Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century

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Hardison, O.B., Jr. Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century. New York City: Penguin Books (Viking), 1989/1990. (See copyright page for details of international publication.)

For an older generation, this is that O.B. Hardison (1928-1990), Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, D.C.): author, poet, scholar, teacher.[1]

Illustrated, thoroughly indexed, with a substantial bibliography. Part IV, "Artificial Reality; Or, the Disappearance of Art," begins with a section on "Computers and Art." The last section, Part V, is "Deus Ex Machina; Or, The Disappearance of Man," with chapter 37 (of 38 in the book), titled "Deus ex Machina" (The God from the Machine, with multiple meanings). Deals explicitly with SF, passim, with some emphasis on film and TV; see below.

Back blurb of Penguin paperback (USA):

"Today," writes O. B. Hardison, Jr., "nature has slipped [...] beyond our field of vision." In this provocative, ground-breaking work, Hardison explores what this disappearance means for science, history, art and architecture, music, language, and, ultimately, for humanity. [... H]e writes of Darwin and Einstein, medieval cosmology and modern chaos theory, of computer graphics and T. S. Eliot, robots, and Picasso [...].


PART I 1.3, "Charles Darwin's Tree of Life"

In his Autobiography Darwin called his mind "'a kind of machine for bringing laws out of large collections of facts,'" which Hardison sees as following Francis Bacon's "injunction to use reason to 'deliver and reduce' the imagination," resulting in what Darwin saw as his "dry scientific prose." Hardison believed Darwin erred on Darwin's style and brings in Stanley Edgar Hyman's The Tangled Bank (1962) to reinforce the idea that, in Hardison's words "both The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species are filled with passages that are both beautiful and sensitive, whatever Darwin may have thought of them," a literary point on the art of Darwin's writing the Hardison develops in some depth (pp. 25 f.). 

1.4, "D'Arcy Thompson's Streamlined Fish" Application by Thompson (lived 1860-1948) of mathematics to biology, an action fitting in — and it need not have — with his works' tending to reinforce a mild vitalism. Hardison notes vitalism as "a hardy plant. Few scientists will argue in the late twentieth century that life itself is an inexplicable mystery, but arguments press that human mental processes are irreducibly mysterious and can never be duplicated by machines" i.e., AI. "We will return," Hardison continues, "to this issue" of movability of mental processes, when we consider machine intelligence" (p. 39).

1.5, "Alice's Anomalies"


Not particularly relevant here but important for those interested in what has been called "the Death of Truth": the chapter quite enthusiastically presents a variety of the science-studies variation on the theme of Social Construction/Deconstruction/PoMo theory.

In spite of [Albert] Einstein ["God does not play dice with the universe"], it is fair to say that the dominant movement of twentieth-century theoretical science, especially mathematics, physics, and cosmology, has been away from certainties toward masks and games. This is undoubtedly in part the result of the involvement of modern science with the unimaginably small and impossibly large. The main impetus, however is a widespread sense that the world as it is known is a construct. If there is an absolute reality — real reality — it is known only as a tantalizing, every-receding goal; in Wallace Stevens's words, "It is possible, possible, possible. It must / Be possible. (p. 49, quoting "NOTES TOWARD A SUPREME FICTION lyrics"[2]).

The concluding paragraph summarizes, "Quantum theory shows that nature cannot be separated from the person observing it." (As Erlich's Chem 101 instructor put it, day one, 1961: "The observer is part of the system" — also an obvious point in field anthropology: a close observer can't give us, so to speak, The Village — as a Thing in Itself — but only the village with an anthropologist in it; similarly with journalists covering stories.) "Quark theory suggests the existence of entities that can never be observed. By proposing that everything in the universe comes from nothing, the inflationary theory makes the disappearance of nature official. We are such stuff as dreams are made of,[3] but who is doing the dreaming" (p. 56) — and Hardison goes on to quote Alice, in Through the Looking Glass, ch. 12: "`Now, Kitty, let's consider who it was that dreamed it all. This is a serious question, my dear, and you should not go on licking your paw like that [...]."[4]

+++++++++++++++++++++ 1.6, "Mandelbrot's Monstrosities": Benoit Mandelbrot, Freeman Dyson, et al. on fractals and such — and the esthetics thereof. Note for theme and narrative structure of Hardison's book — through not immediately for the theme of this Wiki — chapter's final paragraph.

If science is a human creation, we have caught the mind in the very act of swallowing up the world, which is another way of saying that we have witnessed nature in the process of disappearing. The steps are neatly defined by the figures of Charles Darwin, D'Arcy Thompson, and Benoit Mandelbrot. They take us from a nature that is alien and into which human motives are poured, to a nature that is number — but number authenticated by an absolute order — to an imitation of nature by means of number that is also a form of art. Darwin's world is mythic. Mandelbrot's is pure fiction, which means it is entirely human. Games are human inventions. A throw of the device will never eliminate chance, but it keeps the games interesting. (p. 71)


PART II, "Great Walls and Running Fences; OR, the Disappearance of History"

2.7, "History in Washington, D.C." On architecture (mostly), including the literally juxtaposed (more traditional) Dirksen and (militantly modern, or Modernist) Hart Buildings in D.C.

