Rafael Capurro & John Holgate

Introduction to Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication. München: Fink 2011, 13-30.
Table of Contents
See in this volume:
Foreword 9-12
Angeletics - A Message Theory 33-42
Theorie der Botschaft 43-66
A Dialogue on Intercultural Angeletics 67-84
Beyond Humanisms 161-179
On the Relevance of Angeletics and Hermeneutics for Information Technology  233-239



The term angeletics
comes from Greek angelos / angelia, meaning messenger / messages. We use these terms when we refer to angels or divine messengers. There is a long tradition in theology and religious studies called angelology. Angeletics is in this regard different from angelology. Its purpose is to study the phenomenon of messages and messengers within the boundaries of the condition humaine, having as its primary object human communication but including technical and natural processes as well. For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Immanuel Kant, the censorship-free distribution of scientific knowledge through the press belongs to the core of a free society. Peter Sloterdijk has pointed out that we live in a “time of empty angels” or “mediatic nihilism,” in which we forget what message is to be sent while the messengers of transmission media multiply: “This is the very disangelium of current times" [1] The word disangelium (bad news) builds a contrast to euangelium, addressing the empty nature of the messages disseminated by the mass media, culminating in McLuhans dictum: “The medium is the message.” The question today is then to what extent the internet creates a new angeletic space giving rise to new synergies of messages and messengers beyond the hierarchical structure of mass media.

There is a close relationship between angeletics and hermeneutics. Hermeneutics was one of the main schools of philosophy of the 20th century. Beyond scholarly disputes, we can say that one main result of philosophical thinking in the 20th century has been the awareness of the interpretative nature of human knowledge. This is valid, for instance, for Karl Popper, for whom scientific knowledge is basically conjectural and subject to empirical falsifications, no less than for hermeneutics as addressed by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Since interpretation presupposes message transmission the “hermeneutic circle” no less than the “logic of scientific discovery” is implicitly located within the angeletic circle. Hermes is first and foremost a messenger and only secondarily an interpreter and translator. Throughout this book angeletics is the general term we use for the cultural, social and philosophical phenomenon of messages and messengers and tend to employ ‘messaging theory’ specifically for the more scientific and technological aspects.

This publication has a bipartite structure. The first part, ‘Foundations,’ deals with basic ideas of angeletics, its fundamental tenets, interpretations and presuppositions. The second part ‘Applications,’ illustrates these ideas in the contributions of several experts in related fields such bioinformatics, media studies, communication philosophy, information science, physics, classical studies, General Systems Theory and linguistics which shine a critical light on angeletics and at the same time develop it  in various directions.
In the first three chapters entitled “Angeletics – A Message Theory,” “Theorie der Botschaft” [Message Theory] and “A Dialogue on Intercultrural AngeleticsRafael Capurro introduces the key overarching ideas of the subject. Hopefully their insights will form the basis for a future debate about the nature and role of messaging in science, art and philosophy.


What is Angeletics?

In the first chapter Capurro briefly describes angeletics as an interdisciplinary theory dealing with some questions concerning the difference between messages at the organic and the human level. The concepts of message and information are closely related. The twofold meaning of the Latin term informatio as ’moulding matter’ and ‘moulding the mind,’ i.e., the ontological meaning and today's prevailing epistemological use of information as message communication, prima facie gives rise to an analogy between human communication and the question of message transmission at the sub-human level. He argues that the interpretation of life processes as angeletic ones can be considered in its own right, i.e., beyond the realm of an analogy. An interdisciplinary message theory can become the basis for a complex, non-reductive view of the manifold hierarchies of communication.

The postal paradigm conveyed by angeletics should not be misunderstood as an anthropomorphic theory of living beings or even of human beings as merely signal systems. It is just a marker for a network of questions and theories whose family resemblance can help us to become more acquainted with the fact that the phenomenon of communication implies at least a sender, a receiver, a medium and – a message. If McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message” is valid, what is in fact a message and how is a message transmitted and received? Capurro sees in angeletics an answer to this question and a possible key for unlocking the problem of communication itself.

What is the Message Society?

In his “Theorie der Botschaft” [Message Theory] Capurro attempts to outline a theory of the message that takes into account just those aspects that are excluded by Shannon's influential Theory of Mathematical Communication – especially the giving and receiving of meaning and sense. Such an approach considers semantics and pragmatics and the analysis of individual messages in their paradigmatic situations and in specific historical contexts. His questions concern the origin, purpose and content of messages, power structures, techniques and media of their codification, interpretation and dissemination, the social context and history of messages and messengers as well as their psychological, political, economic, aesthetic, ethical and religious aspects both within the scientific cosmos and the phenomenological world (“Lebenswelt”). Such a theory is essentially interdisciplinary. It covers knowledge and methods from media and communication studies, history and cultural studies, literature and linguistics, computer science, business, economics, philosophy, anthropology and theology without forgetting the natural sciences and important recent developments in biological messages, codes and bio-messengers.

