ., Amsterdam 2000. p.103-122.

۞

Waves, Words and Images

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

The big question of philosophy, and probably its sole question,

concerns the status of the human as a concept.1 Does language play a salient role in this concept, either as a major constituent, or as sort of a tool? Which other capabilities and which potential beyond language, if it is reasonable at all to take that perspective, could be regarded as similarly constitutive?

These questions may appear far off such topics like the technical challenges to program a population of self-organizing maps, the limits of Turing-machines, or the generalization of models and their conditions. Yet, in times where lots of people are summoning the so-called singularity, the question about the status of the human is definitely not exotic at all. Notably, “singularity” is often and largely defined as “overwhelming intelligence”, seemingly coming up inevitably due to ever increasing calculation power, and which we could not “understand” any more.  From an evolutionary perspective it makes pretty little sense to talk about singularities. Natural evolution, and cultural evolution alike, is full of singularities and void of singularities at the same time. The idea of “singularity” is not a fruitful way to approach the question of qualitative changes.

As you already may have read in another chapter, we prefer the concept of machine-based episteme as our ariadnic guide. In popular terms, machine-based episteme concerns the possibility for an actualization of a particular “machine” that would understand the conditions of its own when claiming “I know.” (Such an entity could not be regarded as a machine anymore, I guess.) Of course, in following this thread we meet a lot of already much-debated issues. Yet, moving the question about the episteme into the sphere of the machinic provides particular perspectives onto these issues.

In earlier times it has been tried, and some people still are trying today, to determine that status of the “human” as sort of a recipe. Do this and do that, but not that and this, then a particular quality will be established in your body, as your person, visible for others as virtues, labeled and conceived henceforth as “quality of being human”. Accordingly, natural language with all its ambiguities need not be regarded as an essential pillar. Quite to the opposite, if the “human” could be defined as a recipe, then our everyday language has to be cleaned up, made more close to crisp logic in order to avoid misunderstandings as far as possible; you may recognize this as the program of contemporary analytical philosophy. In methodological terms it was thought that it would be possible to determine the status of the human in positively given terms, or short, in a positive definite manner.

Such positions are, quite fortunately so, now recognized more and more as highly problematic. The main reason is that it is not possible to justify any kind of determination in an absolute manner. Any justification requires assumptions, while unjustified assumptions are counter-pragmatic to the intended justification. The problematics of knowledge is linked in here, as it could not be regarded as “justified, true belief” any more2. It was first Charles S. Peirce who concluded that the application of logic (as the grammar of reason) and ethics (as the theory of morality) are not independent from each other. In political terms, any positive definite determination that would be imposed to communities of other people must be regarded as an instance of violence. Hence, philosophy is not any more concerned about the status of the human as a fact, but, quite differently, the central question is how to speak about the status of the human, thereby not neglecting that speaking, using language is not a private affair. This looking for the “how” has to obey, of course, itself to the rule not to determine rules in a positive definite manner. As a consequence, the only philosophical work we can do is exploring the conditions, where the concept of “condition” refers to an open, though not recursive, chain. Actually, already Aristotle dubbed this as “metaphysics” and as the core interest of philosophy. This “metaphysics” can’t be overtaken by any “natural” discipline, whether it is a kind of science or engineering. There is a clear downstream relation: science as well as engineering should be affected by it in emphasizing the conditions for their work more intensely.

Practicing, turning the conditions and conditionability into facts and constraints is the job of design, let it manifest this design as “design,” as architecture, as machine-creating technology, as politician, as education, as writer and artist, etc.etc.  Philosophy can not only never explain, as Wittgenstein mentioned, it also can’t describe things “as such”. Descriptions and explanations are only possible within a socially negotiated system of normative choices. This holds true even for natural sciences. As a consequence, we should start with philosophical questions even in the natural sciences, and definitely always in engineering. And engaging in fields like machine learning, so-called artificial intelligence or robotics without constantly referring to philosophy will almost inevitably result in nonsense. The history of these fields a full of examples for that, just remember the infamous “General Problem Solver” of Simon and Newell.

Yet, the issue is not only one of ethics, morality and politics. It has been Foucault as the first one, in sort of a follow-up to Merleau-Ponty, who claimed a third region between the empiricism of affections and the tradition of reflecting on pure reason or consciousness.3 This third region, or even dimension (we would say “aspection”), being based on the compound consisting from perception and the body, comprises the historical evolution of systems of thinking. Foucault, together with Deleuze, once opened the possibility for a transcendental empiricism, the former mostly with regard to historical and structural issues of political power, the latter mostly with regard to the micronics of individual thought, where the “individual” is not bound to a single human person, of course. In our project as represented by this collection of essays we are following a similar path, starting with the transition from the material to the immaterial by means of association, and then investigating the dynamics of thinking in the aspectional space of transcendental conditions (forthcoming chapter), which build an abstract bridge between Deleuze and Foucault as it covers both the individual and the societal aspects of thinking.

This Essay

This essay deals with the relation of words and a rather important aspect in thinking, representation. We will address some aspects of its problematics, before we approach the role of words in language. Since the representation is something symbolic in the widest sense and that representation has to be achieved autonomously by a mainly material arrangement, e.g. called “the machine”4, we also will deal (again) with the conditions for the transformation of (mainly) physical matter into (mainly) symbolic matter. Particularly, however, we will explore the role of words in language. The outline comprises the following sections:

From Matter to Mind

Given the conditioning mentioned above, the anthropological history of the genus of homo5 poses a puzzle. Our anatomical foundations6 have been stable since at least 60’000 years, but contemporary human beings at the age of, let me say, 20 or 30 years are surely much more “intelligent”7. Given the measurement scale established as I.Q. in the beginning of the 20th century, a significant increase can be observed for the supervised populations even throughout the last 60 years.

So, what makes the difference then, between the earliest ancient cultures and the contemporary ones? This question is highly relevant for our considerations here that focus on the possibility of a machine-based episteme, or in more standard, yet seriously misplaced terms, machine learning, machine intelligence or even artificial intelligence. In any of those fields, one could argue, researchers and engineers somehow start with mere matter, then imprinting some rules and symbols to that matter, only to expect then the matter becoming “intelligent” in the end. The structure of the problematics remains the same, whether we take the transition that started from paleo-cultures or that rooted in the field of advanced computer science. Both instances concern the role of culture in the transformation of physical matter into symbolic matter.

While philosophy has tackled that issue for at least two and a half millennia, resulting in a rich landscape of arguments, including the reflection of the many styles of developing those arguments, computer science is still almost completely blind against the whole topic. Since computer scientists and computer engineers inevitably get into contact with the realm of the symbolic, they usually and naively repeat past positions, committing naïve, i.e. non-reflective idealism or materialism that is not even on a pre-socratic level. David Blair [6] correctly identifies the picture of language on which contemporary information retrieval systems are based on as that of Augustine: He believed that every word has a meaning. Notably, Augustine lived in the late 4th till early 5th century A.C. This story simply demonstrates that in order to understand the work of a field one also has, as always, to understand its history. In case of computer sciences it is the history of reflective thought itself.

Precisely this is also the reason for the fact that philosophy is much more than just a possibly interesting source for computer scientists. More directly expressed, it is probably one of the major structural faults of computer science that it is regarded as just a kind of engineering. Countless projects and pieces of software failed for the reason of such applied methodological reductionism. Everything that gets into contact with computers developed from within such an attitude then also becomes infected by the limited perspective of engineering.

One of the missing aspects is the philosophy of techno-science, which not just by chance seriously started with Heidegger8 as its first major proponent. Merleau-Ponty, inspired by Heidegger, then emphasized that everything concerning the human is artificial and natural at the same time. It does not make sense to set up that distinction for humans or man-made artifacts as well, as if such a difference would itself be “natural”. Any such distinction refers more directly than not to Descartes as well as to Hegel, that is, it follows either simplistic materialism or overdone idealism, so to speak idealism in its machinic, Cartesian form. Indeed, many misunderstandings about the role of computers in contemporary science and engineering, but also in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of information can be deciphered as a massive Cartesio-Hegelian heir, with all its drawbacks. And there are many.

The most salient perhaps is the foundational element9 of Descartes’ as well as Hegel’s thoughts: independence. Of course, for both of them independence was a major incentive, goal and demand, for political reasons (absolutism in the European 17th century), but also for general reasons imposed by the level of techno-scientific insights, which remained quite low until the mid of the 20th century. People before the scientific age had been exposed to all sorts of threatening issues, concerning health, finances, religious or political freedom, collective or individual violence, all together often termed “fate”. Being independent meant a basic condition to live more or less safely at all, physically and/or  mentally. Yet, Descartes and Hegel definitely exaggerated it.

Yet, the element of independence made its way into the cores of the scientific method itself. Here it blossomed as reductionism, positivism and physicalism, all of which can be subsumed under the label of naive realism. It took decades until people developed some confidence not to prejudge complexity as esotericism.

With regard to computer science there is an important consequence. We first and safely can drop the label of  “artificial intelligence” or “machine learning” just along with the respective narrow and limited concepts. Concerning machine learning we can state that only very few of the approaches to machine learning that exist so far is at most a rudimentary learning in the sense of structural self-transformation. The vast majority of approaches that are dubbed as “machine learning” represent just some sort of advanced parameter estimation, where the parameters to be estimated are all defined (i) apriori, and (ii) by the programmer(s). And regarding intelligence we can recognize that we never can assign concepts like artificial or natural to it, since there is always a strong dependence on culture in it. Michel Serres once called written language the first artificial intelligence, pointing to the central issue of any technology: externalization of symbol-based systems of references.

