Data and Technology in Architecture – Articulating the Generic

by mr

0. Information, Data, Lists, Indexes, Pixels

pixel

pixel

 

Symbolicity of data as potential for articulation

A list of indexes on indexes, lists, data, information and pixels. What are they and how do they shape the way we think about the world, architecture and design? What to think about them and how to look at them? They are abundant, suggestive, with no meaning; they can engender anything. How to articulate the potential stored in the simbolicity of data? If we can think of computation as a new literacy, how do we think of alphabets that can express the richness and diversity of architectural articulations? What is a Generic condition, how to master it and create a setup which can encapsulate cultural references and still be operational? Is there a way to abstract form ‘analytical simplifications’ and ‘ineffective pluralities’? What does it mean to decouple objects  from design, machines and systems? Is it possible to conceive a different non-analytical but still operational setup for architectural articulations?

What is our generic ground made of?

“Only a chemist would refer to water as H2O. But I say that it’s liquid and transparent, that we drink it and that we can wash ourselves with it. Now you can finally see what I’m talking about. The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list.”(Eco 2009)

Umberto Eco opens up a question of discussing objects and phenomena without fixing them to a point or a specific meaning. Instead, he claims that lists provide a meaningful context. It is the diversity and richness of cultural articulations which cannot be captured by the elegance of an essential definition. The indexes that could help us reflect and symbolize multiplicity of expressions of contemporary society and science are scattered around information, data, lists, indexes and their articulations. Information technologies are entering all spheres of society: from the way in which we organize our everyday life, to the way in which we think about natural sciences and humanities. Michel Serres takes it a step further by understanding information as an integral part of everything that exists:

“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.” (Serres 2007)

vector

vector

 

The abundance of data, lists and indexes, richness of accompanying narratives, and the plurality of meanings contextualizing information, are destabilizing unambiguous and fixed truths. Symbolic potential of data has a profound influence on the way we think of the world. The idea offered by Claude Shannon, namely that information does not itself carry meaning but transmits messages (Shannon 1948), has become a rather liberating one in the academic discourse: information offers unlimited freedom of manipulation by carrying no meaning. For Shannon, information is the potential stored in data (e.g. for interpretation). Later on, Norbert Wiener was one of the first to give an essential definition of information, similar to the definition of water as H2O. He was one of the first to suggest the inadequacy of understanding human environments in predominantly material terms and physical relations between energy and matter. In order to create a more comprehensive worldview, the analysis had to take into consideration information as a quasi-material category:

“Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.” (Wiener 1965)

index by Diana Alvarez and Miro Roman

index

 

According to Wiener, information is from its conception connected to the issues of decisions, communication and control. These were the first indexes of the development of Systems Theory, Cybernetics and Complexity Theory, which are systemic approaches to the increasingly complex world. What Wiener suggests is that foundations of information theory can be found in his theory of cybernetics, while for Serres “information circulates universally within and between the totality of all existing things” (Serres 2014). Wikipedia states that the “complexity science attempts to understand the nature of complex systems” (‘Cybernetics’ 2014). If we think of our world, or our cities as complex systems, this would imply that we are able to understand and control them. Problems are reduced to a series of functions, statistics and numerical ratios simplifying the setup without taking into account the interdependence and the immensity of factors. Solutions are mainly reduced to optimization – be it infrastructure, environment or control, all of these are one-sided solutions that ultimately result in the Generic (Koolhaas et al. 1995).

list by Diana Alvarez and Miro Roman

list

 

The way in which we think and render information can significantly alter our world. With computers, a specific machine has become any machine. A fixed planet of finite resources – the one seen from Apollo 11 has become an informational planet composed of trillions of indexes, harvesting abundant, “infinite” energy from the Sun. (Hovestadt et al. forthcoming). How are the abundance of information and the availability of continuous data streams changing our world? If we can think of computation as a new form of literacy, how do we think of alphabets that can cultivate the richness and diversity of architectural articulations?

shift: apolo 11 and internet map opte.org

shift

 

shift collague

shift

 

1. Object, Proportion, Property, Index

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Architectural articulation of the Generic condition
History of unbounded fascinations with the generic

What is a generic condition and what does it mean for architecture? One might say it is a solution to the 19th century problems, unable to cope with the 21th century developments. It can be characterized as the product of the last century’s industrialization, modernization and globalization. At the same time, it is an indicator of limits of analytical thinking and the common ground; a potential provided by global generic infrastructures. The question that Koolhaas posed was: is the Generic “[…] a conscious movement away from difference toward similarity? What if we are witnessing a global liberation movement: ‘down with character!’ What is left after identity is stripped? The Generic?“ (Koolhaas et al. 1995). Stein tried to answer a similar question 60 years before: “[K]nowing that there is no identity and producing while identity is not. That is what a master-piece is.” (Stein 1936) The generic is established as purely infrastructural, systematic, continuous, in this sense it is our legacy, and it can be read in multiple ways.

