The Aesthetics of Contingent Computation: Abstraction, Experience, and Indeterminacy

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Fazi, Maria-Beatrice
  • Publisher: Goldsmiths, University of London

This thesis offers a philosophical study of computation, which is understood here as a method of abstraction that systematises reality through logico-quantitative means. The thesis challenges the view that computation’s abstractive processes are simple and static ‘formulae’ that capture the world’s dynamism. By engaging with the formal and axiomatic character of computing, it argues that computation is itself dynamic, because it has a potential to actualise itself.\ud \ud This potentiality is theorised in aesthetic terms. Drawing from Deleuze, aesthetics is viewed as an investigation into the conditions of real experience. For Deleuze, these conditions pertain to virtuality, i.e. to the indeterminacy of sensation, and of thought’s immanence to affect. However, through a novel reading of the ontological significance of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and of Turing’s notion of incomputability, the thesis demonstrates that indeterminacy does not pertain uniquely to virtual life, but rather lies at the axiomatic heart of computational logic. Computation is thus shown to be contingent, because it is always indeterminate. This contingency is formal, not empirical; it is the status of self-sufficient processes of algorithmic determination, which always confront quantitative infinity by means of formal abstraction.\ud \ud Whitehead’s philosophy is used to extend aesthetics from the sensible to the intelligible. Experience is thereby understood as self-actualisation. Its conditions are tied to physical and conceptual operations of determination. Computational processes are addressed as Whitehead’s ‘actual occasions’: as events that constitute themselves through the dynamic processing of eternal and actual data. This dynamism is not pre-determined a priori, and therefore breaks with the computationalist and cognitivist paradigms, which reduce actualisation to universalising prescriptions. This dynamism cannot be flattened onto sense-empirical factuality either. Instead, an aesthetics of contingent computation conceptualises ‘computational actual occasions’ as discrete processes of determination that conclude with the production of a structure or a ‘form’ of actualisation.
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