Jaime Stapleton

Black Shoals:
A Meditation on Cosmology, Artificial Life and the  Aesthetics of Political Economy

Above us, creatures are born, hunger, feed, procreate and die under the night sky. The Black Shoals invite us to reflect on many things. What it is that constitutes life, what it is to live and to die, what it is to hunger, what it is to learn and evolve? Equally, Black Shoals invites to ask what an ecosystem is, what an economy is, what a society is, what the law is, what a government is, and, of course, how such things may be related. Finally, like all art works, Black Shoals invites us to think very carefully about the relationship between a representation and the thing that is represented. Where, exactly, is the line that separates the attempt to represent life and the attempt to create it anew?

What follows here is a companion piece, a line of thought inspired by Black Shoals. It is not an explanation but rather a supplement to a work that provokes profound questions.

The 'Art' of Artificial Life and Political Economy

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced his major work of political philosophy – Leviathan (1651) – in the following way.1 “Nature”, the Art by which God has created and governed the world, can be imitated by “the Art of man”. Since all life is but the “motion of limbs”, suggests Hobbes, may we not say that “automata (engines that move by the action of springs and wheels) have an artificial life?” After all, he argued, what is the heart but a spring, what are the nerves but strings, what are the joints but wheels? Crucially, he then ups the stakes, by moving from a consideration of the human body to a consideration of the body politic. If, by the use of “Art”, one may create an artificial body, then, by extension, a similar “Art” may enable man to create an artificial body politic, a “Leviathan”, or civil state, an “artificial Man” greater than the “natural man” “for whose protection and defence it was intended.”

For Hobbes, the creative capacity that enabled us to envisage an automaton could be expanded to provide a model for social life itself. Art could provide a beautiful and logical model that would lay out coherent laws by which humans might rationally orientate themselves.

Cosmology and Political Economy

Hobbes' thinking on political science marks an interesting point in the long historical relationship between cosmology and politics. Generally speaking, the relations between astrology and the political realm are as old as the soothsayer and the prince.2  However, Leviathan marks the point where astrology begins to give ground to the rationalism of early modern astronomy. In 1636, Hobbes travelled to Florence to meet Galileo. Galileo's reversal of orthodox assumptions about the natural state of the physical world was to become hugely influential on Hobbes' political theory. The Galilean law of inertia reversed the notion that all physical bodies were naturally at rest. Rather, it suggested, motion was the natural state of all such bodies. The application of the principle of 'differential motion', to the realm of politics, enabled Hobbes to theorise how individuals operated relative to one another and, by extension, what sort of government would enable them to maintain and maximise their motion.3

The belief that a universal set of laws underpinned the trajectory of a cannonball, the movement of stars in the heavens and the actions of humans on the earth, was not unusual. The notion that the beautiful and true proportions of all material life lay beyond the physical manifestation of the ‘real’ world had long been a common place of neo-Platonism and Christian theology. Hobbes however, brought an explicitly mathematical and aesthetic sensibility to questions of social organisation.4 Long before meeting Galileo, Hobbes had been fascinated by the ability of Euclidian geometry to prove the truth of a complex proposition from a set of essentially simple, and obvious, principles. Geometry offered Hobbes a certainty that was generally unavailable to uncertain art of ethical and political theory.

However, the use of deductive reasoning that enabled geometry to come to absolute and demonstrably true statements about complex propositions would only work if one begun one’s investigation from principles that were generally agreed to be self-evident. Geometry was of no use to political science if even the most simple principles could not be agreed upon. For Hobbes, writing in the midst of constitutional crisis and civil war in England, such first principles were in short supply. Galilean methodology offered a way around this problem by combining mathematical reasoning with imaginative inference. Where there were no agreed and observable principles to begin with, the existence of such principles could be surmised. Galileo’s study of cosmology had been successful in imagining the existence of a simple principle and then proving it to exist by the use of mathematics. Hobbes adapted Galileo’s composite methodology to political theory. But, in a society torn apart by civil war, what unifying principle could be imagined to exist that all could agree on, and whose existence could be shown to lie at the root of the complex conflict that lay around them?

The singular principle, Hobbes surmised, was fear. Self-preservation, he argued, was what every citizen desired. Thus in order to guarantee their security, all men should defer to those more powerful than themselves. Through ceding what power they had to those more powerful, peace would eventually be bought about, and with it, the guarantee of personal security.5 Through the inference of a simple underlying principle, the complexity of a society at war with itself could be explained. By the use of ‘art’, that principle could be built upon in order to create a model society – a society at peace with itself, to which all citizens could dedicate themselves.

The Seduction of Models

Hobbes’ Leviathan marks not only a development in political science but also a vital example of the role that imagination and, crucially, aesthetics, play within political and economic theory. The notion that a world of logical beauty lays beneath the complex world of experience is common in many fields of human investigation. In his autobiography, James Watson recalled that when he and Francis Crick built their first physical model of DNA, it was apparent that it could not be accurate since the model was too complex and “inelegant”. The final ‘discovery’ of the structure of DNA revealed the now famous double-helix form. As Watson wrote, “anything that simple, that elegant, just had to right.”6

The idea that by building a model of life, one might discover its essence has long been seductive and not merely because it may help us to understand the phenomena we are attempting to represent. It also holds out the possibility that one might move from merely representing life, to creating it. From the philosophy of Hobbes and Descartes to the contemporary discipline of ‘artificial life’, this promise has remained unchanged. If one can build a model of sufficient complexity, it may no longer function as a model, but rather, it may become a life form in itself.

What holds true for models of the body is also true for models of the body politic. As Hobbes’ Leviathan suggests, building an ideal model of civil society is both an attempt to explain the deficiencies of current behaviour and, implicitly, an attempt to bring a new order to the social body. The desire inherent in all ideological models, whether originating on the political ‘left’ or ‘right’, is the same: to cross the line, to move from merely representing the social realm, to actively recreating it. When any social scientist or politician speaks of ‘modelling’ human behaviour, it means two things at once. On one hand, it means making a model to represent existing social behaviour. On the other hand, it means attempting to form existing behaviour around a pre-existing, ‘ideal’, model. Frequently, the making of models confuses these two desires.

Biology and Economy

The attempt to understand the economy through biological models has a long history and has survived into very recent times. In pre-revolutionary France, a group of thinkers, formed around the figure of François Quensay, postulated a ‘physiology’ of economic society.7 Quensay proposed that wealth flowed through the economy much as blood did through the human body. Just as the blood delivered some vital chemicals to tissues and organs while removing others, so the ‘Physiocrats’ believed, the circulation of wealth in society was replenished through the system of production, exchange and distribution.

