The Algorithmic Sublime: Technology, Infinity, and Transcendence
The sublime as a philosophical concept refers to that which exceeds rationality: the incomprehensible beauty and horror of the spirit and the natural world. But if the sublime is irrational (literally, cannot be subjected to logic) how can we make sense of the various ways that it is mediated by the rigidly logical systems of computational machinery? From Alan Turing’s foundational thought experiment that imagined a machine making inscriptions on an infinitely long tape to the study of uncomputable numbers to the notions of countable and uncountable sets that compare differing degrees of infinity: computer science has always been entangled with questions of growth and the infinite, theorizing its own limits and transcending them. In this course, we will read texts in philosophy, media studies, visual culture, and futurism to develop a deep understanding of how the unfathomable is rendered operable by algorithms and digital media. We will consider examples including quantum computing, “Big Data” and the cloud, generative artworks, and machine learning, as well as fears of a looming AI apocalypse known as “the Singularity.” Readings will be drawn from works by Immanuel Kant, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Barbara Freeman, Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Benjamin Bratton, Venor Vinge, Ray Kurzweil, and Nick Bostrom, among others.
The Algorithmic Sublime is based on a course developed in collaboration with Rory Solomon for the Code as a Liberal Art program at The New School.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 15 — December 13, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Wednesday, November 22nd.