Not the Negation of Science

My love affair with Kevin Kelly continues; his recent post on the non-death of theory is definitely worth a read. Kelly responds to Chris Anderson's recent article on The Death of Theory, in which Anderson argues that massive, computational approaches to problem solving are replacing traditional, hypothesis-driven, science. Kelly laments that Anderson attempted to negate theory rather than promote an additional method for problem-solving. Here's the highlight:

My guess is that this emerging method will be one additional tool in the evolution of the scientific method. It will not replace any current methods (sorry, no end of science!) but will compliment established theory-driven science. Let's call this data intensive approach to problem solving Correlative Analytics. I think Chris squander a unique opportunity by titling his thesis "The End of Theory" because this is a negation, the absence of something. Rather it is the beginning of something, and this is when you have a chance to accelerate that birth by giving it a positive name. A non-negative name will also help clarify the thesis. I am suggesting Correlative Analytics rather than No Theory because I am not entirely sure that these correlative systems are model-free. I think there is an emergent, unconscious, implicit model embedded in the system that generates answers. If none of the English speakers working on Google's Chinese Room have a theory of Chinese, we can still think of the Room as having a theory. The model may be beyond the perception and understanding of the creators of the system, and since it works it is not worth trying to uncover it. But it may still be there. It just operates at a level we don't have access to.

Sure, I've been spending too much time lately writing on Levinas' concept of absolute alterity (d'Autrui). But I am repeatedly blown away at how often the writing of the Web 2.0 crowd echoes the sentiments of postmodern metaphysicians. Fucking awesome.


So Long, Thanks for All the Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits

As an undergrad, I majored in British literature. I was particularly attracted to the 18th century satirists; Jonathan Swift quickly became my favorite.

Also, in college, I delved deeper into stand-up comedy. During this exploration, I first discovered George Carlin. If I were to ever believe in reincarnation, Swift to Carlin is clearly evidence. Both used a keen intellect coupled with a penchant for vituperate satire to radically push the boundaries of their day. Shit yeah, Carlin would have ate a baby. And Swift certainly would have seen aids as a solution to the human disease. Both, too, had moments of touching humanism- a reminder of that unspeakable similarity that underwrites our existences.

Carlin: "why is it, when you're driving, everyone goin' slower than you is an idiot? And everyone goin' faster than you is a maniac"


Responsibility for others

Normally I let Mrxk deal with this kind of stuff. He's good at it. Witty. Poignant. Firm. But I guess, since he hasn't hit this one yet, I'll take it.

So, if you're reading this, you probably know I'm writing a dissertation on Levinas. And, likely, you know that Levinas' theory is about respecting and maintaining an other (person)'s response-ability at all costs. Short version: rather than try to synthesize the differences between me and another, I should let those differences put my own fundamental assumptions into question. And, always, I should respect their response. But there are times that try my patience. Like this: http://barackobamaantichrist.blogspot.com/


Sigh. O.k., a quick taste. You really should just search the blog for a bit. Here's a snippet in which the author makes a correlation between Obama's rise to power and a contemporary influx in natural disasters:

For everyone stammering to rebuttal this argument, slow down, take a breath. I realize there has been all sort of crazy weather throughout history, volcanoes, earthquakes, huge world wars. I get your argument. I am just saying this weather phenomenon is really lining up with the phenomenon that is Barack Obama. If everyone could list the different current weather events, and wars or rumors of wars going on that would be a good start. Please counter this argument as much as you want, I am just exploring the idea I have heard people talking about.

What is interesting to me here is that the writer calls for agonism. That's good. But...

Levinas himself commented in an interview (its in God Who Comes to Mind) that our utter responsibility to an other's alterity should only be interrupted when that other threatens the alterity of a third party. Now, there is no absolute scale upon which to measure violence: is it more violent to interrupt the other I face or to allow him / her to totalize, assimilate, silence or "murder" (in Levinasian discourse) a third. But, even in the absence of an absolute scale, I feel pretty safe calling this into question.

On a less philosophical (dissertation-sounding) note, its crap like this that keeps me from considering getting Rowan baptized. Ever.


Embracing Error

I found Tim Barker's "Error, the Unforeseen, and the Emergent The Error and Interactive Media Art" on work/space. In Barker, I hear what Lanham would refer to as a strong defense for rhetoric: one that recognizes probability not as a lack of certainty but as the possibility of potential. Given my dissertation focuses on public appreciation of the integral role risk must play in our emerging communication networks (a sentiment echoed in Levinas' description of the subject frightfully aware of its contingent dependence on others), I particularly liked this passage:

Any system that seeks the actualisation of unforeseen potential is also a system that has the capacity to become errant. Rather than thinking of the error as something to fear or avoid, we can think of an error as something that brings with it the capacity for the new and the unforeseen (perhaps it is this link to the unforeseen that is precisely the reason that we fear the errant).

Barker connects these ideas to Deleuze, but I think we can also productively connect them to Levinas-Derrida in their opposition to the metaphysics of presence and certainty. Here's a follow-up:

If a system runs through its process without the potential for error it is essentially closed. It does not allow the potentiality of the emergent or the unforeseen. It is only through allowing the capacity for potential errors that we may provide the opportunity to think the unthought, to become-other, and to hence initiate further unforeseen becomings in the virtual (Rodowick 201).

I'm learning to embrace the productive mess.