Distinguishing the General from the Generic / Pre-specificity / Thinking as an Algebraic Mechanist

The Integrity of Objects: Design, Information, and the Form of Actuality

[to appear in ADD METAPHYSICS, ed. by Jenna Sutela et.al. Aalto University Digital Design Laboratory, ADDLAB (forthcoming)]

We are so accustomed to information that it feels strange to claim that information is not. Yet information has no weight, no extension, no body; it is reducible neither to physical matter nor energy. Nevertheless, it has impacts. We experience its efficacy every day. The informational makeup of things manifests itself on their surfaces, in the very act of surfacing, as it encrusts itself within the orders of habits, conventions, and regulations.

Let us refer to the dynamics within and among these orders in terms of actuality taking form. In this way, we can abstract from the established, yet problematic opposition between natural and cultural orders, of which we assume things and beings as, on the one hand, governed impersonally, and in that sense objectively, by universal laws, and, on the other, a wealth and variety of subjective interpretations and projective ascriptions. Let us consider instead that the orders involved in the informational makeup of things, within which actuality takes form, are symbolic. Like any order, orders within the symbolic must also be organized in different levels of abstraction, respective to the things organized by them. For example, there is not “a thing” that would be an instant of “fruit”: there are apples, pears, bananas. Gaius Plinius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, had listed over thirty-six varieties of apples in the first century AD—by today, there are today over 7,000 varieties of apples distinguished worldwide, and this does not include the apples of the fruits of wisdom, sin, or, for that matter, the iPod.

Within the symbolic, levels of abstraction proliferate with the acceleration of technological innovation. Between the previous edition of the Académie Française dictionary and that of today, there is a difference of 20,000 words.[1] Many of these new entries, one would think, have a strictly “technical” sense—like the physical concept of the quark, that of an electronic semiconductor, a computer chip, or a photovoltaic cell. Yet a “strictly technical sense”, what does that mean? If we want to overcome the relation between the natural and the cultural as strictly opposed and separable form each other, if we want to see them as entangled in a generic sort of interplay that renders referable what we can identify, distinguish, qualify, value, and judge—all the richness that is expressed today in the format of information—then we need to consider a mediagenic and infogenic kind of dynamics[2], driven by precisely this dichotomously entangled interplay of the natural and the cultural. The Greek term dikhotomia does not necessarily mean an opposition, a separation that is somehow given, it literally means “a cutting in half,” from dicha “in two, asunder” (related to dis, “twice”) + temnein, “to cut.” We can understand the dichotomy between nature and culture, hence, as a self-referential multiplication of the whatever we might call that which was originally cut into halves. We can develop from such a shift in perspective an anthropogenic narrative that does not seek to account for some original nature of culture, or inverse, a cultural constitution of nature, but a narrative of self-capacitation and self-qualification of the symbolic totality of what we call “the world.”

Certainly we need to be weary of anthropomorphizing the world thereby, but just as well do we need to be wary of naturalizing “hominiscence”[3] and human culture—or the symbolic itself, for that matter. Naturalizing the acts of abstraction, of which the symbolic consists, in a way that does not consider them as acts of achieved appropriation,[4] is a straightforward way of apotheosizing them. Considering all of this, it should still be fair to say that whenever we learn, whenever we engage with information, an intellectual capacity of abstraction and conception is involved. Attending to the self-referential dynamics of dichotomies, as a “motoricity” driven by acts of abstraction, means that this intellectual capacity can no longer be framed within representational terms of adequation or interpretation. In the following, I would like to make suggestions of how to connect and integrate the terms a) mediality, as a streaming and non-controllable dimensionality springing from dichotomous referential gaps, and driving this self-capacitating and self-qualifying dynamics; b) the rise of computability as a new literacy within the symbolic, c) the consideration of the latest acts of intellection and abstraction as manifested in photovoltaic technology, which turn the sun into a springing source of energy—energy additional to that already stored and encapsulated in the natural ecosystem since time immemorial, and; d) a view on design as pioneering an urban form agriculture by cultivating, conserving, and making fertile—in short, by domesticating—the symbolic “grounds” of mediality. The “fields” to be tilled by urban agriculture are the commonplaces or, to use an older yet less ambiguous word for it, the topoi of science and culture in their most general form, on the level of their generic expressions in code.

