Work in Progress

Rafael Capurro




Part I
1. Greek, Egyptian, and  Hebrew traditions

Part II
2. Arabic and Persian  traditions
3. Latin, Spanish and Latin American traditions
4. Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia traditions

Part III
5. Far East tradition
6. African tradition
7. German tradition

Part IV

8. English tradition
9. French tradition








Wikipedia: message
Wikipedia: Postal History
Mary C. Hill: The King's Messengers 1199-1377
Daniel R. Headrick: When Information Came of Age
Norbert Wiener: Cybernetics
Nortert Wiener: The Human Use of Human Beings
Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media
Marshall McLuhan: - Quentin Fiore: The Medium is the Massage
Michael Eldred: Electrifying Messages
Martha M.A. Smith: A Prologue to Angeletics
Charles S. Peirce: Collected Papers
John Durham Peters: Speaking into the Air
John Durham Peters: The Marvelous Clouds
James Gleick: The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
Rafael Capurro: Angeletics - A Message Theory
Joseph Brenner: Angeletics and Logic in Reality
John Holgate: The Hermesian Paradigm
Michael Eldred: Circulating Messages to Every Body and No Body
Robert E. Babe: Political Economy and the Double Dialectic of Information
Pak-Hang Wong: Angeletics and Epistemology - Angeletics as Epistemology
John Holgate: Codes and Messages in the Paintings of Raphael

See: VARIA 2

A Contribution to the Hisitory of the Royal Household
London 1961


Princeton 1967


Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington 1970

Part One: Old World Backgrounds
Part Two: Colonial Postal Service in North America
Part Three: Postal Serivce in the United States

Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution 1700-1850

Oxford University Press 2000

1. Information and Its History
2. Organizing Information: The Language of Science
3. Transforming Information: The Origin of Statistics
4. Displaying Information: Maps and Graphs
5. Storing Information: Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
6. Communicating Information: Postal and Telegraphic Systems
- Communication Systems
- Postal Sytems before the Eighteenth Century
- European Postal Systems to 1840
- Two Postal Revolutions
- The Chappe Telegraph
- Optical Telegraph Networks to 1815
- Optical Telegraphy after 1815
- From Optical to Electric Telegraphy
- Naval Signaling
7. Information Ages: Past and Present


M.I.T. 1948 / 1965  (pdf)

Part I (Original Edition)
I Newtonian and Bersonian Time
II Groups and Statistical Mechanics
III Time Series, Information, and Communication
IV Feedback and Oscillation
V Computing Machines and the Nervous System
VI Gestalt and Universals
VII Cybernetics and Psychopathology
VIII Information, Language, and Society

V. Computing Machines and the Nervous System

Computing machines are essentially machines for recording numbers, operating with numbers, and giving the result in numerical form. A very considerable part of their cost, both in money and in the effort of construction, goes to the simple problem of recording numbers clearly and accuraely.The simplest mode of doing this seems to be on  uniform scale, with a pointer of some sort moving over this. If we sih to record a number with an accufracy of one part in n, we must finish each part of the movement of the pointer with this degree of accuracy, and the cost will be of the form An, where A ist not far from a constant. [...]
It is a noteworthy fact that the human and animal nervous systems, which are known to be capable of the work of a computation system, contain elements which are ideally suited to act as relays. These elements are the so-called neurons or nerve cells. While they show rather complicated properties under the influence of electrical currents, in their ordinary physiological action they conform very nearly to the "all-or-none" principle; that is, they are either at rest, or when they "fire" they go throught a series of changes almost independent of the nature and intensity of the stimulus. There is first an active phase, transmitted from one end to the other of the neuron with a definite velocity, to which there succeeds a refractory period during which the neuron is either incapable of being stimulated, or at any rate is not capable of being stimulated by any normal, physiological process. At the end of this effective refractory period, the nerve remains inactive, but may be stimulated again into activity.
Thus the nerve may be taken to be a relay with essentially two states of activity: firing and repose. Leaving aside those neurons which accept their messages from free endings or sensory end organs, each neuron has its message fed into it by other neurons at points of contact known as synapses. For a given outgoing neuron, these vary in number from a very few to many hundred. [...]
To return to the problem of memory, a very satisfactory, a very satisfactory method for constructing a short-time memory is to keep a sequence of impulses traveling around a closed circuit until this cirduit is ccleared by intervention from outside There is much reason to believe that this happens in our brains during the retention of impulses, which occurs over what is known as the specious present. This method has been imitated in several devices which have been used in computing machines, or at least suggested for such a use. There are two conditions which are desirable in such a retentive apparatus: the impulse should be transmitted in a medium in which it is not too difficult to achieve a considerable time lag; and before the errors inherent in the instrument have blurred it too much, the impulse should be reconstructed in a form as sharp as possible. The first condition tends to rule out delays produced by the transmission of light, or even, in many cases, by electric circuits, while it favors the use of one form or another of elastic vibrations; and such vibrations have actually been employed for this purpose in computing machines. If electric circuits are used for delay purposes, the delay produced at every stage is relatively short: or, as in all pieces of linear apparatus, the deformation of the message is cumulative and very soon becomes intolerable. To avoid this, a second consideration comes into play; we must insert somewhere in the cycle a relay which does not serve to repeat the form of the incoming message but rather to trigger off a new message of prescribed form. This is done very easily in the nervous system, where indeed all transmission is more or less of a trigger phenomenon. In the electrical industry, pieces of apparatus for this purpose have long been known and have been used in connection with telegraph circuits. They are known as telegraph-type repeaters. The great difficulty of using them for memories of long duration is that they have to function without a flaw over an enormuous number of consecutive cycles of operation. Their sucess is all the more remarkable: in a piece of apparatus designed by Mr. Williams of the University of Manchester, a device of this sort with a unit delay of the order of a hundredth of a second has continued in successful operation for several hours. What makes this more remarkable is that his apparatus was not used merely to prserve a single decision, a single "yes" or "no," but rather a matter of thousands of decisions. (pp. 116-122)


  London 1950 / 1989  (online)

Biographical Notes
Introduction by Steve J. Heims


I Cybernetics in History

II Progress and Entropy
III Rigidity and Learning: Two Patterns of Communicative Behavior
IV The Mechanism and History of Language
V Organization as the Message
VI Law and Communication
VII Communication, Secrecy, and Social Policy
VIII Role of the Intellectual and the Scientist
IX The Frist and the Second Industrial Revolution
X Some Communication Machines and their Future
XI Language, Confusion, and Jam