In the 20th century, the Keynesian economist Bill Phillips used blood as a metaphor for income in his famous hydraulic model of the UK economy. The first ‘Phillips Machine’ was built in 1949. It was approximately six foot high by four foot across and made from plywood and plastic.8 Water, dyed blood red, begun its journey by being poured into a channel at the top of the machine, from where it flowed downwards under gravity, moving through a complex system of channels laid out to model various aspects of the UK economy. Pink channels, representing savings and investments, lay to the left of the machine. The central channels, coloured blue, represented income (after tax), consumption and domestic expenditure. To the right, the third set of channels, coloured green, represented taxes, imports, exports and exchange rates. As the red water begun to flow through the system, screws over various compartments representing, say, taxation could be adjusted, permitting the viewer to see the overall effect of adjustments in tax on the National Income. The latter, represented by the red water, collected by the pint in a transparent chamber at the bottom of the machine.9

The attempt to explain the complexities of the economy through models drawn from biology has always been driven by the desire that drives every model maker. The model holds out the possibility that it will provide a key that will reduce the messy, discontinuous, contingent and subjective experience of life into a regular, and mappable, set of operations. Economic models, in particular, promise to provide a vantage point from where such complexity can be grasped in a single, and knowable, image. However, such a model requires that one believes that, beyond the broken and compromised experience of ‘real’ life, there exists an ultimate structure, a few simple rules, that equate with some degree of accuracy to the proposed model.  The promise offered by such a faith is that either through scientific rationality, or the intuition of beauty, an individual may attain a perspective unobtainable to the rest of society, and with it, a measure of power over that society.

Ethics, Aesthetics and Economic Models

As suggested above, the central question raised by any social, political or economic model is whether we believe it to cohere with an actual structure that is, in effect, outside of our concrete experience. Crucially, to give credence to a model is, in effect, to cede our power to it. To do that is to place that model beyond effective ethical constraints, to place it in an arena that is outside of history, culture and society. The notion that a model might exist apart from the social realm, that it could be considered as in some way above, beyond or outside of humanly constructed laws, has been a common theme both aesthetic and economic theory in the 20th century.

The notion that the aesthetic realm may be separable from that of ethics and politics was central to the ideology of ‘High’ Modernism. Propounded most forcefully in the writings of the American cultural critic Clement Greenberg, it was a view that became hegemonic in the US and Europe in the immediate post world war two period.10  Though very loosely derived from the writings of Kant, the notion that ‘art’ and ‘life’ occupied two profoundly different realms had its immediate origin in the writings of the English critic Roger Fry.11

Fry suggested that “actual life” presented an individual with real dilemmas that required them to make ethical choices. In contrast, the life of the imagination was free from such responsibilities. In consequence, art, as the central organ of the “imaginative life”, was a place apart from “the binding necessities of actual existence”.  The first conclusion to draw form such a position was that true art could not be judged by its fidelity to “actual life”. Fry’s second conclusion however, was more radical. Since it was only in the imaginative realm that one’s mind was cleared of the clutter of everyday experience and ethical necessity, it was better that “actual life” was judged for its conformity to the model presented in the “imaginative life”.

This once dominant aesthetic ideology makes a striking parallel with the use of imaginative models in the realm of political economy. The parallel is most clear when considering the relationship between the concept of society and that of a ‘free market’.

The roots of the modern concept of the ‘free market’ can be traced, like those of Modernist aesthetic theory, to the debates of the late 18th century. However, while the widespread belief in ‘aesthetic autonomy’ is now a distant memory, belief in the ‘free market’ has remained a central nostrum of ‘neo-liberal’ economic theory and is the driving force behind contemporary economic globalisation. However, the ‘ethical’ principle that supports it is as dubious as that which supported the nostrums of ‘high’ Modernist ideology.

Modernist ideology reversed the prevailing assumptions of reality and representation. Life did not set the critical standard by which aesthetic production was to be judged; rather aesthetics set the ‘ethical’ standard by which life was to be judged. In an identical reversal of assumption, ‘free market’ ideology rejects the notion that society should set ethical standards by which the market might be judged; rather it suggests that the model behaviour of markets sets an ‘ethical’ standard upon which society should be ordered.

On such a quasi-aesthetic view, the market is a simple and beautiful, abstract principle that can be pitted against the infinite complexity of the social realm. For a world of confusing ethical decisions, a world torn between political pragmatism and compromised idealism, the concept of a ‘free market’ offers a simple, and binding, logic; a principle that purports to underlie, and therefore to explain, all social behaviour. Crucially, this ideology has its origin in a myth that reduces the complexity of the social realm to a single principle. Intriguingly, it is a myth that was also central to Charles Darwin’s development of the theory of evolution.12

The Island of Juan Fernandez: Capitalism, Evolution and Aesthetics

The myth of The Island Juan Fernandez made its first acquaintance with political theory in Joseph Townsend’s Dissertation on the Poor Laws of 1786.13  As the historian of political economy Karl Polanyi observed, it is Townsend’s Dissertation, rather than Adam Smith’s better-known Wealth of Nations, that deserves to be credited as the starting point of the contemporary notion of a ‘market society’.  As Polanyi pointed out, there is nothing in Smith’s work to suggest that the interests of capitalists should lay down the law to broader society, or that the economic sphere was “subject to laws of its own that provide us (society) with a standard of good and evil.”14  Before Townsend, markets were invariably regarded as a part of society. The notion that they may exist apart from society and its laws, and that the government itself was an impediment to the development of the market, was entirely new. Townsend’s mythical tale of Juan Fernandez was the first social theory to postulate the notion that a ‘natural’ economic order pre-existed all forms of government and that, as such, all humanly constructed social structures were impediments to the ‘natural order’ of things. It marked, Polanyi suggested, “a new starting point for political science.”15

Townsend’s Dissertation was conceived as a response to the question of how to deal with problem of the poor in English society. His answer was simple. Remove all social provision for the poor, and hunger would drive them to seek work. This brutal view of social responsibility was justified by reference to the narrative of events that supposedly occurred on the island of Juan Fernandez.16 

‘Juan Fernandez’ was an island off the coast of Chile named after the Spanish admiral Juan Fernandez.17  According to Townsend’s legend, the admiral let a number of goats loose on the island in order to provide a convenient source of fresh meat for future visits to the area. According to the myth, the lack of natural predators led the goats to multiply at a phenomenal rate. Subsequently, the goats became an important source of food for English pirates operating in the area.  Since the pirates were raiding Spanish ships, the Spanish government released a greyhound dog and bitch on the island in order to kill the goats.

According to the legend, the dogs fed on the goats and multiplied rapidly. Eventually, according to Townsend, a ‘natural equilibrium’ established itself. In his words, “the weakest of both species were among the first to pay the debt to nature; the most active and vigorous preserved their lives”.18 He drew a simple inference from the story that could be applied to human society. The quantity of food “regulates the number of the human species”.19 This lesson could then be applied to the problem of the poor in England. “Hunger”, he suggested, “will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach civility, obedience and subjection.” For Townsend, “only hunger…can spur and goad them (the poor) on to labour; yet our laws have said they shall never hunger.” “Hunger in not only peaceable, silent unremitting pressure, but, as the most natural motive to industry and labour…(it) lays lasting and sure foundations for good will and gratitude.”

