Continental Philosophy and Information Technology Workshop


 

9:15am-5:30pm, 1st December 2017

Dalhousie Building, Room 2S16, University of Dundee

 

This open workshop will bring together scholars engaging with information technologies within the continental philosophical tradition, with the aim of sharing ideas and fostering this emerging area of research. The broad area of Philosophy of Information and Computing is a burgeoning one, but the significant treatment of these issues in the continental tradition remains underexplored. The advent of the ‘information society’ raises many questions which have been usefully addressed in this tradition, such as how technologies change our conception of what it means to be human, the variability of values in relation to cultural change, the nature and function of digital art, and a host of other existential, social, political, and aesthetic questions. Well-known philosophers such as Heidegger and Deleuze have addressed these questions through intermittent engagements with issues such as cybernetics, the concept of information in relation to language and knowledge, and the ‘control society.’ Other continental philosophers who have dedicated substantial bodies of work to understanding information in its technical sense, such as Gilbert Simondon and Raymond Ruyer, have recently begun to be rediscovered. Drawing on and extending these resources, exciting new work is now being done in this area by younger researchers. The aim of the workshop is to bring together such researchers to engage in dialogue, debate ideas, and further develop the rich potentials of continental approaches to information technology.

Speakers: Beatrice Fazi (University of Sussex), Jon Roffe (University of New South Wales), Laura Lotti (University of New South Wales), Andrew Iliadis (Temple University), Dominic Smith (University of Dundee), and Ashley Woodward (University of Dundee).

All welcome. This workshop is open to all staff and students of the University of Dundee, of other universities, and to members of the general public. The formal proceedings will be followed by drinks at a local bar, and then dinner. No need to book except if you would like to attend the dinner. For dinner bookings or any inquiries, please contact Ashley Woodward: a.z.woodward@dundee.ac.uk

 

Schedule

9:15 Coffee / welcome

10:00  Ashley Woodward : ‘The Informational Dispositif’

10: 45  Beatrice Fazi : ‘For an Aesthetics of Discreteness, and Against the Virtualisation of Digital Computation’

11:30  Break

12:00  Dominic Smith : ‘Which Way to Turn? Three Key Challenges for Philosophy of Technology Today’

12:45  Lunch (not provided)

2:15  Jon Roffe : ‘The Origins of Information in Shannon, Ruyer, and Simondon’

3:00  Laura Lotti : ‘Simondon Amid the Cypherpunks: Information, Signification, and Political Invention in Contemporary Computational Culture’

3:45  Coffee

4:15  Andrew Iliadis (via Skype) : ‘Carving Nature at its Joints: Notes on Philosophy’s Contribution to Computational Ontology’

5:00  Roundtable Discussion

5:30   End/drinks

7:30   Dinner

 

Abstracts

 

Beatrice Fazi : ‘For an Aesthetics of Discreteness, and Against the Virtualisation of Digital Computation’

This talk will offer a theoretical proposition intended to surpass an impasse that, in my view, afflicts contemporary aesthetic investigations of computation. This impasse concerns the difficulty of accounting for the ontological disparity between the continuity of sensation and the discreteness of digital technology. I will argue here that a metaphysical attention to continuity has entered digital studies via readings and interpretations of Gilles Deleuze’s ‘aisthetic’ philosophy. These readings aim to build a theory of ‘digital sensation’ by assigning a virtual dimension to computation; they also underpin, in part, the affective turn in digital theory and new media studies. In contrast to such positions, I will contend that an ontological reconceptualisation of formal abstraction in computation is necessary, and that through such reconceptualisation it becomes possible to uncover, within the discreteness of computational formalisms, an indeterminacy that would make computing aesthetic qua inherently generative. This indeterminacy, I will claim, can be found by philosophically reconsidering Alan Turing’s notion of ‘incomputability’.

 

Andrew Iliadis : ‘Carving Nature at its Joints: Notes on Philosophy’s Contribution to Computational Ontology’ 

“Ontology” is a term that is used in philosophy and computer science in related but different ways—philosophical ontology typically concerns metaphysics while computational ontology typically concerns databases. This paper provides a few brief notes on philosophy’s contribution to computational ontology, not through metaphor or comparative analysis, but through references to actual examples where computer scientists and engineers practiced interdisciplinary work with philosophers. Starting with French philosopher’s early flirtation with cybernetics, I move on to show how scientists and engineers engaged in applied computational ontology work in the second half of the twentieth century used philosophical theories from continental metaphysics to produce their own philosophies of information. We’ll look at several case studies and end by considering some of their ethical implications.

 

Laura Lotti : ‘Simondon Amid the Cypherpunks: Information, Signification, and Political Invention in Contemporary Computational Culture’

 In the spirit of Ian Hacking’s “Canguilhem Amid the Cyborgs” (George Canguilhem being one of Gilbert Simondon’s mentors and main influences) this presentation foregrounds the relevance of Simondon’s philosophy in today’s computationally mediated culture. Specifically, it deploys Simondon’s concept of signification, in the context of his theory of information, to discuss the possibility of political invention within the inherently networked, automated and supposedly preemptive character of the current system of power – said to neutralize novelty and political expression into the logic of information trading underlying neoliberal markets. Simondon hardly problematizes the position of the technical vis-à-vis the political and economic conditions that allow for the development of a technological lineage. Yet, this paper argues, it is precisely his stubborn refusal to subsume technics and technical objects to capital that provides the foundations for a new political praxis consisting in the engineering of new forms of organization. In order to demonstrate this, the paper applies Simondon’s conceptual toolkit to discuss the origins and legacy of the cypherpunk movement – i.e. the milieu informing and, retrospectively, informed by the invention of the blockchain architecture. The field of relationality involved in the genesis of the blockchain data structure is a concrete example of the dynamic structuration of a new axiomatic of signification, from which a new politics can spring forth. This is a politics whose terrain of struggle lies in the invention of protocols, with new opportunities and challenges – leveraging contingency and openness in the processes of co-individuation with new technical ensembles.