“3.3 The Generic City is fractal, an endless repetition of the same simple structural module; it is possible to reconstruct it from its smallest entity, a desktop computer, maybe even a diskette.” (Koolhaas et al. 1995)

City Science

City Science

 

One can find its reflections in contemporary urban planning, architectural theory and design. The New Science of Cities which is “peeling back layer after layer of complexity until we alight upon what we might consider fundamental ideas and techniques” (Batty 2013), Parametricism with its Manifesto (Schumacher 2008), or Shape Grammars as a design of non-representational, geometric art (Stiny and Gips 1971), all rely on an analytically defined set of input parameters and rules aimed either at modelling the nature of things, or at optimizing and differentiating specific properties of things. “What we encounter in this statement is an unreconstructed logical positivism, which, among other things, implicitly holds that the world is in principle perfectly knowable, its contents enumerable and their relations capable of being meaningfully encoded in the state of a technical system, without bias or distortion.”(Greenfield 2013) Control, rationalization, optimization, logistics and science are celebrated. Complex phenomena are reduced to several key elements that can ‘explain everything’. References and analogies are found in the ‘ideal machine’ – the nature itself. One of the most explicit and poetically aggressive expressions of this kind of thinking is Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto:

“8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries![…] Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.” (Marinetti 1909)

Futurism

Futurism

 

A hundred years later, a similar techno – apologetics can be found in Kurzweil’s Singularity Theory:

“As we gradually learn to harness the optimal computing capacity of matter, our intelligence will spread through the universe at (or exceeding) the speed of light, eventually leading to a sublime, universe wide awakening.” (Kurzweil 2005)

Kurzweil

Kurzweil

 

This kind of reading of the generic leads to a dead end. How to look at the development of the 20th century architecture within a context, and not ex nihilo like suggested by Marinetti or Kurzweil. One should try not to judge, categorize or evaluate, but show the myriad of different approaches to architecture, design and cities in order to develop a Galaxy of Indexes (McLuhan 1962), form an Episteme (Foucault 1966), or reflect a generic Body of Thinking (Hovestadt 2014). Eisenman suggests that Architecture from the 15th to the early 20th can be seen as an episteme influenced by three fictions “representation, reason and history” (Eisenmann 1984). The early 20th century – built upon the Age of Reason – sought for a common ground and the resolution of differences between societies, cultures, traditions, languages, sciences, which was to be found in the ‘reason’ and ‘universal truths’. We can think of it as an efficient, yet reductionist, setup that flattens diversity, inconsistency, exceptions, and produces a very friendly, empathic and politically correct environment – a generic environment. This is neither good nor bad, but a common ground on which we currently stand. Standing on this ground, we can follow the 20th century architectural plays.

Machine, Form, System, Shape

Machine

Machine

“ARGUMENT
AIRPLANES
The airplane is the product of close selection.
The lesson of the airplane lies in the logic which governed the statement of the problem and its realization.
The problem of the house has not yet been stated.
Nevertheless there do exist standards for the dwelling house.
Machinery contains in itself the factor of economy, which makes for selection.
The house is a machine for living in.” (Corbusier 1923)

Almost a hundred years after Le Corbusier conceived a house as a machine for living in, we find ourselves in a similar situation. The house has become abstracted; it can be seen as a series of overlapping machines, as Banham suggested:

“When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi reverberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters – when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up? When the cost of all this tackle is half of the total outlay (or more, as it often is) what is the house doing except concealing your mechanical pudenda from the stares of folks on the sidewalk?” (Banham 1965)

System

System

 