This brings us back to our core issue here, the conditions for the transformation of (mainly) physical matter into (mainly) symbolic matter. In some important way we even can state that there is no matter without symbolic aspects. Two pieces of matter can interact only if they are not completely transparent to each other. If there is an effective transfer of energy between those, then the form of the energy becomes important, think of it for instance as wave length of some electromagnetic radiation, or the rhythmicity of it, which becomes distinctive in the case of a LASER [9,10]. Sure, in a LASER there are no symbols to be found; yet, the system as a whole establishes a well-defined and self-focusing classification, i.e. it performs the transition from a white-noised, real-valued randomness to a discrete intensional dynamics. The LASER has thus to be regarded as a particular kind of associative system, which is able to produce proto-symbols.

Of course, we may not restrict our considerations to such basic instances of pan-semiotics. When talking about machine-based episteme we talk about the ability of an entity to think about the conditions for its own informational dynamics (avoiding the term knowledge here…). Obviously, this requires some kind of language. The question for any attempt to make machines “intelligent” thus concerns in turn the question about how to think about the individual acquisition of language, and, of course, with regard to our interests here how to implement the conditions for it. Note that homo erectus who lived 1 million years ago must have had a clear picture not only about causality, and not only individually, but they also must have had the ability to talk about that, since they have been able to keep fire burning and to utilize it for cooking meal and bones. Logic has not been invented as a field at these times, but it seems absolutely mandatory that they have been using a language.10 Even animals like cats, pigs or parrots are able to develop and to perform plans, i.e. to handle causality, albeit probably not in a conscious manner. Yet, neither wild pigs nor cats are able for symbol based culture, that is a culture, which spreads on the basis of symbols that are independent from a particular body or biological individual. The research programs of machine learning, robotics or artificial intelligence thus appears utterly naive, since they all neglect the cultural dimension.

The central set of questions thus considers the conditions that must be met in order to become able to deal with language, to learn it and to practice it.

These conditions are not only “private”, that is, they can’t be reduced to individual brains, or a machines, that would “process” information. Leaving the simplistic perspective onto information as it is usually practiced in computer sciences aside for the moment, we have to accept that learning language is a deeply social activity, even if the label of the material description of the entity is “computer”. We also have to think about the mediality of symbolic matter, the transition from nature to culture, that is from contexts of low symbolic intensity to those of high symbolic intensity. Handling language is not an affair that could be thought to be performed privately, there is no such thing as a “private language”. Of course, we have brains, for which the matter could still be regarded as dominant, and the processes running there are running only there11.

Note that implementing the handling of words as apriori existing symbols is not what we are talking about here. As Hofstadter pointed out [12], calling the computing processes on apriori defined strings “language understanding” is nothing but silly. We are not allowed to call the shuffling of predefined encoded symbols forth and back “understanding”. But what could we call “understanding” then? Again, we have to postpone this question for the time being. Meanwhile we may reshape the question about learning language a bit:

How do we come to be able to assign names to things, classes, types, species, animals and other humans? What is role of such naming, and what is the role of words?

The Unresolved Challenge

The big danger when addressing these issues is to start too late, provoked by an ontological stance that is applied to language. The most famous example probably being provided by Heidegger and his attempt of “fundamental ontology”, which failed glamorously. It is all too easy to get bewitched by language itself and to regard it as something natural, as something like stones: well-defined, stable, and potentially serving as a tool. Language itself makes us believe that words exist as such, independent from us.

Yet, language is a practice, as Wittgenstein said, and this practice is neither a single homogenous one nor does it remain constant throughout life, nor are the instances identical and exchangeable. The practice of language develops, unfolds, gains quasi-materiality, turns from an end to a means and back. Indeed, language may be characterized just by the capability to provide that variability in the domain of the symbolic. Take as a contrast for instance the symbolon, or take the use of signs in animals, in both cases there is exactly one single “game” you can play. Only in such trivial cases the meaning of a name could be said to be close to its referent. Yet, language games are not trivial.

I already mentioned the implicit popularity of Augustine among computer scientists and information systems engineers. Let me cite the passage that Wittgenstein chose in his opening remarks to the famous Philosophical Investigations (PI)12. Augustine writes:

When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shewn by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires.

Wittgenstein gave two replies, one directly in the PI, the other one in the collection entitled “Philosophical Grammar” (PG).

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names.—In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word. If you describe the learning of language in this way you are, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like “table,” “chair,” “bread,” and of people’s names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kind of words as something that will take care of itself. (PI §1)

And in the Philosophical Grammar:

When Augustine talks about the learning of language he talks about how we attach names to things or understand the names of things. Naming here appears as the foundation, the be all and end all of language. (PG 56)

Before we will take the step to drop and to drown the ontological stance once and for all we would like to provide two things. First, we will briefly cite a summarizing table from Blair [1]13. Blair’s book is indeed a quite nice work about the peculiarities of language as far as it concerns “information retrieval” and how Wittgenstein’s philosophy could be helpful in resolving the misunderstandings. Second, we will (also very briefly) make our perspective to names and naming explicit.

David Blair dedicates quite some efforts to render the issue of indeterminacy of language as clear as possible. In alignment to Wittgenstein he emphasizes that indeterminacy in language is not the result of sloppy or irrational usage. Language is neither a medium of logics nor a something like a projection screen of logics. There are good arguments, represented by the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, late Hilary Putnam and Robert Brandom, to believe that language is not an inferior way to express a logical predicate (see the previous chapter about language). Language can’t be “cleared” or being made less ambiguous, its vagueness is a constitutive necessity for its use and utility in social intercourse. Many people in linguistics (e.g. Rooij [13]) and large parts of cognitive sciences (e.g. Alvin Goldman [14]14), but also philosophers like Saul Kripke [16] or Scott Soames [17] take the opposite position.

Of course, in some contexts it is reasonable to try to limit the vagueness of natural language, e.g. in law and contracts. Yet, it is also clear that positivism in jurisdiction is a rather bad thing, especially if it shows up as a pair with idealism.

Blair then contrasts two areas in so-called “information retrieval”15, distinguished by the type of data that is addressed: structured data that could be arranged in tables on the one hand, Blair calls it determinate data, and such “data” that can’t be structured apriori, like language. We already met this fundamental difference in other chapters (about analogies, language). The result of his investigation he summarized in the following table. It is more than obvious that the characteristics of the two fields are drastically different, which equally obvious has to be reflected in the methods going to be applied. For instance, the infamous n-gram method is definitely a no-go.

For the same reasons, semantic disambiguation is not possible by a set of rules that could be applied by an individual, whether this individual is a human or a machine. Quite likely it is even completely devoid of sense to try to remove ambiguity from language. One of the reasons is given by the fact that concepts are transcendental entities. We will return to the issue of “ambiguity” later.

In the quote from the PG shown above Wittgenstein rejects Augustine’s perspective that naming is central to language. Nevertheless, there is a renewed discussion in philosophy about names and so-called “natural kind terms”, brought up by Kripke’s “Naming and Necessity” [16]. Recently, Scott Soames explicitly referred to Kripke’s. Yet, as so many others, Soames commits the drastic mistake introduced along the line formed by Frege, Russell and Carnap in ascribing language the property of predicativity (cf. [18]  p.646).

These claims are developed within a broader theory which, details aside, identifies the meaning of a non-indexical sentence S with a proposition asserted by utterances of S in all normal contexts.

We won’t delve in any detail to the discussion of “proper names”16, because it is largely a misguided and unnecessary one. Let me just briefly mention three main (and popular) alternative approaches to address the meaning of names: the descriptivist theories, the referential theory originally arranged by John Stuart Mill, and the causal-historical theory. They are all not tenable because they implicitly violate the primacy of interpretation, though not in an obvious manner.

Why can’t we say that a name is a description? A description needs assignates17, or aspects, if you like, at least one scale. Assuming that there is the possibility for a description that is apriori justified and hence objective invokes divinity as a hidden parameter, or any other kind of Fregean hyper-idealism. Assignates are chosen according to and in dependence from the context. Of course, one could try to expel any variability of any expectable context, e.g. by literally programming society, or some kind of philosophical dictatorship. In any other case, descriptions are variant. The actual choice for any kind of description is the rather volatile result of negotiation processes in the embedding society. The rejection of names as description results from the contradictory pragmatic stances. First, names are taken as indivisible, atomic entities, but second descriptions are context-dependent subatomic properties, which by virtue of the implied pragmatics, corroborates the primary claim. Remember that the context-dependency results from the empirical underdetermination. In standard situations it is neither important that water consists as a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, nor is this what we want to say in everyday situations. We do not carry the full description of the named entity along into any instance of its use, despite there are some situations where we indeed are interested in the description, e.g. as a scientist, or as a supporter of  the “hydrogen economy”. The important point is that we never can determine the status of the name before we have interpreted the whole sentence, while we also can’t interpret the sentence without determining the status of the named entity. Both entities co-emerge. Hence we also can’t give an explicit rule for such a decision other than just using the name or uttering the sentence. Wittgenstein thus denies the view that assumes a meaning behind the words that is different from their usage.

The claim that the meaning of a proper name is its referent meets similar problems, because it just introduces the ontological stance through the backdoor. Identifying the meaning of a label with its referent implies that the meaning is taken as something objective, as something that is independent from context, and even beyond that, as something that could be packaged and transferred *as such*. In other words, it deliberately denies the primacy of interpretation. We need not say anything further, except perhaps that Kripke (and Soames as well, in taking it seriously) commits a third mistake in using “truth-values” as factual qualities.18 We may propose that the whole theory of proper names follows a pseudo-problem, induced by overgeneralized idealism or materialism.

Names, proper: Performing the turn completely

Yet, what would be an appropriate perspective to deal with the problem of names? What I would like to propose is a consequent application of the concept of “language game”. The “game” perspective could not only be applied to the complete stream of exchanged utterances, but also to the parts of the sentences, e.g. names and single words. As a result, new questions become visible. Wittgenstein himself did not explore this possibility (he took Augustine as a point of departure), and it could not be found in contemporary discourse either”19. As so often, philosophers influenced by positivism simply forget about the fact that they are speaking. Our proposal is markedly different from and also much more powerful than the causal-historical or the descriptivist approach, and also avoids the difficulties of Kripke’s externalist version.

After all, naming, to give a name and to use names, is a “language game”. Names are close to observable things, and as a matter of fact, observable things are also demonstrable. Using a name refers to the possibility of a speaker to provide a description to his partner in discourse such that this listener would be able to agree on the individuality of the referenced thing. The use of the name “water” for this particular liquid thing does not refer to an apriori fixed catalog of properties. Speaker and listener even need not agree on the identity of the set of properties ascribed to the referred physical thing. The chemist may always associate the physico-chemical properties of the molecule even when he reads about the submersed sailors in Shakespeare’s *tempest*, but nevertheless he easily could talk about that liquid matter with a 9 year old boy that does neither know about Shakespeare nor about the molecule.

It is thus neither possible nor is it reasonable to try to achieve a match regarding the properties, since a rich body of methods would be necessarily invoked to determine that set. Establishing the identity of representations of physical, external things, or even of the physical things themselves, inevitably invokes a normative act (which is rather incommensurable to the empiricists claims).

For instance, saying just “London”, out of the blue, it is not necessary that we envisage the same aspects of the grand urban area. Since cities are inevitably heterotopic entities (in the sense of Foucault [19, 20], acc. to David Graham Shane [21]), this agreement is actually impossible. Even for the undeniably more simple minded cartographers the same problem exists: “Where” is that London, in terms of spheric coordinates? Despite these unavoidable difficulties both the speaker and the listener easily agree on the individuality of the imaginary entity “London”. The name of “London” does not point to a physical thing but just to an imaginative pole. In contrast to concepts, however, names take a different grammatical role as they not only allow for a negotiation of rather primitive assignates in order to take action, they even demonstrate the possibility of such negotiation. The actual negotiations could be quite hard, though.

We conclude that we are not allowed to take any of the words as something that would “exist” as a, or like a physical “thing”. ­­­­Of course, we get used to certain words, the gain a quasi-materiality because a constancy appears that may be much stronger than the initial contingency. But this “getting used” is a different topic, it just refers how we speak about words. Naming remains a game, and as any other game this one also does not have an identifiable border.

Despite this manifold that is mediated through language, or as language, it is also clear that language remains rooted in activity or the possibility of it. I demonstrate the usage of a glass and accompany that by uttering “glass”. Of course, there is the Gavagai problematics20 as it has been devised by Quine [22]. Yet, this problematics is not a real problem, since we usually interact repeatedly. On the one hand this provides us the possibility to improve our capability to differentiate single concepts in a certain manner, but on the other hand the extended experience introduces a secondary indeterminacy.

In some way, all words are names. All words may be taken as indicators that there is the potential to say more about them, yet in a different, orthogonal story. This holds even for the abstract concepts denoted by the word “transcendental” or for verbs.

The usage of names, i.e. their application in the stream of sentences, gets more and more rich, but also more and more indeterminate. All languages developed some kind of grammar, which is a more or less strict body of rules about how to arrange words for certain language games. Yet, the grammar is not a necessity for language at all, it is just a tool to render language-based communication more easy, more fast and more precise. Beyond the grammars, it is the experience which enables us to use metaphors in a dedicated way. Yet, language is not a thing that sometimes contains metaphors and sometimes not. In a very basic sense all the language is metaphorical all the time.

So, we first conclude that there is nothing enigmatic in learning a language. Secondly, we can say that extending the “gameness” down to words provides the perspective of the mechanism, notably without reducing language to names or propositions.

Instead, we now can clearly see how these mechanisms mediate between the language game as a whole, the metaphorical characteristics of any language and simple rule-based mechanisms.

Representing Words

There is a drastic consequence of the completed gaming perspective. Words can’t be “represented” as symbols or as symbolic strings in the brain, and words can’t be appropriately represented as symbols in the computer either. Given any programming language, strings in a computer program are nothing else than particularly formatted series of values. Usually, this series is represented as an array of values, which is part of an object. In other words, the word is represented as a property of an object, where such objects are instances of their respective classes. Such, the representation of words in ANY computer program created so far for the purpose of handling texts, documents, or textual information in general is deeply inappropriate.

Instead, the representation of the word has to carry along its roots, its path of derivation, or in still other words, its traces of precipitation of the “showing”. This rooting includes, so we may say, a demonstrativum, an abstract image. This does not mean that we have to set up an object in the computer program that contains a string and an abstract image. This would be just the positivistic approach, leaving all problems untouched, the string and the image still being independent. the question of how to link them would be just delegated to the next analytic homunculus.

What we propose are non-representational abstract compounds that are irrevocably multi-modal since they are built from the assignates of  abstract “things” (Gegenstände). These compounds are nothing else than combined sets of assignates. The “things” represented in this way are actually always more or less “abstract”. Through the sets of assignates we actually may combine even things which appear incommensurable on the level of their wholeness, at least at first sight. An action is an action, not a word, and vice versa, an image is neither a word nor an action, isn’t it? Well, it depends; we already mentioned that we should not take words as ontological instances. Any of those entities can be described using the same formal structure, the probabilistic context that is further translated into a set of assignates. The probabilistic context creates a space of expressibility, where the incommensurability disappears, notably without reducing the comprised parts (image, text,…) to the slightest extent.

The situation reminds a bit synesthetic experiences. Yet, I would like to avoid calling it synesthetic, since synesthecism is experienced on a highly symbolic level. Like other phenomenological concepts, it also does not provide any hint about the underlying mechanisms. In contrast, we are talking about a much lower level of integration. Probably we could call this multi-modal compound a “syn-presentational” compound, or short, a “synpresentation”.21

Words, images and actions are represented together as a quite particular compound, which is an inextricable multi-modal compound. We also may say that these compounds are derived qualia. The exciting point is that the described way of probabilistic multi-modal representation obviates the need for explicit references and relations between words and images. These relations even would have to be defined apriori (strongly: before programming, weakly: before usage). In our approach, and quite to the contrast to the model of external control, relations and references *can be* subject to context-dependent alignments, either to the discourse, or the task (of preparing a deliverable from memory).

The demonstrativum may not only refer to an “image”. First note that the image does not exist outside of its interpretation. We need to refer to that interpretation, not to an index in a data base or a file system. Interpretation thus means that we apply a lot of various processing and extraction methods to it, each of them providing a few assignates. The image is dissolved into probabilistic contexts as we do it for words (footnote: we have described it elsewhere). The dissolving of an image is of course not the endpoint of a communicable interpretation, it is just the starting point. Yet, this does not matter, since the demonstrativum may also refer to any derived intension and even to any derived concept.22

The probabilistic multi-modal representation exhibits three highly interesting properties, concerning abstractness, relations and the issue of foundations. First, the  abstractness of represented items becomes scalable in an almost smooth manner. In our approach, “abstractness” is not a quality any more. Secondly, relations and references of both words and the “content” of images are transformed into their pre-specific versions. Both, relations and references need not be implemented apriori or observed as an apriori. Initially, they appear only as randolations23. Thirdly, some derived and already quite abstract entities on an intermediate level of “processing” are more basic than the so-called raw observations24.

Words, Classes, Models, Waves

It is somewhat tempting to arrange these four concepts to form a hierarchical series. Yet, things are not that simple. Actually, any of the concepts that appear more as a symbolistic entity also may re-turn into a quasi-materiality, into a wave-like phenomenon that itself serves as a basis for potential differences. This re-turn is a direct consequence of the inextricable mediality of the world, mediality understood here thus as a transcendental category. Needless to say that mediality is just another blind spot in contemporary computer sciences. Cybernetics as well as engineering straightaway exclude the possibility to recognize the mediatedness of worldly events.

In this section we will try to explicate the relations between the headlined concepts to some extent, at least as far as it concerns the mapping of those into an implementable system of (non-Turing) “computer programs”. The computational model that we presuppose here is the extended version of the 2-layered SOM, as we have it introduced previously.

Let us start with first things first. Given a physical signal, here in the literal sense, that is as a potentially perceivable difference in a stream of energy, we find embodied modeling, and nothing else. The embodiment of the initial modeling is actualized in sensory organs, or more generally, in any instance that is able to discretize the waves and differences at least “a bit more”. In more technical terms, the process of discretization is a process that increases the signal-noise ratio. In biological systems we often find a frequency encoding of the intensity of a difference. Though the embodiment of that modeling is indeed a filtering and encoding, hence already some kind of a modeling representation, it is not a modeling in the more narrow sense. It points out of the individual entity into the phylogenesis, the historical contingency of the production of that very individual entity. We also can’t say that the initial embodied processing by the sensory organs is a kind of encoding. There is no code consisting of well-identified symbols at the proximate end of the sensory cell. It is still a rather probabilistic affair.

This basic encoding is not yet symbolic, albeit we also can’t call it a wave any more. In biological entities this slightly discretized wave then is subject of an intense modeling sensu strictu. The processing of the signals is performed by associative mechanisms that are arranged in cascades. This “cascading” is highly interesting and probably one of the major mandatory ingredients that are neglected by computer science so far. The reason is quite clear: it is not an analytic process, hence it is excluded from computer science almost by definition.