The Message and Messenger of Being

“A Dialogue on Intercultural Angeletics” which took place in Japan in 2002 between Rafael Capurro and Makoto Nakada addresses intercultural issues of messaging such as shared fields of communication, phatic communication and information overload, and compares Western with Eastern angeletic conceptions.
In order for communication to take place we need a shared field or Ba (= place). In order to keep or enter this Ba, we need utterances and facial expressions that can be seen as meta-communication that determine or characterize the nature of communication taking place in accordance with or under the influence of this ‘meta-communication.’

Humans as messengers are then not primarily, as we believe especially since Modernity, senders and/or (digital) receivers of messages, but they are originally messengers of being, the message itself being the world as a casting of being arising from the encounter of being and existence (“Dasein”) This inverted relationship with regard to anthropocentric Modernity enables a heteronomous relation to being becoming a divided or “crossed-out” subject characterized by the finitude of its being addressed by the "Other" (J. Lacan) that can annihilate him/her. Loneliness and anxiety are moods through which, as Heidegger taught us, we “discover” the truth, that is to say, the finitude of being-in-the-world-with-others. We receive and pass on – and sometimes try to by-pass – the message of being because we are originally the “here” of its disclosure.

What is a Messenger?

In The Hermesian Paradigm – a mythological perspective on Rafael Capurro’s angeletics and its ramifications for the Information Society John Holgate explores the origins of the messenger archetype as expressed in the figure of the Greek god Hermes.

Holgate sees angeletics as the cornerstone of a nascent anthropology of messengers and messaging. The discipline (from the Greek angelos, messenger) has been developed by Rafael Capurro over the past decade to provide a culturally rich approach to a phenomenology of messaging. Capurro’s work on the historical development of the concept of information (informatio) complements his analysis of the message, angelia. His insights are to be understood from within the framework of hermeneutics (Hans-Georg Gadamer) – a word derived from the Greek god Hermes – phenomenology (Husserl, Heidegger), Niklas Luhmann’s theory of communicative action and especially Vilém Flusser’s original ideas on dialogue and discourse which he designated as ‘communicology.’

While Claude Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication focused on the transmission of physical signals Capurro tends to explore the complex interface between the sender and the receiver of a message.  In this chapter Holgate outlines the distinctive features of the messenger as it developed from the figure of Hermes and explores how the Hermesian Paradigm has recurred throughout history and now finds expression in the Message Society. While the Prometheans of cyberspace have been busy building their Information Superhighways, expanding bandwidth and laying down their fibre optic aqueducts, the hubs and routers of their global communication networks, the Hermesians have been simply enjoying the journey, anonymously winding their way between the herms and liminal spaces of the cybersphere – the Web cafes and chatrooms, the wikispaces blogospheres and twitterspheres, the online gaming sites and social networking pages that are the boundary markers of today’s Networking Society. For the Hermesians ‘computation’ is no longer the algorithmic activity of solipsistic reckoning and control but is rather computare in its original sense of ‘thinking and imagining together’ collective informational communion.

Sharing Understanding in a Digital Society

In “Circulating Messages to Every Body and No Body” Michael Eldred addresses the question of how messages are articulated as part of the interplay of human communication within an increasingly digital world. 

Human being finds itself always already attuned with the world in one mood/mode or another and, equally primordially, it understands the world. As a plurality of human beings we are open to a world in sharing an understanding of it. We are in the clearing of the disclosure of beings as such together. Communication is the sharing in common (L. communis) of an understanding of world by articulating it in speech, spoken or written. Human being’s openness to the world is always already broken down or articulated into a logos that can be shared with others, thus also sharing in language an understanding of the world. At first and for the most part, communication is concerned with sharing the ever-changing facticity of the world in its continual movement, that is, with news of all kinds. Most of the world’s happenings we do not experience at first hand, but at second hand through a communication of news which we make sense of against the foil of our own world-experience. Written correspondence concerns mainly sharing the understanding of happenings in the world (news) and practical affairs in (business or personal) life. The movement of messages (communications) from one individual to the other is motivated by the practical movement of dealing with life itself and by keeping abreast of the movement of factical life.

The digitization of the logos is a special case of the digitization of beings in general, and is most natural because the logos itself is already a discrete articulation that can be easily broken down further into binary code or bits. Therefore letter correspondence and the postal system are quickly digitized as e-mail correspondence on the internet. But the spoken logos, too, and images of the world’s happenings can also be digitized and made vehicles of communication with the aim of sharing an understanding of what is constantly going on in the world.