Both Le Corbusier and Banham were trying to give a context to the problem of the house. Le Corbusier’s idea has been driven to infinity by Banham. Houses, buildings and cities are now becoming “organisms” – ”systems” – a series of machines. This represents a transition from Corbusier’s mechanical machine to Banham’s system of functions. What Banham did was trying to find cultural implications of systems as a way to rearticulate Le Corbusier’s problem of an abstract house. How to make architectural renderings of functions, how to go beyond fixed forms? Function (mathematical function) is a 300 years ‘old new concept’ developed simultaneously by Leibnitz and Newton as a mathematical study of change – i.e. calculus. Reflections of this concept – rendered as flexible forms – can be seen in the 20th century architectural fictions like Cedric Price’s Fun Palace or Archigram’s Plug-in City. Today, with the spread of computational power and knowledge, the same function could be rendered as a shape with an infinite number of forms. Schumacher’s fields can provide us with a contemporary example:

“The slogan ‘from part to particle’ complemented the older slogan ‘field versus object’ that marked the shift from the time-honoured world of ‘composition’ which carefully relates a small number of distinct parts, to a world of swarm-like agglomerations of countless elements that can only be understood and manipulated via global field properties such as density, grain and directionality.” (Schumacher 2011)

For Schumacher, field is a collection of interrelated points in space. Each point in space is a vector, and by correlating them with a general rule, one is designing a powerful machine. Instead of a single space, Schumacher is orchestrating a whole field of spaces. One starts to look at the world via models. How to optimize, control, and design models. With more parameters, models can become more complex and better.

Text, Grammar, Sign, Type

Urban Semiotics

Urban Semiotics

 

If it can be said that with Shumacher one is discovering (modeling) the world, with Eisenman one is inventing (writing) it. Eisenman characterized his ambition as a wish to disclose “architecture as independent discourse, free of external values—classical or any other; that is, the intersection of the meaning-free, the arbitrary, and the timeless in the artificial.” (Eisenmann 1984)

“Architecture becomes text rather than object when it is conceived and presented as a system of differences rather than as an image or an isolated presence. […] The architectural fiction proposed here differs from the classical fiction in its primary condition as a text and in the way it is read: the new reader is no longer presumed to know the nature of truth in the object, either as a representation of a rational origin or as a manifestation of a universal set of rules governing proportion, harmony, and ordering. But further, knowing how to decode is no longer important; simply, language in this context is no longer a code to assign meanings (that this means that).” (Eisenmann 1984)

While referring to Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Eisenman is articulating architecture as an autonomous discourse – a paradoxical ‘scientific’ move towards more specific and discrete knowledge inside an increasingly connected world. The question is how to articulate this independent discourse? If it has no external references, then it must have an internal structure, a grammar. Eisenman falls back to the same generic episteme from which he tried to escape – a process-driven exploration of form. Vocabulary or an empirical grammar was provided by Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter in their Collage City as a method for celebrating paradoxes in an increasingly complex city (Rowe and Koetter 1978). Collage City, or a system of fragments uses an autonomous grid for combining heterogeneous elements. This new historically motivated idea of city transcends history by collapsing it into categories; Memorable streets, Stabilizers, Potentially interminable set pieces, Splendid public terraces, Ambiguous and composite buildings, Nostalgia-producing Instruments, The garden…

“Because collage is a method deriving its virtue from its irony, because it seems to be a technique for using things and simultaneously disbelieving in them, it is also a strategy which can allow utopia to be dealt with as image, to be dealt with in fragments without our having to accept it in toto, which is further to suggest that collage could even be a strategy which, by supporting the utopian illusion of changelessness and finality, might even fuel a reality of change, motion, action and history.” (Rowe and Koetter 1978)

These are the reactions to the 20th century architectural Modernism which was driven by esentialisms, simplifications and objectifications like: ‘form follows function’ or ‘less is more’. Venturi reacts: “less is a bore” and brings the concept of complexity from system science in relation with architectural discourse of mas and pop culture. The same as Rowe and Eisenman, he was interested in language – in the semiotics of urban systems.

“I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning; for the implicit function as well as the explicit function. I prefer ‘both-and’ to ‘either-or’, black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white. A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus: its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once.” (Venturi 1966)

If one looks at the vocabulary Venturi uses: “both-and”, “either-or”, “implicit function”, “explicit function”, it is clear that he has left the mechanical notion of time and space and has entered a multi-functional space of complexities which needs to be systematized in a new inclusive way. This systematization was provided by Rossi in his “theory of type” – “the very idea of architecture, that which is closest to its essence” – “as the principle of architecture and of the city.” (Rossi 1966) Rossi was searching for the nature of architecture; i.e. he wanted to affirm architecture as an autonomous discipline with a specific scientific knowledge.

