[Humanist] 26.131 aesthetic computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jul 6 22:08:02 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 131.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (55)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.128 aesthetic computing

  [2]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (69)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.128 aesthetic computing


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2012 17:12:29 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.128 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120705210018.0583A284765 at woodward.joyent.us>


Kantian aesthetics doesn't view the aesthetic effect created by an object
as internal to the object itself: that would be foreign to all of Kant's
thought.  It begins with the assumption of a purely subjective experience
of an aesthetic object and then complicates that assumption with everyday
ideas about and feelings about aesthetic objects.  So he would not say that
an object is "beautiful" on the basis of "objective universal" standards,
but that we perceive objects as beautiful because of a "subjective
universal" experience of aesthetic objects.

If there wasn't some universality (though I don't think "universality" is
the best word) among aesthetic experiences, then we could not speak
meaningfully to anyone about our experiences of aesthetic objects, which is
a counterintuitive assumption.  We do that all of the time.  The question
is how such communication is possible.

What's the difference between code that is written and code that is built?

Jim R

> And, this point brings me to another distinction that I’d like to venture:
> a difference between the philosophy of aesthetics and the sociology of
> aesthetics (the latter of which sees aesthetics as located in the
> interaction with an object, and not purely internal to the object itself).
>
> This takes me to Jim’s concluding observation (26.108) that Daniel’s
> distinction of different ways of thinking about aesthetic computing all
> nevertheless come down to “writing code”…if even “writing code for the sake
> of writing code”. I’m struck, here, by the emphasis on “writing”. Could we
> “build code” instead? Could aesthetic computing give us new analogies for
> thinking about code creation and interventions? If writing narrative can go
> hypertext, could code also be non-linear? (NB: these are questions from a
> non-programmer!)
>
> Best to all,
> Sophia

-- 
James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Program Chair of Graduate Humanities
*http://tinyurl.com/tumhum*
Tiffin University
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
http://www.wix.com/jamesrovira/portfolio



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 05 Jul 2012 18:05:50 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.128 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120705210018.0583A284765 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

I've hesitated until now to contribute anything to this fascinating
thread because ... it is so fascinating. But it seems like a good place 
to jump in.

On 7/5/2012 5:00 PM, Sophia wrote:
> This takes me to Jim’s concluding observation (26.108) that Daniel’s
> distinction of different ways of thinking about aesthetic computing
> all nevertheless come down to “writing code”…if even “writing code
> for the sake of writing code”. I’m struck, here, by the emphasis on
> “writing”. Could we “build code” instead? Could aesthetic computing
> give us new analogies for thinking about code creation and
> interventions? If writing narrative can go hypertext, could code also
> be non-linear? (NB: these are questions from a non-programmer!)

Of course those who know some programming will appreciate that much code 
already is non-linear, at least in languages in which the control flow 
of the program does not correspond to the order of instructions given. 
(And even some in which it largely does, at least insofar as they 
support function definitions, subroutines etc.)

Sort of like lyrics to a song with a refrain, in which the refrain is 
not written out on the page every time, but included by reference. 
(Except our songs have many refrains, each of which might be called at 
any time.)

Plus, there are indeed languages that one programs ("writes in") by 
manipulating non-linguistic symbols such as icons in a graphic display.

But what Sophia's remark importantly reveals is that our analogies are 
constitutive, and may hide how we're not necessarily talking about the 
same thing at all when we talk about aesthetics. Maybe we can agree 
where we are starting -- questions regarding what's beautiful and 
regarding aspects of beauty such as elegance, surprise, clarity, pattern 
-- some of which might play against each other, therefore making for 
different kinds of beauty in their variations and combinations. But then 
take us into the topic -- are we talking about the beauty of an 
algorithm or its expression, or beauty in the aspects of code such as 
variable or function names that get compiled away (they are seen, 
importantly, by the coders but not "seen" by the machine, which is 
blind), or beauty in the computer language itself, or beauty in what it 
does or what it makes...? All of the above, I think.

Add to this that this now takes place, typically, in the midst of a 
welter and confusion of extraneous noise (what kind of widgets do you 
have running on your desktop?), none of which ought to matter but all of 
which does, to the perceiving subject, and it all becomes more than we 
can encompass in a simple formula. If there were a formula for beauty, 
wouldn't we have found it? But beauty is not in formula -- though it may 
sometimes be in a guarded, tentative, incidental and momentary 
*relation* to formula or a formula. Order on the edge of chaos. Beauty 
is enchanted by order, which betrays it.

Early in the thread Jim R suggested we would have to learn to talk in 
code before we could generalize about an aesthetics of code. But we talk 
in code all the time, as you know if you've ever listened to a doctor or 
lawyer or musician or long-distance trucker at work.

Just as Jim suggested, this is actually revealing. Every code has its 
own aesthetics (what's your 20, driver?), and those aesthetics become 
the context for another aesthetics of variation (I'm northbound just 
past the 90-mile yardstick). It isn't just about communication and 
beauty, as if these were two separate things. It's about the 
communication of beauty and the beauty of communication. A code doesn't 
just have an aesthetic: it is an aesthetic.

Regards,
Wendell

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