The ease and cheapness with which messages can be communicated through the global network itself causes a problem of the superfluity of messages, of information of all kinds which materially are simply an ‘in-formed’ electromagnetic medium. We become over-informed without necessarily improving our understanding one whit, for the latter can only take place outside of cyberspace in quiet study. Digital messages can become a kind of plague. We are flooded with messages to the point of over-saturation and of being overtaxed by endless reports on factual movements in the world, to say nothing of advertising messages we would rather do without. The as-yet unbroken, holiest taboo of global communication, that excludes through its ‘democratic’ all-inclusiveness, is to address the intellectual pain and harm it inflicts on the mind. Within the bounds of sound common-sense, it is tacitly assumed that truth is a matter of factual correctness, which is then supplemented by differing personal ‘subjective values,’ ‘belief systems’ or even ‘philosophies.’ A deeper-lying telos of the global communication network could then be lurking in the levelling of understanding to a kind a global common-sense and hence in the suppression of any kind of thinking that puts common-sense pragmatism and the hegemonic mathematico-scientific truth of the world into question.

The Concept of angelos

In “Plotinus’ Angeletics: A Neoplatonic Message Theory” Giannis Stamatellos, a classical scholar and computer scientist from the University of Copenhagen, examines an ancient philosophical discourse on angelos (messenger) found in the thought of Plotinus (AD 204-270) – a prominent philosopher of late antiquity, widely regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. Understanding Plotinus’ message theory involves inquiring into his epistemology, psychology and metaphysics. In the Enneads, Plotinus refers twice to angelos: firstly in his middle-period treatise “On Difficulties About the Soul” and secondly in his late treatise “On the Knowing 'Hypostases' and What is Beyond.” A third enlightening passage is found in the seventh chapter of his early treatise “On the Good or the One.” In these passages, Plotinus uses angelos in relation to: (1) sense-perception and the outer activity of the soul towards the perceptible world and (2) contemplation and the inner activity of the soul towards the One. The first case is discussed in Enneads IV.4.19 and V.3.3, while the second one in Enneads VI.9.9: Within this framework the aim of the chapter is twofold: firstly, to present Plotinus’ concept of angelos in the Enneads and, secondly, to support the position that Plotinus’ message theory should be conceived as an early forerunner of angeletics – in which angelos plays a central role.

Messaging and Information: how are they related?

In her
“Anmerkungen zu einer Theorie der Botschaft“ Margarete Knoedler-Pasch examines the relationship between messaging and information. She, like Capurro, sees communication as a unity of message, information and understanding and makes a clear distinction between message and information: we receive a message but we are looking for information. The message is at the beginning of the communication process and triggers a process of information and understanding. It brings something new, surprising, causing uncertainty. It can be encrypted or, as 'social noise,' transmitted through different media or messengers and usually has a linguistic character. The recipient sees the message only if s/he makes a distinction between message and information itself. S/he can question the message or reject it by interpreting this way or that. The heteronomy of the message is therefore faced with the autonomy of the interpreter. Messaging is then the unity of communication, information and understanding. Messages then are not just a special kind of speech act. They can also be of a pragmatic nature and contain objects with implicit speech acts. Messages can be dialogic or discursive, thus producing or distributing new information. There are imperative, indicative or optative forms of a message. In addition, a vertical and a horizontal message structure can be determined which Capurro treats in connection with the genealogy of information.

In “Media Studies and the Double Dialectic of Information” Robert E. Babe proceeds from the idea of the German quantum physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, that information is the form of matter, i.e., matter-in-form. Consequently there must be a language or code which the perceiver is capable of applying to the matter-in-form. Language/code is the means whereby the perceived matter/form may acquire meaning. This requirement, too, means that information exists subjectively in accordance with the decoding capabilities of the perceiving subject. People craft information; they construct forms out of matter (or impose patterns on energy, as with a telegraph message). Message producers and senders expend energy; informative work is done. Babe considers a number of views about information and messages (from phenomenology to behaviourism and structuralism represented by Wilbur Schramm, Kenneth Boulding, Marshall McLuhan and B.F. Skinneramongst others) but it his Canadian forerunner in the philosophy of communication, Harold Innis, who provides the link between information and messaging, between message and medium:  Babe writes

Innis famously proposed interactivity between medium and message, which is to say between matter and form. Depending on the physical properties of any given medium (or substrate)—durability, lightness, ease or difficulty in being encoded, capacity to carry messages, transportability—the medium is predisposed to carry either time-binding or space-binding messages, thereby supporting elites whose power is based on the particular monopoly of knowledge made conducive by the prevailing medium. Messages though, Innis insisted, act recursively on media as message senders will tend to choose the medium most attuned to the time/space bias of their messages. (Babe, infra pp. 156-157)

Innis provided heuristic and nuanced analyses of the dialectic of medium and message, of matter and form. And he tied that analysis not only to message senders intent on establishing or maintaining monopolies of knowledge, but also to various classes of message recipients in their various tastes for messages, that is in terms of their various subjectivities. This ‘interactivity‘ is what other authors in this publication (notably Michael Eldred) have called ‘"interplay." Interestingly it was his disciple Marshall McLuhan who downplayed the formal component of messaging and by reducing messages to bodily extensions or amplifications placed himself closer to the mechanistic and behaviourist schools of communication. For him connectedness overrode communion, matter (the eye and the ear) dictated form – which is a theme we will return to in future angeletic discussions in view of Rafael Capurro’s reversal of McLuhan’s famous dictum ‘"The Medium is the Message."

In “On the Relevance of the Concept of Message for Information Theory and Information Technology” Rafael Capurro, Tadashi Takenouchi, Leslie M. Tkach Kawasaki and Toshikazu Iitaka discuss a broad range of topics relating to messaging and information. This chapter was based on a workshop session "Information Technology and Hermeneutics" organized by the Research Group on the Information Society (ReGIS) at Tsukuba University (Japan) June 5-7, 2003. It was modern information technology and particularly computer devices that gave rise in the late 1940s to the so-called Information Theory. Claude Shannon's problem as stated in the title of his famous paper published in 1948, was in fact a mathematical theory of communication. The concept of information within this theory of communication has little to do with the everyday meaning of this word, i.e., with (new) 'knowledge communicated.' What is being communicated between a sender and a receiver is not information, but messages. Nevertheless Shannon speaks about “transmitting information.” A comprehensive theory of information must deal also with the semantic and pragmatic aspects of message communication  excluded  from Shannon's theory which ignores the meaning or sense of a message. The participants consider a number of related issues: the “Capurro Trilemma” (the problem of defining information) and its possible solutions, the relationship of power and information, Foucault’s “technologies of self," hermeneutic versus postmodern philosophy, what a ‘message ethics’ would look like, the difference between angeletics and Régis Debray’s “médiologie.” An appeal to enlist phenomenology, notably Heidegger and Gadamer, is made. Finally it can be said that an empirical science called angeletics should be distinguished from a philosophical angeletics as well as from an angeletic philosophy. This is a similar distinction as the one made between hermeneutic as a methodology, philosophical hermeneutics as developed by Gadamer, and Heidegger's hermeneutic philosophy. Heidegger's phenomenology is in fact an angeletic thinking.

The Message Society: Opportunities and Threats

To conclude the 'Foundations’ section of the book, Rafael Capurro attempts to situate angeletics within the framework of Western humanisms. IN so far as these humanisms are fixated on the humanum, they are metaphysical, although they might radically differ from each other. He points to the present debate on trans- and posthumanism in the context of some breath-taking developments in science and technology and explains how angeletics, as an explanatory account of the phenomenon of messengers and messages, can give an answer to one of the the leading questions of our time, namely: what does it mean to go beyond humanisms? The conclusion proposes an ethics of genuine communion, care and compassion (the mission of angelos) as an antidote to the solipsism and narcissism of the disconnected computer-driven society,.

Who are we at the beginning of the 21st century? We are a message society, that is to say, a humanity linked via various means of communication, particularly through digital networks enabling synergies of various kinds for human inter-plays within and beyond political, ethnic, economic and cultural borders and differences, but mostly at war because of such borders and differences. At the same time, humanity is at war with nature, leading to ecological disasters that could end with ecocide. In other words, we are a de iure united humanity, as far as we, as political agents, belong to common global institutions such as the United Nations, sign universal declarations and promote global actions. But we are also a de facto divided humanity. Between these two poles there are not only various forms of local and global conflicts and collaboration, but also a complex cultural history that includes our relationship to nature. Nature has brought about bio-diversity. We humans have produced cultural diversity reflected in academic disciplines we call the humanities. If we want to avoid the pitfalls of humanisms, we must pay attention to the uncanny potentiality of the ‘as’ coming from being, beyond a fixation on humanisms, in order to render hospitality to humanities in the double sense of the word.

The ethics of universalism can be transformed into one of openness and situatedness. The autonomy of the subject can become the capacity of messengers to pass on the message of finitude that in the Buddhist tradition is called compassion. Instead of an ethics of moral imperatives coming from within and beyond the individual, we can develop an ethics of hospitality and care coming from in-between the plurality of humanities articulated in the ‘here’ of a shared world. Instead of looking for strategies of fleeing or mastering the world, it is up to us to take care of it beyond utilitarian calculations. Such an ethics is not about universal laws, but about messages of hope. In short, it is not primarily about us but about a shared world. We are called to make sense of being. It is an uncanny call and, as far as we know, it is our call – beyond humanisms.


Messages in and for democracies

Klaus Wiegerling's Botschaften ohne Botschafter – Botschafter ohne Botschaften. Ein Beitrag zur Klärung der Metaphysik ubiquitärer Systemelooks at "messages without messengers and messengers without messages" as an explanation for the metaphysics of ubiquitous systems. Proceeding from the concept of ubiquitous messaging Wiegerling approaches angeletics from a systems theory perspective which throws an interesting light on the connection (and disconnection) between the message and the messenger. Can messages occur spontaneously without the adjuvant action of a carrying messenger? This is an intriguing question for angeletics which implies the corollary “Does a message qua message require intentionality or can it be completely random?”
In a period which is not particularly safe for science and which is ultimately driven by commercial "Machertum" (a philosophy of personal entrepreneurial success) it is perhaps appropriate to critically focus on current systems thinking and systems development  rather than proposing solutions to problems that are only marginally described and comprehended. Exactly as Capurro indicates, our concentration should be directed to what is beyond the scope of communication theory by Shannon and Weaver, namely, questions of semantics and pragmatics which does not mean that Shannon and Weaver's findings are omitted.
There are now more and more messages that will accrue to us in an intelligent environment. These are messages that have, in a strict sense, no author, and are rather ‘automatic information.’ Even the generation of knowledge may take place through intelligent systems that support the vision of delivering messages ‘to anywhere and everywhere’ which arrive with or without an explicit request, at your service (like RSS feeds, automatic news update messages to your cell phone or even random e-mail spam). With the help of sensors, data are continually contextualised so that they can be processed locally. In this respect, these intelligent systems lay claim to being context-sensitive and data are assigned to specific schemata that will capture the typological situation. That is, such systems are supposed to grasp the situation of an active user or a passive beneficiary (beyond the sender / recipient relationship) and they are supposed to 'understand’ what support users and beneficiaries of the system require.
At least, that is the vision of a context-understanding system. In ethical terms, we see here a parallel to economic and technical developments which are articulated in a growing fragmentation of responsibility by which the technical and economic complexity of society is becoming increasingly fragmented and responsibilities – the mantra of the dominant neo-liberal zeitgeist – are being dumped down (and dumbed down) to the individual user. The systems are set up so that responsibilities are marginalised by the designers and implementers. Issues of system security are broken down so ultimately the responsibility is devolved onto the individual user. On the surface this represents the command of an enlightened society that empowers vocal and articulate users as masters of their own affairs. On the other hand, this process articulates a more or less pious deception (akin to Foucault’s ‘panopticon’). Because of this system complexity, precisely because the individual has neither the knowledge, let alone the time, necessary to control complex systems 'political' supervisory controls with the necessary time and technical know-how need to be brought into play. In this way the message is corrupted, ant the messenger is reduced merely to the status of a hired mercenary.  

Angeletics and Media Theory

n Systemtheorie – Von der Hermeneutik zum Konstruktivismus” [System Theory – From Hermeneutics to Constructivism] Hans Diebner locates angeletics and messaging theory within media theory and practice specifically in the latter’s role as a mediator between art and science. The dominance of media theory creates a nexus between science and art because their convergence takes place within a so-called media art which now presents as media theory. It seems evident that they are a logical ally of a fledgling science of messages. Diebner takes us on a fascinating ride through the mental landscape of hermeneutic phenomenology cybernetics, and constructivism from Heidegger, Dilthey, George H. Mead and von Bertalanffy’s systems theory to the ‘EyeVisionBot’ and the birth of virtual reality, showing how the shaky two-way bridge between art and science has been negotiated over the past century through an ‘angeletic circle’: The bridge separating the internal perspective of hermeneutic phenomenology from the external perspective of natural science represents a complete departure from the question of being, one can almost speak of a potentiation of oblivion of being. The structures of meaning of existence are in an "angeletic circle," i.e.. in a relationship between people as ambassadors of ‘being to being’, i.e., the ethical spirit of angelos.
Diebner shows the original allocation for the living environment in the development process through the conversion of systems theory to constructivism has been wrong, indeed, almost the opposite of its original intention. But the result is not a "pure" science because with that no one would have a problem. Systems theory simply extends its subject matter into philosophical, epistemological, even metaphysical and ethical dimensions. One may view this as a radical (more properly idealistic) constructivism which is worldless and wordless (in that it largely eschews language and meaning). The incredibly rapid development of digital technology has also accelerated the co-constructivism.
Angeletics is on the right track to again undertake the necessary differentiation, given the indifference of the resulting ontological terms, such as medium and message. The promising "hermeneutic turn" of which Gadamer spoke has yielded to a constructivism which has dominated systems theory and media theory, and in recent decades has lead to a radical individualization and convergence of subject and object within the reifying logosphere. Diebner comes from a different direction but arrives at the same result as Capurro who writes in his article "Beyond Humanism" in this volume: "Transhumanism and Posthumanism are antithetical. The debate is rooted in post-humanist cultural critique and system theory." According to Dieber, "the use of digital media technology and new media in terms of a properly understood operational hermeneutics, in which man as man is back at the center with his structures of meaning, I think, is essential if a social anomie is to be avoided, which seems already to be emerging."