Dis-Naturalization of Materiality, or the Rise of a New Literacy

Today, we seem to be experiencing a popularization phase of an analytical revolution that finds its roots in the beginning of modernity. It is well known that the turn to modern science with Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Isaac Newton had opened up a space of experimentation vis-à-vis the predominantly contemplative understanding of science, which had consisted mainly in refining and commenting on the doctrines of the Authorities (especially Aristotle, and the philosophers of Christian doctrine). The development of analytic geometry and the mathematics of infinitesimal calculus had introduced, along with many practical and theoretical achievements in mechanics (eventually resulting in Joseph Louis Lagrange’s and Leonhard Euler’s analytic mechanics, and the resulting calculus of variation and invariance theory), and especially also in trade and commerce (bookkeeping, for example), a new systematic method for the description of things, a method so powerful that it gave rise to a new grammar of thought: the attention shifted increasingly away from things as things, and zoomed in towards understanding their properties as properties that behave variably, over time. To give an easy example: in regard to conceiving the nature of a stone, the fact that a stone can be warm or cold was not interesting per se, rather the properties of warmth or coldness themselves became interesting—a development which in the case of this example resulted, eventually, in the thermodynamic understanding of heat as the reasonable and useful reification of an adjective. Similarly, in the case of motion, not only could modern physics attend to and develop the principles of dynamics (in addition to those of statical mechanics) symbolized in mathematical terms, but it was eventually even possible to come up with physical theories of potentials and balances that could account for the storage (and thus the controlled exploitation) of “power” in material systems—in short, the concepts of force and impact could be complemented with a more abstract notion, that of energy.[5] To make it short, along with these developments, the premodern hermeneutic understanding of knowledge became increasingly explicated into the technical format of instruments operating on a general notion of materiality, not on notions of essentially specific substances. On this generalized material basis, knowledge could be applied like a recipe—with or without mastering a proper understanding—purely in terms of operative control, and with the exactness of rigorous rule following. Analysis, the backbone of scientific understanding since antiquity, was treated in increasingly functionalist terms.[6]

Today, we deal with a further level of abstraction, that of symbolic algebra. It has allowed us, since the late nineteenth century, to technically control energy and matter in a categorically new manner. With electricity and information, it is as if the notion of a generalized materiality (conceived as the interplay between matter and energy) was being differentiated. Electricity can affect the energetic makeup of any biological, chemical, or physical body. And the capacity to store, expand, emit, and receive information now functions as the common denominator of all things existent,[7] a role previously ascribed to generalized materiality. What used to be productively conceived as a uniform substrate to all things is increasingly governed regionally, or individually, by symbolic processes.[8] With electricity and information, materiality becomes medialized.[9]

This change in conceiving of materiality in its mediality, by learning to articulate the analytic makeup of qualified matter in the mathematical/symbolic format of information, might appear, in some near future, as a process well comparable to a similar process that took place some 2,500 years ago, namely the denaturalization of speech. With the advent of a phonetic alphabet, people gained an awareness of their speech as a medium, and learned to cultivate and use it as such. People learned to write as they speak, and, in turn, they could learn to speak as they write. The phonetic alphabet and the emerging artistic mastery in the treatment of language undoubtedly played a key role in the emancipation from the hieratical structures of the Persian Empire that took place in Hellenistic Greece. The emerging awareness of just how delicately we are able to influence all kinds of happenings around us by crafting our statements rhetorically gave rise to vast expertise in artistically fabricating and constructing statementsto-an-end. With this turn toward amour propre, frivolity, rhetoric, but also to the individual persona—with all the abounding liveliness and spinning around within the habitual and ordinary, with casting doubt on everything, with an attitude of impertinence regarding larger but also smaller matters of all sorts—Greek sophistic philosophy was born.[10] What is often called the First Enlightenment Period, namely the period of Athenian democracy some 2,300 years ago, would surely be unthinkable without considering the dis-naturalization of language, and its estimation as a medium of communication and learning.