“Thus typology presents itself as the study of types of elements that cannot be further reduced, elements of a city as well as of an architecture. The question of monocentric cities or of buildings that are or are not centralized, for example, is specifically typological; no type can be identified with only one form, even if all architectural forms are reducible to types. The process of reduction is a necessary, logical operation, and it is impossible to talk about problems of form without this presupposition. In this sense all architectural theories are also theories of typology, and in an actual design it is difficult to distinguish the two moments.” (Rossi 1966)

A type, as an idea (Quincy 1832) presupposes a certain ideality. From this ideality Rossi is able to render discreet differentiated elements, and classify them. With Embryological House, Greg Lynn is able to escape this ideality of ‘a type as an idea’ and replace it with an ideality of ‘a type as a model’ (Durand and Picon 1821). He rendered continuous and differentiated elements as a topology. It is a model of justifying shapes by processes of analytic transformation, based on the same mathematics of calculus from the 17th century.

population

population

 

“I initially in Animate FORM, focused my thinking on the revolution in motion, and only later realized that the real revolution was in the use of a 300-year-old invention: calculus. […] Most architects want to understand the Embryological House experiment as a search for an ideal house – as if the whole collection of houses was a conceit to then select the best one. They are all equivalent. […] The design problem was not the house, but the series, the entire infinitesimally extensive and intensive group.” (Lynn 2006)

Galaxies as conditions of possibility

What one can observe in the above stated is a galaxy of indexes, a stage play with architectural actors articulating an analytical body of thinking; fractal, structure, model, speed, logic, machine, function, hardware, software, computation, form, shape, type, parameter, swarm… It is an episteme, as Eisenman suggested, which draws its roots from Enlightenment to the present day. All the actors have abstracted from the object, thus dealing with an abstract object; “such abstract objects are not really ‘objects,’ they incorporate entire ‘objectivities’ – they allow for one-of-a-kind particulars to ‘concretize’ singularly, and optimally be fitted according to the requirements of a task.” (Bühlmann 2014). Corbusier and Marinetti have articulated this abstract object as a machine, and rendered it as a form. Banham, Rowe, Venturi and Rossi rendered it in the same manner, but the way in which they have articulated their abstract objects is radically different: the abstract object for them is a function, a system or a typology. Lynn, Eisenman, and Schumacher were able to get a different rendering. The abstract object was a shape with many forms or a topology. Although, at first, the work of Corbusier, Venturi and Schumacher do not seem correlated, there is consistency to them. They belong to the same Body of Thinking. The limit of this approach is its explicitness, the ability to affirm ‘tabula rasa’. With the celebration of digital technologies and the power of computation (parametrics, swarms, grammars, etc.), there is a risk that architecture loses itself in the process of tuning and optimizing. It is a pursuit towards generalisations and ‘good-looking‘ functions and grammars. Typology or topology is not able to capture the generic object. Generic models are not a part of genealogy which places an archetype, a model or a pure form at its origins, or at its plane of reference. Generic models open up a new way of thinking about temporality and genealogy, one which should be taught through information. By reading the architectural discourse as lists, indexes, data, information and pixels, one should be able to develope the next galaxy from which one could articulate abstract objects. This way of reading data and information is in contrast to the organization and conception of architecture as tabular and functionalist, e.g. in Bauhaus, the tables were a condition for automatization. Today, the tables are crucial for algorithms to work. What if one treats the tabular order as hypothetical, fictional or as dramatized arrangements? In doing so, algorithmic design becomes compatible with articulation. With the open-ended double articulation proposed by Louis Hjelmslev (Hjelmslev 1969), the strong prescriptive normalization of Bauhaus could become playful and accommodating for differences.

If one thinks of computation as a new form of literacy, what are the architectural alphabets capable to articulate the generic in a productive setup that can encapsulate ‘complexity’ and cultural references by abstraction, while still being operational? What does it mean to decouple abstract objects from design, machines and systems? Is it possible to conceive a different, non-analytical, but still operational setup for architecture?