Communities of interest and the Message Society

In his “Communities of Action and the Message Society – Observations on the Angeletics of the Internet“ Wolfgang Hofkirchner analyses Capurro’s view of the Message Society. He separates, on the one hand, the issue of the context, the content, and the configuration of messaging from the issue of media mediating messaging, on the other, thus distinguishing between the issue of the social function of communication and that of the technical means supporting the social function of communication. The paper proceeds from the relatively abstract to the relataively concrete, the first section dealing with the social aspect of messaging in general; the second adding the technological aspect of messaging in support of communities; and the last section considers messaging under today's historically concrete premises of  the global problematique.
With his professional background in Ludwig von Bertalanffy's systems theory of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Hofkirchner espouses the ‘Triple C’ model of communication as an antidote to ‘empty messages’ sent in human discourse which are cast disregarding norms and values that refer to human co-operation, cognition and communication. He outlines the features of genuine Communities of Interest that will counteract non-integrating forms of social life such as computerised social networking and networked individualism with their potential for alienation, disconnection and discommunication. Hofkirchner believes, angeletics can inform technology assessment and the design of the technology of messaging in order to turn it into a meaningful technology.


Topical messages

In “Orts-Botschaften. Orte in Jordanien und Syrien“ [“Local Messages in Jordan and Syria“]
Götz Grossklaus introduces the fertile idea of ‘topographic messages,‘ ‘topographic unities’ and ’event spots’ to account for message events based on their geography. An exploration of the interplay between messenger and message and the recipient of the message shows  how these acts of witnessing and guaranteeing at a commemorative place can be described as communicative exchanges. Following on from Maurice Halbwachs’s description of the two aspects of memory – on the one hand as part of one’s physical reality. e.g., a place in space and, on the other hand, as a symbolic idea of a spiritual meaning which attaches itself to the material reality of a place. We can think of the ‘place of memory’ ("Gedächtnisort") as a ‘venue of  exchange’ ("Tauschort")
so the place would be present as a medium containing a specific space, a linguistically formulated local text, i.e., a message, in which the messenger is identical to the recipient. Thus 'place ("Ort") acts as a catalyst for the sense of a message which becomes internalised in the memory.
As the poet Rilke wrote: "Wo, wo, ist ein Ort? Ich trage ihn im Herzen" ["Where, where is a place? I carry it in my heart."]
. The traces of a ruined village give the modern tourist information and data but no message. The difference of the quasi-ritualistic memorial place appears to be ‘rubbed off.’ The interplay between messengers and receivers is missing and the genuine exchange of messages has shrunk to the status of a transfer of volatile data. A universal "place of memory" is thus reduced to the status of a messageless global event.

Angeletics and the critique of digital metaphysics

In "Marginalien zur Angeletik" [Marginal Notes on Angeletics] Christopher Coenen discusses certain aspects of angeletics, focusing on the relevance of short messages in the context of global power structures and on the angeletic critique of digital metaphysics. He attempts to show that the latter critique and the more pragmatic core elements of angeletics are two sides of the same coin, sharing a fundamental principle of openness, and that the far-reading visions of digital metaphysics are deeply embedded in the power structures of the global "message society".
Tying in with the difference between digital ontology and digital metaphysics, it is argued that the latter construes one future in a deterministic manner by positing that this future is the inevitable continuation of natural evolution and human history. In this techno-visionary worldview both today's advanced high-tech artefacts and imagined artefacts appear as messengers from the future. Angeletics helps demystify these visions not only by pointing out their function within existing power structures, but also by critically engaging with the quasi-religious closing of the future by digital metaphysics.

Angeletics as Social Epistemology

Pak-Hang Wong in his Angeletics and Epistemology – Angeletics as Epistemologycompares the work of Rafael Capurro and the field of angeletics with Alvin Goldman's Social Epistemology. In this illuminating comparison he identifies ‘angeletic conditions’ as a key methodical approach to situating messages within social contexts. This has strong explanatory potential for focusing on the giving and receiving of sense in messaging situations – just as Wittgenstein’s ‘usage’ approach to facts and ‘information’ leads to the description of intrinsically informational events, situations and conditions – and an understanding of how ‘information’ and ‘messaging’ are instantiated and constituted in lived experience. A similar method can also be applied to biological or aesthetic worlds to examine the specific ‘how’ of messaging at work and separate it from merely processual functions and events.
Since angeletics from an phenomenological / ontological (not ontic) perspective puts forward the idea that the primacy of the 'we' is basic for the message phenomenon (how could a sender send a message if there were not already a receiver out there?) as well as the primacy of practice, then the message event precedes the epistemological and hermeneutic question (in both the order of thinking and temporallly). There is a possibility of 'translating' angeletics into Social Epistemology, and vice versa, by emphasising, for instance, the primacy of the social. The 'veristic' question is interesting since it concerns what a message enables, namely, the initiation of the hermeneutic process of understanding the truth of what is being communicated. Pak cogently observes that there is an efficiency or pragmatic dimension linked to every message which renders the epistemological horizon too narrow, for it concerns not only the episteme but the bios / life of the receiver.

Messaging in Biology

Koichiro Matsuno's “Carbon Atoms as Prime Messengers for the Origins of Life“ focuses on biological messages and messengers stressing the difference between actual and potential messages and between messengers in the actual present, in retrospect and messengers in anticipation. This classification accords with his recognised interpretation of tense and biological time which he expands upon here. Messengers are ubiquitous in the biological world. Typical examples are messenger RNA molecules or mRNA mediating between DNA molecules residing on chromosomes in the nucleus of a cell and a ribosomal synthesis of protein molecules in the cytoplasm. Messenger RNA molecules are busy shuttling back and forth between the nucleus and the cytoplasm, synthesizing the proteins according to the instructions coded on DNA molecules. Nonetheless, there is a subtle difference between the messenger in the actual present and messenger in retrospect, and also between the messenger in the actual and messenger in anticipation. A messenger RNA molecule referred to by the biochemist is the messenger in retrospect in the sense that the targeted molecule onto which DNA instructions of a gene were transcribed or copied has been found to travel out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm in an appropriate experimental setup prepared in the biochemical laboratory.
Here the term 'messenger' has been employed as a brief economical expression for the function which the targeted molecule demonstrated under the well-specified experimental protocol. The function itself can indexically be identified by the biochemist in reference to the applied protocol. The messenger in retrospect is thus grounded upon the record registered in the present perfect tense. However, once it is focused upon, the messenger in the actual turns out to differ from the messenger in retrospect, though the latter of which certainly remains legitimate in its own right. The difference resides in the fact that the messenger in the actual is of itself generative in precipitating the messenger in retrospect that can duly be identified by the biochemist.

What is unique to the messenger in the actual present is the material activity in the present progressive tense in the sense that the action in progress is exclusively of material origin. That implies that the material action is no more than a form of passive integration because of the difficulty in conceiving of a priori synthesis purely on the material ground. Material activity of passive integration that underlies the messenger in the actual present thus comes to address the relationship between the present progressive and the present perfect tense at least, not to mention the difference between the messenger in the actual present and messenger in anticipation. That is an issue of the tense of time. Here, tense is understood as a category of time distinctions expressed by any conjugated form of a verb.

Shannon and Weaver’s "Mathematical Theory of Communication" and also Kotelnikov’s "Theory of Optimal Reception" consider that communication is best described by the well-known model of transmission, corruption and recognition of messages known as Information Theory. However, the essential significance of the semantics and pragmatics in communication is omitted from this interpretation. Whereas Weaver considers that the same model of communication can simply be expanded, reproducing its schema in nested levels, research into culture, language and semiotics shows that the reality of communication has further requirements, José María
Díaz Nafría proceeds to compare this ‘transparent channel’ approach to communication to George Orwell’s Newspeak, a dystopian model of communication from the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ and to the theories of the French criminologist and early theoretician of public opinion, Gabriel Tarde (1901). Furthermore, he shows the connection between the related theory of optimal reception and the "truthful" recognition of forms in the Platonic tradition. Such ‘closed universes‘ (of either messages or forms) are contrasted.

For Díaz Nafría ’understanding’ a message originally means the very fact of being able to provide correct answers to the possibilities offered by this message in a given situation. This ability evolves 'over time' from rudimentary responding to messages, to a more complexly interpreting them. Moving from the philosophy of form in the Platonic tradition (referred to a closed universe) to an evolutionary perspective à la Weizsäcker, he finds a clue to reinterpreting messages for an ‘open universe’. From the rudimentary scenario of messaging within the cell membrane to the more complex interpretation of an observed reality in the human, he concludes that a message, as denoted by its etymology, has the dual character of arising and arousing: on the one hand, it arises from the reality of the emitter; on the other hand, by imposing a reality on the receptor, the message arouses a response in it. Moreover, the message has the character of restricted and ambiguous manifestation of the reality of the emitter, as he shows from a mathematical analysis of the physical manifestation of things. Based on this fundamental ambiguity, he argues that the interpretation of messages can neither move within the deductive path of the Platonic tradition (and optimal reception), nor within the inductive path of finding genera in the Aristotelian tradition, but within the framework of creative abductions. These enable the emergence of codes that substantiate the grasping of reality in pragmatic terrains, and that must remain open, unlike the dystopian Newspeak, by virtue of the essential ambiguity inherent in the manifestation of reality.