INTRODUCTION by Steve J. Heims

G. H. Hardy, the Cambridge mathematician and author of A Mathematician's Apology, reflecting on the value of mathematics, insisted that it is a 'harmless and innocent occupation'. 'Real mathematics has no effects on war', he explained in a book for the general public in 1940. 'No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theroy of numbers of relativity... A real mathematician has his conscience clear.' Yet, in fact, at that time physicists were already actively engaged in experiments converting matter into energy (a possibility implied by the Theory of Relataivity) in anticipation of building an atomic bomb. Of a younger generation which he taught, Hardy wrote, 'I have helped to train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same kind as myself, and their work, so far at any rate as I have helped them to it, as useless as my own...'
Nobert Wiener took issue with his mentor. He thought Hardy's attitude to be 'pure escapism', noted that the ideas of number theory are applied in electrical engineering, and that 'no mater how innocent he may be in his inner soul and in his motivation, the effective mathematician is likely to be a powerful factor in changing the face of society. Thus he is really as dangerous as a potential armourer ofthe new scientific war of the future.' The neat separation of pure and applied mathematics is only a mathematician's self-serving illusion.
Wiener came to address the alternative to innocence - namely, taking responsibility. After he himself had during World War II worked on a mathematical theory of prediction intended to enhance the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire, and develooped a powerful stistical theory of communication which would put modern communication engineering on a rigorous mathematical footing, any pretence of harmlessnes was out of question for him. From the time of the end of the war until his death in 1964, Wiener applied his penetrative and innovative mind to identifying and elaoraint on a relation of high technology to people which benign or, in his words, to the human - rather than the inhuman - use of human beings. In doing so during the years when the cold war was raging in the United States, he ofund an audience among the generally educated public. However, most of his scientific colleagues - offended or embarrassed by Wiener's views and especially by his open refusal to engage in any more work related to the military - saw him as an eccentric at best and certainly not to be taken seriously except in his undeniably brilliant, strictly mathematical, researches. Albert Einstein, who regarded Wiener's attitude towards the military as exemplary, was in those days similarly made light of as unschooled in political matters.
Undaunted, Wiener proceeded to construct a practical and comprehensive attitude towards technology rooted in his basic philosophical outlook, and presented it in lucid language. For him technologies were viewed not so much as applied science, but rather as applied social and moral philosophy. Others have been critical of technological developments and seen the industrial revolution as a mixed blessing. Unlike most of these critics, Wiener was simultaneously an irrepressibly original non-stop thinker in mathemaics, the sciences and high technology and equally an imaginative critic from a social, historical and ethical perspective of the uses of his own und his colleagues' handiwork. Because he gave rather unchecked rein to both of theses inclinations, Wiener's writings generate a particular tension and have a special fascination.
Now, four decades later, we see that the tenor of his commetns on science, technology and society were on the whole prophetic and ahead of his time. In ther intervening years his subject matter, arising out of the tension between technical fascination and social conscience, has become a respectable topic for research and scholarship. Even leading universities have caught up with it and created courses of study and academic departments with names such as 'science studies', 'technology studies' or 'science, technology and society'. His prediction of an imminent 'communication revolution' in which 'the message' would be a pivotal notion, and the associated technological developments would be in the area of communication, computation and organization, was clear-sighted indeed.
The interrelation between science and society via technologies is only one of the two themes underlying The Human Use of Human Beings. The other derives as much from Wiener's personal philosoophy  as from theoretical physics. Although he was a mathematician, his personal philosophy was rooted in existentialism, rather than in the formal-logical analytical philosophy so prominent in his day and associated with the names of Russel, Moore, Ramsey, Wittgenstein and Ayer. For Wiener life entailed struggle, but it was not the class struggle as a means to social progress emphasized by Marxistss, nor was it identical with the conflict Freud saw between the individual and society. In his own words:

We are  swimming upstream agains a great torrent of disorganization, which tends to reduce everything tothe heat death of equilibrium and sameness descrxited in the second law of thermodynammics. What Maxwell, Boltzmann and Gibbs meant by this heat death in physcis has a counterpart in the ethic of Kierkegaard, who pointed out that we live in a chaotic mmoral universe. In this, our main obligation is to establish arbitrary enclaves of order and system. These enclaves will not remain there indefinitely by any momentum of their own after we have once established them ... We are not fighting for a definitive victory in the indefinite future. It is the greatest possible fictory to be, to continue to be, and to have been ... This is no defeteatism, it is rather a sense of tragedy in a world in which necessity is represented by an inevitable disappeareance of differentiation. The declaration of our own nature and the attempt to build an enclave of orgnaization in the face of nature's overwhelming tendency to disorder is an insolence against the gods and the iron necessity that they impose. Here lies tragedy, but there lies glory too.

Even when we discount the romantic, heroic overtones in that statement, Wiener is articulating what, as he saw and experienced it, makes living meaningful. The adjective 'arbitrry' before 'order and system' helps to make the statement appropriate for many; it might have been made by an artist as readily as by a creative scientist. WienerÄs outlook on life is couched in the language of conflict and hestruggle agains overwhelming natural tendencies. But he was talking about something very different from the ruthless exploitation, even destruction, of nature and sucessfully beding it to human purposes, which si part of the legacy of the nineteenth-century heroic ideal, of Western man. Wiener in his discussion of human purposes, recognizing feedbacks and larger systems which include environment, had moved far away from that ideal and closer to an ideal of understanding and, both consciously and effectively, of collaborating with natural processes.
I expect that Wiener would have welcomed some more recent developments in physic, as his thinking was already at times tending in that direction. Since his day developments in the field of statistical mechanics have come to modify the ideas about how orderly patterns - for example, the growth of plants and animalss and the evolution of ecosystems - arise in the face of the second law of thermodynamics. As Wiener anticipatedd, the notions of information, feedback and non-linearity of the differential equations have become increasingly important in biology. [...]
It was Wienere's lifelong obsession to distinguish the human from the machine, having recognized the identity of patterns of organization and of many functiions which can be performed by either, but in The Human Use of Human Beings it is his intention to place his understanding of the people/machines identity/dichotmy within the context of his generous and humane social philosophy. Cybernetics had originated from the analysis of formal analogies between the behaviour of organisms and that of electronic and mechanical systems. The mostly military-technologies new in his day, which today we call 'artificial intelligence', highlighted the potential resenblance between certain elaborate machines and people. Academic psychology in North America was in those days still predominantly behaviourist. The cybernetic machines - such as general-purpose computers - suggested a possibility as to the nature of mind: mind wa analogous to the formal struture and organization, of the software aspect, of a reasoning-and-perceiving machine that could also issue instructions leading ot actions. Thus the long-standing mind-brain duality was overcome by a materialism which encompassed organization, messages and information in addition to stuff and matter. But the subjective - an individual's cumultive experience of being alive - is belittled, seen only within the context of evolutionary theory as providing information useful for survival to the organism.
In shorn of WienerÄs benign social philosophy, what remains of cybernetics can be used within a highly mechanical and dehumanizing, even militaristic, outlook. The fact that the metaphor of a sophisticated automaton is so heavily employed invites thinking about humans as in effect machines. Many who have learned merely the technical aspects of cybernetics have used them, and do so today, for ends which Wiener abhorred. It is a danger he foresaw, would have liked to obviate and, althought aware of how little he could do in that regards, valiantly tried to head off. [...] 
Steve J. Heims
Boston, October 1988

I Cybernetics in History

Since the end of World War II, I have been working on the many ramifications of the theory of messages. Besides the electrical engineering theory of the transmission of messages, there is a larger field which includes not only the study of language but the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society, the development of computing machines and other such automata, certain reflections upon psychology and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory of scientific method. This larger theory of messages is a probabilistic theory, an intrinsic part of the movement that owes its origin to Willard Gibbs and which I have described in the introduction.