Throughout that cascade signals turn more and more into information as an interpreted difference. It is clear that there is not a single or identifiable point in this cascade to which one could assign the turn from “data” to “information”. The process of interpretation is, quite in contrast to idealistic pictures of the process of thinking, not a single step. The discretized waves that flow into the processing cascade are subject to many instances and very different kinds of modeling, throughout of which discrete pieces get separated and related to other pieces. The processing cascade thus is repeating a modular principle consisting from association and distribution.

This level we still could not label as “thinking”, albeit it is clearly some kind of a mental process. Yet, we could still regard it as something “mechanical”, even as we also find already class-like representations, intensions and proto-concepts. Thinking in its meaningful dimension, however, appears only through assigning sharable symbols. Thinking of something implicitly means that one could tell about the respective thoughts. It does not matter much whether these symbols are shared between different regions in the brain or between different bodily entities does not matter much. Hence, thinking and mental processes need to be clearly distinguished. Yet, assigning symbols, that is assigning a word, a specific sound first, and later, as a further step of externalization, a specific grapheme that reflects the specific sound, which in turn represents an abstract symbol, this process of assigning symbols is only possible through cultural means. Cats may recognize situations very well and react accordingly, they may even have a feeling that they have encountered that situation before, but cats can’t share they symbols, they can’t communicate the relational structure of a situation. Yet, cats and dogs already may take part in “behavior games”, and such games clearly has been found in baboons by Fernando Colmenares [24]. Colmenares adopted the concept of “games” precisely because the co-occurrence of obvious rules, high variability, and predictive values of actions and reactions of the individual animals. Such games unfold synchronic as well as diachronic, and across dynamically changing assignment of social roles. All of this is accompanied by specific sounds. Other instances of language-like externalization of symbols can presumably be found in grey parrots [25], green vervet monkey [26], bonobos, dolphins and Orcas.

But still… in animals those already rather specific symbols are not externalized by imprinting them into matter different from their own bodies. One of the most desirable capabilities for our endeavor here about machine-based episteme thus consists in just that externalization processes embedded in social contexts.

Now the important thing to understand is that this whole process from waves to words is not simply a one-way track. First, words do not exist as such, they just appear as discrete entities through usage. It is the usage of X that introduces irreversibility. In other words, the discreteness of words is a quality that is completely on the aposteriori side of thinking. Before their actual usage, their arrangement into sentences words “are” nothing else than probabilistic relations. It needs a purpose, a target oriented selection (call it “goal-directed modeling”) to let them appear as crisp entities.

The second issue is that a sentence is an empirical phenomenon, remarkably even to the authoring brain itself. The sentence needs interpretation, because it is never ever fully determinate. Interpretation, however, of such indeterminate instances like sentences renders the apparent crisp phenomenon of words back into waves. A further effect of interpretation of sentences as series of symbols is the construction of a virtual network. Texts, and in a very similar way, pieces of music, should not be conceived as series, as computer linguistics is treating them. Much more appropriately texts are conceived as networks, that even may exert there own (again virtual) associative power, which to some extent is independent from the hosting interpreter, as I have argued here [28].

Role of Words

All these characteristics of words, their purely aposteriori crispness, their indeterminacy as sub-sentential indicators of randolational networks, their quality as signs by which they only point to other signs, but never to “objects”, their double quality as constituent and result of the “naming game”, all these “properties” make it actually appear as highly unlikely and questionable whether language is about references at all. Additionally, we know that the concept of “direct” access to the mind or the brain is simply absurd. Everything we know about the world as individuals is due to modeling and interpretation. That of course concerns also the interpretation of cultural artifacts or culturally enabled externalization of symbols, for instance into the graphemes that we use to represent words.

It is of utmost importance to understand that the written or drawn grapheme is not the “word” itself. The concept of a “word-as-such” is highly inappropriate, if not bare nonsense.

So, if words, sentences and language at large are not about “direct” referencing of (quasi-) material objects, how then should we conceive of the process we call “language game”, or “naming game”? Note that we now can identify van Fraassen’s question about “how do words and concepts acquire their reference?” as a misunderstanding, deeply informed by positivism itself. It does not make sense to pose that question in this way at all. There is not first a word which then, in a secondary process gets some reference or meaning attached. Such a concept is almost absurd. Similarly, the distinction between syntax and semantics, once introduced by the positivist Morris in the late 1940ies, is to be regarded as much the same pseudo-problem, established just by the fundamental and elemental assumptions of positivism itself: linear additivity, metaphysical independence and lossless separability of parts of wholenesses. If you scatter everything into single pieces of empirical dust, you will never be able to make any proposition anymore about the relations you destroyed before. That’s the actual reason for the problem of positivistic science and its failure.

In contrast to that we tend to propose a radically different picture of language, one that of course has been existing in many preformed flavors. Since we can’t transfer anything directly into one’s other mind, the only thing we can do is to invite or trigger processes of interpretation. In the chapter about vagueness we called words  “processual indicative” for slightly different reasons. Language is a highly structured, institutionalized and symbolized “demonstrating”, an invitation to interpret. Richard Brandom investigated in great detail [29] the processes and the roles of speakers and listeners in that process of mutual invitation for interpretation. The mutuality allows a synchronization, a resonance and a more or less strong resemblance between pairs of speaker-listeners and listener-speakers.

The “naming game” and its derivative, the “word game” is embedded into a context of “language games”. Actually, word games and language games are not as related as it might appear prima facie, at least beyond their common characteristics that we may label “game”. This becomes apparent if we ask what happens with the “physical” representative of a single word that we throw into our mechanisms. If there is no sentential context, or likewise no social context like a chat, then a lot of quite different variants of possible continuations are triggered. Calling out “London” our colleague in chatting may continue with “Jack London”  (the writer), “Jack the Ripper”, Chelsea, London Tower, Buckingham, London Heathrow, London Soho, London Stock Exchange, etc. but also Paris, Vienna, Berlin, etc., choices being slightly dependent on our mood, the thoughts we had before etc. In other words, the word that we bring to the foreground as a crisp entity behaves like a seedling: it is the starting point of a potential garden or forest, it functions as the root of the unfolding of a potential story (as a co-weaving of a network of abstract relations). Just to bring in another metaphorical representation: Words are like the initial traces of firework rockets, or the traces of elementary particles in statu nascendi as they can be observed in a bubble chamber: they promise a rich texture of upcoming events.

Understanding (Images, Words, …)

We have seen that “words” gain shape only as a result of a particular game, the “naming game”, which is embedded into a “language game”. Before those games are played, “words” do not exist as a discrete, crisp entity, say as a symbol, or a string of letters. Would they, we could not think. Even more than the “language game” the “naming game” works mainly as an invitation or as an acknowledged trigger for more or less constrained interpretation.

Now there are those enlightened language games of “understanding” and “explaining”. Both of them work just as any other part of speech do: they promise something. The claim to understand something refers to the ability for a potential preparation of a series of triggers that one additionally claim to be able to arrange in such a way as to support the gaining of the respective insight in my chat partner. Slightly derived from that understanding also could mean to transfer the structure of the underlying or overarching problematics to other contexts. This ability for adaptive reframing of a problematic setting is thus always accompanied by a demonstrativum, that is, by some abstract image, either by actual pictorial information or its imagination, or by its activity. Such a demonstrativum could be located completely within language itself, of course, which however is probably quite rare.

Ambiguity

It is clear that language does not work as a way to express logical predicates. Trying to do so needs careful preparations. Language can’t be “cured” and “cleaned” from ambiguities, trying to do so would establish a categorical misunderstanding. Any “disambiguation” happens as a resonating resemblance of at least two participants in language-word-gaming, mutually interpreting each other until both believe that their interest and their feelings match. An actual, so to speak objective match is neither necessary nor possible. In other words, language does not exist in two different forms, one without ambiguity and without metaphors, and the other form full of them. Language without metaphorical dynamics is not a language at all.

The interpretation of empirical phenomena, whether outside of language or concerning language itself, is never fully determinable. Quine called the idea of the possibility of such a complete determination a myth and as the “dogma of empiricism” [30]. Thus, given this underdetermination, it does not make any sense to expect that language should be isomorphic to logical predicates or propositions. Language is basically an instance of impredicativity. Elsewhere we already met the self-referentiality of language (its strong singularity) as another reason for this. Instead, we should expect that this fundamental empirical underdetermination is reflected appropriately in the structure of language, namely as analogical thinking, or quite related to that, as metaphorical thinking.

Ambiguity is not a property of language or words, it is a result, or better, a property of the process of interpretation at some arbitrarily chosen point in time. And that process takes place synchronously within a single brain/mind as well as between two brains/minds. Language is just the mediating instance of that intercourse.

“Intelligence”

It is now possible to clarify the ominous concept of “intelligence”. We find the concept in the name of a whole discipline (“Artificial Intelligence”), and it is at work behind the scenes in areas dubbed as “machine learning”. Else, there is the hype about the so-called “collective intelligence”. These observations, and of course our own intentions make it necessary to deal briefly with it, albeit we think that it is a misleading and inappropriate idea.

First of all one has to understand that “intelligence” is an operationalization of a research question, allowing for a measurement, hence for a quantitative comparison. It is questionable whether the mental qualities can be made quantitatively measurable without reducing them seriously. For instance, the capacity for I/O operations related to a particular task surely can’t be equaled with “intelligence”, even if it could be a necessary condition.

It is just silly to search for “intelligence” in machines or beings, or to assign more or less intelligence to any kind of entity. Intelligence as such does not “exist” independently of a cultural setup, we can’t find it “out there”. Ontology is, as always, not only a bad trail, it directly leads into the abyss of nonsense. The research question, by the way, was induced by the intention to proof that black people and women are less intelligent than white males.

