[Humanist] 26.108 aesthetic computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jun 22 22:35:19 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 108.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Paul Fishwick <fishwick at cise.ufl.edu>                    (100)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.106 aesthetic computing

  [2]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (63)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.106 aesthetic computing

        Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2012 17:23:56 -0400
        From: Paul Fishwick <fishwick at cise.ufl.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.106 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120621203259.EC1AE16BD43 at woodward.joyent.us>

An interesting aspect of aesthetics in programming, code, and data is that
traditional fences constructed to separate purely cognitive constructs
(terms such as elegance, minimal, optimal, etc.) from perceptual constructs 
(beauty that is body-centric, appealing to the eyes, ears, touch) are coming 
down or at least being traversed. This trend has been occurring for a long 
time, but with new HCI modalities, the fence (if it ever actually existed) is
cracking somewhat.

There still remains much beauty in elegant code and recursive algorithms;
however, on the horizon we have additional possibilities that allow computer
scientists, humanists, and artists to better connect with each other without
insisting on sitting on one side of the fence. A situation may arise where
the computer scientist will use a word such as elegant to describe something
perceptual, or an artist will use a word elegant to describe function and
utility. This emerging confluence is encouraging.

A couple of interesting examples:

* The Minecraft culture which, as one sub-culture, developed their own 
"code" (e.g., data flow common in digital logic circuitry):


* The resurgence in visualizing "big data". Data is "code" in the
information theoretic sense. For example:


What is the use of such artifacts? Some may be useful in education, and
in other cases, in a bridge spanning the arts, data, and code. Some may
invoke different feelings. For the Minecraft code circuits, they certainly
have attracted a large audience, but you have to like Minecraft to become
interested in these representations, just as you have to enjoy images
and art to find the colour trends in movies of interest.


On 6/21/2012 4:32 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 106.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 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
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         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,

Paul Fishwick, PhD
Florida Blue Key Distinguished Professor
Director, Digital Arts and Sciences
CISE Department, CSE 301
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
Email: fishwick at cise.ufl.edu
Web: http://www.cise.ufl.edu/~fishwick
Blog: http://www.representationz.com

        Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2012 22:11:25 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.106 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120621203259.EC1AE16BD43 at woodward.joyent.us>

Many thanks for Jascha and Daniel for their recent posts and their kind

Kant's discussion of the "subjective universal" is meant to address the
possibility that there can't be any commonality of understanding between
two individuals about a purely subjective experience, because as human
beings we all share the capacity to experience the beautiful, even if our
experience of the beautiful is entirely our own (subjective).  Kant's
entire philosophy is predicated on the isolation of the individual and the
possibility of shared understanding, from the categories to what he says
about aesthetics.  I think that Kant might say that if we can throw a ball
to one another from one side of a room to another we are sharing our
subjective experiences of time, distance, and speed, so it's not
inconceivable that we can share our subjective experiences of beauty as

Kant (and I think Hume) appeals quite regularly in his argument to our
everyday experience and our ways of talking about our experience. While we
cannot communicate a purely subjective experience to one who has not shared
it, we can communicate about it to someone who has shared that experience
or one similar.  I apologize for misrepresenting Jascha's point by using
the term "absolutely arbitrary" -- that is misleading, and not the same as
"absolutely subjective" --  but the focus here to me is whether we are
truly completely unique individuals in our responses to aesthetic stimuli.

I think that if we were, businesses wouldn't spend as much on demographic
studies and on advertising as they do.

To stick with the beautiful woman example, two men may have entirely
different tastes in women, but if they've both been struck by a woman's
beauty, then they have shared a similar experience and can talk about it.
 Similarly, women may experience attraction to males differently from male
attraction to women (they do), and differently from each other, but two
women who share that experience can talk about it.  On a side note to all,
please forgive my heteronormativity here if that is offensive -- the
possibilities are endless and I'm just seeking one or two easily understood

I'd like to add that Kierkegaard does seem to develop Kantian (as well as
Hegelian -- though Hegel's influence is more widely acknowledged) ideas in
his own direction, but he does not believe that we human beings are
normally single individuals.  He argues in The Concept of Anxiety that we
-acquire- originality, and his argument throughout Either/Or I and II and
Concluding Unscientific Postscript is that we move from a bodily and
environmentally determined subjectivity, to an ethical subjectivity (that
is based upon universals -- the ethical is a type of subjective universal
in Kierkegaard), to a religious subjectivity that recognizes its oneness
with all existence in its infinite nature (so is still not an individual),
to a religious subjectivity that is finally and purely individual.  It is
only at this last stage that we truly become individuals, though we might
say that the process begins with a leap to an ethical consciousness.  One
wonders if anyone ever is an individual in Kierkegaard's eyes.

Daniel's observation is very useful and can help advance discussion ... we
have indeed been mixing together different ways of talking about aesthetic

<<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'.>>

I also appreciate his elucidation of different ways of considering
aesthetically pleasing code.  I keep forgetting the possibility of writing
code just for the sake of writing code and not for the sake of
accomplishing something, mainly because I'm not used to thinking about
coding in that way.  I tend to think primarily in terms of code that does
something.  That's a limitation of mine that extends to (or proceeds from)
the way I think about mathematics too.

Jim R

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