 Until recently, there was no existing word for this complex of ideas, and in order to embrace the whole field by a single term, I felt constrained to invent one. Hence "Cybernetics," which I derived from the Greek word kubernētēs, or "steersman," the same Greek word from which we eventually derive our word "governor." Incidentally, I found later that the word had already been used by Ampere with reference to political science, and had been introduced in another context by a Polish scientist, both uses dating from the earlier part of the nineteenth century.

I wrote a more or less technical book entitled Cybernetics which was published in 1948. In response to a certain demand for me to make its ideas acceptable to the lay public, I published the first edition of The Human Use of Human Beings in 1950. Since then the subject has grown from a few ideas shared by Drs. Claude Shannon, Warren Weaver, and myself, into an established region of research. Therefore, I take this opportunity occasioned by the reprinting of my book to bring it up to date, and to remove certain defects and inconsequentialities in its original structure.

In giving the definition of Cybernetics in the original book, I classed communication and control together. Why did I do this? When I communicate with another person, I impart a message to him, and when he communicates back with me he returns a related message which contains information primarily accessible to him and not to me. When I control the actions of another person, I communicate a message to him, and although this message is in the imperative mood, the technique of communication does not differ from that of a message of fact. Furthermore, if my control is to be effective I must take cognizance of any messages from him which may indicate that the order is understood and has been obeyed.

It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever increasing part.

When I give an order to a machine, the situation is not essentially different from that which arises when I give an order to a person. In other words, as far as my consciousness goes I am aware of the order that has gone out and of the signal of compliance that has come back. To me, personally, the fact that the signal in its intermediate stages has gone through a machine rather than through a person is irrelevant and does not in any case greatly change my relation to the signal. Thus the theory of control in engineering, whether human or animal or mechanical, is a chapter in the theory of messages.

Naturally there are detailed differences in messages and in problems of control, not only between a living organism and a machine, but within each narrower class of beings. It is the purpose of Cybernetics to develop a language and techniques that will enable us indeed to attack the problem of control and communication in general, but also to find the proper repertory of ideas and techniques to classify their particular manifestations under certain concepts.

The commands through which we exercise our control over our environment are a kind of information which we impart to it. Like any form of information, these commands are subject to disorganization in transit. They generally come through in less coherent fashion and certainly not more coherently than they were sent. In control and communication we are always fighting nature's tendency to degrade the organized and to destroy the meaningful; the tendency, as Gibbs has shown us, for entropy to increase.

Much of this book concerns the limits of communication within and among individuals. Man is immersed in a world which he perceives through his sense organs. Information that he receives is co-ordinated through his brain and nervous system until, after the proper process of storage, collation, and selection, it emerges through effector organs, generally his muscles. These in turn act on the external world, and also react on the central nervous system through receptor organs such as the end organs of kinaesthesia; and the information received by the kinaesthetic organs is combined with his already accumulated store of information to influence future action.

Information is a name for the content of what is exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it, and make our adjustment felt upon it. The process of receiving and of using information is the process of our adjusting to the contingencies of the outer environment, and of our living effectively within that environment. The needs and the complexity of modern life make greater demands on this process of information than ever before, and our press, our museums, our scientific laboratories, our universities, our libraries and textbooks, are obliged to meet the needs of this process or fail in their purpose. To live effectively is to live with adequate information. Thus, communication and control belong to the essence of man's inner life, even as they belong to his life in society.

The place of the study of communication in the history of science is neither trivial, fortuitous, nor new. Even before Newton such problems were current in physics, especially in the work of Fermat, Huygens, and Leibnitz, each of whom shared an interest in physics whose focus was not mechanics but optics, the communication of visual images.

Fermat furthered the study of optics with his principle of minimization which says that over any sufficiently short part of its course, light follows the path which it takes the least time to traverse. Huygens developed the primitive form of what is now known as "Huygens' Principle" by saying that light spreads from a source by forming around that source something like a small sphere consisting of secondary sources which in turn propagate light just as the primary sources do. Leibnitz, in the meantime, saw the whole world as a collection of beings called "monads" whose activity consisted in the perception of one another on the basis of a pre-established harmony laid down by God, and it is fairly clear that he thought of this interaction largely in optical terms. Apart from this perception, the monads had no "windows," so that in his view all mechanical interaction really becomes nothing more than a subtle consequence of optical interaction.

A preoccupation with optics and with message, which is apparent in this part of Leibnitz's philosophy, runs through its whole texture. It plays a large part in two of his most original ideas: that of the Characteristica Universalis, or universal scientific language, and that of the Calculus Ratiocinator, or calculus of logic. This Calculus Ratiocinator, imperfect as it was, was the direct ancestor of modern mathematical logic.

Leibnitz, dominated by ideas of communication, is, in more than one way, the intellectual ancestor of the ideas of this book, for he was also interested in machine computation and in automata. My views in this book are very far from being Leibnitzian, but the problems with which I am concerned are most certainly Leibnitzian. Leibnitz's computing machines were only an offshoot of his interest in a computing language, a reasoning calculus which again was in his mind, merely an extention of his idea of a complete artificial language. Thus, even in his computing machine, Leibnitz's preoccupations were mostly linguistic and communicational.

Toward the middle of the last century, the work of Clerk Maxwell and of his precursor, Faraday, had attracted the attention of physicists once more to optics, the science of light, which was now regarded as a form of electricity that could be reduced to the mechanics of a curious, rigid, but invisible medium known as the ether, which, at the time, was supposed to permeate the atmosphere, interstellar space and all transparent materials. Clerk Maxwell's work on optics consisted in the mathematical development of ideas which had been previously expressed in a cogent but non-mathematical form by Faraday. The study of ether raised certain questions whose answers were obscure, as, for example, that of the motion of matter through the ether. The famous experiment of Michelson and Morley, in the nineties, was undertaken to resolve this problem, and it gave the entirely unexpected answer that there simply was no way to determine the motion of matter through the ether.

The first satisfactory solution to the problems aroused by this experiment was that of Lorentz, who pointed out that if the forces holding matter together were conceived as being themselves electrical or optical in nature, we should expect a negative result from the Michelson-Morley experiment. However, Einstein in 1905 translated these ideas of Lorentz into a form in which the unobservability of absolute motion was rather a postulate of physics than the result of any particular structure of matter. For our purposes, the important thing is that in Einstein's work, light and matter are on an equal basis, as they had been in the writings before Newton; without the Newtonian subordination of everything else to matter and mechanics.

