[Humanist] 29.759 analogical; ontological

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Mar 8 12:08:12 CET 2016


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 759.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2016 09:26:58 +0100
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.748 analogical; ontological
        In-Reply-To: <20160228081731.2E3E4D15 at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Catherine and Øyvind,

Thank you both for your friendly questioning.

In attempting to reply to you both, I'll start from your 
questions, Øyvind. 

First, by saying I think English is best regarded as a foreign
language for everybody, so called "native speakers"
especially.

More specifically, yes, I do want to mean the same thing by 
represent in

  "A photograph can never represent reality."

and representation in

  "You must never let your representations get between you and
   the world you seek to understand."

though I'd like not to do this by defining the word
representation.  Dictionaries can do this because they only
seek to define one word at a time.  Here, as in most places
with words, the other words are involved too.  (I'm with
Wittgenstein on this, and not just 'cos he trained as an
Aeronautical Engineer too.)

Things can stand in many different relationships to other
things, trying now to turn to your questions, Catherine.  So,
a photograph, in relation to what the camera was pointed at
when the photograph was taken, might be a

  artist's impression, 
  characterisation, 
  delineation, 
  depiction, 
  description, 
  icon,
  illustration, 
  image, 
  likeness, 
  portrait, 
  portrayal, 
  picture, 
  reminder,
  rendering, 
  sketch, 

depending on the role played by the photograph in the goings
on that surround it and with which it engages.  (And I do
intend a light degree of agency here, for the photograph:
representation does need a degree of agent-hood to work.)

What a photograph cannot do, I asserted above, is stand in
place of some part of reality such that, at least some,
significant reasoning or actioning on this some part of
reality would be indistinguishable from the same reasoning or
acting done using the photograph instead.

A representation then, is something that can sufficiently well
take the place of that which it represents, in some
significant treatment of what is represented.  This is a
strong condition that is not easily fulfilled.  It's a
condition that must be sufficiently verified, validated, and
tested before our representation can be well used as a
representation.  Representationhood does not come for free,
and it is usually more expensive than any of the other things
a photograph might be from the list above--which is not to say
that these other things a photograph might be aren't useful:
they can be very useful, and exactly what's needed.  My point
is that we can't just take something to be a representation,
nor just declare something to be a representation at our
convenience.  It must be (sufficiently) shown to be an
(adequate) representation.  This is, at least, an empirical
matter.  If we use formal (mathematical) or logic-based
representations, then other formal conditions need to be
satisfied too.

This statement of what a representation is--I don't want to
call it a definition--may appear categorical, but the boundary
between being a representation and not being one is neither
fixed nor firm.  Indeed, it's rather boggy.

This means that to be safely representational, a
representation must be shown to be well within this category
boundary.  Being boggy around the edges does not mean anything
can, more or less, be happily called a representation, as
often seems to happen.  Calling something a representation
because it looks like one, or we would like it to be one,
leads to unreliable and unsafe reasoning and acting, as well
as endless arguments as we stomp around in the bog.

You'll have noticed that I started my original reply to
Willard with a kind of warning ...  that I was going to use a
form (of argument) that "seems to contradict what we usually
think we believe."  This is because, to have some force, the
argument needs statements that are clear and decisive, such as
"photographs cannot be representations of reality."  This is a
rhetorical device.  I used it here in a concise attempt to
warn against easy but worthless and negligent use of the
notion of representation.

Of course, things are not so simple as my assertions might
suggest.  To illustrate this we may ask when can a photograph
be a good representation?  One answer is when it's a
representation of another photograph: when it's a
(sufficiently) good photographic copy of another (not
necessarily original) photograph.  But, isn't this other
(first) photograph a part of our reality?  If it is, then our
new photograph is a representation of (some part of our)
reality.  Which contradicts what I asserted at the outset.

This is how is it: complicated.  Good representations are
slippery things that are hard to work with well.  Look-as-if
representations are easier to come by, a doddle to use, but do
us no good.  This is why I said

  "You must never let your representations get between you and
   the world you seek to understand."