Townsend’s conclusion was highly political. Any attempt to help the poor or starving was deeply misguided. A fundamental natural law lay beneath all forms of government and all forms of social life. ‘Man’ was, at root, an animal. In the absence of socially constructed laws, a natural law would establish itself. On the island of Juan Fernandez, there was no government, no law, no social compact, and yet somehow a natural law had established itself amongst the goats and dogs. More to the point, the law of hunger was beautifully simple; it presented a more “efficient” method of organising human life than any that could be conceived by a lawyer or magistrate. There was no need to keep the poor in order through force, no need to incarcerate them, or compel them to work, since, if left to their own devices, hunger would keep them in their ‘natural’ place.

As with all ‘utopian’ models, the facts concerning the Juan Fernandez were unverifiable.20 The island legend plays exactly the role in economic theory that the plausible, but unobservable, principle has played in political science since Hobbes adapted Galileo’s methodology. While the principle cannot be observed as fact, its hypothetical existence, once postulated, can be argued to exist by the observable phenomena that, purportedly, develop from it. Put most simply, while the story of Juan Fernandez has long been recognised as myth, it provides a convenient model, a plausibly logical image, by which to order the discontinuous and contingent facts of the social realm. For a believer in the ideology of the ‘free market’, the complexities and discontinuities of social life can be unified and understood through the agency of this single, mythical image.

Over half a century ago, Karl Polanyi demonstrated precisely how Townsend’s narrative came to be central to the development of the ‘market society’ and the ideological engine ‘first phase’ of economic globalisation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A decade later, Ashley Montagu demonstrated precisely how Townsend’s myth was transmitted to Darwin.21 Montagu concluded that the theory of evolution owed its inspiration to the socio-political thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.22 The “survival of the fittest” was first, an ideal model designed to explain, and justify, a socio-political ideology, and only later, an ideal model with which to analyse the processes of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The ultimate effect of the revolving door between biological and economic theory was the notion that a unifying ‘natural law’ could be supposed to exist, and that it could provide a natural justification of what had hitherto been viewed as a socially imposed political ideology. Put succinctly, after Darwin, it appeared entirely ‘natural’ that the world was divided into ‘goats’ – the poor – and ‘dogs’ – the rich; and that the latter would live off the former

It is not so surprising to find that in our own time ‘evolutionary biology’ has become a lively, if highly controversial, academic discipline. In purporting to identify ‘evolutionary explanations’ for contemporary social and economic behaviour, evolutionary biology merely recovers its own originary theoretical model, and represents it as a ‘fact’ of ‘nature’. What applies to ‘evolutionary biology’ also holds good when economists speak of ‘evolutionary economic theory’.23 The current centrality of such theory to the concept of the ‘knowledge economy’ is but further example of the revolving door between biological and economic modelling. In a scene akin to an artist recognising themselves in a self-portrait that they had forgotten they had even painted, economic theory recovers its own economic model from the biological theory it, itself, has spawned. Where the uncanny echo between one discipline and another should alert the scientist to the possibility that data has become twisted by a common methodological model, the echoing model is instead interpreted as evidence of an underlying, universal truth.

Black Shoals: Hunger, Ethics and Aesthetics

The extent to which models are permitted to organise our lives is determined by the extent to which we are generally susceptible to the aestheticisation of everyday life. In the age of economic globalisation, we are mesmerized by the beauty of models. It has long been recognised that consumption, particularly in developed economies, is thoroughly enmeshed with the aesthetic, or “symbolic”, realm.24 The ‘use-value’ of most consumer goods lays as much in their ability to communicate our ‘identity’ as in their notionally practical functions. We no longer imagine that the use-value of a coat is simply to keep us warm. From the widespread belief that a politician must possess a full head of hair in order to be ‘electable’, to the smooth, logical beauty of the economic statistics and the opinion polls, we live in a cultural captivated by aesthetics.25

From Townsend onwards, theorists of political economy have frequently confused the ‘representing’ and ‘creating’ function of models. Where once the natural world was simply a source of metaphors with which to explain the organisation of society, ideology demands that we go beyond mere analogy. Though Townsend’s ‘law of hunger’ was extracted from a model, it was not presented as a metaphor of social organisation, but as the actual source of social organisation. ‘Nature’, thus revealed, presented an ideal model to which human society should conform. For Townsend, and for contemporary ‘neo-liberals’, any form of social intervention to save members of the community from starvation was, and is, an unwarranted interruption of the ‘natural’ order.

In our own time, the political ideology derived from Townsend’s model has sought not only to reduce governmental ‘interference’ in the ‘free market’, but has called into question the very need for government, the nation state, and any form of social or cultural organisation that does not conform to the ‘principle’ of the market. It is an ideology that implicitly rejects any ethical system but the market, since such ‘alternative’ social systems are regarded as impediments to the full realisation and rationalisation of the ideal of the ‘market society’.

For economic ‘neo-liberalism’, morality is a simple business. There is only one ‘ethic’: any attempt made by government, law, culture or society to interfere with the ‘natural’ relations that exist between human beings is ‘unethical’. That separation of the market ‘ethic’ from the ethical world is entirely consonant with the outmoded aesthetic ideology of ‘high’ Modernism. An abstract model is presented as a law that transcends the confusing world of human ethical relations; it is imagined as a principle that both pre-exists, and supersedes, all others. It is persuasive because it makes complexity and discontinuity appear to be readable and knowable. It reduces social relations to a single image that can be taken in at a glance. It casts the complexity of life in its own reductive image. It brings an imagined order to chaos, apparent coherence to that which is incoherent, a satisfying logical beauty to that which cannot otherwise be grasped. Such a project is demonstrably an aestheticising practice.

“Artificial Life” meant something different for Hobbes than it does today. To the seventeenth century mind, the state was an artificial entity constructed by the collective will and, as such, it could be likened by analogy to an automaton. Hobbes imagined the political economy as a model constructed by human agency. We now stand in a different relation to models. Today ‘transcendent’ models of economic ideology seek to provide us with an ‘ethical system’ that is beyond human ethical judgement. From the all-seeing eye of that ‘ethic’, we are imagined as a form of artificial life, a subspecies of human, one that lives entirely in relation to the ebb and flow of the prevailing economic model - a life form adrift in the Black Shoals, without society or culture, motivated solely by hunger.

Dr Jaime Stapleton completed his doctoral thesis ‘Art, Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Economy’ in 2001. A version of this research will be published by IB Tauris later this year under the title ‘Art and Copyright Culture’.

[1] Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, (With an Introduction by C.B. Macpherson), Penguin Classics, London, 1985, p. 81. The quotations here are taken from Hobbes’ own Introduction of 1651. Direct quotes are as indicated, however, 17th century spelling, grammar and punctuation have here been updated for ease of comprehension. 