In explaining his views, Einstein makes abundant use of the observer who may be at rest or may be moving. In his theory of relativity it is impossible to introduce the observer without also introducing the idea of message, and without, in fact, returning the emphasis of physics to a quasi-Leibnitzian state, whose tendency is once again optical. Einstein's theory of relativity and Gibbs' statistical mechanics are in sharp contrast, in that Einstein, like Newton, is still talking primarily in terms of an absolutely rigid dynamics not introducing the idea of probability. Gibbs' work, on the other hand, is probabilistic from the very start, yet both directions of work represent a shift in the point of view of physics in which the world as it actually exists is replaced in some sense or other by the world as it happens to be observed, and the old naive realism of physics gives Way to something on which Bishop Berkeley might have smiled with pleasure.

At this point it is appropriate for us to review certain notions pertaining to entropy which have already been presented in the introduction. As we have said, the idea of entropy represents several of the most important departures of Gibbsian mechanics from Newtonian mechanics. In Gibbs' view we have a physical quantity which belongs not to the outside world as such, but to certain sets of possible outside worlds, and therefore to the answer to certain specific questions which we can ask concerning the outside world. Physics now becomes not the discussion of an outside universe which may be regarded as the total answer to all the questions concerning it, but an account of the answers to much more limited questions. In fact, we are now no longer concerned with the study of all possible outgoing and incoming messages which we may send and receive, but with the theory of much more specific outgoing and incoming messages; and it involves a measurement of the no-longer infinite amount of information that they yield us.

Messages are themselves a form of pattern and organization. Indeed, it is possible to treat sets of messages as having an entropy like sets of states of the external world. Just as entropy is a measure of disorganization, the information carried by a set of messages is a measure of organization. In fact, it is possible to interpret the information carried by a message as essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable the message, the less information it gives. Clichés, for example, are less illuminating than great poems.

I have already referred to Leibnitz's interest in automata, an interest incidentally shared by his contemporary, Pascal, who made real contributions to the development of what we now know as the desk adding-machine. Leibnitz saw in the concordance of the time given by clocks set at the same time, the model for the pre-established harmony of his monads. For the technique embodied in the automata of his time was that of the clockmaker. Let us consider the activity of the little figures which dance on the top of a music box. They move in accordance with a pattern, but it is a pattern which is set in advance, and in which the past activity of the figures has practically nothing to do with the pattern of their future activity. The probability that they will diverge from this pattern is nil. There is a message, indeed; but it goes from the machinery of the music box to the figures, and stops there. The figures themselves have no trace of communication with the outer world, except this one-way stage of communication with the pre-established mechanism of the music box. They are blind, deaf, and dumb, and cannot vary their activity in the least from the conventionalized pattern.

Contrast with them the behavior of man, or indeed of any moderately intelligent animal such as a kitten. I call to the kitten and it looks up. I have sent it a message which it has received by its sensory organs, and which it registers in action. The kitten is hungry and lets out a pitiful wail. This time it is the sender of a message. The kitten bats at a swinging spool. The spool swings to its left, and the kitten catches it with its left paw. This time messages of a very complicated nature are both sent and received within the kitten's own nervous system through certain nerve end-bodies in its joints, muscles, and tendons; and by means of nervous messages sent by these organs, the animal is aware of the actual position and tensions of its tissues. It is only through these organs that anything like a manual skill is possible.

I have contrasted the prearranged behavior of the little figures on the music box on the one hand, and the contingent behavior of human beings and animals on the other. But we must not suppose that the music box is typical of all machine behavior.

The older machines, and in particular the older attempts to produce automata, did in fact function on a closed clockwork basis. But modern automatic machines such as the controlled missile, the proximity fuse, the automatic door opener, the control apparatus for a chemical factory, and the rest of the modern armory of automatic machines which perform military or industrial functions, possess sense organs; that is, receptors for messages coming from the outside. These may be as simple as photoelectric cells which change electrically when a light falls on them, and which can tell light from dark, or as complicated as a television set. They may measure a tension by the change it produces in the conductivity of a wire exposed to it, or they may measure temperature by means of a thermocouple, which is an instrument consisting of two distinct metals in contact with one another through which a current flows when one of the points of contact is heated. Every instrument in the repertory of the scientific-instrument maker is a possible sense organ, and may be made to record its reading remotely through the intervention of appropriate electrical apparatus. Thus the machine which is conditioned by its relation to the external world, and by the things happening in the external world, is with us and has been with us for some time.

The machine which acts on the external world by means of messages is also familiar. The automatic photoelectric door opener is known to every person who has passed through the Pennsylvania Station in New York, and is used in many other buildings as well. When a message consisting of the interception of a beam of light is sent to the apparatus, this message actuates the door, and opens it so that the passenger may go through.

The steps between the actuation of a machine of this type by sense organs and its performance of a task may be as simple as in the case of the electric door; or it may be in fact of any desired degree of complexity within the limits of our engineering techniques. A complex action is one in which the data introduced, which we call the input, to obtain an effect on the outer world, which we call the output, may involve a large number of combinations. These are combinations, both of the data put in at the moment and of the records taken from the past stored data which we call the memory. These are recorded in the machine. The most complicated machines yet made which transform input data into output data are the high-speed electrical computing machines, of which I shall speak later in more detail. The determination of the mode of conduct of these machines is given through a special sort of input, which frequently consists of punched cards or tapes or of magnetized wires, and which determines the way in which the machine is going to act in one operation, as distinct from the way in which it might have acted in another. Because of the frequent use of punched or magnetic tape in the control, the data which are fed in, and which indicate the mode of operation of one of these machines for combining information, are called the taping.

I have said that man and the animal have a kinaesthetic sense, by which they keep a record of the position and tensions of their muscles. For any machine subject to a varied external environment to act effectively it is necessary that information concerning the results of its own action be furnished to it as part of the information on which it must continue to act. For example, if we are running an elevator, it is not enough to open the outside door because the orders we have given should make the elevator be at that door at the time we open it. It is important that the release for opening the door be dependent on the fact that the elevator is actually at the door; otherwise something might have detained it, and the passenger might step into the empty shaft. This control of a machine on the basis of its actual performance rather than its expected performance is known as feedback, and involves sensory members which are actuated by motor members and perform the function of tell-tales or monitors—that is, of elements which indicate a performance. It is the function of these mechanisms to control the mechanical tendency toward disorganization; in other words, to produce a temporary and local reversal of the normal direction of entropy.

I have just mentioned the elevator as an example of feedback. There are other cases where the importance of feedback is even more apparent. For example, a gun-pointer takes information from his instruments of observation, and conveys it to the gun, so that the latter will point in such a direction that the missile will pass through the moving target at a certain time. Now, the gun itself must be used under all conditions of weather. In some of these the grease is warm, and the gun swings easily and rapidly. Under other conditions the grease is frozen or mixed with sand, and the gun is slow to answer the orders given to it. If these orders are reinforced by an extra push given when the gun fails to respond easily to the orders and lags behind them, then the error of the gun-pointer will be decreased. To obtain a performance as uniform as possible, it is customary to put into the gun a control feedback element which reads the lag of the gun behind the position it should have according to the orders given it, and which uses this difference to give the gun an extra push.