The Motoricity of Dichotomies—Cultivating the Referential Gap

Let us now push this perspective of an emerging literacy somewhat further. Things considered in their mediality are models of what they might once be conceived as—that is, within the populations for which they are going to be meaningful and to the communities into which they will be integrated. The analysis and design of mediality involves the comparatistic modeling of things not yet naturally or deliberately—not yet fully—specified. In this conception, the understanding of things is no longer geared toward understanding them in themselves—that is, in the most general terms, stripped of anything that might affect them accidentally—but in their capacity for being medialized. In the same vein, objects then lack an exhaustively assignable referentiality. In their mediality, the virtual thingness of things abounds beyond their referentially governed objectivity. Jean-François Lyotard has famously referred to such not fully controllable surplus dynamics within the symbolic as a “demonical energy.”[11] Considering the mediality of things introduces an uncanny reality wherein governance is sentenced to restlessness, constantly alert to thepre-specific and unsettleda referential gap that acts of symbolization can saturate, stabilize, and tend, but never close for good. With our interpretation of the motoricity of culture, as driven by an open play of factorization, multiplication, and the surplus dynamics of the symbolically generic, it seems important to remember that the term “symbol” goes back to the Greek verb sym-ballein, meaning “throwing together, bringing to fit,” while its literal antonym is “diabolic,” derived from dia-ballein, the verb for “throwing apart, preventing from fitting.”

Drawing on the notion of media- and infogenic dynamics, and on the notion of a surfacing mediality within the symbolic, we can find a different perspective on Lyotard’s demonical energy than that prepared by allegorical figurations of the diabolic in all-too-schematic accounts of decadence, deviation, and consumption. Instead, we can conceive of mediality quite directly as an abounding stream, springing out of this referential gap that is spanned open by the interference of a surplus dynamics into any attempt to get things settled once and for all. Furthermore, we can conceive of this unsettling and streaming mediality as transporting an existential good. Here, we can learn to find in it deterritorialized symbol-capsules, bulbs of conserved possibilities for relations to be established. Thus, even though it may be literally unsettling, mediality delivers, in the form of symbolizations, a supply which is of a non-material kind, yet which is essential for the self-capacitation of cultures: acts of abstraction. According to the mediagenic dynamics thus conceived, this stream keeps springing as long as the referential gap is not violently controlled—for example, if a certain regime of symbolizations, sentenced to act as strictly defined representations, were suddenly apotheosized or axiomatized in an absolute manner.

In order to grasp this kind of efficacy proper to medialized matter in the electro–material–cultural conditions of today, perhaps it is time to consider the conservation of values not only in the form of traditions or naturalizations (or their orderings in processes of institutionalization), but in a pre-representational way altogether. Let us assume that the orders within which we live are permeated by a wild stream of symbols, captured, encapsulated, and mobilized by code, powering a proliferating process of infogenic and mediagenic medialization. In many ways, we have already started to domesticate this abounding stream. We are learning how to analyze and design mediality. We are cultivating surfaces for and of symbolizations so that we can grow and harvest their products-to-an-end, not at all unlike the ancient rhetoricians when they realized and explored that they could construct statements-to-an-end.

The postulate that mediality can be cultivated may undoubtedly feel quite impossible and even absurd at first. This, however, is the fate of any new structurally effective symbolization. Imagine if a tradesman from Rome or Athens 2,000 years ago was told, preposterously so, to make calculations with the symbol zero. The idea to symbolize nothing, and to do calculations with it, would have felt completely unconceivable to him. Numbers were conceived as labels for quantitative entities, and “nothing” cannot possibly be an entity. Today, in contrast, it is easy to consider: zero is a symbol, numbers are not quantitative entities but conceptual definitions,[12] and all of modern mathematics is based upon that. The symbol zero had opened up a whole new dimension for thought and action. Suddenly it was possible to do calculations not only with reference to the measurement of space in timeless geometry, but also with regard to the actual unfolding of time. The symbol 0 allowed several hypothetical “beginnings” to be assumed within one and the same scope of calculation—people could now work analytically with mathematical models, not merely with geometrical constructions. It became possible to calculate self-referentially, over time and with variations, like in the case of business arithmetic where power series allowed to calculate rates and interests, for example.

But still, we feel that certain natural constants are determined by natural rhythms that are quite independent from the stream of symbols. Geometric and temporal measures we apply are derived, ultimately, from the course of the solar system or fluctuations within the climate. We deduce them from a cosmological order that has allowed us to cultivate our material resources, the products of agriculture, the materials needed for developing and running infrastructures. We may well have formalized these rhythms into calendars and clocks, and we may well measure them with the precision gained from the oscillations of cesium-133 atoms. Still they are, so we feel, rooted in a not-decomposable and natural order in which humans have no impact. Or are they?

Until very recently it seemed unquestionable: nature gives us energy. The following and somewhat fantastic but in no way unimaginable line of thought dares to consider the possibility of re-symbolizing that truism.

Energy Symbolized, Matter Medialized

No matter which philosophical context we apply, there’s one particular aspect about nature that is common to them all: what we call nature is the place from which we take our energy, where we find our resources. And yet there is one actual source of energy: the sun.

Considered from an energy perspective, “nature” is a multilayered system of conversion and storage processes for the sun’s energy stream, in which the earth happens to orbit. All organic forms on earth—whether they are animate or inanimate, archaeal (microorganisms), botanical, or animal—are encompassed within a system in which energy that ultimately stems from the sun is captured and stored, accessed and used, and thus reintegrated into earth’s lifecycles.

The cultural techniques with which we humans have learned to “cultivate” nature, and which we have used to access ever-more natural energy stores ever-more efficiently, tend to rely on the exploitation of various “compartments”—resources like wood, coal, or oil. Now, however, for the first time in our history, contemporary technology makes it possible for us to bypass nature, and, instead of drawing on these energy stores, access the solar energy stream directly. Solar technology is not “renewable” energy. It rather taps into and draws from an infinite stream directly. And just because of that, it is additional energy, additional to that capsulated and stored in what we have learned to call nature.[13] Each day, the sun stream delivers about 10,000 times as much potential energy to earth as all humanity currently uses in a year from nature’s storages.[14]

Why might it not, on that basis, be imaginable to develop something like an urban energy culture? In many ways, electricity marks an important step in that direction. Electricity, strictly speaking, is not a form of energy but energy’s abstract potential to take any form. What we have been experiencing for more than one century with the domestication of electricity is nothing less than the symbolization of energy itself.[15] With the electricity-based organization of our infrastructures and lifestyles, we have gradually developed an awareness for a kind of information based pre-specificity, an unsettling reality dimension that permeates the inner makeup of our cultures. Throughout the twentieth century we have gradually begun to learn to articulate consciously this new condition of matter medialized: from the achievements of synthetic chemistry (plastics) to the materials “doped” (or made “smart”) on a quantum level (including all electronic devices like computer chips or even solar cells themselves). Lyotard’s “demonical energy,” the surplus dynamics which arises from the very attempt to grasp and settle the objectivity of things descriptively—what we have earlier referred to as the referential gap, as the springing source of mediality—is not restricted to the Cartesian category of the Res Cogitans alone, as opposed to that of the Res Extensa. Proportional to the global increase of urban lifestyles, discursive formations support and make up the very fabric or texture of our reality. Dealing with the implications of twenty-first-century urban lifestyles requires a revised conception of rurality as well, as the former dependency of cities on agriculture has nothing less than inverted itself since the nineteenth century: today, only a fraction of the global population could be sustained by the supplies that can be harvested in rural farming.

My concluding paragraph strives to imagine a re-symbolization of agriculture to meet the cultural conditions of dis-naturalized materiality, such that we can learn to cultivate mediality as a generic “ground” for domestication. From it, we can harvest deterritorialized capsules of symbolic energy—by learning to crop the informational makeup of things on the level of their codes, that is, on the level of their generic, not their descriptive or representational, conception. This kind of learning, with a symbolic frame of reference, assumes a new kind of literacy that is more abstract than those of dealing with numbers and writing, in quantity and letter. What we see emerging by the pervasive integration of computers in nearly any academic, economic, technical, or cultural field is a literacy in computation as an ability to be developed individually as well as collectively. In short, and viewed from a somewhat different angle, we can regard mediality as non-territorializable symbolic ground driving and supporting cultural existence, which further needs to be attended in all the conservative but also exploitative dimensions of awe and esteem, care, interest, and tending, which we associate, in rural farming, with nature. But different than the organic ground of non-urban agriculture, the symbolic ground of urban agriculture is a spring that does not, proportional to our cultivation of it, cease to be fruitful. Rather, it swells or ceases in the richness it provides proportional, respectively, to the delight and interest, or boredom and fear, in the thought and consideration we give to it. The generic fields to be tilled by urban agriculture are the common places of knowledge in its most general form (knowledge considered objectively).

