Digital architectonics, pre-specific modelling – what is at stake with these issues? We want to hold on to these terms because they promise to help finding an abstraction from the meanwhile classical distinction in cultural studies and anthropology between the Renaissance disegno tradition of how think about technics, and the contemporary interest from a media archeological angle in cultural techniques. But why seeking to find an abstraction from this distinction at all? While the former cannot seem to rid itself from an understanding of the artist as place holder of divine spirit on earth, the latter aggressively seeks to annihilate in its value for hominization the fact that there is something like richness in ésprit, wit, capacity in intellection (what in German is best captured in the adjective “geistreich“). The latter’s materialist point of view ought to be opened up by a contemporary atomist approach which conceives of the atom not as the basic common denominator that constitutes all things in their material terms of extension in space, time and action (matter and energy), but as the basic common denominator that factors in, symbolically (information), in the material constitution of all things. In short: the atom as that which can only be thought.
We take the digital to mean, in principle as well as in effect, (1) the primacy of relations before the functives (terms, relata) thereby related, and (2) an abundance of virtual relations over actual relations. Anything could be related to anything else. How to treat units, elements, proportions, ratios, similarities, how to gain orientations, stabilities in such climatic and environmental circumstances? How might we conceive of a digital architectonics?
Let’s follow the often forgotten idea of a general science of measuring, called posology, and relate this idea to that of a general science of “nacked” or “pure” quantities, that of a mathesis universalis. Posology has perhaps first been mentionend by Aristotle, and has been picked up in an interesting way lately by Gilles Deleuze (in his lecture on the Method of Dramatization). Instead of asking what-questions, in the sense of essence, posology asks what-quantity-questions first, before characterizing and classifying substances. Broadly speaking, posology is concerned with the question of dosage. Any question of dosage, different from those of measurement, is orientated within a variety of scales which can only in principle be fully determined, yet never actually, exhaustively, positively. Dosages are tested and fixed between maxima and minima – symbolical markings of virtual extremes – rather than on the basis of elementary givens. Nevertheless, such testing needs to be fully determinable in principle, and this is where the basic theorem of algebra becomes interesting: There are computable solutions to every problem. Not only on solution, and neither one absolutely optimal solutions, but whole ranges of possible ones. The challenge now shifts towards the articulation, the formulation and the formalization of what we regard as problematic. Such modelling, articulating, formulating, formalizing, computing and simulating differentiated perspectives on virtually possible solutions, this we call pre-specific modelling.
Like any modelling, also pre-specific modelling depends on partition and analysis, or to link it closer to our framework of a generalized posology: every dosage needs a unit according to which it can be measured, described, and passed on. Units are derived by setting some defined magnitude as elementary. Within architecture, the paradigmatic example would be the so called column module in the art of Greek Temple Building, from which the ratio is derived and declinated across scales to put the whole building into proportions. Today we are working with computers, where the elementary units are bits. Bits are the kind of units which render information into a technologically handable quantity. Usually, they are treated as code-based storage devices, of no theoretical interest in themselves and arbitrarily depending on different standards, such as 16 or 32 bit standards. The difference of these standards lie, mainly, in their capacities to store large numbers.
And yet, bits are literally speaking a very peculiar thing – looked at within the philosophical language game of quantities, they are of a strange kind indeed. Before the rise of symbolic algebra and set theory, every quantity has been treated, for more than two millennia, under the double aspect of magnitude (how much? how long? etc.) and mulititude (how many?). Each of those aspects depends on the determination of units, either for measuring or for counting. Units are derived by setting some defined magnitude as elementary. Within architecture, the paradigmatic example would be the so called column module in the art of Greek Temple Building, from which the ratio is derived and declinated across scales to put the whole building into proportions.
Now with information technology, we have bits as finite formal units (that’s why they can be treated technically, they are formal) – yet they are units of indefinite determinability. Indefinit is not the same as infinit, this is quite important to distinguish. While infinit would fit well within the elemental thinking of basics, primes, roots and kernels, the indefinit fits much better within a posological thinking of dosages. Hence we will call our digital bits Any-Units. Perhaps they can be conceived as Intensive Quantities. Perhaps, these are tentative ideas for now. In any case, they quite severly upset our notions of measuring and proportionality. In actual built or designed architecture, this makes for funny shapes and – as Etienne-Louis Boullée, the French Enlightenment Architect might have termed buildings like those of Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid not without contempt – colossal volumes of gigantic, titanic and primary order. In less emphatic and more placid and general terms, they indicate at least a changed principle of availability through logistics. Digital logistics, so they make quite clear, comprehends much more than the infrastructures for physical mobility of transporting products, people, and structures. What used to be a model of something increasingly becomes applied as a model for something.
For a digital architectonis it still remains to be conceptualized how exactly the quantity-constitutive units of today, the informational bits, can be thought to help continuing the uncomparably rich and differentiated genealogy spanning from Euclid’s elementary geometry via Cartesian analytic geometry, the 17th century approaches to specious algebra and geometry, their concentration and radicalization in the Leibnizian idea of a characteristica universalis and an analysis situs, to Boole’s algebraization of classical syllogisms and their topoi to Turing’s mechanization of arithmetics in general. Surely, computed forms and structures that could not, by non-digital means, be drawn or calculated, ought to be put within this tradition.
What we call pre-specific modelling focuses on problems resolvable only from a stance within the Universability of Information. We thereby regard information not as quantum, nor as quantity, but as quantitability. While fully determinable, information is, consitutively so, indefinite. To make one step towards a digital proportionality we could say: information as quantitability is abstract but real just like the space of the real numbers is abstract but real. And as little as real numbers can be understood to represent natural numbers or integers, as little can information be understood as representing semantic denotation. Like the real numbers, information can be limited (or defined) by active determination only. In the case of information, such determination is instantiated by actively maintained integration, and differentiation of what the any-bits are supposed to articulate and organize. For just as we see them belonging to the philosophical language game of quantity, they surely belong to that of notation, script and media. Here, however, the any-bits can be conceived, actually, as the Leibnizian universal “characters” – with the significant difference, however, that universality to the algebraist today cannot mean a totality, an absolute term, any more. We have long started to inhabit universes of discourse, in the plural.