Ingarden’s Concept of the Relatively Isolated System and the Aesthetics of Biomimetic Virtual Forms

An Ingardenian systems aesthetics of architecture

Roman Ingarden and His Times: An International Phenomenological Conference 2018 • Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków • October 27, 2018

ABSTRACT: As virtual reality technology becomes more sophisticated, there is growing recognition of the importance of Ingarden’s thought for the aesthetic analysis of architecture in virtual worlds. For example, his distinction between the ‘building’ that is constituted as an intentional object and its physical ontic foundation provides a useful tool for understanding virtual buildings, whose unique character results largely from their novel ontic basis. Moreover, it has been noted that Ingarden’s envisioning of future technologies for the ‘illusory embodiment’ of buildings in “O dziele architektury” §2 foresaw immersive VR technologies that are only now becoming feasible.

Here, however, we argue that a different aspect of Ingarden’s thought – the concept of the relatively isolated system – may hold even more promise as a tool for analyzing innovations in virtual architecture. We trace Ingarden’s development of this concept over three decades, from his description of the ‘organism’ as a hierarchical structural functional system (1937) to his model of the human being as a stable core with changing outer layers (ca. 1941), his analysis of Bertalanffy’s ‘open system’ model (1943), his notion of the ‘partially isolated system’ (1945-46), his description of the ‘relatively closed system’ (1950-54), and the mature concept of the ‘relatively isolated system’ developed in Über die Verantwortung: Ihre ontischen Fundamente (1968-70).

We then investigate the concept’s significance for virtual architecture. A growing trend is the use of computer-aided ‘form-finding’ techniques in which the shape of a building’s exterior ‘skin’ is not intentionally planned by a human architect but emerges organically through posthumanized processes of evolutionary computation; the resulting forms often display ‘Deleuzian’ curvilinear shapes resembling the bodies of biological organisms. In “O dziele architektury,” Ingarden had noted that in practice, human architecture never displays the organic irregularity and curvilinearity seen in living trees or in the ‘cities’ built by insects, because (1) functional considerations render such forms suboptimal for human inhabitation, and (2) human architects have been historically conditioned to believe that every building they design is ‘supposed to’ harmoniously concretize regular geometric shapes. However, Ingarden’s reasoning can be interpreted as anticipating precisely those radically irregular organic structures that are now becoming possible, as innovative AI technologies allow the task of form-finding to be separated from the anthropic intentional processes of a human architect and entrusted to non-human agents.

Moreover, such biomimetic design can be carried even further in virtual environments, whose looser constraints allow the construction (and aesthetic experiencing) of buildings whose forms would be impractical to fabricate in the ‘real’ world; such virtual surfaces can serve as sites of sensation and response that mediate between interior and exterior domains, reflecting the form and function of a living organism’s skin. We argue that Ingarden’s concept of the relatively isolated system provides a powerful framework for analyzing such virtual structures, thanks to its grounding in theoretical biology and its rich analysis of the outer ‘membrane’ that selectively shelters an entity’s inner workings from external causality. Such architectural applications represent another way in which Ingarden’s thought continues to bear new and unexpected fruit.

Read more

Cognition of the Virtual: An Ingardenian Systems-Phenomenological Account of the Perception and Understanding of Virtual Objects

An Ingardenian Model of the Human Being as a Relatively Isolated System

The 5th Avant Workshop, on “Inspirations: 20th-century Philosophy and Contemporary Studies on Cognition” • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • October 12, 2018

ABSTRACT: As immersive, interactive virtual reality (VR) technologies grow increasingly sophisticated, contemporary philosophers like Rabanus have attempted to formulate phenomenological analyses of the experiences they offer. We would argue, though, that one of the richest phenomenological approaches for interpreting the virtual objects perceived and understood through the use of VR systems was pioneered in the 20th century by Roman Ingarden, who in “O dziele architektury” hypothesized the future development of what would now be described as “VR systems” and explored our potential cognition of virtual objects.

An Ingardenian approach can incorporate: (1) Ingarden’s analysis of the stratification of artistic products, which distinguishes different types of cognitive access afforded to the physical fundament and intentional artistic, aesthetic, and cultural objects associated with a virtual object, and (2) Ingarden’s account (grounded in systems theory) of the human being as an emergent whole comprising a physical body, sensory-emotional “soul,” and intentional «I». This framework enables us to: (1) distinguish cognition of virtual objects from that of “real” objects, dreams, hallucinations, and the fictional worlds experienced when reading novels, and (2) explain the cognitive shift that occurs when someone immersed in a virtual environment comes to “forget” that the objects encountered there are “only” virtual.

Read more

A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World as Aesthetic Object: Echo, Deepening, or Dissolution of the Lifeworld?