[2] However, it must be noted that, in more recent times, corporate astrologers have been important to the planning of stock market strategy and, arguably to the political realm. As the American financier J. P. Morgan once suggested, “millionaires do not use astrology, billionaires do.” In the early 1980s, the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 2) by the Regan administration was reputedly timed to coincide with favourable astrological activity outlined by Nancy Regan’s personal astrologer. The signing greeted with general surprise by journalists and with consternation by most in the Republican Party.

[3] The influence of Galileo on Hobbes was first made by C. B. Macpherson. It is covered in more detail in his introduction to the Leviathan op. cit.

[4] For analysis of Hobbes and aesthetics see Howard Caygill, The Art of Judgement, Blackwells, London,

[5] Arguably, Hobbesian political economy has always proved more attractive to those who already possess power than to those who seek it.

[6]James D Watson The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, London, 1968.

[7] Francois Quensay (1697-1774) was also physician to Louis XV.

[8] Phillips initially trained as an engineer, but eventually became a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics. The surviving machine can be found in the Department of Mathematics at the Science Museum in London.

[9] Though used as a teaching aid, the Phillips Machine was never sophisticated enough to make to accurate predictions of economy. Within a few years, it was made obsolete by the advent of the computer age.

[10] See in particular Greenberg’s best known essays ‘Avant Garde and Kitsch’ (1939), ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’ (1940) in Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. J O’Brien, 2 Vols, Chicago, 1986.

[11] Roger Fry An Essay in Aesthetics, first published in New Quarterly, 1909 and then in Vision and Design, 1920

[12] This observation was first made by the celebrated Austrian economic historian Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, Boston, 1971. First published in 1944.  Polanyi’s work observation was enlarged on by Ashley Montagu in another celebrated work on the history of ideas Darwin, Competition, and Cooperation, Henry Schuman, New York, 1952.

[13] Joseph Townsend, A Dissertation on the Poor Law:  by a Well-Wisher to Mankind, (With a Forward by Ashley Montagu and an Afterword by Mark Neuman), University of California Press, London, 1971. First published London, 1786. Townsend was the son mercantile family, studied medicine and was a fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. During his time as rector of the Parish of Pewsey in Wiltshire, he wrote a celebrated book about the political economy of Spain and was also an amateur geologist. His writing also had a profound effect on the writing of Burke, Pitt, Bentham and Ricardo.

[14]Ibid. p. 112. As Polanyi notes, “in his view nothing indicates the presence of an economic sphere in society that might become the source of moral law and political obligation.” For Smith, “material wealth” was the wealth of “the great body of the people… the Society of Mankind”.  Ibid p 112.

[15] Ibid. p. 112.

[16] Scholars have long speculated on why it was in England that such an ideology emerged. Townsend’s views have to be considered in relation to Protestantism. The division of the population of the ‘elect’ and the ‘non-elect’ was central to Calvinism. More importantly perhaps, English Puritanism regarded material wealth as evidence of divine grace, and poverty as evidence of divine displeasure. Crucially, in England after the Reformation, the poor had become the responsibility of the state rather than the church, and therefore a question of economics rather than theology.

[17] It was also the island on which ‘Robinson Crusoe’ was legendarily abandoned.

[18] As cited in Polanyi op. cit. p. 113.

[19] Ibid. p 113. 

[20] Polanyi and Montagu traced the literary origins of the story. While the release of the goats was based on fact, the story of the dogs and a natural equilibrium was pure artistic licence.

[21] Townsend’s statement of the principle of ‘natural selection’ precedes Darwin’s birth by twenty-three years and the publishing of the Origin of Species by seventy-three years.  Following leads set by Polanyi, Montagu showed how Townsend’s work was transmitted to Malthus and became central to his Essay on the Principle of Population, 1789. Though Malthus did not read Townsend, the latter’s ideas were known to him indirectly. Malthus’ father was well aware of Townsend’s ideas. Malthus is quoted directly by Darwin at the end of the passage in which the principle of ‘natural selection’ is laid out. In conclusion, Darwin says, “It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole of the animal and vegetable kingdom.”  Charles Darwin On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, John Murray, London, 1859, p. 63.

[22] Even in the 19th century, it was the political grounding of Darwinism was recognised. In 1882, Geddes pointed out that theories of industrial competition simply replaced religious and metaphysical explanations of organic processes. Pierce put the view even more succinctly in 1893, “Darwin merely extends the politico-economical view of progress to the entire realm of animal and vegetable life.” Both quoted in Montagu’s introduction to Townsend’s Dissertation op. cit.

[23] The father of the approach is Joseph Schumpeter; see in particular Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Routledge, London, 2000. First published in UK 1943. See also the contemporary use in Charles Leadbeater, Living on Thin Air: The New Economy, Viking, London, 1999.

[24] In the introduction to The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man, (Routledge, London, 1951) Marshall McLuhan suggested “The western world, dedicated since the sixteenth century to the increase and solidification of the power of the state, has developed an artistic unity of effect, which makes artistic criticism of that effect quite feasible.” From his earliest works of the late 1960s onwards, Jean Baudrillard has pursued this position, see in particular For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin, Telos, St Louis, 1981 

[25] For an interesting analysis of the role of aesthetic in economic modelling, see Rick Szostak Econ-Art: Divorcing Art from Science in Modern Economics, Pluto Press, London, 1999.

Julian Stallabrass

A View from the Fish Tank

It is a little too easy to see the global stock market as an abstract system, primarily subject to its own internal dynamics that are registered in graphs and grids of numbers, coded in colours (including, of course, red) to draw the eye of the trader. It is a short step from that view to imagining the stock market as a self-contained ecology, a system like a reef or deep-sea vent, which develops blindly as its various components interact with each other and the changing environment. And that view is very close to those apologists of capitalism who see the whole system as natural, as much a manifestation of human nature as the beehive is of bees’, and one that is tinkered with (let alone departed from) at our peril.

So, on the face of it, Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway’s Black Shoals / Stock Market Planetarium could be viewed with suspicion. Here is a visualisation of the global stock market as an animated star chart, with stocks glowing brighter or dimmer depending on the volume of trading, and drifting together or apart according to the congruence or divergence of their trading histories. Artificial life creatures inhabit the work, chasing after ‘food’ created by the buying and selling of shares, so that swarms of them cluster around areas of intense trading. Since only those that successfully find food among the constellations can breed, they evolve to become more efficient gatherers. The planetarium metaphor encourages viewers to think about people’s ancient relation to the stars as harbingers of fate, and the myriad vain methods of reading them to predict the future. The view onto the creatures, though, is more like that of an aquarium, as they swim, struggle to survive, breed without having the power to affect the system that sustains them.

Initially, the view of Black Shoals is from the gallery floor, looking up at a work that combines two quite familiar types of art-world entertainment. The first onto a display of the data sublime, in which the viewer is carried off imaginatively on waves of ungraspable data, just as people used to be before gigantic majestic or apocalyptic landscape paintings, or still are by safe(ish) views of mountains, storms and the sea. Whether the flows of electrons carry emails or images or numbers that are also money matters little; it is the pulsing of the data packets that gives the requisite feeling of vertigo before a display of unconceivable complexity and speed.