It is true that precautions must be taken so that the push is not too hard, for if it is, the gun will swing past its proper position, and will have to be pulled back in a series of oscillations, which may well become wider and wider, and lead to a disastrous instability. If the feedback system is itself controlled— if, in other words, its own entropic tendencies are checked by still other controlling mechanisms— and kept within limits sufficiently stringent, this will not occur, and the existence of the feedback will increase the stability of performance of the gun. In other words, the performance will become less dependent on the frictional load; or what is the same thing, on the drag created by the stiffness of the grease. Something very similar to this occurs in human action.

If I pick up my cigar, I do not will to move any specific muscles. Indeed in many cases, I do not know what those muscles are. What I do is to turn into action a certain feedback mechanism; namely, a reflex in which the amount by which I have yet failed to pick up the cigar is turned into a new and increased order to the lagging muscles, whichever they may be. In this way, a fairly uniform voluntary command will enable the same task to be performed from widely varying initial positions, and irrespective of the decrease of contraction due to fatigue of the muscles. Similarly, when I drive a car, I do not follow out a series of commands dependent simply on a mental image of the road and the task I am doing. If I find the car swerving too much to the right, that causes me to pull it to the left. This depends on the actual performance of the car, and not simply on the road; and it allows me to drive with nearly equal efficiency a light Austin or a heavy truck, without having formed separate habits for the driving of the two. I shall have more to say about this in the chapter in this book on special machines, where we shall discuss the service that can be done to neuropathology by the study of machines with defects in performance similar to those occurring in the human mechanism.

It is my thesis that the physical functioning of the living individual and the operation of some of the newer communication machines are precisely parallel in their analogous attempts to control entropy through feedback. Both of them have sensory receptors as one stage in their cycle of operation: that is, in both of them there exists a special apparatus for collecting information from the outer world at low energy levels, and for making it available in the operation of the individual or of the machine. In both cases these external messages are not taken neat, but through the internal transforming powers of the apparatus, whether it be alive or dead. The information is then turned into a new form available for the further stages of performance. In both the animal and the machine this performance is made to be effective on the outer world. In both of them, their performed action on the outer world, and not merely their intended action, is reported back to the central regulatory apparatus. This complex of behavior is ignored by the average man, and in particular does not play the role that it should in our habitual analysis of society; for just as individual physical responses may be seen from this point of view, so may the organic responses of society itself. I do not mean that the sociologist is unaware of the existence and complex nature of communications in society, but until recently he has tended to overlook the extent to which they are the cement which binds its fabric together.

We have seen in this chapter the fundamental unity of a complex of ideas which until recently had not been sufficiently associated with one another, namely, the contingent view of physics that Gibbs introduced as a modification of the traditional, Newtonian conventions, the Augustinian attitude toward order and conduct which is demanded by this view, and the theory of the message among men, machines, and in society as a sequence of events in time which, though it itself has a certain contingency, strives to hold back nature's tendency toward disorder by adjusting its parts to various purposive ends. (pp. 15-27)

V Organization as the Message

The present chapter will contain an element of phantasy. Phantasy has always been at the service of philosophy, and Plato was not ashamed to clothe his epistemology in the metaphor of the cave. Dr. J. Bronowski among others has pointed out that mathematics, which most of us see as the most factual of all sciences, constitutes the most colossal metaphor imaginable, and must be judged, aesthetically as well as intellectually, in terms of the success of this metaphor.

The metaphor to which I devote this chapter is one in which the organism is seen as message. Organism is opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as message is to noise. To describe an organism, we do not try to specify each molecule in it, and catalogue it bit by bit, but rather to answer certain questions about it which reveal its pattern: a pattern which is more significant and less probable as the organism becomes, so to speak, more fully an organism.

We have already seen that certain organisms, such as man, tend for a time to maintain and often even to increase the level of their organization, as a local enclave in the general stream of increasing entropy, of increasing chaos and de-differentiation. Life is an island here and now in a dying world. The process by which we living beings resist the general stream of corruption and decay is known as homeostasis.

We can continue to live in the very special environment which we carry forward with us only until we begin to decay more quickly than we can reconstitute ourselves. Then we die. If our bodily temperature rises or sinks one degree from its normal level of 98.6° Fahrenheit, we begin to take notice of it, and if it rises or sinks ten degrees, we are all but sure to die. The oxygen and carbon dioxide and salt in our blood, the hormones flowing from our ductless glands, are all regulated by mechanisms which tend to resist any untoward changes in their levels. These mechanisms constitute what is known as homeostasis, and are negative feedback mechanisms of a type that we may find exemplified in mechanical automata.

It is the pattern maintained by this homeostasis, which is the touchstone of our personal identity. Our tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the air we breathe become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, and the momentary elements of our flesh and bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta. We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves. 

A pattern is a message, and may be transmitted as a message. How else do we employ our radio than to transmit patterns of sound, and our television set than to transmit patterns of light? It is amusing as well as instructive to consider what would happen if we were to transmit the whole pattern of the human body, of the human brain with its memories and cross connections, so that a hypothetical receiving instrument could re-embody these messages in appropriate matter, capable of continuing the processes already in the body and the mind, and of maintaining the integrity needed for this continuation by a process of homeostasis.

Let us invade the realm of science fiction. Some forty-five years ago, Kipling wrote a most remarkable little story. This was at the time when the flights of the Wright brothers had become familiar to the world, but before aviation was an everyday matter. He called this story "With the Night Mail," and it purports to be an account of a world like that of today, when aviation should have become a matter of course and the Atlantic a lake to be crossed in one night. He supposed that aerial travel had so united the world that war was obsolete, and that all the world's really important affairs were in the hands of an Aerial Board of Control, whose primary responsibility extended to air traffic, while its secondary responsibility extended to "all that that implies." In this way, he imagined that the various local authorities had gradually been compelled to drop their rights, or had allowed their local rights to lapse; and that the central authority of the Aerial Board of Control had taken these responsibilities over. It is rather a fascist picture which Kipling gives us, and this is understandable in view of his intellectual presuppositions, even though fascism is not a necessary condition of the situation which he envisages. His millennium is the millennium of a British colonel back from India. Moreover, with his love for the gadget as a collection of wheels that rotate and make a noise, he has emphasized the extended physical transportation of man, rather than the transportation of language and ideas. He does not seem to realize that where a man's word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended. To see and to give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere. Given his limitations Kipling, nevertheless, had a poet's insight, and the situation he foresaw seems rapidly coming to pass.

