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Humanist Archives: Dec. 11, 2018, 6:20 a.m. Humanist 32.260 - divining and gaming

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 260.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2018-12-11 00:39:32+00:00
        From: Wendell Piez 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.240: divining and gaming?

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

Whether you suppose a digital I Ching is possible or worthwhile
depends on your theory of divination.

Not all methods of consulting I Ching are aleatory or randomized
(whatever that means), and the ones that are, use different methods
with different probabilities, so there is that. In considering one's
theory of divination, this complicates things.

Whether reading a book is the same as hearing the poem aloud depends
on your theory of poetry.

I agree entirely with your premise: there are two main uses for a
digital universal machine (beyond maintaining itself), namely
forecasting (or divination), and gaming. The history begins with
ballistics and ends with SPACEWAR (1962), everything since being
rehash and elaboration. Yes, divination and gaming are close kin,
being rooted in rule-making: outside the computer both gaming and
divination can have a 'nomic' aspect (I think the term is Peter
Suber's; the literature is interesting). But a very nomic game,
resource or methodology is difficult to architect in a digital
environment since digital architectures are already so constraining,
and already so nomic: the computer itself is a nomic game or more
accurately, a big pile of them. What is plastic in your hands (the
developer) might as well be hard wired for someone else (your user),
most of the time. "Who makes the rules" is relative and contingent.

Depending on your theory of divination, I Ching should or should not
be nomic: its rules can be changed within the game -- while it remains
I Ching -- or they cannot. Perhaps how you like your digital I Ching
may also relate to this question.

As I see it, I Ching makes two distinct (while related) contributions:
there is a system (however you might define it) of differentiation and
composition capable of mapping across a problem domain, perhaps
especially amenable to digital or algorithmic emulation (again,
depending on your theory of divination). And there is a series of
texts layered one on top of another, organized and linked according to
the putative system (thus, a tree/network of annotations), but also
presenting an integrity (an as-a-whole) that a single segment -- say,
all the commentary (however you select and arrange them) on any of the
64 hexagrams alone -- can represent at best by synecdoche. Maybe this
is why the commentaries so often emphasize not the hexagrams singly,
but their relations, something you cannot see with a single throw.

By at least one theory of divination, the failure of a digital I Ching
to deliver what the old-fashioned sort did, for example with the
yarrow sticks, isn't due to digital media at all, but only how we then
proceed to ignore or abuse the text. Reading up on one hexagram at a
time at odd moments just isn't the same thing as studying, and a few
readings in a few weeks are not the same as once a day for a year or
many. Whatever the yarrow sticks are for, they slow it down.

Whether reading a book is the same as hearing the poem aloud depends
on your theory of poetry -- as Socrates said to Phaedrus, more or
less, or so it was reported.

Willard, your Dec 5 question ("32.240: divining and gaming?") implies
we might, in/as a "human/machine entity", use the digital machine to
emulate an I Ching (nominally), as an example of "a combinatorial
device and physically manipulatory practice in which unpredictable
outcomes are used to point the way to a better or at least different
life". I too am interested on whether there is a literature on that,
but I submit to you that the question even as couched ("something
like"), is also a bit narrow, as it all depends (doesn't it?) on your
theory of divination. ELIZA too is a divination engine, isn't she, as
is every targeted advertisement you meet having an online shopping
experience? Haven't we entered a time when the overseers/automata are
put there specifically for the purpose of arbitraging our
predictability? (Something Vance Packard wrote about back when they
were finishing Spacewar.)

The other morning my smartphone (aka spy device) delivered me an
unsolicited notification that in 20 minutes, Bus #54 was leaving from
the corner near my house, heading to my workplace. I just started the
job a month ago. I am actually somewhat used to the spy device
observing my location and means of getting places. But I haven't taken
public transport to work yet. One of the overseers seems to have
decided that I would be grateful to have this information. Isn't this
surprising, in a fundamental way? This morning I was looking at a
ten-year old book on the Semantic Web (as it was called then). It
reads a bit more sinister now than it did then. Times are definitely

Best regards and wishes of the season --

On Mon, Dec 3, 2018 at 1:46 AM Humanist  wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 240.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         Date: 2018-12-03 06:41:23+00:00
>         From: Willard McCarty 
>         Subject: divining and gaming?
> Many years ago there were attempts to implement the ancient Chinese form
> of divination known as the Yijing (I Ching); one, I recall, was written
> by a friend of mine, Peter Langston, on HP equipment. Another, I think,
> was developed for Princeton University Press. There have obviously been
> many, many implementations of games of chance. Theoretical work on
> gaming, back to von Neumann and Morgenstern's Theory of Games and
> Economic Behavior (1953), is very well known.
> My question is this: has anyone written about the
> psychological/cognitive relationship between the digital machine as a
> combinatorial device and physically manipulatory practices in which
> unpredictable outcomes are used to point the way to a better or at least
> different life? I am specifically interested in that connection in order
> to pry into the capacity of computational enquiry -- not the information
> vending machine but the human-machine entity -- to surprise us in a
> fundamental way, to come up with something radically new.
> All suggestions will be most welcome.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
> Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
> Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
> Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist
> (www.dhhumanist.org)

Wendell Piez | http://www.wendellpiez.com | wendell dot piez at-sign
nist dot gov

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