 

2. Specific, Generic, Pre-specific

campbells_soup_cans_moma-19641

What is architecture beyond design?
Abstract Object

“[…] new technical object in the digital age: the objectile is not an object but an algorithm—a parametric function which may determine an infinite variety of objects, all different (one for each set of parameters) yet all similar (as the underlying function is the same for all).” (Carpo 2011)

Carpo suggests that the new technical object in the digital age is the objectile; an abstraction from an object. As we have seen the 20 cetury architectural scene was already dealing with the same abstraction, but with different renderings. Objectile defined as a parametric function stays within the limits of analytical thinking; optimization, control, design. It is a limited analytical definition of what an abstract object might become. Architecture beyond design ceases to be one of strict pragmatism, and it seems insufficient and problematic to evade this by locating architecture in the “arts” domain (since art is the “other” of science). With Information, Data, Lists, Indexes and Pixels, we become aware of the ability of algebraic articulations to open up new and broad perspectives for a different conception of abstract objects and architecture. One should think of algebraic articulations as a way of learning which differs from the functional definitions of technical objects. One of the new questions that might be raised in this context is how to computationally articulate abstract objects, which could encapsulate cultural and symbolic richness and still be operational?

Generic design methods drive us to create and modify rules and systems in such a way that we generate abstract machines: the products are not items of a set, but instances of a population that are one of a kind – that of an abstract object. What the generic brought to architectural design is a reflection of a systemic setup, without engaging into the paradoxical invention of “ideal objects” which have to be original and specific. The emphasis is moving from designing ideal objects to designing the ideality of real objects – the ideality in reference to which an object can be designed as one of a kind and generic instead of original and specific. A productive articulation of the generic can come from Massumi’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s view on simulacrum:

“A copy, no matter how many times removed, authentic or fake, is defined by the presence or absence of internal, essential relations of resemblance to a model. The simulacrum, on the other hand, bears only an external and deceptive resemblance to a putative model. The process of its production, its inner dynamism, is entirely different from that of its supposed model; its resemblance to it is merely a surface effect, an illusion.” (Massumi 1987)

generic copy model relation

generic -fixed- copy model relation

 

Simulacrum is expressing a different environment populated by differences which are not copies of a model. This differentiated instances do not merely represent, they have lives of their own. Since they are instances, what is their new relation to a master model, and how can it be articulated? David Graham Shane, while looking at cities, suggested “[t]he disappearance of the master plan.” He continues: “[T]he age of the single authority in absolute charge of a vast city is over. There is no longer one logic, voice, or time-clock that can decree or coordinate comprehensive changes.” This stance should not be interpreted as ‘no master plan or master model means no strategy whatsoever’. It should, on the other hand, be articulated in a different way (Shane 2005). Shane is abstracting from a master plan to a master model, from one fixed logic to a few overlapping ones, but the problem stays the same:

“The problem thereby is not that these synthesized Masters are synthesized; and neither that their ‘nature’ is induced according to the orientation on a certain ambition. The problem is that the synthesized Masters tend to appear as quasi-naturalized, while in fact they are synthesized by acts of learning and on the basis of acquired mastership.” (Bühlmann 2014)

With the abundance of data and the availability of data streams, architecture should be well equipped to seek ways of thinking and conceptualizing as well as articulating abstract objects. With computers and information technologies, a specific machine has become any machine. Le Corbusier’s house as a machine for living in has become a house as any machine. How could one formulate such an understanding of a house on the next level of abstraction regarding Le Corbusier’s house? How to differentiate what machines can be in architecture, and to which levels of abstraction do they correspond to when approaching architecture as signs, text, and grammars. Information technologies offer us a comparative and dynamic way of understanding abstract objects, one which doesn’t deal with specified elements and essential definitions. Instead of looking at the sign via information technologies, we can look at the form of the sign, its simbolicity. We can refer to this as the condition of possibilities of the pre-specific abstract object.

The question is how to master the generic and develop a setup which can encapsulate cultural richness and still be operational? How to articulate Architecture (an abstract object) in the world of data?

 

3. Galaxies, Lists, Epistemes, Articulations

learn_know

Articulation as a probabilistic method

Articulating indexes

“[…] we’re doomed to complex theories that will never have the elegance of physics equations. But if that’s so, we should stop acting as if our goal is to author extremely elegant theories, and instead embrace complexity and make use of the best ally we have: the unreasonable effectiveness of data.” (Halevy et al. 2009)

There is a constitutive difference in how Eco and Halevy, Norvig, Pereira are articulating their notions of lists and data. Eco is working with the infinity of lists, while Halevy, Norvig and Pereira are trying to capture the infinity of a complex system in the infinite list. “The unreasonable effectiveness of data” implies a natural force embedded in data. A complex system becomes like a natural system; one is data driven, the other is wind driven or coal driven. What was before represented by a physics function, Norvig is representing by data. Umberto Eco is offering an inversion from knowing to learning, from a fixed definition to a list. He describes cultural artifacts as lists. Conceiving objects out of lists – in the sense that Eco spoke of – is very common in the object oriented programming (‘Object-oriented programming’ 2014). Eco’s lists are at the same time pragmatic (how to deal with lists), and reflective (how to think about lists). In programing and especially in computer aided architectural design, lists are treated in a pragmatic way, while the challenge is how to incorporate Eco’s reflective and cultural aspect in articulating abstract objects from lists.