Yet, even if we take “intelligence” in an adapted and updated form as the capability for autonomous generalization, it is a bad concept, simply because it does not allow to pose further reasonable questions. This directly follows from its characteristics of being itself an operationalization. Investigating the operationalization hardly brings anything useful to light about the pretended subject of interest.

The concept of intelligence arose in a strongly positivistic climate, where the positivism has been practiced even in a completely unreflected manner. Hence, their inventors have not been aware of the effect of their operationalization. The concept of intelligence implies a strong functional embedding of the respective, measured entity. Yet, dealing with language undeniably has something to do with higher mental abilities, but language is a strictly non-functional phenomenon. It does not matter here that positivists still claim the opposite. And who would stand up claiming that a particular move, e.g. in planning a city, or dealing with the earth’s climate, is more smart than another? In other words, the other strong assumption of positivism, measurability and identifiability, also fails dramatically when it comes to human affairs. And everything on this earth is a human affair.

Intelligence is only determinable relative to a particular Lebensform. It is thus not possible to “compare the intelligence” across individuals living in different contexts. This renders the concept completely useless, finally.

Conclusions

The hypothesis I have been arguing for in this essay claims that the trinity of waves, words and images plays a significant role in the ability to deal with language and for the emergence of higher mental abilities. I proposed first that this trinity is irreducible and second that is responsible for this ability in the sense of a necessary and sufficient condition. In order to describe the practicing of that trinity, for instance with regard to possible implementations, I introduced the term of “synpresentation”. This concept draws the future track of how to deal with words and images as far as it concerns machine-based episteme.

In more direct terms, we conclude that without the capability to deal with “names”, “words” and language, the attempt to mapping higher mental capacities onto machines will not experience any progress. Once the machine will have arrived such a level, it will find itself exactly in the same position as we as humans do. This capability is definitely not sufficiently defined by “calculation power”; indeed, such an idea is ridiculous. Without embedding into appropriate social intercourse, without solving the question of representation (contemporary computer science and its technology do NOT solve it, of course), even a combined 1020000 flops will not cause the respective machine or network of machines25 “intelligent” in any way.

Words and proper names are re-formulated as a particular form of “games”, though not as “language games”, but on a more elementary level as “naming game”. I have tried to argue how the problematics of the reference could be thought of to disappear as a pseudo-problem on the basis of such a reformulation.

Finally, we found important relationships to earlier discussions of concepts like the making of analogies or vagueness. We basically agree on the stance that language can’t be clarified and that it is inappropriate (“free of sense”) to assign any kind of predicativity to language. Bluntly spoken, the application of logic is the mind, and nowhere else. Communicating about this application is not based on a language any more, and similarly, projecting logic onto language destroys language. The idea of a scientific language is empty as it is the idea of a generally applicable and understandable language. A language that is not inventive could not be called such.

Notes

1. If you read other articles in this blog you might think that there is a certain redundancy in the arguments and the targeted issues. This is not the case, of course. The perspectives are always a bit different; such I hope that by the repeated attempt “to draw the face” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, ) the problematics is rendered more accurately. “How can one learn the truth by thinking? As one learns to see a face better if one

draws it.” ( Zettel §255, [1])

2. In one of the shortest articles ever published in the field of philosophy, Edmund Gettier [2] demonstrated that it is deeply inappropriate to conceive of knowledge as “justified true belief”. Yet, in the field of machine learning so-called “belief revision” is precisely and still following this untenable position. See also our chapter about the role of logic.

3. Michel Foucault “Dits et Ecrits” I 846 (dt.1075)  [3] cited after Bernhard Waldenfels [4] p.125

4. we will see that the distinction or even separation of the “symbolic” and the “material” is neither that clear nor is it simple. Fomr the side of the machine, Felix Guattari argued in favor for a particular quality [5], the machinic, which is roughly something like a mechanism in human affairs. From the side of the symbolic there is clearly the work of Edwina Taborsky to cite, who extended and deepened the work of Charles S. Peirce in the field of semiotics,

5. particularly homo erectus and  homo sapiens spec.

6. Humans of the species homo sapiens sapiens.

7. For the time being we leave this ominous term “intelligence” untouched, but I also will warn you about its highly problematic state. We will resolve this issue till the end of that essay.

8. Heidegger developed the figure of the “Gestell” (cf. [7]), which serves multiple purposes. It is providing a storage capacity, it is a tool for sort of well-ordered/organized hiding and unhiding (“entbergen”), it provides a scaffold for sorting things in and out, and thus it is working as a complex constraint on technological progress. See also Peter Sloterdijk on this topic [8].

9. elementarization regarding Descartes

10. Homo floresiensis, also called “hobbit man”, who lived on Flores, Indonesia, 600’000y till approx. 3’000y ago. Homo floresiensis derived from homo erectus. 600’000 years ago they obviously built a boat to transfer to the islands across a sea gate with strong currents. The interesting issue is that this endeavor requires a stable social structure, division of labor, and thus also language. Homo floresiensis had a particular fore brain anatomy which is believed to provide the “intelligence” while the overall brain was relatively small as compared to ours.

11. Concerning the “the enigma of brain-mind interaction” Eccles was an avowed dualist [11]. Consequently he searched for the “interface” between the mind and the brain, in which he was deeply inspired by the 3-world concept of Karl Popper. The “dualist” position held that the mind exists at least partially independently from and somehow outside the brain. Irrespective his contributions to neuroscience on the cellular level, these ideas (of Eccles and Popper) are just wild nonsense.

12. The Philosophical Investigations are probably the most important contribution to philosophy in the 20th century. The are often mistaken as a foundational document for analytic philosophy of language. Nothing is more wrong as to take Wittgenstein as a founding father of analytic philosophy, however. Many of the positions that refer to Wittgenstein (e.g. Kripke) are just low-quality caricatures of his work.

13. Blair’s book is a must read for any computer scientist, despite some problems in its conceptualization of information.

14. Goldman [14] provides a paradigmatic examples how psychologists constantly miss the point of philosophy, up today. In an almost arrogant tone he claims: “First, let me clarify my treatment of justificational rules, logic, and psychology. The concept of justified or rational belief is a core item on the agenda of philosophical epistemology. It is often discussed in terms of “rules” or “principles” of justification, but these have normally been thought of as derivable from deductive and inductive logic, probability theory, or purely autonomous, armchair epistemology.”

Markie [15] demonstrated that everything in these claims is wrong or mistaken. Our point about it is that something like “justification” is not possible in principle, but particularly it is not possible from an empirical perspective. Goldman’s secretions to the foundations of his own work are utter nonsense (till today).

15. It is one of the rare (but important) flaws in Blair’s work that he assimilates the concept of “information retrieval” in an unreflected manner. Neither it is reasonable to assign an ontological quality to information (we can not say that information “exists”, as this would deny the primacy of interpretation) nor can we then say that information can be “retrieved”. See also our chapter about his issue. Despite his largely successful attempt to argue in favor of the importance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for computer science, Blair fails to recognize that ontology is not tenable at large, but particularly for issues around “information”. It is a language game, after all.

16 see Stanford Encyclopedia for a discussion of various positions.

17. In our investigation of models and their generalized form, we stressed the point that there are no apriori fixed “properties” of a measured (perceived) thing; instead we have to assign the criteria for measurement actively, hence we call these criteria assignates instead of “properties”, “features”, or “attributes”.

18. See our essay about logic.

20. See the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Quine. Quine in “Word and Object” gives the following example (abridged version here). Imagine, you discovered a formerly unknown tribe of friendly people. Nobody knows their language. You accompany one of them hunting. Suddenly a hare rushes along, crossing your way. The hunter immediately points to the hare, shouting “Gavagai!” What did he mean? Funny enough, this story happened in reality. British settlers in Australia wondered about those large animals hopping around. They asked the aborigines about the animal and its name. The answer was “cangaroo” – which means “I do not understand you” in their language.

21. This, of course, resembles to Bergson, who, in Matter and Memory [23], argued that any thinking and understanding takes place by means of primary image-like “representations”. As Leonard Lawlor (Henri Bergson@Stanford) summarizes, Bergson conceives of knowledge as “knowledge of things, in its pure state, takes place within the things it represents.” We would not describe out principle of associativity as it can be be realized by SOMs very differently…

22. the main difference between “intension” and “concept” is that the former still maintains a set of indices to raw observations of external entities, while the latter is completely devoid of such indices.

23. We conceived randolations as pre-specific relations; one may also think of them as probabilistic quasi-species that eventually may become discrete on behalf of some measurement. The intention for conceiving of randolations is given by the central drawback of relations: their double-binary nature presumes apriori measurability and identifiability, something that is not appropriate when dealing with language.

24. “raw” is indeed very relative, especially if we take culturally transformed or culturally enabled percepts into account;

25. There are mainly two aspects about that: (1) large parts of the internet is organized as a hierarchical network, not as an associative network; nowadays everybody should know that telephone network did not, do not and will not develop “intelligence”; (2) so-called Grid-computing is always organized as a linear, additive division of labor; such, it allows to run processes faster, but no qualitative change is achieved, as it can be observed for instance in the purely size-related contrast between a mouse and an elephant. Thus, taken (1) and (2) together, we may safely conclude that doing wrong things (=counting Cantoric dust) with a high speed will not produce anything capable for developing a capacity to understand anything.