The Hart Building dramatizes the turning away of modern culture from history. [...] The same truth is asserted by the myriad utilitarian products of technological cult. Corrugated steel has no classical precedent, but it is just the thing for cow sheds and storehouse. A bathroom is a bathroom and a grain elevator is a grain elevator. No need for domes of columns of allusions to the Areopagus of Athens or the Senate House of Rome. ¶ To reject history is to move in the direction of abstraction, and a kind of abstraction was thus inherent in the objects produced by technology long before an aesthetic of abstraction had been recognized. (p. 86) [* * *]

The prophet of futurism, F. T. Marinetti, vows in his First Manifesto to free Italy, and later the world " . . . of its smelly gangrene of professors archaeologists. . . and antiquaries. [... F]rom the numberless museum's that cover her like so many graveyards." It is well said. The theme of libertarian from history links modern art with the technological aesthetic and with all those presences created by technology that silently but powerfully shape consciousness in ways unnoticed in traditional attempts to understand culture. (p. 86)


2.9, "Paris Dishonored" Starts with the Crystal Palace of 1851 as a candidate for "the first example of truly modern architecture, honoring "the triumphs of Victorian civilization, by which was meant Victorian technology." Even as the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was to mark a century of US growth and showed off American industrial achievements,[5] "the Great Exhibition was intended to show off the machines that were the basis of England's industrial prowess" (p. 87). Similarly, the Eiffel Tower shows Gustave Eiffel's "remarkable sense of the aesthetic inherent in technology," and — however much it was to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution (1789 + 100 = 1879), pretty much just is what it is, with the statement, "Here I am! Look at me!" With that here being "for the Eiffel Tower [...] Paris, the center of the civilized world" (pp. 90 f.).


2.10, "Bauhaus": Started out (officially) as part of the arts and crafts movement with the crafts part anyway "against the impersonal forces of mass production," romanticizing medieval crafts-folk. This changed with Walter Gropius et al., with Gropius quoted as saying that "'Only through mass production can really good products be provided,'" adding that "'The trend of our age to eliminate the craftsman promises far greater industrial rationalization'" — and Gropius is mildly praised by Hardison for "sensitivity to [the] technological aesthetic" (p. 95). The chapter ends with who went where from the Bauhaus group, after the Nazis took over, with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy eventually ending up founding "the Chicago School of Design, which survives today as a division of the Illinois Institute of Technology" (p. 99) — a comment that can serve as transition to the next chapter.


2.11, "International Style" "Between 1945 and 1970 the International Style" of architecture "swept all competition aside" for a wide range of buildings and types of buildings (p. 101), including such notable works as the UN Secretariat and Seagram Building in New York City (1947 and 1957), both pictured in the chapter. Hardison note Tom Wolfe's From Bauhous to Our House (1982)" and its attack on the International Style "for producing 'glass boxes' and 'great hulking structures,' which even those who commission them detest. In total indifference to the politics of its founders, critics of the International Style, especially advocates of postmodernism and urban restoration, have called it inhuman and 'puritanical' and 'fascist.'" Hardison notes that "The ideal of making good design available to people at large at modest cost is, you might think, the opposite of fascism. Much more important, the better products of the International Style both objectify the imperatives of technology and proclaim the technological aesthetic" (p. 104).


2.12, "Let's Play Architecture" Much to the delight of many who have grown up in Chicago and encounter this chapter, Hardison begins with "The John Hancock building[6] is one of the great buildings of the twentieth century," but, he adds a "but": "but it is also a departure from the formalism of the international Style. [...] The overt display of structure" — the "powerful diagonal bracing structure" is impressively visible — "is a reversion to the function aesthetic in its elemental form — a form entirely congenial to the native traditions of Chicago."[7] In Hardison's reading, the Hancock "is an early expression of dissatisfaction with geometric formalism that is expressed much more directly by postmodernism, where it is associated with a much advertised return to history" (p. 108). And then on to postmodernism and "neomodernism," a k a "deconstructive architecture" (p. 118) — for an excellent introduction to the debates in architecture that can make help make intelligible PoMo in forms that lack the concreteness of architecture.


2.13, "The Bridge and The Bridge Challenging "the geometrical ideal" in the visual arts, "F. T. Marinetti, the brilliant and enigmatic father of futurism" (see above) "argued that motion, speed, simultaneity, and process are the shaping elements of modern experience. To represent contemporary reality, art should depict objects in motions," as they do in movies and dance, "truly modern art forms," and, Hardison notes, also in, e.g., "Marcel Duchamp's famous Nude descending a Staircase (pp. 121-22).[8] From this point of view, Chicago's Hancock "is defensive rather than than progressive. It's tapering profile and huge diagonal braces [...] assert the determination of its architects to keep it rigid [...]" as opposed to the inevitable movement in the wind from the UN Secretariat or, at the time, "the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York" City (p. 122). Large bridges, of course, are definitely in motion (pp. 124 f.)

Hart Crane held in the essay "Modern Poetry" (1929) "that machine have not really changed anything for the poet. The task of poetry is to absorb science and technology and 'convert .. . . experience into positive terms.'" For Marinetti et al. "Technological culture is a new departure, and to ignore that fact is to die artistically" (p. 125).


2.14, "Modern versus Modernist" "Modern art is [...] art that has found ways to name the modern experience" (p. 129). "Modern art recognizes a radical discontinuity between past and present and affirms the present. [... There is a] tendency of modern — in contrast to modernist — art to accept and celebrate technology. [... ¶] Modernist writers recognize that things have changed, but their typical response is nostalgia for the past in a world made unbearable by its loss. Often the loss is associated with technology and mass culture and — shorthand for all of these — 'America'" (p. 131; see Charles Elkins's "E. M. Forster's 'The Machine Stops': Liberal-Humanist Hostility to Technology"). Hardison notes pastoralism in modernism, and we will note that a modern core in modernist art could yield the image of a machine in a garden: see Leo Marx's book at link.


2.15, "Running Fence" "The sculptor Christo, surnamed Javacheff" achieved at least notoriety for "a post, wire, and fabric sculpture" over 24 miles in length across California's Marin and Sonoma counties. It does nothing except "run," and given the geographical context, not very far. However, "it was noticed because, like the Eiffel Tower, it was useless" (p. 135). The fence "became and announcement to the world that technology had created a new kind of aesthetic," one of "linear structure" that is like the abstract art of Mondrian, and, like it, "transhistorical" (p. 136).

More relevantly, Hardison brings in history to note that "In antiquity, temple architecture and religious sculpture were complementary. [...] A temple was planned for the statue of a god, and a large-scale statue of a god was usually created for a specific temple. A similar relationship links modern dual-lane highways with the most popular three-dimensional art form ever created, the thin-steel sculpture known as the automobile" (p. 138).

Notes the embodiment of automotive logic in the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. "The most obvious feature of the Airflow is streamlining. The term was invented by D'Arcy Thompson in On Growth and Form to describe the curvature imposed by water on the body of a fish. It is not a symbol of speed like a tail fin; it is the technological condition for efficient high-speed travel through a fluid. [...] The Airflow was to automobiles what the Crystal Palace was to buildings. The car expressed speed in its design. It was a symbol of what it was. [...] It was modern, not modernist [...]" and didn't sell well (pp. 139-40).


2.16, "Disappearing through the Skylight" Accepts idea that humans make their machines and are in turn shaped by them — cf. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey (novel) — and applies this to cars: "As the automobile is universalized, it universalizes those who use it," making us more cosmopolitan: "The universalizing imperative of technology is irresistible.

Quotes Madame Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, on, in Hardison's words, "the discovering of the machine aesthetic in 1949: '[...] The discovery and rehabilitation of ... machines soon generated propositions which evaded all tradition, above all, a mobile, extra human plasticity which was absolutely new ... .'" From there, Hardison goes on to raise some significant questions: Art is, in one definition, simply an effort to name the real world. Are machines 'the real world' or only its surface? [...] Science has shown the insubstantiality of the world. Its has thus undermined an article of faith: the thingliness of things. As the same it, it has produced images of orders of reality underlying the thingliness of things. Are images of cells or of molecules or of galaxies more or less real than images of machines? Science has also produced images that are pure artifacts. Are images of self-squared dragons more or less real than images of molecules? (p. 144).


PART III, "The Poetry of Nothing; Or, the Disappearance of Language" 3.17, "Throwing the Dice"

Abstraction and universality are also qualities associated with science. Werner Heisenberg makes just this point in his essay "The Tendency to Abstraction in Modern Art and Science" [1969/1974][9] * * * The new consciousness that emerged in art between 1900 and 1910 emerged at about the same time in literature. A good symbolic date for its appearance is 1897, the publication date of Stéphane Mallarmés "Un Coup de dés" — "A Throw of the Dice." (p. 153)

Note that this wiki and the volumes leading up to it took as the start of "the modern" 1895: publication date of The Time Machine and the year the Lumière brothers displayed the cinématographe, so arguably the introduction of movies, a definitive modern art.

Hardison has the subject of "Un Coup" as "randomness. The world has no meaning, but the mind endlessly imposes order on it by arbitrary acts. Meaning is created by an act of will: the placing of one word after another" (p. 157) — "The world within which these efforts are made is ruled by chance and ordered only by arbitrary acts of the mind. Each act is like a throw of the dice [...]" (p. 154).


3.18, "The Search for Transparency" On the Whorfian hypothesis[10] and the limitations of natural language to deal with reality.


3.19, "Dada" (1916 f.)[11] "Dada may be expressing something we still understand only imperfectly — namely, the separation of the mind in technological society from history. If so, one significant idea that Dada expresses is the movement of humanity beyond nature and toward the habit of scientific universals. In other words, it enacts a process of disappearance — of a making-of-the-transparent" (p. 169). And a key part of this "transparency is randomness," connecting it to the "areas of high technology" in which "randomness is essential" (p. 170).

In Hardison's "today," "Today the discontinuities objectified in newspapers and imagined by [James] Joyce have been dwarfed by television," and Hardison gives the example of a touching scene in a TV play cutting with minimal transition to an ad for Preparation H" (p. 178) with the shock cut (our term) minor "compared to the surrealism that the teenagers ingest as a daily diet from musical [sic] videos" and rock concerts. In 2022, we will add the more concentrated surrealism of social media and clicking through the World Wide Web. This "pattern of continuous discontinuity can be traced across the whole spectrum of modern culture. It is a reflex of two of the driving forces of culture: first of technology, which exists to innovate, so that the breakthrough of one year becomes the anachronism of the next; and second, of the dependence of the industrial economy of the rapid obsolescence of everything it produces [...]" (p. 179)


3.20, "Concrete Poetry"[12] "The relation between concrete poetry" — going for a typographical image as much as, or more than, the meaning of the words — "and science complements the world aspirations of concert poetry" to express "'the contemporary scientific-technical view of the world'" (quoting Ernst Gomringer; Hardison p. 186).

Hardison compares and contrasts Robert Indiana's 1965 LOVE painting and 1970 LOVE sculpture in Indianapolis[13] with the EXXON logo. After the LOVE works,

The next most famous American concrete poem seeks transparency rather than affirmation of the past. The EXXON logo affirms the links, stressed so often by concrete poets, between art and technological culture. [...] The advertising agency that produced it is said to have gone to extravagant expense to program a computer to create new words randomly until exactly the right word turned up. Finding a word that meant nothing was [...] a jog priority goal [...].

The logo would be printed in Roman letters. [...] It had to look like a word and be pronounceable and be reminiscent of the word it was replacing — ESSO. [...] EXXON has no etymology, hence no history. It means only itself [...] and that is what it is supposed to mean. Indiana's LOVE is modernist; EXXON is modern. (p. 192)


3.21, "Oulipo"

"Mathematical art is as old as the Greeks and as new as the shapes that emerge from computer images of the fractal equations of Benoit Mandelbrot. [...] Mathematical elements are also common in literature. The Greeks and Romans thought of meter as 'number,' and Saint Augustine wrote an entire treatise [...] to explain how the harmonic that meter generates embody the hidden perfection of divine numbers" (p. 194).

"Oulipo": Ouvoir de Littérature Potentielle — Workshop of Potential Literature, founded 1963. "The term 'potential literature' comes from that fact that a single formula — for example, the formula for the rondeau — can be used for an unlimited number of specific rondeau. The formula is a potential, and to analyze old formulas and make new ones is to establish a 'workshop for potential literature.' In addition to poets and scholars, Oulipo includes mathematicians, computer programmers, and experts in artificial intelligence" (AI; p. 199).


3.22, "Art and Imitation"

Starts with idea of art as imitation and with that very substantial thing, a rock: "a real thing: a [Francis] Baconian object, hard and impermeable out there in the middle distance" — and capable of being analyzed (in some cases literally) by a number of disciplines. "Each of the modes is valid, and in each of them an image of the rock is produced that is different from the images produced by the others. Where is the real rock?" (p. 206).

When you buy a copy of War and Peace, you buy it because you know what it is and have decided you want it. When you subscribe to a newspaper, you do so because you know you do not know what the newspaper will say in the course of the next few weeks. The random quality of the front page of a modern newspaper is not accidental but essential. The root of news is new. [...]

The Dada quality of newspapers is evident in other art forms created by high technology. Film and videotape can be mixed, spliced, and subjected to all manner of processing. Animation can be mingled with [p. 207] photography's colors can be modified, point of view can shift from microscopic to cosmic in an instant, and realism can mingle with surrealism and abstraction. [...] The musical video [sic], a phenomenon of the 1980s, routinely offers surrealism arising from the fusion of sound, image, and text. [...]

There Dada-like events — demolition derbies, punk dress styles, singles bars, Led Zeppelin and Kiss, Atari computer emporia, supply-side economics — bubble up from the hot center of technological society [...]" (p. 208).

Dada, surrealism, et al. "have an important message: we already live in a world in which the real is a manufactured product and in which animate and inanimate, human and artificial, are becoming indistinguishable;[14] in which microbes are patented and cows have human genes and robots have replaced worker on the assembly line. [...] The cultural equivalent of an earthquake occurred in Europe and America between 1900 and 1910. Artists have been trying to describe the new landscape ever since" (p. 211).


PART IV, "Artificial Reality; Or, The Disappearance of Art" (AI)

4.23, "Computers and Art"

Discusses Nash House exhibition in London, 2 August-20 October 1968, covered in Jesia Reichardt's Cybernetic Serendipity. Hardison noes "The proudest boast of the Nash House exhibition was that visitors were never sure whether they were admiring something made by a human being or by a computer. Around 1964 A. Michael Noll has begun creating semi-random images with an uncanny resemblance to Piet Mondrian's 1917 Composition with Lines. When Noll showed his pictures along with the Mondrian original he was surprised to find that most people were unable to identify the human artwork, and, in fact, 59 percent of the visitors to Nash House preferred the computer images because the seemed 'less machinelike' and more 'human'" (p. 216). This applies to music also, which "is human not because it is precise but because it is imprecise. [...] A definition of what it is to be human is thus an unexpected but provocative by-product of computer art: 'To err is human.' What distinguishes man from machine is the tendency to make mistakes" (pp. 216-17), a point made explicitly in the trial scene in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952, see link here and final comment).

Other issues where esthetics move into larger questions of philosophy, including, "Who is an artist?": "The fact that many — perhaps most — of the pioneers of computer art were not trained as artists calls the position of the artist into question in exactly the same way that the powerful aesthetic elements of structures like the Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower, and the Brooklyn Bridge call it into question." And a more fundamental question comes from "The apparent autonomy of the programs that produce computer art [...]. If a computer program can create a series of Mondrian-like compositions that most viewers consider more human than Mondrian's original, should it not be considered an artist?" (pp. 217-18).


4.24, "From Nash House to Psychic Space"

"Three techniques that come naturally to computers tend to be used regularly, no matter what the style or medium": repetition (recursion, iteration), transformation, randomness — since "computers make it easy to introduce algorithms, discontinuities, and randomness into every phase of the process of composition, and to do this in brutal or extremely subtle ways" (pp. 220-21). Hardison notes the word "aleatory," meaning "random," from aleae, Latin for "dice." Randomness "in computer music carries forward the experiments of many composers of the earlier twentieth century in aleatory music" (p. 221).

After briefly reviewing what could be done by the late 1980s with Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) techniques, fractals, et al., Hardison notes that "Finally, imagery can be static or can move, and it can be isolated or it can be dynamically incorporated with music, nonmusical sound, words, and any number of other effects. As this happens art becomes holistic. At its farthest extension, it becomes a total environment controlling every sense rather than an isolated and thus objectified "experience" separate from," as at a museum, "other aspects of reality [...]" (p. 222). In the vocabulary of the 21st century, it becomes VR, Virtual Reality.

TRON (1982) and video games: Notes "A natural extension of the affinity of computer art with kinesis" and with kinesis, music — "is reality simulation," which we'd call VR, "in which the viewer is a creator of — or at least an active influence on — the reality being experienced. These games enact the plot of Tron: the player has in a sense been swallowed up by the computer." And Hardison goes on to discuss "the Link Trainer," a flight simulator (p. 225), and other simulations — like Shoot/No Shoot for police training — where the games are very serious (pp. 225-26). "The interactive aspect of reality simulation draws the viewer into the artwork and begins to do something else. By making the viewer participate in creating the artwork, it makes him to some degree the artist" (p. 227).

Moves on to the work of Myron Krueger (Artificial Reality, 1983) and the path from arcade games to art, and as Krueger developed his ideas, "he came to realize that his objective was the creation of what he came to call 'artificial reality,'" to which he considered adding "TV goggles" to "give the computer 'absolute authority' over the visitor's field of vision." In the space Krueger created "A video camera captured the image of each visitor, analyzed it, and produced visitor-specific music and imagery" (p. 228). Krueger was working on his system, trying for "an environment that is intelligent. The environment will then be something like an immobile robot that has ingested with visitor — an echo of Tron" and what we note as a standard issue of containment (pp. 228-29). A believer in "the liberating power of technology, Krueger may anticipate what Vernor Vinge was to call The Coming Technological Singularity in which that increasingly powerful technology has produced

achievements [that] have "propelled us through a discontinuity." It has created artificial organs and artificial intelligence, and it has given man the power to control the most intimate evolutionary processes through genetic engineering. Was is "acquiring powers once reserved for the god" and finds himself "not the final goal of evolution but its conscious agent." Krueger's "responsive environments" are a metaphor for the fact that there is no longer anything that can rationally be called "natural reality." Nature has disappeared. What remains is reality created or structured consciously by man for human purposes. (p. 229 quotes from Krueger are from Artificial reality)

CAUTION: Theories of "the social construction of reality" had been earlier put to what most humans like to think of as inhuman purposes — see George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four — and were to go on in the 21st century to be used for the mocking of "the reality-based community"[15] and the promulgation of "alternative facts."[16]


4.25, "Synthesizers and Nocturnes" U of Maryland Piano Festival, 1987: "featured a Bösendorf[er] 290SE piano[17] and an IBM personal computer. Under the tutelage of Morgan Cardiff, they played a Chopin nocturne. Cundiff was emphatically not creating a recording. His piano was giving a life performance of itself. The obvious analogy is to a player piano." Not a player piano here, but the specified grand piano creating "the sounds of a grand piano," which Hardison suggests "is a musical equivalent of the superrealism of Richard Esters and Duane Hansen. The product seems to be more real than reality itself." And raises the "problem of who is the performer of a computer composition" (p. 234).

Chapter elsewhere covers the popular Switched-on Bach (1968)[18] and the previously discussed theme of "To err is human" and how differences are inherent in non-computer musical instruments (pp. 231, 232, 237).


4.26, "The Universal Instrument"

Notes possibility for synthetic music using miscellaneous sounds as used in musique concrète (p. 239), and which readers more into film might associate with Foley sounds and found sounds. In terms of the chapter title, the goal of the "universal instrument" has been pursued at MIT's Experimental Music Studio

in two ways. Under the guidance of the studio's director [...] a "synthetic performer" is being developed. The goal is to create an artificial performer capable of replacing any human performer so efficiently that the other live performers "cannot tell the difference." A second objective is to create "hyperinstruments" that instantaneously convert any human agent into a composer-musician of titanic power. Since both the synthetic performer and hyperinstruments eliminate the traditional skills of the musician from music in the same way that computer drawing programs can eliminate they artist, they point in a clear direction — to the disappearance of musical art. (p. 240)

On the performance of the opera Valis:

When Valis was performed in Paris in December 1987, it featured (in addition to live performers) two hundred video screens, continuous computer transformation of the music created by the performers, and manipulations of the human voice that required breaking sentences into fragments and recombining them so that they modulated in and out of intelligible pronunciations of the words. At the end, the speaking voice of an actor was transformed electronically into song so that the actor accompanied himself. (p. 241)

In 1967 John Cage joined Lejaren Hiller, a pioneer computer musician at the University of Illinois, to create a computer-determined aleatory" — random, throw-of-the-dice — "composition HPSCHD, scored for seven harpsichords. Appropriately, the basis for the score is Mozart's musical Würfelspiel.[19] Cage approves especially of the fact that aleatory techniques allow the composer to "renounce control," a reminder of the desire of the modern artist" — who Hardison earlier has distinguished from Modernists — to sever the still powerful bourgeois link between art and ego" (p. 243).


4.27, "White Sound, White Language"

White sound: "sound composed of random frequencies [...,] perceived as a hiss" that can't be changed with tape speed. What might be called in this sense "white language" is "perceived as nonsense" — providing a transition to other issues of order/disorder, randomness and art.


4.28, "Things Seen and Unseen" Most relevant, in addition to the illustrations: "Images can also be created by computer programs of objects that could not otherwise be seen, such as hypercubes and the doughlike four-dimensional fractal shapes created by Alan Norton[20] at IBM's Watson Research Center" (pp. 249-50). People can debate whether we're seeing a hypercube, but we are getting a kind of visual access for imagining it. Note also reference to Ronald Resch of U of Utah's Computer Science Department and "his design of the mouth of the alien spaceship that swallows the starship Enterprise in the first Star Trek," i.e. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, images of "Inner Orifice" here.[21] Note in David Em's Bill what Hardison describes a "a composition that combines a stone backdrop and a brilliantly modeled egg in a haunting and surrealistic combination of textures, colors, and spaces (see illustration 7 in color section" (pp. 250-51). Checking out that illustration, users of the wiki might be struck by the juxtaposition of three organic eggs, defamiliarized with two of them looking like rococo Easter eggs, juxtaposed to geometric shapes that could look like stylized mountains (or angled ziggurats), in turn juxtaposed with organic shapes of the squishy-worm or mitochondrial variety.


4.19, "Adventure"

Suggests that "Hypertext makes clear a fact that was often noticed before it appeared on the scene. We are coming to the end of the culture of the book." At least one form of the book: "Only a short distance separates hypertext from the interactive computer novel," an early example of which was Adventure: a 1960s "exercise in artificial intelligence" (pp. 264-65). Which segues into a mention of cyberpunk and William Gibson's Neuromancer (p. 267), nearly at the climax of the chapter.


4.30, "Happy Chrysanthemum"

Quotes a dialog with RACTER from The Policeman's Beard is Half-Constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry (sic: for variant title?). See for a possible test of the Turing Test (pp. 269-70).


4.31, "At the Top of the Masthead"

In US usage of the term, Wikipedia says, the masthead on a publication "is a printed list, published in a fixed position in each edition, of its owners, departments, officers, contributors and address details," so the chapter title refers to authorship in a wide sense. Hardison notes with computer art of all sorts an "ambivalence regarding human input. Should the human artist retire gradually to allow the computer to develop its intrinsic aesthetic capabilities" — a position argued for computer sculpture — or "Should the artist assert the human presence vigorously, as is the case of interactive fiction?" Or at an opposite extreme "Should the artist seek to vanish entirely [...]? Or is there an ideal symbiosis between man and machine?" (p. 279).



5.32, "The Curve of Evolution" returning to the ancient "notion of human transcendence," which Hardison sees "foreshadowed by the ancient myth of Ganymede, who was was captured by Jove and brought to heaven to be his cupbearer" (to which we'll add, in some versions of the story, «among other things»[22]).


5.33, "From Ajax to Eniac"[23]

Reviews briefly the important history of mechanisms, including automata, and "toys that seem to be alive," for which cf. The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick and other works at link here.[24] Then on to Norbert Weiner and the significance of the full title of his downright ovular 1948 book Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by way of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace (Lady Byron),[25] and what became the silicon evolution: the development of computers. "Carbon life took more than a billion years to progress from single-celled to multicelled creatures. Silicon devices managed something similar in twenty-five years" (p. 299).


5.34, "Learning to Talk": History of the development of artificial intelligence, necessarily dated now, highly recommending (and presumably in part based on) Pamela McCorduck's 1979 Machines Who Think.[26] Chapter ends with "expert systems," a modest form of AI — and with a biological analogy.

Still, expert systems are like computer chess programs: they are very good at specific jobs, but they lack flexibility. [...] They cannot learn on their own, and as knowledge grows and changes in a given field, they have to go back to school. If the theory on which their mythology is based changes, they have to be reprogrammed. They are not very smart by biological standards in spite of their impressive specialized abilities. Perhaps their IQ is about on a par with the IQ of a Cambrian mudworm.


5.35, "The Right Connection"

Serial vs. parallel processing and how "[...] the rise of parallelism has given new currency to the metaphor of machine life" (like "Artificial Life" [AL] but probably a better term and here more exact, since "AL" can have a couple different meanings [p. 308]). Parallel systems "seem more 'like' the human mind than conventional systems" perhaps especially given that it's self-organizing," which "is a little my8sterious, perhaps a little scary, even if you know how it works. A neural network is not conscious, but it makes than metaphor of computer life a little less playful — a little less metaphorical — than it used to be" (p. 311).

Discussions in this book, passim, of automation and other effects of high tech on society are immediately relevant for Vonnegut's Player Piano (see linked citation); this gets more explicit with the discussion of "industrial robots" and "large, computer-controlled machines like the Boeing 747 and the European Airbus," with an impressive example of "manned space vehicles like Challenger. Like their smaller cousins, these vehicles combine human guidance with many autonomous functions. Space stations would seem to represent a further state of development toward autonomy" (p. 314).

Note quick definition of "cyborg"[27] followed by the suggestion that "Environments that involve interactive integration of man and machine might be called cyborg environments," which leads immediately to a mention of what at the time, Hardison says, was "The best known fictional cyborg," RoboCop from ROBOCOP (1987) and then on to less spectacular augmentations to real-world humans, such a pacemakers and insulin pumps (p. 315). Chapter ends with some relevant references and observations.

Evidently. in the dizzily rapids process of machine evolution, silicon devices have already reached the point at thwack they are developing a deep symbiosis with carbon-based beings. Hans Moravec, Director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory of Carnegie-Mellon University, has built several mobile robots. [...] In a celebrated essay, "The Rovers," Moravec sounds that note that is heard so often in computer research: "I see the beginnings of self-awareness in the robots."[28]

The smart machines and the robots are not very lifelike, but the metaphors assigning them human attributes are more than playful conveniences. The express something significant about the relation of these devices to human culture. Because this relation is still ambivalent, the wide-ranging debate that has centered on them is as much a debate about the nature of man as about the nature of machines. (p. 316)


5.36, "Syntax and Semantics"

On consciousness and language, starting with Alan Turing and soon getting to "What a machine really shows when it has passed the Turing Test is that you cannot prove it is not human, which means," in an ambiguous formulation, "not conscious in the human sense of the term" (p. 318). Usefully discusses, with examples, how (even) scientists tend to speak of computers "in anthropomorphic terms," such as machine "language" and "memory" to start a long list (pp. 319-20).

Hardison pushes such points to stating that "a major influence on the development of silicon devices is the imperative to make the metaphor of machine intelligence a reality" (italics in original), which Hardison notes as a longstanding "underlying motive" — motif? — "of science fiction" and mention R2D2 in STAR WARS and, somewhat initially misleadingly, the robots in R. U. R. — and then on to Asimov's "Three Laws" as given in The Caves of Steel (p. 320; Hardison knows and notes that Čapek's robots are androids).

The blurring of the distinction between computers and animate beings is complemented by a weakening of the human sense of what reality is. This weakening is the direct result of technology [e.g., with the illusions of movies and TV ...]. Interactive environments like arcade games, raining simulations, and artificial realities [VR]create illusions that are heaven more vivid. At their best, they com e close to obliterating the difference between reality and illusion. They are related to image manipulation in advertising and politics and to the curious but well-documented fact that for many people today an event is not authenticated — is not "real" — unless it has been on television or in a photograph.

The question raised by artificial intelligence [AI] merge with questions raised by cognitive psychology and philosophy. What is intelligence. If it is not a uniquely human quality, then what is uniquely human. What is the difference between a human being and a machine? Is there a difference? (p. 321).

Note the suggestive subordinate clause (in context) "that machine intelligence is partly a metaphor and partly a cultural truth" (p. 325)

If the model of the parallel computer is valid, we are [...] organized mentally by the world. The shapes that our minds take become both the structure of consciousness and structure of the real.[29] The shapes that our minds take become both the structure of consciousness and the structure of the real. An important part of what is assimilated is called language. In the future, another important part will be the protocols that emerge from the symbiosis of man and intelligent machines. As in the case of clocks, the machines will get better — more like humans perhaps — while, at the same time, humans may well become more like machines. The paths are convergent, not divergent. (pp. 325-26)

Hardison sees no conflict between humans and AI mechanisms for the reason he starts with: "The habitat of carbon man is earth, and his most precious resources are gravity, air, and water. The natural home of silicon devices is space, and their most precious resource is energy" (p. 339). Also, there is the model for silicon-entity evolution suggested by Edward Fredkin and quoted by Pamela McCorduck in Machines Who Think,[30] where our silicon devices will fall silent (pp. 339-40). Going further, "Fredkin has imagined a godlike computer," but as a kind of Deus absconditus (our term): an absconded, hidden, invisible God: an idea developed by William McLaughlin in "Human Evolution in the Age of the Intelligent Machine" (1983).

Hardison ends the chapter with a reference to the SF short story, "The Human Operators, which features "intelligent ships" that "have been sent to explore space. Each ship carries a human to maintain it. The ships eventually escape human control and go off on their own. They meet however, at regular intervals so the humans can mate. The humans, meanwhile, have forgotten their past. They have become the passive creatures of the spaceships," which Hardison finds parallel to the fate of what evolved into mitochondria when the first became part of "some Precambrian cell" and "Once in the cell, the mitochondria where captured and have lived there in comfortable and oblivious servitude ever since" (p. 343).


5.37, Deus ex Machina

Ursula K. Le Guin is not listed in the Index, but Hardison suggests something like the City of Mind in her somewhat earlier (1985) Always Coming Home: "Why should silicon devices think of planets as home. Their natural habitat is the empty spaces between planets — ultimately between stars. [...] When [the space probe] Voyager left the solar system, it carried a message from mankind to the rest of the galaxy. Perhaps its true mission was to be the first of its kind to explore a future habitat" (p. 337).

Looking at expansion in another way — what Frederik Pohl would later call "vastened" — Hardison returns to Hans Moravec's essay, "The Rovers" and what Moravec, but not Hardison, calls "Transmigration": and a thought-experiment of an operation ending with, "'Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind (some would say soul) has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine. ¶ In a final step your old body is disconnected. The computer is installed in a shiny new one, in the style, color and material of your choice. You are no longer a cyborg halfbreed, your metamorphosis is complete'"[31] (quoted in Hardison, pp. 338, 339, with a reference to Max Headroom).

Hardison sees no conflict between humans and AI mechanisms for the reason he starts with: "The habitat of carbon man is earth, and his most precious resources are gravity, air, and water. The natural home of silicon devices is space, and their most precious resource is energy" (p. 339). Also, there is the model for silicon-entity evolution suggested by Edward Fredkin and quoted by Pamela McCorduck in Machines Who Think,[32] where our silicon devices will fall silent (pp. 339-40). Going further, "Fredkin has imagined a godlike computer," but as a kind of Deus absconditus (our term): an absconded, hidden, invisible God: an idea developed by William McLaughlin in "Human Evolution in the Age of the Intelligent Machine" (1983).

Hardison ends the chapter with a reference to the SF short story, "The Human Operators, which features "intelligent ships" that "have been sent to explore space. Each ship carries a human to maintain it. The ships eventually escape human control and go off on their own. They meet however, at regular intervals so the humans can mate. The humans, meanwhile, have forgotten their past. They have become the passive creatures of the spaceships," which Hardison finds parallel to the fate of what evolved into mitochondria when the first became part of "some Precambrian cell" and "Once in the cell, the mitochondria where captured and have lived there in comfortable and oblivious servitude ever since" (p. 343).


5.38, "Sailing to Byzantium"

Raises the issue that it may be less important to produce machines that can think than machines that can "develop complex subjectivities and in a sense can "see" (Geoffrey Jefferson), and possess will, specifically the will to survive.

For the evolutionary scenario to be complete, silicon devices need an anentropic knot, a program component equivalent to a motive for survival that allows them to choose among different courses of action. [...] ¶ In addition to a motive, they must have the ability to survive, which means that they must be capable of aggression and evasion and probably also of generation" — i.e., emotions. 



Discussions, passim, of automation and other effects of high tech on society are immediately relevant for Vonnegut's Player Piano (see linked citation).

RDE, finishing, 16Feb22-19Mar22