Amphibian Digitism

Amphibian Digitism (Click pic to enlarge)

the object has a similar interiority and a different physicality, and this I call animism….

the object is devoid of interiority but possesses a similar kind of physicality, and this I call naturalism.

Phillipe Descola – Beyond Nature and Culture

If I describe my first shamanic journey on my own behalf, not Coleen’s journeying for me, mediating an entourage of power animals and beings, not her extractions of misplaced energies, not her soul retrieval journeys, but my own journey, not with the powerful bear, or the gregarious wolf or the insightful owl, but with beings I won’t name and with salamander then there’s only this:

Salamander vibrates between animism and naturalism and so even before the Manhattan Project, before digital computers, salamander was and is digital.

Salamander collapses subject and object, figure and ground, living not just in the ground and the water but of ground and water like pouring water into water.

The object has a similar interiority and a similar physicality and this I call digitism.

Digitism Part 4 (Awareness: Contingent and Ideal)

The next dimension of my map of Digitism I want to consider is Awareness.

When I was in college I went  with my roommate to his home in Queens, NYC.  Growing up in the wilds of Upstate NY, I had not knowingly known any Jewish people.  I had never eaten a bagel.  Certainly I knew Jews existed, and their history of diaspora and persecution.

My roommate was Jewish, as were several of my college friends.  I was puzzled at first that foods they considered Jewish, I considered Polish.

My roommate’s parents were survivors of Auschwitz.  Upon release from there, my roommate’s father vowed to enjoy the rest of his life as much as he could.  Part of this was that he ate steak either with or for dinner every day.

So when I sat down with them for dinner, we might have gwumpki with various side dishes.  My roommate’s father ate stuffed cabbage, but had his steak as well.

One afternoon my roommate and I were in the living room listening to The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.  After a minute or so of Strawberry Fields, my roommate’s mother burst into the living room from the kitchen.

Let me take you down, cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

“What are they saying about Israel?!” She asked, clearly upset.

“No no no” my roommate said, “They’re not saying anything about Israel.  They’re saying “Nothing is real.”

“Well OK then – that’s fine.”

Digitism Part 3 (Composition: Analog and Digital)

Mapping an object with precision, requires eventually, an infinite modeling of the object that is indistinguishable from the basis of designation “object” or an abstraction traveling at the speed of light stopping time. The Borges short story, (although it represents itself as non-fiction) On Exactitude in Science, seems to me the analog pole of this.  I have written before.about Haraway’s phrase “copies without originals” which points to the digital pole.

So why distinguish the analog from the digital?  They both are composed of energy and matter. They can both be thought of as encoding and decoding information.  In a Borgesian universe, anything possible digitally is possible in analog form.

While any one digital thing, and even several, or many digital things are possible in analog form, the digital world we have today is not.  More precisely, and as Haraway points out, it is micro-electronics that make the digital world possible.  Compared to the analog, the micro-electronics/digital enables orders of magnitude more information malleable.

Focus on personal digital communication devices as a mark of the digital is common, but these devices and their functons are only the most visible pixel of the digitized world.  What this focus represents though is an aggregation of de-analogized information into an individual’s experience of interiority.  But this aggregation creates for many an experience of discomfort, of the uncanny.

I think this is why many experience digitized experience as less real than analog experience.  “Less real” is an attempt at naming the feeling of uncanniness the digital can evoke.


In Digitism Part 1 (?), I quoted from Beyond Nature and Culture – Philippe Descola.   In these quotes he described what he posited as the four possible ontologies.  He defined ontologies as ” sociocosmic forms of aggregation and conceptions of self and non-self.”

Figure and ground is the basis for perception to distinguish this from that.  I think ground is a  more complicated phenonomen than simply being the undifferentiated backdrop to thingness.  The perception of ground contains a set of assumptions and guesses.  For instance a frog assumes that everything not moving is neither food nor  threat.  Everything that does not move is the backdrop allowing things (foods or threats) to manifest.

Humans require a more complicated backdrop – “sociocosmic forms of aggregation and conceptions of self and non-self.”

Descola’s intent is to distinguish how the experience of interiority aggregates portions of the physical world into the experience of self, leaving the rest as non-self.

Yet the language is also evocative of Buddhist ideas of Non-Self as a mark of existence.  So despite the experience of a Self as not only the referent point for perception, but as  truly existent, self-sufficient essence, its nature is in fact Non-Self.

Training in not only the idea , but the experience of this as well, leads to the recognition of the non-duality of subject and object – Space is Seen.

So meet Red Bob #2 – part of my own ongoing training in non-duality.

Red Bob #2(mask - Atomic Geograhy) (photo - Stephen Appel) Becoming/Unbecoming
Red Bob #2
(mask – Atomic Geography) (photo – Stephen Appel)

Digitism – Part 2 (Mapping)

Over at Cybogology, Jenny Davis has put up a post Multidimensional Material Mapping.  She argues and I quite agee:

In particular, I think the pole of material dualism or separation can more accurately be replaced with juxtaposition. I argue that a formulation of the material conditions of physicality and digitality should be relational rather than oppositional. That is, if we understand the physical and digital to be always co-present, the question is how physical and digital relate to one another within an artifact, space, place etc. I therefore argue that we can understand these relations in terms of integration and juxtaposition.

I won’t summarize her excellent work here, but rather leave it to the reader to give her post your full attention.  But the idea of relationality is crucial I think

I wish to present some ideas in the spirit of collaboration that Jenny articulates.