References

  • [1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe.
  • [2] Edmund Gettier (1963), Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? Analysis 23: 121-123.
  • [3] Michel Foucault “Dits et Ecrits”, Vol I.
  • [4] Bernhard Waldenfels, Idiome des Denkens. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2005.
  • [5] Henning Schmidgen (ed.), Aesthetik und Maschinismus, Texte zu und von Felix Guattari. Merve, Berlin 1995.
  • [6] David Blair, Wittgenstein, Language and Information – Back to the Rough Ground! Springer Series on Information Science and Knowledge Management, Vol.10, New York 2006.
  • [7] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Harper, New York 1977.
  • [8] Peter Sloterdijk, Nicht-gerettet, Versuche nach Heidegger. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2001.
  • [9] Hermann Haken, Synergetik. Springer, Berlin New York 1982.
  • [10] R. Graham, A. Wunderlin (eds.): Lasers and Synergetics. Springer, Berlin New York 1987.
  • [11] John Eccles, The Understanding of the Brain. 1973.
  • [12] Douglas Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. Basic Books, New York 1996.
  • [13] Robert van Rooij, Vagueness, Tolerance and Non-Transitive Entailment. p.205-221 in: Petr Cintula, Christian G. Fermüller, Lluis Godo, Petr Hajek (eds.) Understanding Vagueness. Logical, Philosophical and Linguistic Perspectives. Vol.36 of Studies in Logic, College Publications, London 2011. book is avail online.
  • [14] Alvin I. Goldman (1988), On Epistemology and Cognition, a response to the review by S.W. Smoliar. Artificial Intelligence 34: 265-267.
  • [15] Peter J. Markie (1996). Goldman’s New Reliabilism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol.56, No.4, pp. 799-817
  • [16] Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity. 1972.
  • [17] Scott Soames, Beyond Rigidity: The Unfinished Semantic Agenda of Naming and Necessity. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.
  • [18] Scott Soames (2006), Précis of Beyond Rigidity. Philosophical Studies 128: 645–654.
  • [19] Michel Foucault, Les Hétérotopies – [Radio Feature 1966]. Youtube.
  • [20] Michel Foucault, Die Heterotopien. Der utopische Körper. Aus dem Französischen von Michael Bischoff, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2005.
  • [21] David Grahame Shane, Recombinant Urbanism – Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory. Wiley Academy Press, Chichester 2005.
  • [22] Willard van Orman Quine, Word and Object. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1960.
  • [23] Henri Louis Bergson, Matter and Memory. transl. Nancy M. Paul  & W. Scott Palmer, Martino Fine Books, Eastford  (CT) 2011 [1911].
  • [24] Fernando  Colmenares, Helena Rivero (1986).  A conceptual Model for Analysing Interactions in Baboons: A Preliminary Report. pp.63-80. in: Colgan PW, Zayan R (eds.), Quantitative models in ethology. Privat I.E, Toulouse.
  • [25] Irene Pepperberg (1998). Talking with Alex: Logic and speech in parrots. Scientific American. avail online. see also the Wiki entry about Alex.
  • [26] a. Robert Seyfarth, Dorothy Cheney, Peter Marler (1980). Monkey Responses to Three Different Alarm Calls: Evidence of Predator Classification and Semantic Communication. Science, Vol.210: 801-803.b. Dorothy L. Cheney, Robert M. Seyfarth (1982). How vervet monkeys perceive their grunts: Field playback experiments. Animal Behaviour 30(3): 739–751.
  • [27] Robert Seyfarth, Dorothy Cheney (1990). The assessment by vervet monkeys of their own and another species’ alarm calls. Animal Behaviour 40(4): 754–764.
  • [28] Klaus Wassermann (2010). Nodes, Streams and Symbionts: Working with the Associativity of Virtual Textures. The 6th European Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, Riga, 15-19 June, 2010. available online.
  • [29] Richard Brandom, Making it Explicit. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1998.
  • [30] Willard van Orman Quine (1951), Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Philosophical Review, 60: 20–43. available here

۞

Ideas and Machinic Platonism

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Once the cat had the idea to go on a journey…
You don’t believe me? Did not your cat have the same idea? Or is your doubt about my believe that cats can have ideas?

So, look at this individual here, who is climbing along the facade, outside the window…

(sorry for the spoken comment being available only in German language in the clip, but I am quite sure you got the point anyway…)

Cats definitely know about the height of their own position, and this one is climbing from flat to flat … outside, on the facade of the building, and in the 6th floor. Crazy, or cool, respectively, in its full meaning, this cat here, since it looks like she has been having a plan… (of course, anyone ever lived together with a cat knows very well that they can have plans… proudness like this one, and also remorse…)

Yet, how would your doubts look like, if I would say “Once the machine got the idea…” ? Probably you would stop talking or listening to me, turning away from this strange guy. Anyway, just that is the claim here, and hence I hope you keep reading.

We already discussed elsewhere1 that it is quite easy to derive a bunch of hypotheses about empirical data. Yet, deriving regularities or rules from empirical data does not make up an idea, or a concept. At most they could serve as kind of qualified precursors for the latter. Once the subject of interest has been identified, deriving hypotheses about it is almost something mechanical. Ideas and concepts as well are much more related to the invention of a problematics, as Deleuze has been working out again and again, without being that invention or problematics. To overlook (or to negate?) that difference between the problematic and the question is one of the main failures of logical empiricism, and probably even of today’s science.

The Topic

But what is it then, that would make up an idea, or a concept? Douglas Hofstadter once wrote [1] that we are lacking a concept of concept. Since then, a discipline emerged that calls itself “formal concept analysis”. So, actually some people indeed do think that concepts could be analyzed formally. We will see that the issues about the relation between concepts and form are quite important. We already met some aspects of that relationship in the chapters about formalization and creativity. And we definitely think that formalization expels anything interesting from that what probably had been a concept before that formalization. Of course, formalization is an important part in thinking, yet it is importance is restricted before it there are concepts or after we have reduced them into a fixed set of finite rules.

Ideas

Ideas are almost annoying, I mean, as a philosophical concept, and they have been so since the first clear expressions of philosophy. From the very beginning there was a quarrel not only about “where they come from,” but also about their role with respect to knowledge, today expressed as . Very early on in philosophy two seemingly juxtaposed positions emerged, represented by the philosophical approaches of Platon and Aristotle. The former claimed that ideas are before perception, while for the latter ideas clearly have been assigned the status of something derived, secondary. Yet, recent research emphasized the possibility that the contrast between them is not as strong as it has been proposed for more than 2000 years. There is an eminent empiric pillar in Platon’s philosophical building [2].

We certainly will not delve into this discussion here, it simply would take too much space and efforts, and not to the least there are enough sources in the web displaying the traditional positions in great detail. Throughout history since Aristotle, many and rather divergent flavors of idealism emerged. Whatever the exact distinctive claim of any of those positions is, they all share the belief in the dominance into some top-down principle as essential part of the conditions for the possibility of knowledge, or more general the episteme. Some philosophers like Hegel or Frege, just as others nowadays being perceived as members of German Idealism took rather radical positions. Frege’s hyper-platonism, probably the most extreme idealistic position (but not exceeding Hegel’s “great spirit” that far) indeed claimed that something like a triangle exists, and quite literally so, albeit in a non-substantial manner, completely independent from any, e.g. human, thought.

Let us fix this main property of the claim of a top-down principle as characteristic for any flavor of idealism. The decisive question then is how could we think the becoming of ideas.It is clearly one of the weaknesses of idealistic positions that they induce a salient vulnerability regarding the issue of justification. As a philosophical structure, idealism mixes content with value in the structural domain, consequently and quite directly leading to a certain kind of blind spot: political power is justified by the right idea. The factual consequences have been disastrous throughout history.

So, there are several alternatives to think about this becoming. But even before we consider any alternative, it should be clear that something like “becoming” and “idealism” is barely compatible. Maybe, a very soft idealism, one that already turned into pragmatism, much in the vein of Charles S. Peirce, could allow to think process and ideas together. Hegel’s position, or as well Schelling’s, Fichte’s, Marx’s or Frege’s definitely exclude any such rapprochement or convergence.

The becoming of ideas could not thought as something that is flowing down from even greater transcendental heights. Of course, anybody may choose to invoke some kind of divinity here, but obviously that does not help much. A solution according to Hegel’s great spirit, history itself, is not helpful either, even as this concept implied that there is something in and about the community that is indispensable when it comes to thinking. Much later, Wittgenstein took a related route and thereby initiated the momentum towards the linguistic turn. Yet, Hegel’s history is not useful to get clear about the becoming of ideas regarding the involved mechanism. And without such mechanisms anything like machine-based episteme, or cats having ideas, is accepted as being impossible apriori.

One such mechanism is interpretation. For us the principle of the primacy of interpretation is definitely indisputable. This does not mean that we disregard the concept of the idea, yet, we clearly take an Aristotelian position. More á jour, we could say that we are quite fond of Deleuze’s position on relating empiric impressions, affects, and thought. There are, of course many supporters in the period of time that span between Aristotle and Deleuze who are quite influential for our position.2
Yet, somehow it culminated all in the approach that has been labelled French philosophy, and which for us comprises mainly Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, with some predecessors like Georges Simondon. They converged towards a position that allow to think the embedding of ideas in the world as a process, or as an ongoing event [3,4], and this embedding is based on empiric affects.

So far, so good. Yet, we only declared the kind of raft we will build to sail with. We didn’t mention anything about how to build this raft or how to sail it. Before we can start to constructively discuss the relation between machines and ideas we first have to visit the concept, both as an issue and as a concept.

Concepts

“Concept” is very special concept. First, it is not externalizable, which is why we call it a strongly singular term. Whenever one thinks “concept,” there is already something like concept. For most of the other terms in our languages, such as idea, that does not hold. Such, and regarding the structural dynamics of its usage,”concept” behave similar to “language” or “formalization.”

