Aphoristic Essay on Analog and Digital Orders

{ Why aphoristic? Because there is no argument, because argument is dependent upon clear, if not rational, distinction, because distinction itself is troublesome. The orders constitute a skein, blurred and uncanny; nothing, no thing, is entirely analogic or digital. The flux of the world is perceived through heartbeat and saccadic vision - the eye functions like cinema, creating a quick succession of 'still' images, later to be reconstituted as motion. Cinema underscores the real: we are viewers of our own films, movies lasting until the end of the world. }

{ Note on terminology: I use distinct, discrete, digital, even binary, somewhat interchangeably; please note the slight differences below. I also use both analog and analogic somewhat interchangeably; they reference (however one might deconstruct this) the real, continuity. }

The digital: by digital I mean discrete. By digital I mean systemic, characterized by systematization, parameterization.

{ 'Discrete' implies cut-off, Dedekind's cut or surreal numbers, for example. The boundary is both 'clean' and of no consequence - what's important is the drawn distinction, as Spencer Brown might emphasize. But there's more than distinction; the digital domain is characterized by system; the cuts are organized in one form or another, and this organization, in real, physical reality, is dependent upon the choice of parameters - bandwidth measurement, for example. }

The analog appears continuous; the digital appears discrete, broken.

{ We are thinking of appearance here - this is important. And appearance is dialectical; it depends on both observer and the thing observed, not to mention mediations and interactions among both as phenomenologies and systems themselves. So, yes, the analog appears continuous - even though, as Eddington observed, the table tends to disappear in particle physics. And the digital both 'means' or implies discrete, and appears as such. The digital in this sense is also a 'breaking' of the analog continuum; in the real, for example, an analog to digital transform of speech results in the cutting-up of the analog, within certain tolerances, according to certain parameters. }

In everyday life, the digital is the result of an intervention.

{ How so? Because everyday life appears as one; even the sudden shifts in a dream are 'sutured' together by the dreamer. The digital intervenes, functionally, into the analogic real - and as an intervention, it appears to come from 'without' - just like a cd disk is brought to a listener, already encoded, unreadable (in a way that a vinyl record is not). }

An intervention is a mapping. Every mapping, unless a mapping of itself (ikonic), leaves something out.

{ A mapping leaves something out because it is not the territory; when it becomes the territory, it maps down to the molecular. But what is left out? And who decides what is left out? And what is left? }

The intervention requires the setting of a standard raster. A raster is a filtering of a quantity, almost always with discrete steps. Think of a raster as a screening, creating elements out of a continuous bandwidth, then quantifying those elements.

{ A raster is an ideality, a matrix, a set of standards, tolerances, a means of dividing an apparently continuous real. One can imagine a digital formation based on something other than a standard raster - for example the amplitude (continuously measured) of an audio file might be tied to sampling bandwidth. This might be considered a dynamic raster; 'standard' raster would then be static or state. }

{ Think of an analog computer as digital, i.e. drawing distinctions from inputs and outputs. The computer operates above a certain tolerance as well; a 'push' registers to the extent it results in a change of variables - beneath that, it is nonexistent. So analog computers possess potential wells as well, without a raster, with only tolerance. The distinction between raster and tolerance is the distinction between mapping and nudging; perhaps ultimately the real is a world of nudges and afterthoughts. } 

The elements are ordered. The raster sorts the continuous fabric of the real into separable categories.

{ 'Category' references parameter quantity and type-of quality. For example, mercury contamination of ppm might be given as .5ppm, 1ppm, 1.5ppm, and so forth. The parameter is ppm; the type-of is mercury. Instead of 'separable' think of 'distinct' - 'separable' implies an original matrix which may be reconstituted; 'distinct' implies that the ordering, however 'natural' it may appear, is ultimately arbitrary. }

The raster is standardized so that information may be transmitted and received through coherent channels, by means of a coherent transmitter and receiver.

{ Digital devices require standardization; in everyday terms, this occurs beneath and within the sign of capital. Information flow requires protocols, standards, tolerances. Every such flow might be considered interoperability; the world, then, might be metaphorically considered communities and communications connected through interoperabilities. }

The standardization of the raster is a protocol. The protocol must be agreed upon by both sender and receiver.

{ This agreement is by convention; such convention is always already an institution, institutionalized. }

In everyday life, the establishment of a raster and protocol requires energy and communication. Raster and protocol must be communicated.

{ Energy requires instituting as well; it must be filtered, regulated, maintained. This in-formed energy is a protocol as well. }

After raster and protocol are established, the parceled semantic content, coded by raster, may be communicated.

{ Once raster is decided, it is integral to the digital process. If the raster is dynamic, the process transmits the new parameters as well. }

Coding and community establishes raster and protocol. Encoding codes an object from analog to digital.

{ Static raster is a 'thing' - a program or standardized protocol set which may be bought and sold within the liquidity of capital. Dynamic raster as flux is dependent on coding as well; this coding is also 'thing.' Encoding might also encode itself, encode anything within the digital domain as a form of remediation; think of encoding as a form of 'devouring' whatever comes along, encoding adapting itself to changing circumstances, epistemologies, ontologies. }

From the viewpoint of the digital, the analog is forgotten; the process is irreversible.