To see the greater importance of the transportation of information as compared with mere physical transportation, let us suppose that we have an architect in Europe supervising the construction of a building in the United States. I am assuming, of course, an adequate working staff of constructors, clerks of the works, etc., on the site of the construction. Under these conditions, even without transmitting or receiving any material commodities, the architect may take an active part in the construction of the building. Let him draw up his plans and specifications as usual. Even at present, there is no reason why the working copies of these plans and specifications must be transmitted to the construction site on the same paper on which they have been drawn up in the architect's drafting-room. Ultrafax gives a means by which a facsimile of all the documents concerned may be transmitted in a fraction of a second, and the received copies are quite as good working plans as the originals. The architect may be kept up to date with the progress of the work by photographic records taken every day or several times a day; and these may be forwarded back to him by Ultrafax.

Any remarks or advice he cares to give his representative on the job may be transmitted by telephone, Ultrafax, or teletypewriter. In short, the bodily transmission of the architect and his documents may be replaced very effectively by the message-transmission of communications which do not entail the moving of a particle of matter from one end of the line to the other.

If we consider the two types of communication: namely, material transport, and transport of information alone, it is at present possible for a person to go from one place to another only by the former, and not as a message. However, even now the transportation of messages serves to forward an extension of man's senses and his capabilities of action from one end of the world to another. We have already suggested in this chapter that the distinction between material transportation and message transportation is not in any theoretical sense permanent and unbridgeable.

This takes us very deeply into the question of human individuality. The problem of the nature of human individuality and of the barrier which separates one personality from another is as old as history. The Christian religion and its Mediterranean antecedents have embodied it in the notion of soul. The individual possesses a soul, so say the Christians, which has come into being by the act of conception, but which will continue in existence for all eternity, either among the Blessed or among the Damned, or in one of the little intermediate lacunae of Limbo which the Christian faith allows.

The Buddhists follow a tradition which agrees with the Christian tradition in giving to the soul a continuity after death, but this continuity is in the body of another animal or another human being, rather than in some Heaven or Hell. There are indeed Buddhist Heavens and Hells, although the stay of the individual there is generally temporary. In the most final Heaven of the Buddhists, however, the state of Nirvana, the soul loses its separate identity and is absorbed into the Great Soul of the World.

These views have been without the benefit of the influence of science. The most interesting early scientific account of the continuity of the soul is Leibnitz's which conceives the soul as belonging to a larger class of permanent spiritual substances which he called monads. These monads spend their whole existence from the creation on in the act of perceiving one another; although some perceive with great clarity and distinctness, and others in a blurred and conf used manner. This perception does not however represent any true interaction of the monads. The monads "have no windows," and have been wound up by God at the creation of the world so that they shall maintain their foreordained relationships with one another through all eternity. They are indestructible.

Behind Leibnitz's philosophical views of the monads there lie some very interesting biological speculations. It was in Leibnitz's time that Leeuwenhoek first applied the simple microscope to the study of very minute animals and plants. Among the animals that he saw were spermatozoa. In the mammal, spermatozoa are infinitely easier to find and to see than ova. The human ova are emitted one at a time, and unfertilized uterine ova or very early embryos were until recently rarities in the anatomical collections. Thus the early miscroscopists were under the very natural temptation to regard the spermatozoon as the only important element in the development of the young, and to ignore entirely the possibility of the as yet unobserved phenomenon of fertilization. Furthermore, their imagination displayed to them in the front segment or head of the spermatozoon a minute fetus, rolled up with head forward. This fetus was supposed to contain in itself spermatozoa which were to develop into the next generation of fetuses and adults, and so on ad infinitum. The female was supposed to be merely the nurse of the spermatozoon.

Of course, from the modern point of view, this biology is simply false. The spermatozoon and the ovum are nearly equal participants in determining individual heredity. Furthermore, the germ cells of the future generation are contained in them in posse, and not in esse. Matter is not infinitely divisible, nor indeed from any absolute standpoint is it very finely divisible; and the successive diminutions required to form the Leeuwenhoek spermatozoon of a moderately high order would very quickly lead us down beyond electronic levels.

In the view now prevalent, as opposed to the Leibnitzian view, the continuity of an individual has a very definite beginning in time, but it may even have a termination in time quite apart from the death of the individual. It is well known that the first cell division of the fertilized ovum of a frog leads to two cells, which can be separated under appropriate conditions. If they are so separated, each will grow into a complete frog. This is nothing but the normal phenomenon of identical twinning in a case in which the anatomical accessibility of the embryo is sufficient to permit experimentation. It is exactly what occurs in human identical twins, and is the normal phenomenon in those armadillos that bear a set of identical quadruplets at each birth. It is the phenomenon, moreover, which gives rise to double monsters, when the separation of the two parts of the embryo is incomplete.

This problem of twinning may not however appear as important at first sight as it really is, because it does not concern animals or human beings with what may be considered well-developed minds and souls. Not even the problem of the double monster, the imperfectly separated twins, is too serious in this respect. Viable double monsters must always have either a single central nervous system or a well-developed pair of separate brains. The difficulty arises at another level in the problem of split personalities.

A generation ago, Dr. Morton Prince of Harvard gave the case history of a girl, within whose body several better-or-worse-developed personalities seemed to succeed one another, and even to a certain extent to coexist. It is the fashion nowadays for the psychiatrists to look down their noses a little bit when Dr. Prince's work is mentioned, and to attribute the phenomenon to hysteria. It is quite possible that the separation of the personalities was never as complete as Prince sometimes appears to have thought it to be, but for all that it was a separation. The word "hysteria" refers to a phenomenon well observed by the doctors, but so little explained that it may be considered but another question-begging epithet.

One thing at any rate is clear. The physical identity of an individual does not consist in the matter of which it is made. Modern methods of tagging the elements participating in metabolism have shown a much higher turnover than was long thought possible, not only of the body as a whole, but of each and every component part of it. The biological individuality of an organism seems to lie in a certain continuity of process, and in the memory by the organism of the effects of its past development. This appears to hold also of its mental development. In terms of the computing machine, the individuality of a mind lies in the retention of its earlier tapings and memories, and in its continued development along lines already laid out.

Under these conditions, just as a computing machine may be used as a pattern on which to tape other computing machines, and just as the future development of these two machines will continue parallel except for future changes in taping and experience, so too, there is no inconsistency in a living individual forking or divaricating into two individuals sharing the same past, but growing more and more different. This is what happens with identical twins; but there is no reason why it could not happen with what we call the mind, without a similar split of the body. To use computing-machine language again, at some stage a machine which was previously assembled in an all-over manner may find its connections divided into partial assemblies with a higher or lower degree of independence. This would be a conceivable explanation of Prince's observations.

Moreover, it is thinkable that two large machines which had previously not been coupled may become coupled so as to work from that stage on as a single machine. Indeed this sort of thing occurs in the union of the germ cells, although perhaps not on what we would ordinarily call a purely mental level. The mental identity necessary for the Church's view of the individuality of the soul certainly does not exist in any absolute sense which would be acceptable to the Church.