Additionally, however, “concept” is not self-containing term like language. One needs not only symbols, one even needs a combination of categories and structured expression, there are also Peircean signs involved, and last but not least concepts relate to models, even as models are also quite apart from it. Ideas do not relate in the same way to models as concepts do.

Let us, for instance take the concept of time. There is this abundantly cited quote by  Augustine [5], a passage where he tries to explain the status of God as the creator of time, hence the fundamental incomprehensibility of God, and even of his creations (such as time) [my emphasis]:

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time.

I certainly don’t want to speculate about “time” (or God) here, instead I would like to focus this peculiarity Augustine is talking about. Many, and probably even Augustine himself, confine this peculiarity to time (and space). I think, however, this peculiarity applies to any concept.

By means of this example we can quite clearly experience the difference between ideas and concepts. Ideas are some kind of models—we will return that in the next section—, while concepts are the both the condition for models and being conditioned by models. The concept of time provides the condition for calendars, which in turn can be conceived as a possible condition for the operationalization of expectability.

“Concepts” as well as “models” do not exist as “pure” forms. We elicit a strange and eminently counter-intuitive force when trying to “think” pure concept or models. The stronger we try, the more we imply their “opposite”, which in case of concepts presumably is the embedding potentiality of mechanisms, and in case of models we could say it is simply belief. We will discuss the issue of these relation in much more detail in the chapter about the choreosteme (forthcoming). Actually, we think that it is appropriate to conceive of terms like “concept” and “model” as choreostemic singular terms, or short choreostemic singularities.

Even from an ontological perspective we could not claim that there “is” such a thing like a “concept”. Well, you may already know that we refute any ontological approach anyway. Yet, in case of choreostemic singular terms like “concept” we can’t simply resort to our beloved language game. With respect to language, the choreosteme takes the role of an apriori, something like the the sum of all conditions.

Since we would need a full discussion of the concept of the choreosteme we can’t fully discuss the concept of “concept” here.  Yet, as kind of a summary we may propose that the important point about concepts is that it is nothing that could exist. It does not exist as matter, as information, as substance nor as form.

The language game of “concept” simply points into the direction of that non-existence. Concepts are not a “thing” that we could analyze, and also nothing that we could relate to by means of an identifiable relation (as e.g. in a graph). Concepts are best taken as gradient field in a choreostemic space, yet, one exhibiting a quite unusual structure and topology. So far, we identified two (of a total of four) singularities that together spawn the choreostemic space. We also could say that the language game of “concept” is used to indicate a certain form of a drift in the choreostemic space. (Later we also will discuss the topology of that space, among many other issues.)

For our concerns here in this chapter, the machine-based episteme, we can conclude that it would be a misguided approach to try to implement concepts (or their formal analysis). The issue of the conditions for the ability to move around in the choreostemic space we have to postpone. In other words, we have confined our task, or at least, we found a suitable entry  point for our task, the investigation of the relation between machines and ideas.

Machines and Ideas

When talking about machines and ideas we are, here and for the time being, not interested in the usage of machines to support “having” ideas. We are not interested in such tooling for now. The question is about the mechanism inside the machine that would lead to the emergence of ideas.

Think about the idea of a triangle. Certainly, triangles as we imagine them do not belong to the material world. Any possible factual representation is imperfect, as compared with the idea. Yet, without the idea (of the triangle) we wouldn’t be able to proceed, as, for instance, towards land survey. As already said, ideas serve as models, they do not involve formalization, they often live as formalization (though not always a mathematical one) in the sense of an idealized model, in other words they serve as ladder spokes for actions. Concepts, if we in contrast them to ideas, that is, if we try to distinguish them, never could be formalized, they remain inaccessible as condition. Nothing else could be expected  from a transcendental singularity.

Back to our triangle. Despite we can’t represent them perfectly, seeing a lot of imperfect triangles gives rise to the idea of the triangle. Rephrased in this way, we may recognize that the first half of the task is to look for a process that would provide an idealization (of a model), starting from empirical impressions. The second half of the task is to get the idea working as a kind of template, yet not as a template. Such an abstract pattern is detached from any direct empirical relation, despite the fact that once we started with with empiric data.

Table 1: The two tasks in realizing “machinic idealism”

Task 1: process of idealization that starts with an intensional description
Task 2: applying the idealization for first-of-a-kind-encounters

Here we should note that culture is almost defined by the fact that it provides such ideas before any individual person’s possibility to collect enough experience for deriving them on her own.

In order to approach these tasks, we need first model systems that exhibit the desired behavior, but which also are simple enough to comprehend. Let us first deal with the first half of the task.

Task 1: The Process of Idealization

We already mentioned that we need to start from empirical impressions. These can be provided by the Self-organizing Map (SOM), as it is able to abstract from the list of observations (the extensions), thereby building an intensional representation of the data. In other words, the SOM is able to create “representative” classes. Of course, these representations are dependent on some parameters, but that’s not the important point here.

Once we have those intensions available, we may ask how to proceed in order to arrive at something that we could call an idea. Our proposal for an appropriate model system consists from the following parts:

  • (1) A small set (n=4) of profiles, which consist of 3 properties; the form of the profiles is set apriori such that they overlap partially;
  • (2) a small SOM, here with 12×12=144 nodes; the SOM needs to be trainable and also should provide classification service, i.e. acting as a model
  • (3) a simple Monte-Carlo-simulation device, that is able to create randomly varied profiles that deviate from the original ones without departing too much;
  • (4) A measurement process that is recording the (simulated) data flow

The profiles are defined as shown in the following table (V denotes variables, C denotes categories, or classes):

V1 V2 V3
C1 0.1 0.4 0.6
C2 0.8 0.4 0.6
C3 0.3 0.1 0.4
C4 0.2 0.2 0.8

From these parts we then build a cyclic process, which comprises the following steps.

  • (0) Organize some empirical measurement for training the SOM; in our model system, however, we use the original profiles and create an artificial body of “original” data, in order to be able to detect the relevant phenomenon (we have perfect knowledge about the measurement);
  • (1) Train the SOM;
  • (2) Check the intensional descriptions for their implied risk (should be minimal, i.e. beyond some threshold) and extract them as profiles;
  • (3) Use these profiles to create a bunch of simulated (artificial) data;
  • (4) Take the profile definitions and simulate enough records to train the SOM,

Thus, we have two counteracting forces, (1) a dispersion due to the randomizing simulation, and (2) the focusing of the SOM due to the filtering along the separability, in our case operationalized as risk (1/ppv=positive predictive value) per node. Note that the SOM process is not a directly re-entrant process as for instance Elman networks [6,7,8].3

This process leads not only to a focusing contrast-enhancement but also to (a limited version) of inventing new intensional descriptions that never have been present in the empiric measurement, at least not salient enough to show up as an intension.

The following figure 1a-1i shows 9 snapshots from the evolution of such a system, it starts top-left of the portfolio, then proceeds row-wise from left to right down to the bottom-right item. Each of the 9 items displays a SOM, where the RGB-color corresponds to the three variables V1, V2, V3. A particular color thus represents a particular profile on the level of the intension. Remember, that the intensions are built from the field-wise average across all the extensions collected by a particular node.

Well, let us now contemplate a bit about the sequence of these panels, which represents the evolution of the system. The first point is that there is no particular locational stability. Of course, not, I am tempted to say, since a SOM is not an image that represents as image. A SOM contains intensions and abstractions, the only issue that counts is its predictive power.

Now, comparing the colors between the first and the second, we see that the green (top-right in 1a, middle-left in 1b) and the brownish (top-left in 1a, middle-right in 1b) appear much more clear in 1b as compared to 1a. In 1a, the green obviously was “contaminated” by blue, and actually by all other values as well, leading to its brightness. This tendency prevails. In 1c and 1d yellowish colors are separated, etc.

Figure 1a thru 1i: A simple SOM in a re-entrant Markov process develops idealization. Time index proceeds from top-left to bottom-right.

The point now is that the intensions contained in the last SOM (1i, bottom-right of the portfolio) have not been recognizable in the beginning, in some important respect they have not been present. Our SOM steadily drifted away from its empirical roots. That’s not a big surprise, indeed, for we used a randomization process. The nice thing is something different: the intensions get “purified”, changing thereby their status from “intensions” to “ideas”.

Now imagine that the variables V1..Vn represent properties of geometric primitives. Our sensory apparatus is able to perceive and to encode them: horizontal lines, vertical lines, crossings, etc. In empiric data our visual apparatus may find any combination of those properties, especially in case of a (platonic) school (say: academia) where the pupils and the teachers draw triangles over triangles into the wax tablets, or into the sand of the pathways in the garden…

By now, the message should be quite clear: there is nothing special about ideas. In abstract terms, what is needed is

  • (1) a SOM-like structure;
  • (2) a self-directed simulation process;
  • (3) re-entrant modeling

Notice that we need not to specify a target variable. The associative process itself is just sufficient.

Given this model it should not surprise anymore why the first philosophers came up with idealism. It is almost built into the nature of the brain. We may summarize our achievements in the following characterization;

Ideas can be conceived as idealizations of intensional descriptions.

It is of course important to be aware of the status of such a “definition”. First, we tried to separate concepts and ideas. Most of the literature about ideas conflate them.Yet, as long as they are conflated, everything and any reasoning about mental affairs, cognition, thinking and knowledge necessarily remains inappropriate. For instance, the infamous discourse about universals and qualia seriously suffered from that conflation, or more precisely, they only arose due to that mess.

Second, our lemma is just an operationalization, despite the fact that we are quite convinced about its reasonability. Yet, there might be different ones.

