Abstracts & Bios

Barry Smith (Juliet Floyd)

Professor of Philosophy
University of Buffalo

Towards Emerging Media Science
If you try to find information about a gene or a molecule or a restaurant or a sports team or a politician on the web, it’s likely that some ontology will be involved in your search. An ontology is (briefly put) a semantically organized consensus representation of the types of entities in a given domain and of the relations between these entities – it is something like a large graph of the way some part of the world is structured. So important have ontologies become to organizations such as the BBC or the New York Times, that there is a running joke in the Semantic Web community to the effect that the Columbia School of Journalism is about to be renamed the Columbia School of Journalism and Ontology. I will sketch the ways in which ontology content is embedded in today’s communication technologies. I will then present the IAO – an ontology of information artifacts from single pixels to digital entities of internet scale – as a contribution to the foundations of a science of emerging media.

Barry Smith is Professor of Philosophy, Neurology and Computer Science, and Director of the National Center for Ontological Research, in the University at Buffalo. He is editor of The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry, and author of some 500 scientific publications in ontology and related fields. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the US, Swiss and Austrian National Science Foundations, the US Department of Defense, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the European Union. In 2002 he received the 2 million Euro Wolfgang Paul Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and in 2010 he was awarded the first Paolo Bozzi Prize in Ontology by the University of Turin.

Gordon Graham (Eric Sanday)

Professor of Philosophy and the Arts
Princeton Theological Seminary

Philosophy of technology and the philosophy of emerging media:
Idealism, materialism and spandrels

Where should we look to explain the success of new technologies? In comparison with the inarticulate knowledge embodied in traditional techniques, modern technology is marked by the very high level of expert knowledge and critical thought that goes into it. It may thus be said to be led by ‘ideas’. But what part does the quality of its ideas play in the widespread adoption of a new technology? Some commentators argue that, even if ideas ‘lead’ new technologies, it is material factors – social, economic, political – by which they are ‘pulled’ into use. There thus opens up something of the debate between the Idealist (Hegelian) and materialist (Marxist) philosophies of the 19th century. In this paper the strengths and weakness of both positions will be explored, and the concept of ‘spandrel’ (as currently used in discussions of evolution) will be employed to formulate in outline a philosophical understanding of emerging media.

Gordon Graham is Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was formerly Regius Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where he directed the Center for Philosophy, Technology and Society from 1996-2001. He has published extensively in a wide range of areas, and his books include The Internet: a philosophical inquiry (Routledge, 1999) which has been translated into Dutch, Spanish, Greek and Korean.

John Haldane (Victor Kestenbaum)

Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs
Department of Philosophy, University of St Andrews

Media, emergence and the analogy of art:
Some philosophical reflections

A philosophical enquiry into the nature of (information and communication) media might raise different sorts of questions: some conceptual and ontological regarding the nature of media and their status in relation to individual and collective actions (and reactions) and to ‘material conditions’; others relating to the values towards which media are or should be oriented, and the principles that might govern media related activities. I shall provide some conceptual mapping and raise the question of what is involved in the emergence of media out of some prior state from which they were absent, and again in subsequent phases of higher-level emergent phenomena. ‘Emergence’ can be understood in a number of ways: epistemically, causally, or metaphysically and there is a danger of equivocating between these different senses in general or in considering particular levels of media emergence. In describing and attempting to understand recent developments in ‘emerging media’ it may be useful to consider an analogy with developments in the visual arts involving the transition from figurative naturalism to abstractionism, then to minimalism, and from that to performance art and conceptualism.

John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs in the University of St Andrews. He is also Remick Senior Fellow in the Center for Ethics and Culture and the University of Notre Dame; Chairman of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, London; and Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome. His publications include Atheism & Theism (with JJC. Smart), Faithful Reason, Seeking Meaning and Making Sense, Reasonable Faith, and Practical Philosophy.

