Animals, Anthropology, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Education, Nature, PDF, Science

Darwinism About Darwinism (Joeri Witteveen)


Review of Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Oxford Uni Press 2009)

“… devoted to fleshing out what makes a population Darwinian. This is done by scoring a given population on a variety of parameters, such as H, the fidelity of heredity, and V, the abundance of variation. So, instead of saying that a population must have heredity and variation—in the vein of the classical approach—the Darwinian populations framework ranks populations according to how much it possesses of each. The H and V parameters are familiar; they are derived from the classical summaries. The other parameters are less obvious. G-S discusses several important ones, but notes that these do not exhaust the options; other parameters may also be important in judging how Darwinian a population is. The new parameters that are discussed at some length are α, defined as the competitive interaction with respect to reproduction, C, for “continuity” or smoothness of the fitness landscape, and S, the dependence of reproductive differences on “intrinsic character.” The concept of continuity was introduced by Lewontin as the principle that “small changes in a characteristic must result in only small changes in ecological relations” (Lewontin 1978: 169). G-S extends this principle, and turns it into a parameter. One way to understand C is as the smoothness of the fitness landscape. The smoother the fitness landscape, the higher the value C takes for the population under consideration. C is determined by causes of both internal and external nature. Internal influences stem from the organism’s physiology and development. External influences on C are location, and interaction with others. G-S assigns the internal/external difference its own parameter, S, for “intrinsic character.” The higher a population’s score on C and S, the more Darwinian are the individuals it is composed of. C and S not only tell us something about what makes individuals more Darwinian, they also serve as a replacement for another vexed notion in evolutionary theory: drift. Selection is often contrasted with drift; change may be due to selection and/or drift. G-S suggests that the C and S parameters dissolve this dichotomy. What we take to be drift is in fact a combination of low values of C and/or S. So drift and selection are not two distinct factors, but are “distinctions along the gradients of S and C” (p. 61). After having discussed some of the parameters, G-S introduces a spatial framework of three-dimensional “Darwinian spaces” as a tool for further analysis. Along each of the three axes of a Darwinian space, we can put a parameter, on which a score from 0 to 1 can be obtained. For instance, if we put the H, C, and S parameters along the axes and start scoring populations, one that scores close to (0,0,0) is very marginal, and one that sits close to (1,1,1) is a paradigmatic Darwinian population. Scoring somewhere in between will make it a minimal Darwinian population.”


Algorithm, Analog Computing, Art, Automata, Bacteria, Biological Computation, Biology, Cybernetics, Deep Learning

Beyond design: cybernetics, biological computers and hylozoism (Pickering 2008)

community video, video

Community Video : Community Action


1974 also saw portable video technology used twice to dramatic effect in the service of the same squatting community. Ben’s Arrest lasts only two minutes; the video comprises a single take, which follows the forceful eviction and arrest of an Afro-Caribbean teenager from a squat in Kentish Town, North London, by bailiffs and police. It was the first time video material was used as evidence in a court of law in the UK and aided the arrested youth’s acquittal28. In the words of Hopkins it ‘showed in grim close-up the arrest of a black guy who just happened to be picked on by the police as we were on the street with a camera.’29 Sue Hall, was organising the painting of houses on Prince of Wales Crescent on the day the video was shot. She later recalled arriving on the corner of the street and seeing a police van parked outside the row of squatted houses; ‘I went home to get the Portapak, thread the tape and put the battery in… I went back as fast as possible just in time to see the police coming out with what they claimed were stolen goods and violently arresting a young black man before apparently beating him up in the back of the Transit van whilst I was still shooting video.’30

An article published in The Guardian in 1974 covered the outcome of the making of the second video:

Film Tape Allowed in Court: A Video Tape recording of squatters being evicted from a London home will be admissible as defense evidence in a case of alleged assault – provided that Scotland Yard forensic scientists are satisfied that the tape is authentic… Mr Peter Darcy and Dr John Pollard, who are accused of assaulting a police constable during their eviction from a house in Prince of Wales Crescent, Chalk Farm, North London, by bailiffs and police earlier this year, believe the film is crucial defense evidence… the application has been adjourned while Scotland Yard makes a duplicate and tests it thoroughly for defects and tampering… Birnberg [the counsel for the defense] argued that there was no difference in principle between the recording of a human voice and a video tape. 31

The language used in this article points to video’s relationship to liveness and authenticity, whilst the police still viewed the new medium with trepidation. The defence was successful as Hopkins later recounts in an interview:

All the people who had been arrested or charged were able to brief themselves from the videotape, which was played again and again and again until everyone knew exactly what happened in what order. And when the police came to give their evidence it was so transparently, obviously faked, that everybody got off. So as a piece of social action, getting 15 or 20 people off of police charges…was a beneficial act, which couldnt have been done without video.32

Capitalism, PDF, sciencefiction, utopia

Alexander Kluge: Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome (1973).pdf

“Written in a quasi-documentary style, this fascinating hybrid work combines science fiction with modernist forms of montage and reportage to describe a future in which Earth has been almost totally destroyed following the catastrophic Black War. The planet’s remaining inhabitants have been driven underground or into space where the struggle to establish a new society rages on.

Whether describing the scene in China where the devastated landscape is reconstructed according to old paintings, or in the galactic realm of the Starway where giant, turf-battling, corporate colonizing forces exploit the universe’s resources, Kluge tells his tale by inventing various forms of “evidence” that satirize the discourses of administrative bureaucracy, the law, military security, and the media. He gives us some of his most bizarre and hilarious characters in this peculiar world in which the remains of the past are mixed with the most advanced elements of the future. The cast includes highly specialized women workers who have adapted to the massive gravitational field of their heavy-metal planets, a commander with lethal foot-fungus, and ex-Nazi space pioneers who, in their lonely exile from the conflagrations on earth, spend their time carving enormous facsimiles of operatic sheet music in the forests of uninhabited planets.

With parody, and humor, Kluge shows how the survivors of Armageddon attempt to learn the art of civilization, and, despite the disaster they have suffered, how they set out to reproduce at new sites a caricature of a classic and fascistic feudal capitalism.” (from the back cover)


Architecture, Art, gas, PDF, Photography

Gas Tanks (Bernd and Hilla Becher)

“Typological, repetitive, at times oddly humorous,  photographs of industrial structures are, in their cumulative effect, profoundly moving. The Bechers’ serenely cool, disarmingly objective, and notoriously obsessive images of water towers, gas tanks, grain elevators, blast furnaces, and mineheads have been taken over several decades, under overcast skies, with a view camera that captures each detail and tonality of wood, concrete, brick and steel.
In this work, the Bechers’ present four principally different forms of gas holders or gas tanks in 140 photographs taken during the years 1963-1992 in Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and the United States. The subjects are photographed under overcast skies that eliminate expressive variations in lighting; the Bechers make no attempt to analyze or explain them. Captions contain only the barest of information: time and place. On the subject of gas holders, the Bechers limit their remarks to a minimal functional description, leaving the aesthetic dimension of their subject to the photographs themselves: much of the fascination of these photographs lies in the fact that these unadorned metallic structures, presumably built with little concern for their visual impact, are almost invariably striking in appearance.”


Analog Computing, Bio hacking, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Cybernetics, DNA, Science

Mind-controlled transgene expression by a wireless-powered optogenetic designer cell implant

“Mammalian synthetic biology has significantly advanced the design of gene switches that are responsive to traceless cues such as light, gas and radio waves, complex gene circuits, including oscillators, cancer-killing gene classifiers and programmable biocomputers, as well as prosthetic gene networks that provide treatment strategies for gouty arthritis, diabetes and obesity. Akin to synthetic biology promoting prosthetic gene networks for the treatment of metabolic disorders, cybernetics advances the design of functional man–machine interfaces in which brain–computer interfaces (BCI) process brain waves to control electromechanical prostheses, such as bionic extremities and even wheel chairs. The advent of synthetic optogenetic devices that use power-controlled, light-adjustable therapeutic interventions18 will enable the merging of synthetic biology with cybernetics to allow brain waves to remotely control the transgene expression and cellular behaviour in a wireless manner.”


Art, Biology, Cybernetics, ecology, History, music theory, systems theory

communication +1, 3(1): Afterlives of Systems (2014) (pdf)


“Under the impression of today’s global crisis and the rise of ecological thinking, confronted with smart, ubiquitous technosystems and the impression of interconnectedness, there appears a new urge to excavate the remnants of the past. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies.

The nine contributions ask how these debates and affective states survive and live on in today’s discussions of media ecologies, environmentalism, object-oriented philosophies, computer simulations, performative art, and communication technologies. In this sense, they take the renaissance of systems thinking in the late 20th and early 21st Century as an effect of various system crisis and explore new media technologies as stabilizing ‘cures’ against the dystopian future scenarios that emerged after World War II. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies.”