[Humanist] 26.106 aesthetic computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jun 21 22:32:52 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 106.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                        (39)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.100 aesthetic computing

  [2]   From:    Daniel Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>                 (25)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.100 aesthetic computing

        Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2012 15:12:22 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.100 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120620202159.C47AA16BBBE at woodward.joyent.us>

I'm delighted by Jim Rovira's comments, although I would not be taken [in]
by either Kant or Hume.  A slight switch he makes though: I wrote "absolute
relativity" [of judgments æsthetical], which he picks up as: "absolutely
arbitrary."  I was suggesting incommunicability of just what the experience
of the "æsthetic" may be,  and not agreement as to the object   causing,
evoking, provoking, whether it is "beautiful" or not.  True, Caliban seems
to have seen Miranda as beautiful, but not in his league or world [hence to
be taken and used by the Trinculos and Stefanos, boorish drunks on the
isolated isle].  Perhaps Kant and Hume will have had in mind use per se?
As for one male agreeing with another that that "She" is beautiful, what
each may respond with, if approaching that Beauty, is an effect of the
pheromones exchanged.  What is it for the female?  Many unknowns.  Most are
seldom if ever revealed by the XX race.  Yeats in exasperation cried out,
that his She surely ate a crazy salad with her meat.  Maud Gonne had
responded to the beauty of a French colonel in intelligence, and more to
that is now public.

What my comments, to be tiresome, meant, I think: was that there is no
commonalty to be found between any two individuals, who have each a history
in the realm[s] of the "Æsthetic" from perhaps long before birth itself.

Practically, there may economic and pragmatical reasons for agreeing on
the nature of any one object, but those reasons may be fundamentally
economic in our existence, as Heidegger discusses in the opening of BEING
AND TIME.  And the elegance of a construction, math or physical, is both
simple and terribly complex, beyond anything thought of as "the rational."
And that word itself betrays measurement, and measurement per se is basis
of human social and technical "beingness," to make a clumsy word.
Caveat to the males here: certain pheromones will surely affect, effect,
distort and govern our approaches, mental and physical to those objects:
the XX creatures as well as ice cream flavors.

Jascha K.

On Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 1:21 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> absolutely arbitrary,

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

        Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2012 00:50:11 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.100 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120620202159.C47AA16BBBE at woodward.joyent.us>

I think there's been an element of talking at cross purposes in the discussion, because the term 'aesthetic computing' is ambiguous and has been interpreted in several ways by subscribers to this list. Some have been talking about what could be called 'aesthetically appealing computing'. As Amsler points out, the term could also be interpreted to mean something that I might paraphrase as 'computing for aesthetic purposes'. And some have been talking about what could be called 'the aesthetics of computing'. (While I'm at it, thanks very much, Jim for giving an excellent introduction to the field of aesthetics.)

In this connection (because I don't have much to say about the first two possible interpretations of 'aesthetic computing'), I just thought I'd clarify or add to a couple of points in the summary below:

>        Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2012 21:19:50 -0400
>        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.95 aesthetic computing
>        In-Reply-To: <20120618201642.551E72824AC at woodward.joyent.us>
> ...
> Amsler's response seemed to confirm much of what had been said previously
> about the nature of aesthetic judgments on computer code -- they tend
> toward valuing simplicity in the sense that more work for less code is
> good, and valuing ease understanding the code (code that was written in
> order to be understood, that is).  These judgments would be made within the
> parameters and limitations of the medium (specific programming language).

The first point I wanted to add is that programming languages are also subject to aesthetic judgements, and that where it is possible to choose between programming languages, the choice may be based in part on aesthetic considerations. I'm not sure whether it would be too much to say that an 'aesthetics of computing' would include an aesthetics of programming languages as well as an aesthetics of programming (I think it's probably true to say that a beautiful language is one that facilitates the production of beautiful code), but I wanted to emphasise that the specific programming language is not always a given, and that judgements are not always made within the limitations of a single language. For example, it's possible to compare programming languages by comparing implementations of the same algorithm (both for use value and for aesthetic value).

Secondly, while Amsler is right that 'the shortness of the statement is still almost all that is necessary to gain the appellation, "elegant"', there are other considerations involved. For example, recursive algorithms are widely regarded as more elegant than iterative algorithms, and it seems to me that this is not only because they are often more concise, but also because they are closer to being a direct mathematical expression of the solution to the problem at hand (as opposed to a set of steps whose carrying out will solve the problem at hand).

Lastly, there are further aesthetic criteria on which a piece of code can be judged, though these may be less central than elegance. Layout should not be forgotten, and I suspect it may turn out to be less trivial than it appears at first sight. There is also the very interesting phenomenon of code that is enjoyed for its own sake, eg. obfuscated C code or Perl poetry, where the idea of 'elegance' has no application that I can see.

Best regards


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