End of sermon.  If this helps, I'll be happy.  If you've
stayed to the end, I'll be grateful.  If you're still
confused, I think I'll need to ask others here to help out.
I'm not sure I can bring a lot of clarity to a matter I've
long been engaged with and argued about, mostly in different
corners of Artificial Intelligence and Design, but also when
building computational models.

Best regards,

Tim

> On 28 Feb 2016, at 09:17, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 748.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
>  [1]   From:    Catharine Mason <cmason.nc at gmail.com>                    (196)
>        Subject: Re:  29.744 analogical
> 
>  [2]   From:    Øyvind Eide <lister at oeide.no>                           (162)
>        Subject: Re:  29.744 analogical
> 
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Sat, 27 Feb 2016 13:18:18 +0100
>        From: Catharine Mason <cmason.nc at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re:  29.744 analogical
>        In-Reply-To: <20160227062331.9926CCD4 at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> Dear Willard, Tim, and Friends,
> 
> Many thanks for these fascinating references to questions of
> representations.  I am pleasantly confused by it all and have put in an
> order for Silverman's book.  I love your poetic stance, Tim, but must ask
> one question.  Without representation (verbal, visual, logical,
> mathematical, etc.), how does one share what one seeks to understand of the
> world?  And is there any seeking or understanding at all without images and
> morphemes and numbers? Aren't we "just" bathing in the flux?
> 
> Not that I have anything against meditative appreciation of the tides of
> the universe. But as a humanist, the only traces of humanity that have
> advanced my own understanding of the (human) world are representations (and
> activities of representing) that necessarily lie between us humans and the
> world.
> 
> Forgive me if I am hors sujet!  And thanks again for your stimulating
> thoughts.
> 
> Catharine
> 
> On Sat, Feb 27, 2016 at 7:23 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
> willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
>>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 744.
>>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>        Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2016 11:32:08 +0100
>>        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
>>        Subject: Re:  29.743 analogical?
>>        In-Reply-To: <20160226081209.DD54CC4B at digitalhumanities.org>
>> 
>> 
>> Dear Willard,
>> 
>> Oliver Wendell Holmes, as recounted by Kaja Silverman here,
>> needs a rebuttal in a form I don't usually use ...  I believe
>> this, but it seems to contradict what we usually think we
>> believe.
>> 
>> A photograph can never represent reality.  It can never be a
>> picture of reality.  It may only tell you something about
>> reality.  (Similarly, a model can never be a representation of
>> reality, but it may help us understand something about some
>> part of reality, past, present, future, or possible.)
>> 
>> The evidence for this is easy to come by, for all of us.
>> 
>> For example, my walk to and from work takes me past the bay of
>> Donostia / San Sebastián, with its island in the middle and
>> the open sea of the Bay of Biscay beyond.  Every time I go
>> past this scene it's different, despite it being at about the
>> same times of day--different weather, light, season, state of
>> the tide, strength of the sea, etc.  I have plenty of
>> photographs that show its always different.
>> 
>> If you attempted to capture the variability and variety of
>> this reality you'd need to set a camera to continuously take
>> photographs every few seconds, or less.  But then, viewing
>> this representation would take as long as looking at the
>> reality, and still not give you all the variety that the
>> reality really displayed.  And, of course, the next day would
>> be different, and the one after that, then the month, the
>> year, the century ...
>> 
>> All realities are like this, endlessly variable and variety
>> laden.  This essence cannot be made to inhere in any number of
>> photographs, such that they may be used instead of the
>> reality; so that the reality can be disposed of, as Wendell
>> Holmes suggests.
>> 
>> I'm reminded here of "On Exactitude in Science" ["Del rigor en
>> la ciencia"] by Jorge Luis Borges.  It was the map that was
>> thrown away!  And of Lewis Carroll's "Sylvie and Bruno" in
>> which a map was made with a "scale of a mile to the mile," but
>> which presented some practical difficulties, leading one of
>> those who made it to remark that "we now use the country
>> itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as
>> well."  And of Rod Brooks--pioneer of Behaviour Based
>> robotics, and a co-founder of iRobot, maker of the Roomba--who