The second is focused on the spectacle of the creatures themselves, and on the idea of their evolution. Belatedly, contemporary art has begun to fix on genetic manipulation as another palette, and we have been much regaled with day-glo rabbits, purportedly mutant bacteria, and various Photoshop mock-ups of transgenic human bodies. The point that may snag a conventional reading of this piece as mere spectacle is that Autogena and Portway collaborated with artificial life programmers to produce creatures that really do evolve. Yet, since this process is hardly visible, it is likely that Black Shoals is seen as participating in the regular run of art-world entertainment, comprising works that ‘raise’ issues without ever saying much interesting about them. Such attitudes are encouraged in the gallery since little or no interaction with the system is permitted, and in any case this is the sort of thing that many people expect to go to galleries for.

Yet there is another quite different view of this work – that of the trader. It was initially conceived as a work to be made for a bar-restaurant in the City of London. One can imagine clients looking at Black Shoals for the information it conveys, and even snapping open their phones because of something they had seen. The piece was first realised for a show at Tate Britain at the very time of the dot.com crash, so viewers could see high-tech ‘stars’ rush together, burning brightly as their values plummeted – on this metaphor, I suppose, shooting stars. So this starry night, seen in cities where the stars themselves are erased by commercial lighting, can be read for accurate portents of future economic events.

On the traders’ view, Black Shoals is less a spectacle than a more or less efficient visualisation model for viewing the movement of a large number of individual stocks and shares. That movement is difficult to represent in a coherent visual field, though great prizes await those who can do so since people are generally much better at understanding what changes are taking place when presented with a picture than with an array of numbers. In its latest incarnation, it will be easier to use Black Shoals as a tool, since permission to show the names of the stocks alongside the stars has been granted. The artificial life creatures, too, may come to have an instrumental purpose, being cousins of functional software entities trading on the world’s exchanges; if in their search for sustenance they evolve the ability to predict likely areas of trading, they could become efficient generators of income.

The systems that humans establish, including the global financial system, exhibit emergent behaviour, a product of their own autonomous logic that exceeds the intentions of their creators. Attempts to map their totality are linked to efforts to predict and control those systems, to manage risk, reduce exposure to losses, and assure the regular flow of profit. That Grail appeared to have been achieved for a while with Fischer Black and Myron Scholes’ remarkable formula for generating stock market profit without risk, using hedging investments (or side-bets). For some years, this formula produced extraordinary returns for its users, while in 1997 Scholes shared the Nobel Prize in Economics for this work. The model, it turned out, was too fixed on the market as an autonomous system. It could predict neither the collective effects of many traders using the model at once, nor its behaviour at an exceptional moment when the vast speculative bubble, in part founded on high-tech stocks, burst. At that point, its risk management catastrophically failed.

Black Shoals oscillates, then, between two poles, weighing the vanity of human ambition to achieve complete understanding of a field against the potential efficacy of blind, evolving agents, in their urge to feed and breed, to yield knowledge. This brings us to the last view of the work, though to take it involves a small imaginative leap – that of the creatures themselves. For surely the creatures are like the great majority of people, who respond to but have little direct power over the system that they inhabit.

To see the global stock market as a self-contained sequence of numbers, or as a mathematical problem to be managed and controlled, is to forget what the system is. Far from being natural, it is much regulated by national governments and trans-national bodies. The physical environment of the tank is explicitly designed and quite frequently refashioned. The rise and fall of stocks and shares is merely a reflection of the collective opinion of traders (and increasingly virtual agents) about the likelihood that they will rise or fall. Those opinions are dependent on the actions of other traders and on reactions to world events: what will unrest in the Middle East do to oil prices, how soon will the demand for computer chips pick up, how many home-owners will use the rise in house prices to guarantee loans for consumer goods, what will the bombing of a hotel in Tunisia do to the tourist industry there? The opinions registered in the movement of stocks in turn generate physical effects: this person becomes unemployed, another employed, this one’s neighbourhood becomes polluted with industrial waste, this one labours for fifteen hours a day sewing fashionable garments, this one starves, this one becomes an indentured slave working on a cocoa plantation, this one is sold into prostitution, while – rarely – this one accrues millions or even billions of dollars. Those effects in their turn are registered in the continuing movement of stocks. It is a system of continual feedback, and while it has its own internal effects, including collective delusion as was seen clearly with the dot.com bubble, finally it arrives at an accounting with social, political and economic reality. Black Shoals, then, can be viewed bodily as well as abstractly, if its glowing pixels are seen not merely as a visual array for a set of numbers but as traces of the struggles over cash, resources, bodies and lives, a matter (depending on where and how you live) more or less mundane or desperate, routine or bloody. At a time when even in the developed nations, more and more people are growing financially insecure as the processes of ‘rationalisation’ that were applied to the working class are extended to the middle (and gallery-going) class, Black Shoals acquires a sharp tang. Perhaps the glowing of some star that you appreciate aesthetically from the gallery floor represents a process that will cause your own descent into the underclass.

Unlike the people who are affected by the rise and fall of stocks, the creatures in Black Shoals make no alteration to the data flows, which continue to be transmitted from the stock markets regardless of the creatures’ actions. The real world is not quite like this, of course. There, people’s actions do affect the movement of stocks, particularly their decisions to withdraw labour, overthrow governments or engage in unsanctioned warfare. What is more, their increasing consciousness of the character of world capitalism produces an effect in and of itself, as people protest the ruling of their lives – and for many even the chance for life – by the abstract demands of the system. So the main utility of Black Shoals may be as an aid to that growing consciousness, at least when the work is viewed concretely rather than abstractly, and from within rather than without the glass.

Julian Stallabrass is an art critic and senior lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He is the author of numerous books – most recently Internet Art: The Online Clash Between Culture and Commerce, Tate Publishing, in 2003. In 2001 he curated Art and Money Online at Tate Britain, which included Black Shoals.

Anders MichelsEn

The fact of would-be worlds

Short history of A-life

The art project Black Shoals taps into the rich imagination surrounding the computational heritage, whether as the creation of manifest artifacts, e.g. personal computers, moon rovers, or digital assistants, or associated speculation and theory, within artificial intelligence, artificial life, connectionism, and complexity. The leitmotif of the project is to follow how the notions of artifact and life intermingle and change substances somehow, in early computing within cybernetics, and later within the broad array of applications in organizations and modeling predicated on the computer, and how, these, moreover intermingle with a wider social and cultural life. The title of the project, Black Shoals, refer directly and indirectly to the famous formula of Fisher Black and Myron Scholes which for a time seemed able to fully predict and follow the complexity of the financial markets to the advance of investors, but which ended in a dire crash, ironically to be explained somewhat on par with the attempts at modeling which lay behind Black and Scholes’s formula in the first place.

The projects aims at the interfaces and the interactions between machine and life, as concrete effect of ideas of mechanical liveliness predicated on computer technology and theory. Thus it also, and importantly, focus on how such issues are translated into a social and historical sphere by way of creative handlings by humans. Thus the project comments on the contemporary fascination and fetishation of computers, on the folly and exaggeration, on the dire implications for our world of the will to machinic life. It asks important questions of how we create artificial liveliness, of what sort of fact such life may amount to, of why we as social beings are indeed so fascinated by the machinic Being of ”would-be worlds.”

Let us then start with a look at the charming 1953-picture of the British cybernetician, Grey Walter, showing Walter, his wife and daughter with the ’electronic tortoise’ Elsie.1 The picture is provided with a text, ’the couple with their two children, one, however, electronic’.2 The image displays naively, yet unrepentantly, the profusion of the novel science of cybernetics in the first postwar decades envisioning information and communication as central to reality, and as it were, in explicit dependence on the computer invented during WW2. The small and – to us – rather clumsy mechanism may count as an early piece of artificial life, albeit of the kind relating more to latter day intelligent vacuum cleaners, ready for the middle class suburbs of the world, than to children, not to mention present day children. Nevertheless to many in the early 1950s, Elsie was a sign of certain future. Finally humans were able to make real the age old dream of the man machine, of a machine come alive, not least in the scientific milieu gaining around cybernetics and early computing. The same year, the last of the ten famous Macy-conferences was held, concluding a breathtaking endeavor at mapping the perspectives of the world after the computer, that is, of a science founded on the concepts of information and communication. On the view that ”control and communication in the animal and the machine,”3 with the title from Norbert Wieners famous book from 1948, was not only a most promising new scientific field but an essential supplement to the concrete computer. And moreover, Wiener made clear in his later introduction to ’cybernetics and society’, a ”human use of human beings.4 In the 50s artificial creatures – the robot, the electronic brain and so forth – were no longer a dream or dependent on shady tricks and mechanisms. In 1958 John McCarthy coined the phrase ”artificial intelligence” which were to gather a substantial part of the burgeoning computational science under the even less repentant view that ”machines will be capable, within twenty years, of any work that a man can do” as Herbert Simon stated in 1965.5 Wiener himself appeared to raise the stakes even further “to certain points where cybernetics impinges on religion” in his last book God & Golem, Inc. from 1964.6 A German pioneer of computer art, Herbert W.Franke summed up the early hopes for cybernetics in 1999: ”In the “Gründeryears” of cybernetics from 1950 onwards it seemed as if a floodgate had been opened and a multitude of phenomena had been discovered involving both matter and data which had previously been possible to compare only with difficulty. At this point it was primarily the philosophers who were occupied with non-material issues, which were also called consciousness. To those objects that cybernetics were able to handle belonged, of course, all the devices of communication technology, control techniques, and computer technique. From the beginning, Norbert Wiener included biological and social processes – everything that has to do with behavior, sensing, and thinking, with inter-personal relations, with language, with learning processes. And on this account a vision arose: Cybernetics were supposed to be the contrast to the science that relates to the material artifacts – what could ordinarily be ascribed to physics – a general science which united all sciences pointing towards information processes.”7

The image of Grey Walter is thus more than dusty representation of the computational heritage. Walter contributed to the development of the postwar agenda of computation by giving rise to some of the very first concrete examples of Wiener’s visions. Walter’s robotic tortoises were small electrically propelled vehicles equipped with on-board battery and devices allowing for a measure of the power stored in the batteries and sensors which made them able to seek out and plug into a recharging apparatus when energy ran low.8 These primeaval forms of artificial life were in fact received as much cleverer than they were, for instance at the Festival of Britain in 1952, where there mechanism performed what was perceived as a small brain carrying out the sophisticated task of satisfying its own appetite. The tortoises was a highly factual proof of cybernetics’s claim to solve the traditional schisma between mechanism and organism, between ”the animal and the machine,” what Norbert Wiener in 1948 called the “badly posed questions”9 opposing vitalism and mechanism.

The inherited schisma could be solved or at least mitigated by a mechanical demonstration on par with speculation. In machines one might install new phenomena with a ’would-be’ stature: phenomena that could be as real as the real, forwarding similitude, even if they were enclosed in their mechanical surrogate, as charming Elsie. Put differently, the computer appeared to be comparatively more alive, spontaneous, than previous machines. From the early Elsies emerge the option of mechanical production of something new, something un-expected – “surprising” says John L. Casti – by making a model in computer-created “would-be worlds” covering a far ranging class of phenomena – from stock markets to the human brain.10 Allegedly ”complex” systems:

“ (…) that are completely inexplicable by any conventional analysis of the systems’ constituent parts. These phenomena, commonly referred to as emergent behavior, seem to occur in many complex systems involving living organisms, such as a stock market or the human brain (…) Complex systems are not new, but for the first time in history tools are available to study such systems in a controlled, repeatable, scientific fashion. (…) with today’s computers, complete silicon surrogates of these systems can be built, and these “would-be worlds” can be manipulated in ways that would be unthinkable for their real-world counterparts.”11

Elsie is thus one ancestor of what was to become a proud family of ’monsters’ as it went in the 90s’s radical chic surrounding the implementation of mass computing and computer media, – an ancestor of Bruno Latour’s “quasi-object,” taking mediation (computer based and otherwise) into the center of everything social and natural, and, importantly, undermining the nature-culture divide securing modern truth based on a separate nature understood be separate humans.12 Put differently: it was not clear that a would-be world of e.g. a natural phenomenon, let’s take the trivial example of the beeswarm, could not actually be exactly as good as nature, or as humans. The establishment of such ”worlds” proved that science had long been working with quasi-objects, that were as alive as any human when trying to grasp the reality of a phenomenon. There was no real ’nature’ or ’science’ but only, as Latour argues, ”sociotechnological networks” producing relationality between things, including humans.

When looking closer at the image of Elsie she thus has to gain. She is a lovely concrete example of the ongoing postwar fascination not only with what became known as automation with the term Marshall McLuhan choose for the concluding chapter of Understanding Media in 1964,13 but also with the new life that might transpire in its wake, with “learning a living,” or, learning to live with new conditions for human existence, as McLuhan indicated in the chapters subtitle. The issue of automation – the automaton – became an important testbed for later notions of spontaneity and complexity, underwriting the proliferating would-be worlds of today. The pioneering idea of mechanically generated complexity was set out in the mid-40s by Walter’s colleague Ross Ashby and specified in number of key texts from the late 40s by John von Neumann, conjecturing a new species of, what we may term, machinic Being,14 based on prospects such as the ”automata that produce automata,” as von Neumann writes in the late 40s.15 In his draft of a “theory of and organization of complicated automata”16 from 1949, he thus imagined one of the first contemporary definitions of complexity, in abstract as well as material form, as a ’being’ which was to be “inconceivable” when looking at the initial state of system, that is surprising, yet also bound to its concrete mechanics:

“There is thus this completely decisive property of complexity, that there exists a critical size below which the process of synthesis is degenerative, but above which the phenomenon of synthesis, if properly arranged, can become explosive, in other words, where syntheses of automata can proceed in such a manner that each automaton will produce other automata which are more complex and of higher potentialities than itself.”17

The fascination with artificial liveliness proposed by Elsie was indeed to have an immense and still somewhat unclarified impact on postwar intellectual life circumpassing unlikely compatriots such as Herbert Simon and his ”science of the artificial” and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari and their ”abstract machine.” In 1972 Edgar Morin lamented the captivity of ”the idea of mechanical repetition” and argued for a new idea of the machine as contemporaneously ”regulated and regulating.”18 He poignantly embraced the machine as a poietic instance and talked enthusiastically about “the family of machines:” the “arche machine: the sun,” “proto machines and wild engines”, the “living poly machines” with an autopoietic capacity, the “social mega machine,” the “artificial machines,”19 and not least, referring to Wiener’s cybernetic machine. The cybernetic automat transforms the mechanical machine’s “externality” into an organized internality by means of its program whereby it stands forward as “ (…) comparable with the living (…) by means of its organization of behavior.”20

The fact of Black Shoals

However, there is more to the picture of Elsie than meets the eye. The positioning of the tortoise in the gestalt field of the image indicates the coming issue of complex organization stipulated forcefully in would-be worlds such as we see in the art project Black Shoals. In the manner of Foucault we may read this image as displaying a decisive yet absent factor of relata. Not the actual entity of the mechanical object, or the consumed gaze of wife and daugther, the subject-object relation in some capacity, the wife acknowledging the husband’s achievement, the daughter engaging with a future sister, and on top the patriarch resting on his labour, but the organization of the four should be noted. The image conveys a strong sense of organization, emerging from within the automaton and the organisms pictured, juxtaposing, relating and emphasizing connections and networks to come in a manner not all too different from the way Foucault prefigures the subject and its predicaments in Las Meninas. Nevertheless, the image also indicates the remaining problem of such a generative representation ’covering a far ranging class of systemic properties’, that is, of systemic organization: what is the status of such an organization?

The art project of Black Shoals may enter us into the present state of robotics as a generalized, generic social issue. May we thus say that this project simply affirms the prospects envisaged by Wiener and so many others? Of course not. In fact the schisma thought to be overcome by Wiener – between vitalism and mechanism – here emerges as a different schisma between technological organization and creative articulation: that is, as schisma between effects of computation and embedded creativity. Not only because Black Shoals is created within an artistic circuit, but because: (1) the project debates the course taken by the computational heritage and resulting in widely applied computing, from models of economy to ’intelligent’ artifacts such as cell phones, (2) it shows us why the emerging schisma of technological organization and creative is as unsolvable as Wieners old schisma, yet productive of a decisive problem of how creativity relates to the endeavor of bringing objects to life in the postwar era.

The image of man, Philippe Breton makes clear, applies to define the early computer within artificial intelligence, but it also returns with a vengeance. The being of the computer, of machinic Being, is created in “the image of man.”21 The lively human supplies the image of machinic Being which apparantly can not be rendered otherwise. The ‘imagining’ of the machine is constructed on a paradox:

“There is not anywhere in the world a form of intelligence which can not be considered human and no contemporary computer program can pretend to be assimilated to the human brains functionality [functionnement]. This leads to a paradoxical situation: for each time artifi- cial intelligence obtains results it ceases to be of concern to this field, to the extent that it achieves a significance in another sense [italics mine] (…)22

The road from technological organization of complexity to creative articulation – imagination – is much more bumpy than the repeated visions of the computational heritage will have us believe. Something else appears: from the lively Elsie to the application of would-be worlds such as Black Shoals, we are confronted with the establishment of organization as a claim to truth, yet in another sense: forms of complexity generated by artifacts cannot be taken as the complexity of the world, but as a fact of this complexity: they add to our modeling of the world, and they add to the world by their factuality, and it is not possible to secure a precise relation between these two additions. What is often seen as the confinement of modeling ‘in silicon’ is actually also a statement of fact, of complexity as effectuated artificial act. Never will we know in the final sense what ‘comes’ from the complexity of the world and from the complexity we have made possible by our machines. We have just enhanced Wiener’s schisma with technological organizations of a wider nature: the schisma still emerges with the ontological complication Cornelius Castoriadis’s points to when he writes:

“From an ultimate point of view, the question “What is it, in what we know, that comes from the observer (from us), and what is it that comes from what there is?” is, and will forever remain, undecideable.”23

Global financial deepening

When viewing the model of Black Shoals, the application of artificial life-programming to an informational configuration based on datastreams from the “global financial deepening” (Ankie Hoogvelt)24 what is brought forward is information of the world and information to be used upon the world. What we see are creatures embedded in silicon, accessible only through the projections discernible by the human eye. We see the emergence of complexity as stunning as Elsie was to the 1953-viewer, but, however, as misunderstood as Elsie turned out to be. The family of monsters should prove highly effectual but not pervasive, rather they build into human culture in unforeseen and still badly understood ways. The entities viewed in the Black Shoals project may emerge in ways quite similar to e.g. evolution, behavior, adaption etc. of organic life upon the environment made up by the globalizing world of finance. However, their every move, will be inscribed in a pure fact of artifact. Only within computing, only within the meticulous plans, moves, decisions, and definitions making up the entire computational configuration it is possible to speak of evolution and so forth (as the projects programmer Cefn Hoile describes quite clearly in his paper).25 What is evolving is the artificial, in a still more comprehensive manner, in the word of Ezio Manzini, as “an unknown artificial world that we must examine to discover its qualities and laws.”26 This is what appears as highly effectual in the application of computer instruments to the global finance market: the models made in situ may convey a deeper understanding of financial cyclus, but it must be understood equally by the ways men are able to produce a deepening form of the financial by the technology’s instant use in a global terrain. As Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway put it:

“It seems to be approaching the idea that the complexity of the in system some way legitimates it – because the stock market has the kind of cybernetic properties of biological systems (feedback loops etc.) it can in some ways be studied as a kind of biological system (and is). This tends to give rise to a sense that the market is somehow a “natural” expression of fundamental forces. But the market is only a natural expression of the particular artificial world model which it embodies – in the same way that the creatures are natural expressions of the computer program that they exist in.”27

The marriage of cybernetics and the computer – from Elsie to AI, and on to Black Shoals (end for that matter, the Black Scholes formula) – from the intricate programming that translate computational genotype into the phenomenal world capturing the viewer in the project, to the unseen globally stretched hardware behind the installations spectacle – confronts us with the promises and predicaments of creative modeling of complex organization, and, in fact, in any form of modeling as a form of creation. Perhaps, this amounts to the devolution of the modern constitution as Latour argues, to the abolishment of the exclusivity of the human and of nature in favor of quasi-objects (and quasi-subjects) 28 within the realm of sociotechnological networks. Or with Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto from 1984, to a strategic way out of the modern dichotomies between man and machine if we stop considering the machine as an “it,” “to be animated, worshipped and dominated”:29 “High-Tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relationship between human and machine.”30 However, I would argue that Black Shoals does not show artifacts and humans – technological organization and creative articulation – to be of the sharing capacity Latour and others envisage (one way or the other). Rather the project raises a wholly new question, or point anew to a question that has always been with us. The artificial may proliferate because of its ability to set forward nature, humans, society and so forth in comprehensive yet emphatically unexacting ways, vis-à-vis the real.31 One may deny this lack of exaction as devolution of a modern constitution or the like, but one cannot deny the question of who is actually creating the organizations in question: what is the status of creativity vis-à-vis the proliferating organizations of quasi-objects and sociotechnological networks?