Pioneers in Urban Agriculture

It seems promising to me to regard design in a pioneering role for the development of urban agriculture, because design allows for economic and mobile integration and refinement of symbolic power not only on large scales, but also on small scales. Just like many farmers today are realizing their opportunities to add energy harnessing as a further economical pillar in their daily business (by simply putting up solar fields above their cattle or sheep)—to such an extent that they meanwhile compete with industrial plants for renewable energy—pop culture is learning that it can well compete in intelligent insights and innovation with strict disciplinary administration of knowledge, cultural memory, and zeitgeist. Design as a form of urban cropping cultivates the pre-specific symbolizations contained in matter medialized. It treats the products, each generically encapsulated by code, as articles, by taking care of the “appearance” of a thing’s surfaces and the “voice” with which they advertise their object’s designed capacity to store, expand, emit, and receive information.

These appearances and voices can be treated, I would like to suggest, like acres within the symbolic—the quality and fertility of their generic soil varies from cultural milieu to milieu, from cultural climate to climate, and also between different techniques and procedures of cultivating it. Were not the acres, for the rural farmers too, like companion species that impose their rhythms and promises on the way they get organized, daily? And is not our intuitive sense that the temporal rhythms be given uniformly, by nature, not simply a modern myth, helpful to drive the functionalist revolution?

Each artifact, as a designed article, captures symbolical forces, enwraps, binds, and integrates them by cropping and tending their informational makeup on the generic level of their code. Design, so conceived, is farming by valuation, through grafting and integrating, not through pronging and purifying the roots. In a role not unlike grammar in the former literacy of mastering speech and writing, design gives us the molds and generic cases—the morphemes and units, the affixes and flexions—of how we can “articulate” qualities, quantities, and relatives into manifest form. However, its structures are not in any immediate sense syntactical (it doesn’t use words as elementary units) or categorical (it doesn’t use predications as elementary units), they are syntactical and categorical only in a medial sense, derived from an architectonic framework within which orders of symbolicity are organized.

In philosophy, architectonics is the discourse in which the foundations of knowledge have always been considered. Characteristic for its classical understanding is a minorization of technē, and its constitutive role for any intersubjectively maintainable notion of knowledge, truth, or reference. But precisely this operative dimension of technē, in its relation to the ancient sense of mathesis—the art of learning (in a non-transitive sense, i.e., not related to specific skills)—is best respected, it seems to me, in the corpus of architectonic theories. Computability, as the emerging literacy that can be mastered in an open scale of qualifications, between near-thoughtlessness and acrobatic sophistication, could look at the corpus of architectonic theories as the symbolic grammaticality for the articulations of manifest things as de-signated articles. The Latin word articulatio means “a separation into joints.” The domestication of generic grounds by computability, as the ability to design products as articles, does involve syntactical rule following. Yet the grammaticality that could orientate the education of this ability builds on syntactical rules as the products of inception. The working of its rules is demonstrable by learning to articulate the fantastically projected outcomes one strives to achieve in a symbolically rigorous way—that is, in an algebraically expressible way that renders the symbolic solution space controllable, which is then applied in any calculation—such that the sought after consistency can be computed. The syntactical rules of this grammaticality can be derived only from the totality of everything that can be articulated as an artifact, not from an assumed natural order or original language (Ur-sprachlichkeit). This is why it should be called a grammaticality rather than a grammar. In such an architectonic context, design does not, at least not primarily, construct and assemble elements by following strictly encoded procedures, as if their algorithms were natural. In its articulations, design domesticates the generic ground in a way in which rule following comprises rule inventing and rule breeding. Design cultivates the space of potentials that opens up from learning how to inflect and conjugate architectonic joints as articles. Design as urban cropping harvests the patterns of symbolic articulations already uttered, and in doing so takes care, tends to, and esteems the generic ground of symbolizations achieved in the past.