Knowledge and information are not fixed anymore – they are relative to the way we look at them. Like in quantum physics, “when electrons (or light) are measured using one kind of apparatus, they are waves; if they are measured in a complementary way, they are particles” (Barad 2012). In a quantum view, apparently contradicting images don’t exclude one another; on the contrary, they complement each other and develop a different picture. In a similar and manner Marshal McLuhan developed a galaxy of indexes in order to articulate The Guttenberg Era not as a fixed historical event but as a mosaic of indexes:

“The Gutenberg Galaxy develops a mosaic or field approach to its problems. Such a mosaic image of numerous data and quotations in evidence offers the only practical means of revealing causal operations in history. The alternative procedure would be to offer a series of views of fixed relationships in pictorial space. Thus the galaxy or constellation of events upon which the present study concentrates is itself a mosaic of perpetually interacting forms that have undergone kaleidoscopic transformation—particularly in our own time.” (McLuhan 1962)

To articulate these positions we need storytelling, a genealogy in order to dramatize the different conditions of possibility, an archaeologically (in the Foucauldian sense). With lists, we are learning, we are constructing our own relative answers, our own universe. The question is what and how to ask, how to surf in a sea of information, how to have a personal approach, and how to articulate it? Mcluhan’s Galaxy, Eco’s lists and Foucault’s Epistemes can suggest how to approach architecture in the world of Data.

“I am not concerned, therefore, to describe the progress of knowledge towards an objectivity in which today’s science can finally be recognized; what I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the episteme in which knowledge, envisaged apart from all criteria having reference to its rational value or to its objective forms, grounds its positivity and thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility; in this account, what should appear are those configurations within the space of knowledge which have given rise to the diverse forms of empirical science.” (Foucault 1966)

Data and information are not new. They have always been there: from the old texts from Babylon and algorithms written in papyrus, to the present day (Serres 1995). In contemporary scientific communities, data is predominantly used for the justification of mathematical models, observation and visualization of complex natural phenomena or big data analytics. This is a part of the analytical and systemic worldview. One is trying to find a function which describes the data in the best possible way; this is a generalization which eliminates all the exceptions as shown in the Limits to growth, a 1972 book on modeling of exponential economics and population growth with five variables that are trying to explain the behavior of the world (Meadows et al. 1972). On the other hand, if we put all our hope in ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of data’ we are repeating the same mistake by avoiding articulation. What Louis Hjelmslev proposed in his ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Language’ is a purely formal and operative approach, in his case to language – “an algebra of language” (Hjelmslev 1969). It is an operational stance on Eco’s lists; a double articulation between a process and a system or language and text, or algebraic equation and simbolicity of data. There is a crucial distinction between an analytical function and algebraic equation. Whereas a function represents a fixed and continuous mapping between a set of outputs and inputs, an algebraic equation represents a continuous articulation of discrete steps around an equal sign. What Hjelmslev offers is an abstraction from analytical functions to algebraic articulations. He is embracing all the exceptions and exploring multiplicities of articulations within symbolic capacities of data/language. ‘The unreasonable effectiveness of data’ presupposes the inner potential of data (inner kernel), while Hjelmslev observes the potential in the relations whose traces are born in their networked symbolic formality. Data becomes messy, temporal, with a specific history; it opens up a stage for a “history of conditions of possibility”, rather than a stage for “progress towards perfection”.

In light of these premises, how do we explore the streaming availability of data and challenge the roles of models, simulations and design? What can we learn from the specific potentials of the Internet and social media? Hovestadt and Bühlmann point us to the direction from which we can start exploring these questions:

“[…]our challenge is to learn the articulation of quantities from the unsettled, unrated potential stored within the symbolicity of data.” (Hovestadt and Bühlmann 2013)

 

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