To recapitulate: the individuality of the body is that I of a flame rather than that of a stone, of a form rather than of a bit of substance. This form can be transmitted or modified and duplicated, although at present we know only how to duplicate it over a short distance. When one cell divides into two, or when one of the genes which carries our corporeal and mental birth-right is split in order to make ready for a reduction division of a germ cell, we have a separation in matter which is conditioned by the power of a pattern of living tissue to duplicate itself. Since this is so, there is no absolute distinction between the types of transmission which we can use for sending a telegram from country to country and the types of transmission which at least are theoretically possible for transmitting a living organism such as a human being.

Let us then admit that the idea that one might conceivably travel by telegraph, in addition to traveling by train or airplane, is not intrinsically absurd, far as it may be from realization. The difficulties are, of course, enormous. It is possible to evaluate something like the amount of significant information conveyed by all the genes in a germ cell, and thereby to determine the amount of hereditary information, as compared with learned information, that a human being possesses. In order for this message to be significant at all, it must convey at least as much information as an entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact if we compare the number of asymmetric carbon atoms in all the molecules of a germ cell with the number of dots and dashes needed to code the Encyclopedia Britannica, we find that they constitute an even more enormous message; and this is still more impressive when we realize what the conditions for telegraphic transmission of such a message must be. Any scanning of the human organism must be a probe going through all its parts, and will, accordingly, tend to destroy the tissue on its way. To hold an organism stable while part of it is being slowly destroyed, with the intention of re-creating it out of other material elsewhere, involves a lowering of its degree of activity, which in most cases would destroy life in the tissue.

In other words, the fact that we cannot telegraph the pattern of a man from one place to another seems to be due to technical difficulties, and in particular, to the difficulty of keeping an organism in being during such a radical reconstruction. The idea itself is highly plausible. As for the problem of the radical reconstruction of the living organism, it would be hard to find any such reconstruction much more radical than that of a butterfly during its period as a pupa.

I have stated these things, not because I want to write a science fiction story concerning itself with the possibility of telegraphing a man, but because it may ! help us understand that the fundamental idea of communication is that of the transmission of messages, and that the bodily transmission of matter and messages is only one conceivable way of attaining that end. It will be well to reconsider Kipling's test of the importance of traffic in the modern world from the point of view of a traffic which is overwhelmingly not so much the transmission of human bodies as the transmission of human information. (pp. 95-104)


Bell System Technical Journal 1948,  27, 379-423, 623-656

The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages. The system must be designed to operate for each possible selection, not just the one which will actually be chosen since this is unknown at the time of design. 

If the number of messages in the set is finite then this number or any monotonic function of this number can be regarded as a measure of the information produced when one message is chosen from the set, all choices being equally likely. As was pointed out by Hartley the most natural choice is the logarithmic function. Although this definition must be generalized considerably when we consider the influence of the statistics of the message and when we have a continuous range of messages, we will in all cases use an essentially logarithmic measure.  (p. 1)


New York 1964

Introduction to the Second Edition




1 The Medium is the Message 
2 Media Hot and Cold 
3 Reversal of the Overheated Medium 
4 The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis 
5 Hybrid Energy: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 
6 Media as Translators 
7 Challenge and Collapse: the Nemesis of Creativity 

8 The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil? 
9 The Written Word: an Eye for an Ear 
10 Roads and Paper Routes 
11 Number: Profile of the Crowd 
12 Clothing: Our Extended Skin 
13 Housing: New Look and New Outlook
14 Money: the Poor Man's Credit Card 
15 Clocks: the Scent of Time 
16 The Print: How to Dig it 
17 Comics: Mad Vestibule to TV 
18 The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism 
19 Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane 
20 The Photograph: the Brothel-without-Walls 
21 Press: Government by News Leak 
22 Motorcar: the Mechanical Bride 
23 Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses 
24 Games: the Extensions of Man 
25 Telegraph: the Social Hormone 
26 The Typewriter: into the Age of the Iron Whim 
27 The Telephone: Sounding Brass or Tinkling Symbol? 
28 The Phonograph: the Toy that Shrank the National Chest 
29 Movies: the Reel World 
30 Radio: the Tribal Drum 
31 Television: the Timid Giant 
32 Weapons: War of the Icons 
33 Automation: Learning a Living

Introduction to the Second Edicion
[...] The section on "the medium is the message" can, perhaps, be clarified by pointing out that any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes. In his splendid work Preface to Plato (Harvard University Press, 1963), Eric Havelock contrasts the oral and written cultures of the Greeks. By Plato's time the written word had created a new environment that had begun to detribalize man. Previously the Greeks had grown up by benefit of the process of the tribal encyclopedia. They had memorized the poets. The poets provided specific operational wisdom for all the contingencies of life   Ann Landers in verse. With the advent of individual detribalized man, a new education was needed. Plato devised such a new program for literate men. It was based on the Ideas. With the phonetic alphabet, classified wisdom took over from the operational wisdom of Homer and Hesiod and the tribal encyclopedia. Eduation by classified data has been the Western program ever since.
Now, however, in the electronic age, data classification yields to pattern recognition, the key phrase at IBM. When data move instantly, classification is too fragmentary. In order to cope with data at electric speed in typical situations of "information overload," men resort to the study of configurations, like the sailor in Edgar Allan Poe's Maelstrom. the drop-out situation in our schools at present has only begun to develop. The young student today grows up in an electrically configured world. It is a world not of wheels but of circuits, not of fragments but of integral patterns. The student today lives mythically and in depth. At school, however, he encounters a situation organized by means of classified information. The subjects are unrelated. They are visually conceived in terms of a blueprint. The student can find no possible means of involvement for himself, nor can he discover how the educatiional scene relates to the "mythic" world of electronically processed data and experience that he takes for granted. As one IBM executive puts it, "My children had lived several lifetimes compared to their gransparents when they began grad one."
"The medium is the message" means, in terms of the electronic age, that a totally new environment has been created. The "content" of this new environment is the old mechanized environment of the industrial age. The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as TV is reprocessing the film. For the "content" of TV is the movie.TV is environmental and imperceptible, like all environments. We are aware only of the "content" or the old environment. When machine production was new, it gradually created an environment whose content was the old environment of agrarian life and the arts and crafts. This older environment was elevated toan art form by the new mechanical environment. The machine turned Nature into an art form. For the first time men began to regard Nature as a source of aesthetic and spiritual values. They began to marvel that earlier ages had been so unaware of the world of Nature as Art. Each new technology creates an environment that is itself regarded as corrupt and degrading. Yet the new one turns its predecessor into an art form. When writing was new, Plato transformed the old oral dialogue into an art form. When printing was new the Middle Ages became an art form. "The Elizabethan world view" was a view of the Middle Ages. And the industrial age turned the Renaissance into an art form as seen in the work of Jacob Burckhardt. Siegried Giedion, in turn, has in the electric age taught us how to see the entire process of mechanization as an art process. (Mechanization Takes Command)
As our proliferating technologies have created a whole series of new environments, men have become aware of the arts as "anti-environments" or "counter-environments" that provide us with the means of perceiving the environment itself. for, as Edward T. Hall has explained in The Silent Laguague, men are never aware of the ground rules of their environmental systems or cultures. Today technologies and their consequent envirnonments succeed each other so rapidly that one environment makes us aware of the next. Technologies begin to perform the function of art in making us aware of the psychic and social consequences of technology.
Art as anti-environment becomes more than ever a means of training perception and judgement. Art offered as a consumer commodity ratherthan as a means of training perception is as ludicrous and snobbish as always. Media study at once opens the doors of perception. And here it is thata the young can do top-level research work. The teacher has only to invite the student to do as complete an inventory as possible. Any child can list the effects of the telephone or the radio or the motor car in shaping the life and work of his friends and his society. An inclusive list of media effects opens many unexpected avenues of awareness and investigation." (pp. viii-x)