This notion of a message as an emergent tertium datum phenomenon which initiates, constrains and determines the traditionally-conceived subject-object binary dynamic of the messaging event within the various spheres of sentient experience, is a central radical idea of angeletics and is reiterated by several authors throughout this book.  It is a phenomenon also being observed in recent exciting developments in neurobiology, genetics and immunology, e.g., inhibitory neurons in connectomics (Bock and Brigmann), the role of p21 and p27 molecules in protein folding (Keith Dunker), the immunological homunculus (Irun Cohen) and the mediatory role of astrocytes in calcium signaling a phenomenon of the biosphere reflected in the sociosphere in the rise of the ombudsman or mediateur as a third-party negotiator in contemporary societies, in the emergence of mediatory pressure groups and protest organizations and in the growth of networked social media activism and internet health support communities.

Towards a Phenomenology of Communication

Finally, since this publication bears the subtitle ‘an approach to the phenomenology of communication’ it is worth considering how angeletics is situated within the history of communication philosophy – and particularly those theories and approaches which have arisen since the 1950’s. Who are our interlocutors in this debate about the nature of messaging? Who are our critics and allies?    


Aldo de Albuquerque Barreto (digital culture)


Robert Babe (telecommunication and mediating culture)
Marshal McLuhan (‘the medium is the message,’ media as ‘extensions of man’)
Harold Innes (media ecology)


Francisco Varela (embodied mind, logic of complementarity)
Humberto Maturana (autopoiesis)

Czech Republic

Vilem Flusser (Communicology: messages and codes)

Daniel Bougnoux (enunciation, Lat. nuntius, communication / information)
Régis Debray (mediology)
Jacques Derrida (postcard)
Jean-Luc Nancy (messenger and philosophy)
Michel Serres (angelology and media theory)

Hans-Georg Gadamer (hermeneutics)
Jurgen Habermas (communicative rationality)
Christoph Hubig (mediator)
Friedrich Kittler (technical mediology)
Klaus Krippendorf (messenger)
Niklas Luhmann (system theory)
Sybille Krämer (metaphysics of mediality)
Niklas Luhmann (communicative action)
Wulf Österreicher (messengers, messages)
Matthias Rath (media theory)
Mike Sandbothe (media philosophy)
Peter Sloterdijk (spheres, messengers, angels)
Horst Wenzel (messengers and messages)


Giorgio Agamben (angelology)
Gianni Vattimo (hermeneutics)


Andrei Gabriel Pleşu (angelology)

Roman Jakobson (six part model of linguistic messaging)

Colin Cherry (the cocktail party effect)
Raymond Williams (cultural communication)

Gregory Bateson (the ‘double bind’, the ‘map and the territory’)
Thomas J. Froehlich (information ethics)
Harold Garfinkel (conversational interaction, reflexivity and indexicality)
Erving Goffman (social presentation of self, face)
George A. Miller (Seven plus or minus one)
The Palo Alto Group (communication psychology)
John Durham Peters (“Speaking into the Air”)
Avital Ronell (“The Telephone Book”)
Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver (“A Mathematical Theory of Communication”)
Paul Watzlawick (five axioms of communication, digital / analogue modality)

In a sense all the above theories represent retreating paradigms of communication which have been overtaken by the dramatic changes in computing, social media and networking in the early 21st century. Building on them however we aspire to a new paradigm of communication, based on a deep ontic understanding both of messaging as a phenomenon and of its relationship to informational phenomena in our rapidly changing cultural environment.  We look forward to your participation in a lively debate about the themes and issues raised in “Messengers and Messages.” Our goals in preparing this publication were fourfold:

  1. To enunciate and elaborate the scope of angeletics as a cogent and comprehensive approach to messaging which is applicable across the arts sciences and technology;
  2. To point the way to specific areas of research and praxis where messaging takes place and to suggest relevant topics and projects;
  3. To open a new perspective on contemporary debates about the relationship between information and communication, the nature and role of ‘media’ and the problematic nature of posthumanism digitisation and virtual space;
  4. To establish conceptual links with the nascent disciplines of information ethics and robotics and to develop a new paradigm for hermeneutic phenomenology based on the experience of messaging in society culture and the life-world.

In conclusion we would like to thank all our contributors for their enthusiastic involvement in this project – especially Michael Eldred whose support and encouragement throughout have been invaluable.

Sydney and Karlsruhe, June 2011
John Holgate
Rafael Capurro

Last update: August  21, 2017


Copyright © 2017 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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