[ISEA2011] Paper: M. Beatrice Fazi – Soft Computing: Forms and Limits in Computational Aesthetics


The aim of this presentation is to investigate the possibilities of different kinds of aesthetic organization offered by ‘soft computing’ practices. Through the production and application of fuzzy logic, evolutionary systems and neural networks, this rapidly advancing area within computer science provides us with inexact, indeterminate and generative solutions as novel responses to ‘computationally hard’ problems that cannot be addressed via classical algorithmic structures. The paper will explore the employment of these techniques in software art and, more generally, their conceptual and practical relevance for the field of computational aesthetics. I will then look at notions such as undecidability, uncertainty, randomness and approximation, characterizing them not as opposite but complementary to the procedural, regulative and axiomatic nature of computational logical forms. Contra the common view that takes these ‘soft’ solutions to successfully account for the perceptual, the empirical and the contingent, I will argue that their most interesting theoretical aspect consists instead in indirectly continuing what can be called a ‘rationalist’ project of optimization, compression and synthesis of deductive knowledge. In other words, I see these practices worth investigating exactly in virtue of the fact that they situate themselves within the broader philosophical and cultural debate about the limits of formal reasoning, consequently complicating issues about the constraints of computational images of rationality. In this respect, the paper argues that soft computing can perhaps help us to unfold the indispensable role played by abstract, logical and formal processes in the construction of aesthetic experience. On that basis, I will draw more speculative conclusions by putting forth an approach to computational aesthetics that maintains the possibility of retaining and working with the reality of algorithmic entities. The presentation will then conclude by discussing how such a conceptual position involves viewing the computation’s abstract forms and limits not solely as an expedient means of performing a specific type of reasoning (i.e. deduction) or as a process that stands in contrast to direct experience (i.e. induction), but rather as an ontological reality itself.

  • M. Beatrice Fazi is a researcher, writer and lecturer, and is at present a PhD candidate at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London. Her thesis investigates the ontological foundation of the aesthetics of computational digital media. She obtained a master’s degree in Philosophy from Università degli Studi di Macerata (Italy) and holds an MA in Interactive Media from Goldsmiths, University of London (UK). Her work explores questions at the intersection of philosophy, science, technology and culture, while her research interests include digital aesthetics, continental philosophy, computation and logic, cybernetic culture, software studies, media theory and philosophy of mind. She has published articles on these topics in the UK and Italy, and has presented her research internationally. She currently teaches digital media theory and culture at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge (UK).

Full text (PDF) p. 803-807