The Form of Actuality

The generic neither “is,” (in the philosophical sense of “being”), nor does it “exist” (in the phenomenological sense of “being there”). Rather, we could perhaps say that it “insists.” Once we concentrate on articulating this insistence through the voices and appearances we give to objects, we must ascribe the objects not only a certain autonomy and anidentity evolving through procreative multiplication within the larger contexts where they “insist,” but also an integrity proper to their individual articulations as symbolic articles. We can regard objects as artifacts refined, cultivated, and we can look out among their generic populations for what we hold as masterpieces. By identifying our objects through valuation, not representation or description, as masterpieces (enough such that they can orientate our deliberate designation), our articles acquire individuating characteristics and an analogical record of the cultural inquiries involved in their origination.

Objects, once they are understood and formulated generically, acquire a diastemic transparency; every positively or negatively explicit notion of origin or arche dissolves within the generic. For an easily accessible example, consider the generic form of a circle, consisting in its algebraic formula: it expresses any circle that ever has been or ever will be instantiated—by compass, written symbols, or code. This timelessness of the generic complements, as Rem Koolhaas has recently put it in a meditation about the contemporary condition, a preempted notion of space as well: while what he calls the Generic City draws an account of paradise without the prior loss of it, his complementary concept of Junkspace is banishment without origin and without the possibility for salvation.[16] Within neither one of these two spheres can there by further learning, curiosity, pleasure in developing mastery. By contrast to this sinister scenario, once we consider the symbolicness of the generic and learn to tell the tale of hominization as neither natural nor cultural, but as the domestication of mediality, we find ourselves in a world of abundance.

The form of actuality, if we follow this line of thought, is neither the result of constellations, or compositions of elements, nor of a principle which states a setting in sentences, but of integrations from an abounding stream, into the finitude of what we can formulate in code, generically, by thinking rigorously. On a very material level as well, the energy-circuit will be an open one in the future. The problematics of exploiting natural resources shifts to that of how energy can be sustainably captured, encapsulated, and grown. It is not the natural storages of energy that comprise our existential resources and frame of referentiality in the twenty-first century, but the richness of symbolizations and cultural differentiations of times past, present, and future.


[1] See Michel Serres, Les Nouvelles Technologies: Révolution Culturelle et Cognitive, December 11, 2007, http://interstices.info/jcms/c_33030/les-nouvelles-technologies-revolution-culturelle-et-cognitive.

[2] I borrow these concepts from the anthropologist Manfred Faßler. See Manfred Faßler, Erdachte Welten: Die mediale Evolution globaler Kulturen (Vienna: Springer, 2005); and Manfred Faßler, Der infogene Mensch: Entwurf einer Anthropologie (Munich: Fink Verlag, 2008).

[3] I refer with this concept to Michel Serres, Hominiscence (Paris: Le Pommier, 2001), in order to accentuate a condition of being born which is not exhaustively addressed by stating the evolution of the human in purely passive terms, as something which happens to us, and allows for no affirmative appropriation through making this nature (from the Latin natura,literally from natus, “born”) our own nature.

[4] In a similar vein like Michel Serres with his concept of hominiscence, Peter Sloterdijk gives an active sense to what he calls Geburtlichkeit, which would literally translate as “notability.” See Peter Sloterdijk, Zur Welt kommen – zur Sprache kommen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988); as well as Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011). See also my essay “Tau, und zwar von den Bermudas. Peter Sloterdijks analytisches Spiel mit der synthetischen Kraft phantastischer Philosophie,” in Die Vermessung des Ungeheuren. Versuche über Peter Sloterdijk, eds. Marc Jongen, Sjoerd van Tuinen and Koenrad Hemelsoed (Munich: Fink Verlag, 2010).

[5] See Jennifer Coopersmith, Energy, the Subtle Concept: The Discovery of Feynman’s Blocks from Leibniz to Einstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[6] For a detailed account of the developments summarized here as the functionalist revolution of modernity and mentioned only in indexical manner, I would especially like to recommend E. T. Bell, The Development of Mathematics (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1940).

