How Many Angles Can Dance on the Head of a Pin? AI and Reception

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


For the Medieval thinkers, the famous puzzle of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin was a question about the relationship of the infinite god to the finite world. If god the creator is all-powerful, logically, he should be able to bid an infinite number of angels to dance on the head of a pin. At the same time, the Medieval thinkers believed that no infinite collection could arise in the finite world, that is, appear to, or be perceived by finite human beings. Apart from shedding light on the rift between the realm of ideality and that of materiality and corporeality, this paradox also sheds light on human inability to process complexity as multiplicity, simultaneous multi-perspectivalism, infinite variability, paradoxical articulation and/or vertiginous speed. Unlike the infinite god who, we could say, ‘operates’ with complexity, multiplicity, polychromaticy as well as with unity, finite humans need such things as common denominators, unifying factors, and, often, also, reduction.

Today’s experience of our increasingly machinic environment is paradoxical. On the one hand, algorithmic governance, which makes no difference between beings and missiles, is both over-determined and over-determining. On the other hand, perpetual (digital) change and informational flux open onto the field of indeterminacy – not only as ambiguity, uncertainty and liminality, but also as ontological indeterminacy (Barad 2007). In this paper, I focus on what several scholars have recently referred to as ‘alien thought’ (Hui 2018; Parisi 2016), which departs from the more traditional critique of computation, seen as a continuation and intensification of instrumental rationality. Using Varela’s notion of organic thinking (1980) and MacLennan’s ‘natural computation’ (2004), I place indeterminate artistic procedures – those of Duchamp, Cage and Xu – in dialogue with Chaitin’s theory of incomputability (2007); Malabou’s discussion of method and (dis)equilibrium (2018); and Bates’ machinic pathologies (2016); in order to formulate a theory of AI reception based on indeterminate perceptual architectures.
Period25 Jun 2021
Event titleReception: contemporary perspectives/ La réception, perspectives contemporaines
Event typeConference
LocationPari, FranceShow on map