Our proposal has important benefits though, as it matches a lot of the aspects commonly associated the the term “idea.” In my opinion, what is especially striking about the proposed model is the observation that idealization implicitly also led to the “invention” of “intensions” that were not present in the empiric data. Who would have been expecting that idealization is implicitly inventive?

Finally, two small notes should be added concerning the type of data and the relationship between the “idea” as a continuously intermediate result of the re-entrant SOM process. One should be aware that the “normal” input to natural associative systems are time series. Our brain is dealing with a manifold of series of events, which is mapped onto the internal processes, that is, onto another time-based structure. Prima facie Our brain is not dealing with tables. Yet, (virtual) tabular structures are implied by the process of propertization, which is an inevitable component of any kind of modeling. It is well-known that is is time-series data and their modeling that give rise to the impression of causality. In the light of ideas qua re-entrant associativity, we now can easily understand the transition from networks of potential causal influences to the claim of “causality” as some kind of a pure concept. Despite the idea of causality (in the Newtonian sense) played an important role in the history of science, it is just that: a naive idealization.

The other note concerns the source of the data.  If we consider re-entrant informational structures that are arranged across large “distances”, possibly with several intermediate transformative complexes (for which there are hints from neurobiology) we may understand that for a particular SOM (or SOM-like structure) the type of the source is completely opaque. To put it short, it does not matter for our proposed mechanism whether the data are sourced as empiric data from the external world,or as some kind of simulated, surrogated re-entrant data from within the system itself. In such wide-area, informationally re-entrant probabilistic networks we may expect kind of a runaway idealization. The question then is about the minimal size necessary for eliciting that effect. A nice corollary of this result is the insight that logistic networks, such like the internet or the telephone wiring cable NEVER will start to think on itself, as some still expect. Yet, since there a lot of brains as intermediate transforming entities embedded in this deterministic cablework, we indeed may expect that the whole assembly is much more than could be achieved by a small group of humans living, say around 1983. But that is not really a surprise.

Task 2: Ideas, applied

Ideas are an extremely important structural phenomenon, because they allow to recognize things and to deal with tasks that we never have seen before. We may act adaptively before having encountered a situation that would directly resemble—as equivalence class—any intensional description available so far.

Actually, it is not just one idea, it is a “system” of ideas that is needed for that. Some years ago, Douglas Hofstadter and his group3 devised a model system suitable for demonstrating exactly this: the application of ideas. They called the project (and the model system) Copycat.

We won’t discuss Copycat and analogy-making rules by top-down ideas here (we already introduced it elsewhere). We just want to note that the central “platonic” concept in Copycat is a dynamic relational system of symmetry relations. Such symmetry relations are for instance “before”, “after”, or “builds a group”, “is a triple”, etc. Such kind of relations represent different levels of abstractions, but that’s not important. Much more important is the fact that the relations between these symmetry relations are dynamic and will adapt according to the situation at hand.

I think that these symmetry relations as conceived by the Fargonauts are on the same level as our ideas. The transition from ideas to symmetries is just a grammatological move.

The case of Biological Neural Systems

Re-entrance seems to be an important property of natural neural networks. Very early on in the liaison of neurobiology and computer science, starting with Hebb and Hopfield in the beginning of the 1940ies, recurrent networks have been attractive for researchers. If we take a look to drawings like the following, created (!) by Ramon y Cajal [10] in the beginning of the 20th century.

Figure 2a-2c: Drawings by Ramon y Cajal, the Spain neurobiologist. See also:  History of Neuroscience. a: from a Sparrow’s brain, b: motor brain in human brain, c: Hypothalamus in human brain

Yet, Hebb, Hopfield and Elman got trapped by the (necessary) idealization of Cajal’s drawings. Cajal’s interest was to establish and to proof the “neuron hypothesis”, i.e. that brains work on the basis of neurons. From Cajal’s drawings to the claim that biological neuronal structures could be represented by cybernetic systems or finite state machines is, honestly, a breakneck, or, likewise, ideology.

Figure 3: Structure of an Elman Network; obviously, Elman was seriously affected by idealization (click for higher resolution).

Thus, we propose to distinguish between re-entrant and recurrent networks. While the latter are directly wired onto themselves in a deterministic manner, that is the self-reference is modeled on the morphological level, the former are modeled on the  informational level. Since it is simply impossible for cybernetic structure to reflect neuromorphological plasticity and change, the informational approach is much more appropriate for modeling large assemblies of individual “neuronal” items (cf. [11]).

Nevertheless, the principle of re-entrance remains a very important one. It is a structure that is known to lead to contrast enhancement and to second-order memory effects. It is also a cornerstone in the theory (theories) proposed by Gerald Edelman, who probably is much less affected by cybernetics (e.g. [12]) than the authors cited above. Edelman always conceived the brain-mind as something like an abstract informational population; he even was the first adopting evolutionary selection processes (Darwinian and others) to describe the dynamics in the brain-mind.

Conclusion: Machines and Choreostemic Drift

Out point of departure was to distinguish between ideas and concepts. Their difference becomes visible if we compare them, for instance, with regard to their relation to (abstract) models. It turns out that ideas can be conceived as a more or less stable immaterial entity (though not  “state”) of self-referential processes involving self-organizing maps and the simulated surrogates of intensional descriptions. Concepts on the other hand are described as a transcendental vector in choreostemic processes. Consequently, we may propose only for ideas that we can implement their conditions and mechanisms, while concepts can’t be implemented. It is beyond the expressibility of any technique to talk about the conditions for their actualization. Hence, the issue of “concept” has been postponed to a forthcoming chapter.

Ideas can be conceived as the effect of putting a SOM into a reentrant context, through which the SOM develops a system of categories beyond simple intensions. These categories are not justified by empirical references any more, at least not in the strong sense. Hence, ideas can be also characterized as being clearly distinct from models or schemata. Both, models and schemata involve classification, which—due to the dissolved bonds to empiric data—can not be regarded a sufficient component for ideas. We would like to suggest the intended mechanism as the candidate principle for the development ideas. We think that the simulated data in the re-entrant SOM process should be distinguished from data in contexts that are characterized by measurement of “external” objects, albeit their digestion by the SOM mechanism itself remains the same.

From what has been said it is also clear that the capability of deriving ideas alone is still quite close to the material arrangements of a body, whether thought as biological wetware or as software. Therefore, we still didn’t reach a state where we can talk about epistemic affairs. What we need is the possibility of expressing the abstract conditions of the episteme.

Of course, what we have compiled here exceeds by far any other approach, and additionally we think that it could serve as as a natural complement to the work of Douglas Hofstadter. In his work, Hofstadter had to implement the platonic heavens of his machine manually, and even for the small domain he’d chosen it has been a tedious work. Here we proposed the possibility for a seamless transition from the world of associative mechanisms like the SOM to the world of platonic Copy-Cats, and “seamless” here refers to “implementable”.

Yet, what is really interesting is the form of choreostemic movement or drift, resulting from a particular configuration of the dynamics in systems of ideas. But this is another story, perhaps related to Felix Guattari’s principle of the “machinic”, and it definitely can’t be implemented any more.

.
Notes

1. we did so in the recent chapter about data and their transformation, but also see the section “Overall Organization” in Technical Aspects of Modeling.

2. You really should be aware that this trace we try to put forward here does not come close to even a coarse outline of all of the relevant issues.

3. they called themselves the “Fargonauts”, from FARG being the acronym for “Fluid Analogy Research Group”.

4. Elman networks are an attempt to simulate neuronal networks on the level of neurons. Such approaches we rate as fundamentally misguided, deeply inspired by cybernetics [9], because they consider noise as disturbance. Actually, they are equivalent to finite state machines. It is somewhat ridiculous to consider a finite state machine as model for learning “networks”. SOM, in contrast, especially if used in architectures like ours, are fundamentally probabilistic structures that could be regarded as “feeding on noise.” Elman networks, and their predecessor, the Hopfield network are not quite useful, due to problems in scalability and, more important, also in stability.

  • [1] Douglas Hofstadter, Douglas R. Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. Basic Books, New York 1996.  p.365
  • [2] Gernot Böhme, “Platon der Empiriker.” in: Gernot Böhme, Dieter Mersch, Gregor Schiemann (eds.), Platon im nachmetaphysischen Zeitalter. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006.
  • [3] Marc Rölli (ed.), Ereignis auf Französisch: Von Bergson bis Deleuze. Fin, Frankfurt 2004.
  • [4] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. 1967
  • [5] Augustine, Confessions, Book 11 CHAP. XIV.
  • [6] Mandic, D. & Chambers, J. (2001). Recurrent Neural Networks for Prediction: Learning Algorithms, Architectures and Stability. Wiley.
  • [7] J.L. Elman, (1990). Finding Structure in Time. Cognitive Science 14 (2): 179–211.
  • [8] Raul Rojas, Neural Networks: A Systematic Introduction. Springer, Berlin 1996. (@google books)
  • [9] Holk Cruse, Neural Networks As Cybernetic Systems: Science Briefings, 3rd edition. Thieme, Stuttgart 2007.
  • [10] Santiago R.y Cajal, Texture of the Nervous System of Man and the Vertebrates: Volume I: 1, Springer, Wien 1999, edited and translated by Pedro Pasik & Tauba Pasik. see google books
  • [11] Florence Levy, Peter R. Krebs (2006), Cortical-Subcortical Re-Entrant Circuits and Recurrent Behaviour. Aust N Z J Psychiatry September 2006 vol. 40 no. 9 752-758.
    doi: 10.1080/j.1440-1614.2006.01879
  • [12] Gerald Edelman: “From Brain Dynamics to Consciousness: A Prelude to the Future of Brain-Based Devices“, Video, IBM Lecture on Cognitive Computing, June 2006.

۞

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with philosophy at The "Putnam Program".