[Humanist] 26.77 aesthetic computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jun 10 22:24:37 CEST 2012


                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 77.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Daniel Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>                 (16)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.70 aesthetic computing

  [2]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (76)
        Subject: Re: aesthetic computing


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 9 Jun 2012 22:37:01 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.70 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120609204605.E765C370A2 at woodward.joyent.us>


>        Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2012 16:24:33 -0400
>        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.68 aesthetic computing
>        In-Reply-To: <20120607200824.C348F283DEF at woodward.joyent.us>

> If it's not about the coding but about the final
> form of the products of coding, doesn't that return us to the traditional
> domain of aesthetics -- literary and artistic products, even if they only
> exist digitally?
> 
> Jim R
> 

I think that's a fairly fundamental question, in that it highlights the importance of the audience. The audience that consists of non-programmers must indeed return to questions about the product; however, the audience that consists of programmers evidently finds the aesthetics of code itself to be enormously important. It seems to me that one drawback of the 'digital humanities' (as opposed, perhaps, to 'humanities computing') is that it perpetuates this situation by tending to treat programmers precisely as they are treated in industry: that is, as clever solution-providers who construct a valued final product through arcane means that nobody else is really expected to understand. I don't know enough about aesthetic computing as a movement to be able to speculate as to whether it will challenge this state of affairs.

Daniel

-- 
The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 9 Jun 2012 20:23:33 -0400
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120609204605.E765C370A2 at woodward.joyent.us>


Jim R makes good points, and this leads to some additional
questions about the humanities and aesthetics:

.........Jim R............
I don't think the idea of aesthetic computing is too far out there.  While
aesthetics broadly defined seems vague and ambiguous, this field of study
is capable of generating specific principles for the evaluation of beauty,
ugliness, or for helping us understand how an artistic product generates an
emotional effect.  These principles don't have to be universally held, just
coherent within a specific context.

However, since code is always going to be a combination of words, numbers,
and special characters, I'm not sure that aesthetic computing could ever be
distinguished from literary or humanities computing: I think it is the way
that literary or humanities computing would be understood.

..........Paul F...........

Code is not always going to be such a combination. If you look at the
encyclopedia chapter, you will see "code" that is represented as
analog machinery. We also have visual languages such as PureData,
MAX/MSP which do not use writing at least at the higher levels of
abstraction.

Does "humanities computing" imply writing? Or can it suggest non-written
products? And if it does imply writing, is there is a reason why writing and
building are made separate? I realize that they are typically in the
academy, but if we are to cross disciplines, perhaps we should
cross more seamlessly between writing and non-writing. This thought
may be reflected by the "build vs. write" debate that occupies some of
the digital humanities books.

..........Jim R..............

The idea of an aesthetic computing is very interesting to me, but I'm
wondering how the scholars working in this field answer some obvious
questions:

[I have inserted numbers to make an enumerated list -pf]

if we're applying aesthetic principles to coding beyond
symmetry, simplicity, and invariance,

[1] what form would these take and what
difference would they make?

[2] Why does it matter if coding is pretty beyond
these three principles?

[3]  If it's not about the coding but about the final
form of the products of coding, doesn't that return us to the traditional
domain of aesthetics -- literary and artistic products, even if they only
exist digitally?

............Paul F...............

These are really good questions. Some answers (and questions) here:

[1] There is a reasonable body of knowledge to suggest that sense of
presence (as one measurable quantity) improves memory (as compared
with non-immersive products such as those that are based on
writing). However, the relative benefits among media are not well
understood. What is the difference between watching Harry Potter on
video, playing the Harry Potter game, playing with action figures,
watching a play based on Harry Potter, looking at photos, etc. All media
have different effects. Some of the research in embodied cognition,
suggests that when we "read", we are performing simulation. Perhaps,
this is a bridge connecting writing and building?

[2] What does it matter if we read Hamlet or watch the play? I believe
the assumption in your question seems to be that anything that is
not written is superfluous (i.e. the use of "pretty" as a pejorative
phrase)? Also the principles you mention are a small
subset of aesthetics. One of the points in aesthetic computing is that
we need to move beyond characterizing code, program, data (etc) in
terms of a small subset of aesthetics (symmetry, invariance,....). Why
should code be any different than communication in the arts and
humanities which have resulted in a great variety of media products
and forms? One possible observation is that writing is common in
coding and programming purely for economic reasons: it's cheap.
As we progress to newer, cheaper interfaces, the issues of economy
will change--it will be just as easy to snap your fingers and create
real or virtual objects. We are not there yet, but all of our technologies
are moving us in that direction---to where this sort of building will become
as cheap as writing.

[3] I am not sure there is a difference between the act of coding and
the final form. The fellow who built an ALU in Minecraft was coding
in Minecraft - no writing required.

Jim: I may not have understood some of your points, so please bear
with me and clarify where possible so we can continue the dialogue.

.......................

Jim R





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