A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World

17th Annual Conference of the Polish Phenomenological Association: History, Body, and Life-World – On Patočka and Beyond • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • December 15, 2017

ABSTRACT: In this work we build on the ontological and aesthetic frameworks formulated by Roman Ingarden to develop a phenomenological analysis of the virtual world as aesthetic object. First, ‘virtual reality technology’ is distinguished from ‘virtual environments’ and ‘virtual worlds.’ The types of immersive, interactive virtual worlds accessed through contemporary VR technologies are further distinguished from the types of ‘virtual worlds’ accessed, e.g., by reading a novel or watching a film. Essential and optional elements of virtual worlds are identified, with special attention given to the (software-enforced) ‘laws of nature’ governing the structure and dynamics of elements in a world, the pseudo-natural origins of apparently ‘natural’ elements like wild animals and geographic formations, and the unique positions of the world’s designer(s) and human visitor(s). The potential ‘incompleteness’ of virtual architectural structures and inability to determine whether one’s social interactions are with human or artificial agents is analyzed in light of Ingarden’s interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenological model of intentionality and the perception of objects. It is shown that a virtual building, e.g., does not display all the features of a real-world building but instead possesses some characteristics found in real-world paintings.

Drawing on Ingarden’s framework, the (physical) ontic basis of a virtual world is distinguished from the (purely intentional) virtual world as a work of art that is grasped through perception and the related aesthetic and cultural objects that may be constituted by a visitor who undergoes the right sort of conscious experience. The stratification of a virtual world as a work of art is also investigated. Building on Ingarden’s critique of Husserl’s concept of the ‘lifeworld’ as the natural world that is simultaneously (a) stripped of modern scientific theory and (b) the world that we live in and manipulate, it is suggested that VR-facilitated virtual worlds (like other highly technologized forms of art) undermine the factual possibility for such a lifeworld to exist. In response, though, Patočka’s notion (influenced by Ingarden) of fictional literary worlds as ‘echoes’ of the lifeworld is noted; we thus close by raising the question of whether certain virtual worlds might potentially be employed to help restore the possibility of (perhaps temporarily) establishing a Husserlian lifeworld.

Read more

Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds: The Utilization of ‘Digital Magical Practice’ as Organizational Strategy

Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds

The 3rd DELab UW International Conference: Ongoing Digitalisation of Economies and Societies • Digital Economy Lab, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Warszawa • September 29, 2017

ABSTRACT: Efforts to formally define ‘magic’ and to identify the aspects that distinguish magical practice from other human pursuits have been made from both a theological perspective (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas) and, more recently, an anthropological perspective (e.g., Frazer, Mauss, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Tambiah). Frequently cited elements of magic include its use of esoteric symbols, gestures, and speech that are only understood only by a small, elite group of initiated practitioners; its use of specially prepared ritual instruments; its attempt to harness the power of invisible, intelligent, nonhuman entities (such as demons or nature deities) to produce specific physical effects; and its attempt to manipulate hidden (or ‘occult’) forms of causality rather than obviously explicable physical causality.

As early as the 1970s, scholars noted that the practice of computer programming reflects several such aspects of magic as it is traditionally defined. For example, conventional computer programming requires mastery of an esoteric body of knowledge passed down between generations of programmers; it employs arcane symbols arranged in elaborate sequential scripts structurally similar to magical incantations; and it allows computers to perform highly complex, seemingly ‘intelligent’ behaviors by means of causal processes that may be comprehensible to programmers but which to ordinary computer users appear quite mystifying.

In this presentation, we argue that it can be expected that the ‘magical’ aspects of computing technology will be transformed and enhanced over the coming years through the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies for virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and ubiquitous computing (UC) that converge to create ‘magically responsive’ digital-physical ecosystems and ‘enchanted’ cyber-physical societies.

Read more

The Diffuse Intelligent Other: An Ontology of Nonlocalizable Robots as Moral and Legal Actors

In Social Robots: Boundaries, Potential, Challenges, edited by Marco Nørskov, pp. 177-98 • Farnham: Ashgate, 2016

ABSTRACT: Much thought has been given to the question of who bears moral and legal responsibility for actions performed by robots. Some argue that responsibility could be attributed to a robot if it possessed human-like autonomy and metavolitionality, and that while such capacities can potentially be possessed by a robot with a single spatially compact body, they cannot be possessed by a spatially disjunct, decentralized collective such as a robotic swarm or network. However, advances in ubiquitous robotics and distributed computing open the door to a new form of robotic entity that possesses a unitary intelligence, despite the fact that its cognitive processes are not confined within a single spatially compact, persistent, identifiable body. Such a “nonlocalizable” robot may possess a body whose myriad components interact with one another at a distance and which is continuously transforming as components join and leave the body. Here we develop an ontology for classifying such robots on the basis of their autonomy, volitionality, and localizability. Using this ontology, we explore the extent to which nonlocalizable robots—including those possessing cognitive abilities that match or exceed those of human beings—can be considered moral and legal actors that are responsible for their own actions.

Read more