 

Jon Roffe : ‘The Origins of Information in Shannon, Ruyer, and Simondon’

Claude Shannon’s 1948 paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” marks a watershed moment in twentieth century thought. This piece is both materially decisive in, and emblematic of, the developments in statistical mechanics, engineering, psychology, neurology and a host of other adjacent fields taking place in the thirties and forties in the rise of cybernetics. These developments were to have a lasting and profound impact not only on the scientific front of the Anglo-American context, but in French thought across the spectrum (Derrida’s famous “Signature Event Context” would only be one well-known piece of evidence).
This paper will discuss two particularly important and interesting cases of the impact of cybernetic information theory in the French context, those of Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon. Ruyer affirms the decisive interest of cybernetic thought, but argues that it forecloses any account of the origin of information. For his part, Simondon will generalise the notion of information, dissolving both the discrete structural elements of classical information theory, and the grounds for Ruyer’s complaint, in his radical account of ontogenesis.

 

 

Dominic Smith : ‘Which Way to Turn? Three Key Challenges for Philosophy of Technology Today’

 This paper identifies and seeks to address three key challenges facing philosophy of technology today: 1.) the status of ‘the transcendental’; 2.) the status of common sense in constituting our received sense of a ‘technology’; 3.) the status of ‘turning’ as a picture of method. I begin with a general discussion of why these issues matter for philosophy of technology today, while also considering why philosophy of technology might have timely potentials as a field of inquiry. I then outline some key trajectories to have developed in philosophy of technology since a so-called ‘empirical turn’ in the late 1990s. I argue: 1.) that the empirical turn badly caricatured transcendental reasoning, and that the legacy of this has been to cut the field adrift from important developments in continental philosophy (both historical and contemporary); 2.) that we have just as much (and in some cases much more) to learn from paradoxical exceptions to any received sense of what constitutes a technology in a given context; 3.) that commitment to ‘turning’ as a picture of method, although apparently trivial, has had disorienting and fractured consequences for work in philosophy of technology. In conclusion, I will propose a practice of mapping ‘exceptional technologies’ that draws on a strong sense of the transcendental as a way of addressing these challenges.

 

Ashley Woodward : ‘The Informational Dispositif (à partir des Immatériaux)’

The concept of the dispositif (variously translated as ‘apparatus,’ ‘device,’ or ‘set-up’) is one familiar in continental philosophy from the key role it plays in the works of Michel Foucault, and the analysis to which it has been subjected by other philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Giorgio Agamben. The concept is also a key one in the works of Jean-François Lyotard, especially in the period of his Libidinal Economy. A dispositif, in short, is a unit of ontological analysis which is irreducibly heterogeneous and multiple. It is general enough to be applied to all scales and to any kind of thing: a political institution, a work of art, a psychological symptom, an abstract concept, a computer programme, a technical object, and so on. This paper will tinker with the device that is the concept of the dispositif in Lyotard’s works, beginning from the rough blueprints we find in the exhibition he directed at the Pompidou Centre in 1985, Les immatériaux, and comparing with the other instances in his works to construct an informational dispositif. The paper aims to sketch what the motivations for proposing the concept of the informational dispositif would be, and to sketch a few suggestions about what this concept could do.

 

Bios

 

Beatrice Fazi is Research Fellow in Digital Humanities and Computational Culture at the Sussex Humanities Lab, and a faculty member of the School of Media, Film and Music (University of Sussex). Her background is philosophy. She holds a PhD and an MA from the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths (University of London), and a Laurea in Philosophy from Università degli Studi di Macerata (Italy). Her work explores questions located at the intersection of philosophy, science, technology and culture, and her research interests include media philosophy and theory, digital aesthetics, computation and logic, algorithmic reason, contingency and indeterminacy, critical and cultural theory. More: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/378975

Andrew Iliadis is an Assistant Professor at Temple University (tenure-track) in the Department of Media Studies and Production (within the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication). He is also a Contributor at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Adviser at H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, Researcher at the Centre international des études simondoniennes, and Editorial Leader at the Society for the Philosophy of Information. More: http://www.andrewiliadis.com

Laura Lotti recently completed her PhD at the School of the Arts & Media, UNSW Australia. She has a background in economics, media, and philosophy. Her research studies the relations between economic, technical and social systems.

 Jon Roffe is Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. He teaches at the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. He is an editor of Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy and the translation series Groundworks (Rowman & Littlefield International). More: https://hal.arts.unsw.edu.au/about-us/people/jon-roffe/

 Dominic Smith is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee. His research focuses on philosophy of information. His book Exceptional Technologies is forthcoming with Bloomsbury. More: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/details/dominic-smith.php

Ashley Woodward is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee. He is an editor of Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy and the translation series Groundworks (Rowman & Littlefield International). His research interests include the works of Jean-François Lyotard, the reception and influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, philosophy of art, and philosophy of information. More: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/details/ashley-woodward.php#tab-ResearchInterests