Peter Simons (John Grey)

Professor of Philosophy
Trinity College Dublin

Media and their emergence:
The ontology

In any field of research, especially a new one, the first step to philosophical groundedness is an ontology, a structured inventory of the objects of the field and an account of their principal interrelations and modes of operation. In respect to the emergence of new media, the two obvious places to begin are with the media themselves and with emergence. The concept of emergence was developed in the 19th century in connection with debates about the status of life and mind, and has been pursued with renewed vigor in recent years. While there are different varieties of emergence, it is philosophically fairly well understood. By contrast the more specific notion of a medium and the taxonomy of the various media is less well defined and correspondingly its ontology is in need of more work. Taking its cue from work by the Polish ontologist Roman Ingarden, this contribution will use modern taxonomic methods to offer a rational ontology and taxonomy of media which provides room for new and unexpected media. It will be discussed whether such novelty counts as emergence in any philosophically interesting sense.

Peter Simons is Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin where he holds the Chair of Moral Philosophy, established in 1837. He has held positions in the UK, Austria, and Ireland, and has also taught in Switzerland and the USA.

Professor Simons’s research specialty is in the areas of Metaphysics and Ontology, pure and applied, and in addition he works in the Philosophy of Language and Logic, Philosophy of Mathematics, History of Analytic Philosophy, and the History of Philosophy and Logic in Central Europe.

He is also a Fellow of the British Academy, Member of the Academia Europaea and Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is the author of two books and over 200 articles. From 1989-2001 he was consultant to a software developer seeking to automate management decision-making in large-scale manufacturing industries, research which has guided his subsequent work in ontology and metaphysics.

David Ramsay Steele (James E. Katz)

David Ramsay Steele
Editorial Director of Open Court Publishing Company

Will new media create a collective mind?
Some recent writers, most notably Michael Chorost, have predicted that the Internet and direct brain-to-brain communication will bring into existence a collective human consciousness which will not eliminate separate individual consciousnesses but will co-exist harmoniously with them. This collective consciousness is even expected to become self-aware. While such claims may be taken as mere metaphors for the spontaneous operations of groups of communicating individuals, some proponents evidently conceive them more literally. This paper skeptically examines such claims. In relation to the Internet and emerging brain-to-brain media, various theories accounting for the phenomenon of consciousness are scrutinized, notably 1. that sheer complexity of information processing produces consciousness; 2. that some specific physical (for instance, electro-chemical) conditions are necessary and perhaps sufficient for consciousness; and 3. that consciousness arises in the context of self-organizing systems capable of purposive action. The conclusion of this discussion is that a community of conversing individuals, even enhanced by brain-to-brain signals, cannot develop its own consciousness in addition to the consciousness of the separate individuals. Furthermore, it is argued phenomenologically that the co-existence of consciousness in a total system with independent consciousness in its component parts is incoherent.

David Ramsay Steele is Editorial Director of Open Court Publishing Company, where he conceived the Popular Culture and Philosophy series to present philosophical thinking to the widest market.  He is author or co-author of From Marx to Mises: Post-Capitalist Society and the Challenge of Economic Calculation (1992), Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (with Michael R. Edelstein, 1997); Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy (2008); and Therapy Breakthrough: Why Some Psychotherapies Work Better than Others (with Michael R. Edelstein and Richard K. Kujoth, 2013).  He edited Genius: In Their Own Words, The Intellectual Journeys of Seven Great 20th-Century Thinkers (2002) and has contributed articles to numerous collections and journals, notably Ethics (1996); Critical Review (1996); The Atkins Diet and Philosophy: Chewing the Fat with Kant and Nietzsche (2005), The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007), The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (2008), Philosophy Now (2010), Dexter and Philosophy: Mind over Spatter (2011).  He is now completing Orwell Your Orwell: An Ideological Study, on the intellectual evolution of George Orwell.

Maurizio Ferraris (David Roochnik)

Professor of Philosophy
University of Turin

The emergence of writing
While at the middle of the past century writing was taken to be agonizing in a world of oral media such as the phone, the radio and television, the fundamental trait of the past thirty years has been that of an emergence of writing. This is what happens, perhaps with some confusion, in the galaxy of the ‘net’ and of the ‘digital’, but it is something that goes far beyond a simple technological revolution. So much so that the first digital turn, roughly thirty years ago, coincided with the affirmation of postmodernism, as is demonstrated by the conspicuous references to the digital world in Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition (1979).