{ This is of critical importance: Once something is gone between analog and digital, it is permanently removed - without history or being. The digital is always lossy; digital to digital, however, is ideally lossless since this may be a one-to-one mapping. }

A digital parceling is accurate only to the limits of a particular and conventionally-established tolerance. The tolerance, more often than not, is tied to economy. In general, the greater the capital available, the lesser the tolerance.

{ The greater the capital, the greater the global variable, global protocol. Zero tolerance is equivalent to infinite capital, infinite energy: the representation of the thing by the thing itself. What happens to the observer? The observer disappears, ground up in the identity of the thing. }

The analog possesses no tolerance. The analog is there.

{ The analog is neither tolerant nor intolerant. The analog is neither here nor there; 'analog is' is already redundant. Think of the analog as matrix, the neutral world - think of the observer as politicized, always suffering. }

The digital is never there. The digital is always process, in-process.

{ The digital is in-formation, in production; raster supersedes raster, standard replaces standard, the continuing project of culture. There is no culture without distinction, no distinction without culture; nothing stands still. If the digital were there, it would be monumental! The digital is never there., }

If the digital is indexical, 'pointing towards' a mapping of the continuum, the analog is that scale. The analog is ikonic, the digital is indexical.

{ The digital indexes something. The digital has an object for its subject, subject for its object. The digital is a pointer-in-process, scan, scansion. The digital unravels and reassembles the ikonic analog transformed into data-base. }

The distinction between the digital and its referents or domains is ontological; the distinction between the analog and its domains is epistemological.

{ Here is the heart of the matter, the organism of the world-soul: The digital references either itself (ontological equivalence) or elsewhere; its object ultimately is of the real, real, inert, obdurate, invisible (but for the presence of the digital). The digital can reference the digital; the chain ends somewhere, elsewhere, elsewhen; the chain ends with the real, production within material reality. 'Lacan writes: "The real is what is always in its place."' On the other hand, on the hand itself, the referent of the analog is analogic, of a piece, within the matrix; what is at stake isn't ontology but epistemology - what we know and the means by which we know it, plastered in the ready-made form of substance, fissure, and the beginnings of inscription. }

At zero tolerance - 'no room for error' - and an infinitely-fine raster, the digital is equivalent to the analog. The map, in other words, is exactly equivalent to the thing itself.

{ With zero tolerance, the map is the thing itself; there is no difference, no distinction. Here we have it, the dream of capital, infinite energy, elimination of the observer - who is ground up as surplus labor. The greater the energy, the deeper the dissection, until there is nothing more to dissect. With zero tolerance, the organism, perfectly embedded, immobilized in an inconceivable mapping, translates into dead object, becomes one with it, as thing-death, transformed into thing, another subject for zero tolerance mapping. On a wayward note, think of the pan-optical and its relationship with motile life; is it possible to conceive of an organism completely mapped, perceived, from every angle? Wouldn't the limit-point of this be immobilization, holding its structure in a static and fully-mapped configuration? }

The thing itself is equivalent to the thing itself; this is identity.

{ This is nothing - one misstep and we're in the realm of logical paradoxes which are entirely beside the point. Speaking of identity is speaking from an exteriority; it necessarily says nothing. At night all cows are black and if A is identical to A, what of the phrase itself, the instantiation and doubling of the letter? In this sense, identity is always dysfunction, useless, external to all representation. Within the digital, an instantiation of string(x) is equivalent to any other instantiatino of string(x). For all intents and purposes they are identical, but to the extent they are differentiated, they occupy, for example, different inodes, and perhaps even tend towards different trajectories of corrosion within the embedding analogic matrix. }

{ Of identity, one can say nothing. }

At infinite tolerance - infinite error permitted - and infinitely-coarse raster, the digital is equivalent to a kind of mark.

{ Infinite tolerance: everything is accepted; what's left is a kind of mark. Now if we proceed from this as a null set, we might end up with surreal numbers; it's interesting to think of infinite tolerance leading to an ontological shift from physical-real (however defined) to mathematical-abstract. }

A mark totalizes its demarcated.

{ A mark is a proper name. From now on, interior is exterior, emic to etic, inert to inscription. The order of marks constructs classes, from individuals in Auschwitz to tagging survivors or stragglers of a highly-endangered species. }

A mark is an instance.

{ The basis of politics is the mark, the instantiation, foundation of political economy; if political economy is the field, politics is the harrowing. A mark re-presents itself; a mark is always empty, the emic having long since disappeared. A mark of course does 'nothing' - but a mark is a node in a larger or smaller process. Capital proceeds by marks which are the fundamental cathecting of its real. }

There are numerous 'real worlds' of nearly-decomposable systems. (Herbert Simon) The world of everyday life appears continuous; it is only in dreams, for example, one encounters jump-cuts - sudden shifts of place and time. This continuous world appears analogic.