To map my largely unformed and inchoate idea of Digitism, I propose 4 dimensions, 3 spacial and time.

AWARENESS representing a continuum of regarding phenomena as a progression from contingent to ideal.

COMPOSITION  Here the continuum is from analog to digital.  It includes all elements of a functional assembly, so it in fact might be represented as a range, or discontinuous points rather than a single point.

AGENCY.  The spectrum ranges from machine to human.  All of these dimensions need considerable expansion, maybe this more than the others.

TIME. My graph shows an arrow of time although I’m not committed to a one way function.  This becomes useful in plotting the changes a functional assembly experiences in action


Honestly, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I would appreciate any reactions.  I wanted to kind of just spit this out, but it’s really all I can handle cognitively right now.

Digitism – Part 1 (?)

Over at Cyborgology there’s been a long running discussion about “digital dualism”. But summarizing the different perspectives on digital dualism is more than I can handle here..  So I write this post to respond to Nathan Jurgenson’s latest post in which he asks “I’d like to close with a question: do we need names for these different digital dualism perspectives? If so, what to call them? I’m asking, and would love to discuss this more in the comments.”   He continues with a thumb nail sketch of the issues.

Thus, digital dualism is the tendency to see the digital and material as too distinct, rather than enmeshed, consistent with the definition of the term I worked with one website to create:

n. The belief that online and offline are largely distinct and independent realities.

Second, I want to refocus on the question of how digital dualism—this tendency to underestimate digital-material enmeshment—often clears a clean path towards the claim that one (usually, but not always, the material) is more real, deep, human, and true. Not ontology, these are cultural value statements based on the idea that the on and offline are distinct rather than enmeshed.

Digital Dualism of the Real

Nathan in this post poses putting ontological issues on the “back burner”.  But he continues to use the word “real” in hs definition.  This dual stance will tend to cause confusion.  And as I had pointed out the lack of a partner to digital in the phrase “digital dualism” seemed unclear.  He responded that digital/physical dualism would be more accurate.

I recently ran across the essay Beyond Nature and Culture – Philippe Descola.

The thought experiment derives from the initial intuition. If we agree that every human is aware of being a combination of interiority and physicality, then one can imagine how an entirely hypothetic subject, devoid of any previous information about the world, might use this equipment to chart his environment through a process of identification. By identification, I mean the elementary mechanism through which this subject will detect differences and similarities between himself and the objects in the world by inferring analogies and distinctions of appearance and behaviour between what he experiences as characteristic of his own self and the attributes he ascribes to the entities which surround him. And since the only tools he can rely upon are his interiority and his physicality, his patterning of the world will be based upon the selective attribution or denial of these attributes to other existing things. The range of identifications based on the interplay of interiority and physicality is thus quite limited: when confronted with an as yet unspecified alter, whether human or non-human, our hypothetical subject can surmise either that this object possesses elements of physicality and interiority analogous to his, and this I call totemism; or that this object’s interiority and physicality are entirely distinct from his own, and this I call analogism; or that the object has a similar interiority and a different physicality, and this I call animism; or that the object is devoid of interiority but possesses a similar kind of physicality, and this I call naturalism. These formulae define four types of ontologies, that is of systems of distributions of properties among existing objects in the world, that in turn provide anchoring points for sociocosmic forms of aggregation and conceptions of self and non-self.

Descola argues four types of ontologies (animism, totemism, analogism, naturalism), create the substrate for what “cultural value statements” are possible.  He is also arguing for a at least a minimal amount of duality as the basis for distinguishing this from that.  Unless one is able to achieve the Space Is Seen level of awareness, I think he is right.

I want to propose that the issues Nathan et al are getting at is not a mere conventional duality, but a fifth Descolian ontology: Digitism.  The Digital subject surmises that hir interiority and the physical fluctuates, fluxes, in whether they are analogous to each other.  (Nathan’s digital/physical duality echoes, but changes the interiority/physical duality Descola describes.  The digital occupies the same place in the formulation of the duality as “interiority”.)

For the Descola’s Naturalist, “naturalism inverts the ontological premises of animism since,instead of claiming an identity of soul and a difference of bodies, it is predicated upon a discontinuity of interiorities and a material continuity.”

For the Digitist, as interiority  and the physical become digitized, categories become less essentalist and more the expression of a particular embodiment characterized by change and queerness.

So I propose that Nathan’s digital dualism is really  a divide between those who favor different ontologies: Naturlalism or Digitism.

I’ve seriously overextended by cognitive abilities here so I end with this quote from Descola’s essay.  Maybe I’ll explore Digitism further in future posts. At any rate:

The differences that count are those that accrue from the network of discontinuities of form, matter, behaviour or function that are offered to our grasp by the movement of the world.  Discontinuities that are sometimes straightforward, sometimes barely outlined; discontinuities that we can recognize or ignore, emphasize or minimize, actualize or leave as potentialities; discontinuities which form the framework on which are hooked our relations with what Merleau-Ponty aptly called ‘the associate bodies’

22. I found, in short, that there was no need to presuppose some original fault lines in this network of discontinuities, in particular one that would separate the realm of nature from the abode of speaking creatures; I found that, however useful this constitutional division may have been in triggering the accomplishments of Modernity, it has now outlived its moral and epistemological efficiency, thus making way for what I believe will be a new exciting period of intellectual and political turmoil.

Beyond Nature and Culture – Philippe Descola.