More than thirty years later, we have to take stock of this transformation and, once again, what happened is quite different from what was expected. Thirty years ago, perspectives and analyses spoke of an exponential growth in communication, of a triumph of the immaterial and of the affirmation of a ‘liquid’ and less constraining society. Things, though, did not go exactly this way. The society of generalized communication seems to have been replaced by a society of recording in which every act is inscribed and archived, in something that presents itself as a system of total control. The immaterial revealed all its materiality, from the rubbish yards of technological wrecks to the increasing energy problems. And the fact that we can be reached anywhere by writing, requests and responsibilities makes our age far from liquid, and rather configures a system of total mobilization.

Maurizio Ferraris is full Professor of Philosophy at the University of Turin, where he is also the director of the LabOnt (Laboratory for Ontology). He is a columnist for ‘La Repubblica’, the director of ‘Rivista di Estetica’ and the co-director of ‘Critique’ and the ‘Revue francophone d’esthétique’. He is a fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America and of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, the Directeur d’études of the Collège International de Philosophie and a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, as well as other European and American universities. He wrote more than forty books that were translated into several languages, among which History of Hermeneutics (Humanities Press, 1996), Documentality (Fordham UP 2012) and Goodbye Kant! (SUNY UP 2013). His latest books are Anima e iPad (Guanda 2011), Lasciar tracce. Documentalità e architettura, ed. by R. Cappozzi and F. Visconti (Mimesis 2012), Manifesto del nuovo realismo (Laterza 2012, winner of the Capalbio Prize) and Filosofia cosmopolita (Mimesis 2013, ed. by L. Caffo).

Lars Lundsten (Barry Smith)

Arcada University of Applied Sciences (Finland) & Journalism Education
University of Helsinki

Fuzzy social institutions and fuzzy agency:
Some ontological remarks on emerging media

According to mainstream theory of mediatization, political power and cultural influence is constantly growing more and more inter-dependent with media institutions. At the same time, however, the concept of media institution has lost some of its theoretical and conceptual salience due to the rapid growth in so-called ‘new media’.

Ontologically speaking, old-style media institutions such as publishing houses or broadcasting companies are well-defined socially construed entities. Thus they belong to the same category as nation states, public offices, armies or churches.

From the point of view of re-distribution of power, the moral or legal responsibilities of these ‘well-defined’ media institutions are bound to someone who is entitled to act by proxy. Any CEO, Commander-in-Chief or managing editor acts by proxy.

In terms of concrete actions, the inter-dependence between media and other institutions is derived from a social inter-dependence between proxies, e.g. journalists and politicians. Individual human beings who are entitled to act on behalf of a social institution perform actions in relation to other individuals in such a way that these actions directly or in-directly involve the legal bodies ‘behind’ these individuals.

In emerging media, the proxy is less evident than in the old-fashioned media landscape. One might claim that companies such as Google or Facebook would be well-defined media institutions comparable to publishing houses or broadcasting companies.

However, at a closer view, this is not the case. In order to consider a re-distribution of political or cultural power in ‘new media’, one has to introduce new type of player, i.e. the community of users. This community normally has no proxy. Its legitimacy and influence only rarely can be attributed to a certain person. Hence I want to call such institutions ‘fuzzy’ media institutions. With fuzzy media institutions agency within and through media becomes fuzzy, too.

Dr. Lars Lundsten works with intercultural film education at Arcada University of Applied Sciences (Finland) and journalism education at University of Helsinki. His research interests are within the field of narrative epistemology, social ontology and mediatization.

Sponsored by Boston University’s Division of Emerging Media Studies
Organized by James E Katz, Feld Family Professor of Emerging Media, College of Communication
In cooperation with Prof. Juliet Floyd and the Department of Philosophy, Boston University