>> said, in reaction to classical representation-based approaches
>> in Artificial Intelligence, that "the world is its own best
>> representation."  And of Philip Metres' "Yuri Gagarin's
>> Spaceship," which starts
>> 
>>  No detailed pictures of Soviet space
>>  ships were ever released: thus, this artist's
>> 
>>  conception on the Jell-O box is pure
>>  conjecture: it looks like a telescope,
>> 
>>  half-collapsed, eye-windowed, just a soup can
>>  nesting inside a soup can, Warhol
>> 
>>  meets Matryoshka Doll. It's alright, Mama,
>>  I'm only flying in my umwelt, outside
>> 
>>  of which there is no breathing. The world
>>  is its own best representation: . . .
>> 
>> You must keep throwing away the photographs if you want to
>> keep seeing the realities of being in the world.  Throwing
>> away the world makes fictions of the photographs.
>> 
>> You must never let your representations get between you and
>> the world you seek to understand.  (They will often try hard
>> to do this!)
>> 
>> Best regards,
>> 
>> Tim
>> 
>>> On 26 Feb 2016, at 09:12, Humanist Discussion Group <
>> willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>>> 
>>>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 743.
>>>           Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>>>                      www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>>>               Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>>       Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2016 06:54:00 +0000
>>>       From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>>>       Subject: the analogical world
>>> 
>>> 
>>> At the beginning of The Miracle of Analogy: A History of Photography,
>>> vol. 1 (Stanford, 2015), Kaja Silverman addresses ideas of
>> representation:
>>> 
>>>> In a chilling passage in his 1859 essay "The Stereoscope and the
>>>> Stereograph,"  Oliver Wendell Holmes not only characterizes the world
>>>> as a picture, whose essence inheres in its photographic
>>>> representability, but suggests that once this essence has been
>>>> extracted, the world itself can be thrown away. “Form is henceforth
>>>> divorced from matter,† this passage reads. “In fact matter as a
>>>> visible object is of no great use any longer . . . Give us a few
>>>> negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of
>>>> view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if
>>>> you please.
>>> 
>>> Does this not sound familiar, if a bit bolder than many utterances or
>>> implied notions along this line? Against it and related ideas, she argues
>>> for a different idea of photography, and so, I think, for what we do with
>>> our beloved machine:
>>> 
>>>> photography isn't a medium that was invented by three or four men in
>>>> the 1820s and 1830s, that was improved in numerous ways over the
>>>> following century, and that has now been replaced by computational
>>>> images. It is, rather, the world's primary way of revealing itself to
>>>> us -- of demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed
>>>> us. Photography is also an ontological calling card: it helps us to
>>>> see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies.
>>>> When I say 'œanalogy,'  I do not mean sameness, symbolic equivalence,
>>>> logical adequation, or even a rhetorical relationship -- like a metaphor
>>>> or a simile -- in which one term functions as the provisional
>>>> placeholder for another. I am talking about the authorless and
>>>> untranscendable similarities that structure Being, or what I will be
>>>> calling "the world,"  and that give everything the same ontological
>>>> weight.
>>> 
>>> Comments?
>>> 
>>> Read it tonight!
>>> 
>>> Yours,
>>> WM
>>> 
>>> --
>>> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
>>> Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
>>> Group, Western Sydney University
> 
> 
> -- 
> Associate Professor of English and Linguistic Ethnography
> Université de Caen-Basse Normandie
> Maison de la recherche en sciences humaines
> Esplanade de la Paix
> 14032 CAEN- Cedex
> France
> 
> President of VOVA, Inc.
> www.vovarts.org
> 1924 6th Street
> Victoria, VA 23974
> USA
> 
> 
> 
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Sat, 27 Feb 2016 18:54:37 +0100
>        From: Øyvind Eide <lister at oeide.no>
>        Subject: Re:  29.744 analogical
>        In-Reply-To: <20160227062331.9926CCD4 at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> Dear Tim,
> 
> A question from someone continuously struggling with this foreign language called English: how do you define representation? And do you use the same meaning in the start:
> 
> “A photograph can never represent reality.”
> 
> as you do in the end:
> 
> “You must never let your representations get between you and
> the world you seek to understand.”
> 
> ?
> 
> Kind and curious regards,
> 
> Øyvind
> 
> 
> 





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