[7] Michel Serres has recently given a most straightforward and somewhat dramatic lecture postulating this perspective. The full passage from which I cite is in the original French as follows: “Je ne connais pas d’êtres vivant, cellule, le tissue organe, individu et peut-être même espèces dont on ne puisse pas dire qu’ils stockent de l’information, qu’ils prêtent de l’information, qu’ils l’émiaient, qu’ils reçoivent de l’information. […] je ne connais pas d’objet du monde: atome, cristal, montagne, planète, étoile, galaxie dont on ne puisse pas dire de nouveau qu’ils stockent de l’information, qu’ils traitent de l’information, qu’ils l’émiaient, qu’ils reçoivent de l’information. Donc ce quadruple caractéristique et commun à tous les objets du monde vivants ou inertes. Et nos sciences dures qui autrefois ne parlaient que de force et d’énergie, parlent depuis assez récemment de codes et de ce qu’on appel en général le doux. Les sciences dures s’occupent aussi de doux.” Serres, Les Nouvelles Technologies [footnote 1]. I would translate this into English as follows: “I do not know any living being, cell, tissue, organ, individual, or perhaps even species, of which we cannot say that they store information, that they expand information, that they emit it and they receive information. […] I know of no object in the world, atom, crystal, mountain, planet, star, galaxy, of which one could not say again that it stores information, it deals with information, they emit and they receive information. So there’s this quadruple characteristic in common between all the objects of the world, living or inert. So in our ‘hard’ sciences, where previously one only spoke of forces and energy, there has, as of late, been talk of what we generally call ‘soft.’ Hard sciences are engaged also with the ‘soft.’”

[8] Gilbert Simondon has written extensively on such a kind of individuation, characteristic for what he calls the “mode of existence” of technical objects. See Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (Paris: Aubier, 2001).

[9] See Ludger Hovestadt, “A Fantastic Genealogy of the Printable,” in Metalithicum I, Printed Physics, eds. Vera Bühlmann and Ludger Hovestadt (Vienna: Springer, 2012).

[10] This English closely paraphrases a statement by Ernst Bloch: “Mit dieser Wendung zur Eitelkeit, zur Frivolität, zur Rhetorik, aber auch zum menschlichen Selbst, mit dem ungeheuren Quirlen und Herumwirbeln in dem Gewohnten, mit Zweifeln an allem, mit Frechheit grossen, aber auch kleineren Stils, wird in der griechischen Aufklärung die Sophistik geboren.” Ernst Bloch, Antike Philosophie: Leipziger Vorlesungen zur Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1985), 100.

[11] Jean-François Lyotard, “Energieteufel Kapitalismus,” in Intensitäten (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1982). Lyotard did not extend upon the peculiar language game he chose. Yet it seems important to remember that the term symbol goes back to the Greek verb sym-ballein, meaning “throwing together, bringing to fit,” while its literal antonym is the diabolic, derived from dia-ballein, the verb for “throwing apart, preventing from fitting.”

[12] How to define different number classes conceptually was a major concern throughout the nineteenth century, and stands behind any of the attempts in twentieth century philosophy to provide logical/axiomatic foundations for mathematics. Richard Dedekind’s procedure to define number classes by pairs of numbers mutually indexing each other, a procedure called the Dedekind Cut, has remained the authoritative reference until today. See Erich Reck, “Dedekind’s Contributions to the Foundations of Mathematics,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Fall 2011), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/ dedekind-foundations/. Dedekind’s major text is Richard Dedekind, Was sind und was sollen die Zahlen? (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1988).

[13] The usage of the word stream here (instead of, lets say, radiation) as well as in relation to my notion of mediality is not without deliberation. Without being able to explore this here in detail, I do think there is a complementarity between mediality as the symbolic dimensionality that allows for rendering things into their designated manifest appearance, and the energy additional to the natural storages balanced in the planet’s ecosystem (if modeled as unaffected by human cultures). The complementarity between the two can perhaps most easily be imagined via electricity, which is today, constitutive for how both of these concepts play their role in our lifeworlds.

[14] Ottmar Edenhofer et al., eds., Direct Solar Energy: In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 337.

[15] This perspective is elaborated extensively in my book: Ludger Hovestadt and Vera Bühlmann with Sebastian Michael, The Genius Planet: Energy Scarcity to Energy Abundance (forthcoming).

[16] See Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City,” in: S, M, L, XL (New York: Monacelli Press, 1998), 1248–57; and “Junkspace,” October 100 (Spring 2002): 172–90.

2 thoughts on “The Integrity of Objects: Design, Information, and the Form of Actuality

  1. Pingback: Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) – or turning the Style of Neue Sachlichkeit into a philosophical Doctrine ? | monas & nomos

  2. Pingback: “Die Empörung des Modells // models, outraged“ – abstract for my paper at the Zhdk conference “David and Goliath – Models between art and architecture” | monas oikos nomos

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