Beyond the would-be worlds (of econometrics)

We all make models of our life – increasingly with the help of digital computation, from supranational modeling to digital assistants – from the everyday shopping list to in the largest sense computationally underwritten schemes impressed by the IMF on developing countries in crisis. The models predicated on computation are highly adaptable to a broad class of real problems hitherto ungraspable. The reason for wondering over such forms of computation, when employed to the degree of almost enigmatic pervasion in the financial markets, points further to ideological forms of contemporary capitalism. Models applied may thus underwrite Friedrich von Hayek’s claim of social order as spontaneous, as “result of human action but not of human design”32 but they do so by emphasizing that human creativity is different from the singular creativity still legitimating most art. Few today will probably subscribe to the hardcore free marketeering underwriting the creation of the global financial deepening. More pervasive, perhaps, is the belief in organization per se, indicated also in the Black Shoals project, that is, in management at large as solution. Today this belief is supported and practizised by technological forms of organization foregrounded in computing: the use of computer modeling not for the sake of argument, but as argument, the use of modeling, of the artifact – organization in itself – as an ideology of consensus. This, perhaps, is what is implicitly criticized in this project, even if Black Shoals treads a thin line between fascination and critique.

An economy set up on the assumed dynamics extracted from computerbased models and instrumented by networked computer applications – the new economy – is not crisis free as the E-bust has proven, but it still performs a formidable artifical ‘quasi-instrumentation’. Yet it is not the social, or culture as many have believed in the postwar era, from Wiener to Latour: it has a broad and problematic social interface. We are in need of reviewing our creativity in this domain, not only as thoughtful art projects but also as a specific form of complex socially creative imagination. This I would argue is exactly the most promising prospect of computer art today, to give us a reasons to debate not the computers creativity but its capacity for complexity, and conversely, not the social complexity modeled e.g. by Black Shoals, but this complexity creatively articulated in the world.

As we started with the boundless Elsie we may stop by citing Amartya Sen who followed Robert C. Merton and Myron S. Scholes and put a diverging accent on the grasp of computation and econometrics on The Nobel Prize for Economics. The Nobel Prize winner writes in Development as Freedom (1999)33 about freedom, and he speaks not of the free machines so fetishized in the postwar West, but of the human peoples of this world, ”Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means.”34

1 See http://www.epub.org.br/cm/n09/historia/greywalter_i.htm

2 Here cited from Philippe Breton, À l’image de l’homme. Du Golem aux creatures virtuelles. Paris: Éditions du Seuil 1995, picture insert.

3 C.f. Norbert Wiener: Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Cambridge, Mass.:The MIT Press, 1991 (1948).

4 C.f. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings. Cybernetics and Society. New York: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1954 (1950).

5 Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind. On the Origins of Cognitive Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press 2000, p.39.

6 C.f. Norbert Wiener, God & Golem, Inc. A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion. London: Chapman & Hall 1964.

7 Herbert W. Franke, ”Kybernetik. Wo ist sie geblieben,” in Telepolis: http//www. ct.heise.de (accessed 160299).

8 Igor Aleksander and Piers Burnett, Reinventing Man. The Robot Becomes Reality. Pelican Books (Harmondsworth: Penguin) 1983, p.100.

9 Wiener, Op.cit., p. 44.

10 Cf. John L. Casti: Complexification. New York: HarperPerennial 1994; John L. Casti: Would-Be Worlds, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1997.

11 John L. Casti, “Complexity”. Encyclopædia Britannica http://search.eb.com/eb/ article?eu=108252 [Accessed May 14, 2002]. © 2002 Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.

12 C.f. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass., Harward University Press 1993.

13 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 1994, p346ff.

14 For a more extensive debate, see my article ”The Imaginary of the Artifi- cial: Automata, Models, Machinics – On promiscuous modeling as precondition for poststructuralist ontology.” Forthcoming, in Thomas W Keenan & Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (eds), New Media, Old Media. Interrogating the Digital Revolution. Routledge 2004.

15 C.f. John von Neumann, “The General and Logical Theory of Automata”, in William Aspray & Arthur Burks (eds), Papers of John von Neumann on Computing and Computer Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press 1987, p.418ff.

16 C.f. John von Neumann, “Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata”, in Aspray et.al., op.cit.,p.432ff.

17 Von Neumann, “Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata”, p.483.

18 Edgar Morin, La méthode. I. La Nature de la Nature. Éditions du Seuil 1977, pp.160-161.

19 Ibid., p.161ff.

20 Ibid., p.169.

21 Breton, Op.cit.

22 Ibid., p.102.

23 Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Imaginary: Creation in the Social-Historical Domain,” in Cornelius Castoriadis: World in Fragments. Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination (David Ames Curtis (ed)). Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.4.

24 Ankie Hoogvelt: Globalisation and the Postcolonial World. London: Macmillan Press 1997, p.80ff, p.81.

25 Cefn Hoile, ”Black Shoals: Evolving Organisms in a World of Financial Data. No publication data (cefn.holie@bt.com). Text supplied to the author by Black Shoals project.

26 Ezio Manzini: Artefacts. Vers une nouvelle écologie de l’environnement artificiel. Les Essais. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou 1991, p.52.

27 Email from Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway to the author.

28 Although the quasi-subject tends to disappear almost completely for the machinehappy Latour. Cf. Latour, Op.cit.

29 Donna Haraway: Simans, Cyborgs and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Associations Books 1991, p.180.

30 Ibid., p.177.

31 See also my article, “Afirmación Technológia Postmoderno/Postmodern Technology- Affirmation,” in En Reconocimiento de la Historia/ In Recognition of History. Atlantica Revista de Arte y Pensamiento, Numéro 30 Otõno 2001. Las Palmas (Gran Canaria): Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno – CAAM. Webversion on http://www.caam. net/en/atlantica.htm – search on title or author.

32 Ibid., p.157.

33 Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999.

34 Ibid., p.10.