{ A mark is the problematic of the jump-cut; a mark is always an edit-point. But what is edited? Processes that are elsewhere, that ultimately eliminate the mark, suture over it: the etic disappears the emic, the etic disappears. So the mark is an inscription, separating x from ~x, but the separation is a process and a process requires energy, denotation, data-banking. Think of the parceling of the real: think of parceling-out. }

{ Now in a dream the dream screen, background, matrix, chora, remains constant and accounted-for; in this sense the ego, however evanescent, coheres. This coherency, this continuity, is the background of a real which 'makes sense' to us; this is the process of worlding. }

The world of symbols and signs - the world of languaging and inscription - appears discontinuous, syntactic, and digital, characterized by discrete moments and entities.

{ The world increasingly appears a jumble of fragmented messages, information shards where false memory establishes the simulacrum of unity. The shards cut through the chora; incoherent language spews out. Every sign or symbol takes away, detracts, construct the virtual, appears and disappears, describes and replaces a fictitious real, is inherent in politics and political economy, leverages the analogic and digital worlds. We have always been virtual. We have always been digital. The body is a collocation of signs, the body is a character. }

The filmworld, apparatus, diegesis, process, appears an entanglement of languaging and continuities. Because film is an operable subject (i.e. a subject whose discursive field is transforming), the entanglement tends towards polarities, interpretations, interpenetrations, etc. Frames are digital; the diegesis is analog (continuous story), and digital (semiotics of narrative); the psychoanalytics are analogic (continuous processing of the subject-viewer).

{ Film can be anything; the interior of the frame is indexical, many-to-one, except in those instances of ikonicity in (mostly) experimental or abstract film - drawing on the frame, embedding objects, etc. Ironically, every scratch or piece of dust now signifies the softness of memory's embedding, the elusive indexical uncannily ikonic, as if these images are all the ones there are - as if they are the world itself. }

Neurophysiology implies, not only entanglements of digital (neural firings) and analog (potentials), but the problematizing of the analog/digital split on ontological/epistemic grounds. The domains are inseparable; phenomenologically, the distinction is useless.

{ The 'digital brain' or 'analog brain,' 'quantum' brain or 'electro-chemical' brain: Let us say, for the moment, the jury is out, and one is better off forgetting what amounts to metaphoric posturing... }

The same is true on the level of fundamental physics, at least as far as current research goes; there are quantum processes that involve discrete levels, and there are continuums; there is the breakdown of space-time at small distances/times, and so forth. If the world is information 'all the way down,' the coding at this level is again neither analog nor digital.

{ It has occurred to me, a non-physicist, that the collapse of the wave function might be considered a process from a spread/and or continuum to {0,1}; in other words, from an analogic real to an interference that constructs an output of 0 or 1, T or F, + -, etc. (any distinction will do). In this sense the two terms (I hesitate to say 'order' or 'domain' relate at a fundamental level in the universe. And how might Bell's theorem be brought into play? Or any of the paradoxes, in which our everyday real is suddenly transformed, switched into alien and decathected states? }

In other words, mental and fundamental physical events and processes abjure any clear distinction between analog and digital, to the extent that the phenomenology of both is inappropriate. If there is a 'book of nature,' its syntax is as yet unknown; perhaps the idea of syntax itself is inappropriate as well.

{ Perhaps one might look for a basic phonology, strained and filtered into orders and meanings, perhaps one might search for a role - beyond the peripheral - for mind in the universe - perhaps not. }

One is always searching for the syntactics, however; it is by means of coding and encoding that the universe is grasped.

{ The universe is never grasped; instead, the masquerade of abstract tacit knowledge comes into play, those equations describing strings or star formation for example. 'Grasping' references at best the mediation of the abstract in lieu of touch, a sympathetic rather than empathetic, universe. Is the code 'our own' - invented or discovered, descriptive or explanatory - is it something untoward, inexplicable? The world slips through our fingers as metaphysics is approached, the idiocy of the real and suffering of organisms left far behind. }

The analog slips through the fingers. The world slips through the fingers.

{ The analog is the slipping and the fingers. The analog is the world. Death takes the body and the world. The analog cannot be grasped any more than a landscape without a point-of-view, punctum, can be grasped. The analog is sightless, pointless. }

Any element of a raster is independent of any other element. Any element may be transformed without transforming any other element. Truth values within the digital are problematic. The digital is cleanly separable, breakable. The digital is clean.

{ Every element is unique, parameterized. Every element is a point, letter, stone, phoneme, town, limb, virus, galactic center. Elements know no history, no neighbors, neighborhoods. Elements are pointless, the residue of the real within the digital. Cleanliness is an ideal; the digital is dependent on quiescence, silence, repression. Neither truth nor falsehood are harbored within the digital; nothing is. }






Alan Sondheim

Alan Sondheim is a new media artist, musician, writer, and performer concerned with issues of virtuality, and the stake that the real worldhas in the virtual.  His virtual work is known for its highly complex and mobile architectures.  He is one of the originators of "codework." He has used altered motion-capture technology extensively for examining and creating new lexicons of behavior. His work deals with crisis and inadequacy. His texts, music, and images are at http://www.alansondheim.org and his Youtube videos are at https://www.youtube.com/user/asondheim/videos


Edited for Unlikely by dan raphael, Staff Reviewer
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 20:57