Software Studies: Arithmetic and the computational regime

In the excerpts that we read this week, the notion of reality as a computer has taken a much larger position than I would have imagined. Most bluntly this view of the world, takes a kind of geno – pheno type approach to information and knowledge – and reality. The universe as a kind of processor, processing information on an atomic level. This matrix-simulation notion of reality, certainly isn’t new. But the previous uses I’ve come across seem to be brought up as a kind of metaphor for human understanding, whereas Wolfram seems to be pushing for an objective scientific claim. The whole venture gives a good harking to Plato’s theory of forms or ideas, the belief that there are abstract forms beyond perceivable experience that dictate the order of reality. Building off these claims, Sack uses his prose to unpack the development of arithmetic from the Platonic ear, positioning arithmetic as central to the negotiating of ideas and information.
In this stride for certainty, the “Computational Regime” emerges, reducing the “ontological requirements to a bare minimum. Rather that initial premise (such as God, an originary Logos, or the axioms of Euclidean geometry) out of which multiple entailments spin, computation requires only an elementary distinction between something and nothing (one and zero) and a small set of logical operations. ….Consequently, the Regime of Computation provides no foundations for truth and requires non, other than the minimalist ontological assumptions necessary to set the system running.” Over looking how this relates to the tradition of western meta-physics (I think this is something to possibility come back to later), I find striking parallels between the computational regimes ontology of something and nothing, and the traditions of thought that have emerged from Buddhism. While Buddhism as a whole is not short on meta-narratives, that could be attributed to what the computational regime calls universal “logical operations”; Zen Buddhism takes a much more deconstructed view, that is grounded on experiential knowledge, yet is anchored to the belief of something and nothing. In its (anti)intellectual approach of foregrounding the knowledge that reality is happening right now, they prioritize the process, a strategy that could be helpful in rethinking the emergence of the computational regime. I’m thinking it’s helpful, since I find in much of the texts, and arguments, we’ve been exploring there is an almost messianic sense of time, a undertone of salvation in the form of technological determinism. While from a rhetorical standpoint it seems like some kind of shifting of the guard, it’s ultimate direction is arguably the same… I guess from this position the computational regime operates in a space of historical continuity. What does all this mean from a more pragmatic perspective? I’m weary of claims, that say Manovich might make, saying there is “only one medium”. While yes, the ubiquity of computers has saturated cultural production it seems far from being hegemonic in its totality. I would argue for a computational materialism that describes systems of computation as overlapping and in coordination with each other, but still culturally hackable. My interest and concern, is that media in both a narrow and expanded view, now not only symbolically expresses the policies we uphold, but that its very materiality embodies it, and what the civic and cultural implications of such a development might be. As a seemingly banal example, we might consider a traffic light, in the previous order of media as a source of information, the street light informs us that we should stop, and if we want to adhere to the law we do. In the emerging reality, the traffic light would simply stop us, regardless of will. My interest is not is defending a romanticized notion of individualism and choice, but in preserving the humanizing agency of a system who’s totality includes the culture hackers, artists, and dropouts.

• Sack, Warren. The Software Arts. unpublished manuscript. (Chapter 1: Artithmetic) [Course Reader]
• Hayles, Katherine. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. (Chapter 1: Intermediation: Textuality and the Regime of Computation) [Course Reader]
• Wolfram, Stephen. A New Kind of Science. Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media, 2002. (Chapter 1: The Foundations for a New Kind of Science &  Chapter 2: The Crucial Experiment)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: