Tomorrow I return to New York to visit family and see some talks given by Alexander Galloway, part of a two-night event titled “Uncomputable” held at the School for Poetic Computation. I like Galloway’s thoughts about data-
Data comes from the Latin dare, meaning to give. But it’s the form that’s most interesting. First of all, it’s in the neuter plural, so it refers to “things.” Second, data is a participle in the perfect passive form. Thus the word means literally “the things having been given.” Or, for short, I like to think of data as “the givens.”
…as data are defined in terms of their givenness, their non-immanence with the one, they also display a relation with themselves. Through their own self-similarity or relation with themselves, they tend back toward the one (as the most generic instance of the same). The logic of data is therefore a logic of existence and identity: on the one hand, the facticity of data means that they exist, that they ex-sistere, meaning to stand out of or from; on the other hand, the givenness of data as something means that they assume a relationship of identity, as the self-similar “whatever entity” that was given.
The true definition of data, therefore, is not simply “the things having been given.” The definition must conjoin givenness and relation. For this reason, data often go by another name, a name that more suitably describes the implicit imbrication of givenness and relation. The name is information.
Information combines both aspects of data: the root form refers to a relationship (here a relationship of identity as same), while the prefix in refers to the entering into existence of form, the actual givenness of abstract form into real concrete formation.
Heidegger sums it up well with the following observation about the idea: “All metaphysics including its opponent positivism speaks the language of Plato. The basic word of its thinking, that is, of his presentation of the Being of beings, is eidos, idea: the outward appearance in which beings as such show themselves. Outward appearance, however, is a manner of presence.” In other words, outward appearance or idea is not a deviation from presence, or some precondition that produces presence. Idea is precisely coterminous with presence. To understand data as information means to understand data as idea, but not just idea, also a host of related terms: form, class, concept, thought, image, outward appearance, shape, presence, or form-of-appearance.
As Lisa Gitelman has reminded us, there is no such thing as “raw” data, because to enter into presence means to enter into form. An entity “in-form” is not a substantive entity, nor is it an objective one. The in-form is the negentropic transcendental of the situation, be it “material” like the givens or “ideal” like the encoded event. Hence an idea is just as much subject to in-formation as are material objects. An oak tree is in-formation, just as much as a computer file is in-formation.
All of this is simply another way to understand Parmenides’s claim about the primary identity of philosophy: “Thought and being are the same.”
Alexander Galloway, “From Data To Information”
Other stuff: My colleague Robert Flahive and I are stepping up as editors-elect for SPECTRA, the official peer-reviewed journal of our doctoral program. SPECTRA features interdisciplinary scholarship from the social sciences and humanities, with a strong bent toward the critical & theoretical. We’ll be posting a new call for papers some time this summer.
Work on SPECTRA will occupy a lot of my time over the next two years, although I have a devilish desire to convene a small conference on psychedelics and technology in late 2019 or 2020. This is kinda selfish, I mean, at least half-motivated by my interest in being the same room as a lot of scholars working on the same topics (including smart friends, but also those whose research I’ve been following and admiring from a distance). It’s a long-standing dream in hibernation for the time being, but I like the idea so much I may have to make it reality — not that throwing conferences is easy, but I’m up to the task —
From 7/9-7/19 I’ll be taking my doctoral preliminary exams. Writing ~75 pages in ten days. Here I am with the little creature I babysat for the first half of June, he offered me psychic support in the early weeks of my studying.
(By the way, this is the tannest I’ll be all year. Spending the autumn months in Northern Europe won’t help). Happy solstice, yall!