James Reston wrote in The New York Times (July 7, 1957): 

A health director . . . reported this week that a small mouse, which presumably had been watching television, attacked a little girl and her full-grown cat. . . . Both mouse and cat survived, and the incident is recorded here as a reminder that things seem to be changing. 

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media Whether the extension of consciousness, so long sought by advertisers for specific products, will be "a good thing" is a question that admits of a wide solution. There is little possibility of answering such questions about the extensions of man without considering all of them together. Any extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex. 

Some of the principal extensions, together with some of their psychic and social consequences, are studied in this book. Just how little consideration has been given to such matters in the past can be gathered from the consternation of one of the editors of this book. He noted in dismay that "seventy-five per cent of your material is new. A successful book cannot venture to be more than ten per cent new." Such a risk seems quite worth taking at the present time when the stakes are very high, and the need to understand the effects of the extensions of man becomes more urgent by the hour. 

In the mechanical age now receding, many actions could be taken without too much concern. Slow movement insured that the reactions were delayed for considerable periods of time. Today the action and the reaction occur almost at the same time. We actually live mythically and integrally, as it were, but we continue to think in the old, fragmented space and time patterns of the pre-electric age. 

Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to act without reacting. The advantages of fragmenting himself in this way are seen in the case of the surgeon who would be quite helpless if he were to become humanly involved us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate with in his operation. We acquired the art of carrying out the most dangerous social operations with complete detachment. But our detachment was a posture of noninvolvement. In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner. 

The Theater of the Absurd dramatizes this recent dilemma of Western man, the man of action who appears not to be involved in the action. Such is the origin and appeal of Samuel Beckett's clowns. After three thousand years of specialist explosion and of increasing specialism and alienation in the technological extensions of our bodies, our world has become compressional by dramatic reversal. As electrically contracted, the globe is no more than a village. Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree. It is this implo-sive factor that alters the position of the Negro, the teen-ager, and some other groups. They can no longer be contained, in the political sense of limited association. They are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs, thanks to the electric media. 

This is the Age of Anxiety for the reason of the electric implosion that compels commitment and participation, quite regardless of any "point of view." The partial and specialized character of the viewpoint, however noble, will not serve at all in the electric age. At the information level the same upset has occurred with the substitution of the inclusive image for the mere viewpoint. If the nineteenth century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the century of the psychiatrist's couch. As extension of man the chair is a specialist ablation of the posterior, a sort of ablative absolute of backside, whereas the couch extends the integral being. The psychiatrist employs the couch, since it removes the temptation to express private points of view and obviates the need to rationalize events. 

The aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology. The age of mechanical industry that preceded us found vehement assertion of private outlook the natural mode of expression. Every culture and every age has its favorite model of perception and knowledge that it is inclined to prescribe for everybody and everything. The mark of our time is its revulsion against imposed patterns. We are suddenly eager to have things and people declare their beings totally. There is a deep faith to be found in this new attitude — a faith that concerns the ultimate harmony of all being. Such is the faith in which this book has been written. It explores the contours of our own extended beings in our technologies, seeking the principle of intelligibility in each of them. In the full confidence that it is possible to win an understanding of these forms that will bring them into orderly service, I have looked at time anew, accepting very little of the conventional wisdom concerning them. One can say of media as Robert Theobald has said of economic depressions: "There is one additional factor that has helped to control depressions, and that is a better understanding of their development." Examination of the origin and development of the individual extensions of man should be preceded by a look at some general aspects of the media, or extensions of man, beginning with the never-explained numbness that each extension brings about in the individual and society.


1 The Medium is the Message

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium ― that is, of any extension of ourselves  result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. Thus, with automation, for example, the new patterns of human association tend to eliminate jobs, it is true. That is the negative result. Positively, automation creates roles for people, which is to say depth of involvement in their work and human association that our preceding mechanical technology had destroyed. Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs. The restructuring of human work and association was shaped by the technique of fragmentation that is the essence of machine technology. The essence of automation technology is the opposite. It is integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine was fragmentary, centralist, and superficial in its patterning of human relationships. 

The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the "content" of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, "What is the content of speech?," it is necessary to say, "It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal." An abstract painting represents direct manifestation of creative thought processes as they might appear in computer designs. What we are considering here, however, are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the "message" of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or a northern environment and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium. The airplane, on the other hand, by accelerating the rate of transportation, tends to dissolve the railway form of city, politics, and association, quite independently of what the airplane is used for. 

Let us return to the electric light. When the light is being used for brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference. It could be argued that these activities are in some way the "content" of the electric light, since they could not exist without the electric light. This fact merely underlines the point that "the medium is the message" because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the "content" of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. It is only today that industries have become aware of the various kinds of business in which they are engaged. When IBM discovered that it was not in the business of making office equipment or business machines, but that it was in the business of processing information, then it began to navigate with dear vision. The General Electric Company makes a considerable portion of its profits from electric light bulbs and lighting systems. It has not yet discovered that, quite as much as A.T.& T., it is in the business of moving information. 

The electric light escapes attention as a communication medium just because it has no "content." And this makes it an invaluable instance of how people fail to study media at all. For it is not till the electric light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a medium. Then it is not the light but the "content" (or what is really another medium) that is noticed. The message of the electric light is like the message of electric power in industry, totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized. For electric light and power are separate from their uses, yet they eliminate time and space factors in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and TV, creating involvement in depth. 

A fairly complete handbook for studying the extensions of man could be made up from selections from Shakespeare. Some might quibble about whether or not he was referring to TV in these familiar lines from Romeo and Juliet:

 But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It speaks, and yet says nothing.

In Othello, which, as much as King Lear, is concerned with the torment of people transformed by illusions, there are these lines that bespeak Shakespeare's intuition of the transforming powers of new media:

Is there not charms 
By which the property of youth and maidhood 
May be abus'd? Have you not read Roderigo,
Of some such thing?

 In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, which is almost completely devoted to both a psychic and social study of communication, Shakespeare states his awareness that true social and political navigation depend upon anticipating the consequences of innovation:

The providence that's in a watchful state
Knows almost every grain of Plutus' gold, 
Finds bottom in the uncomprehensive deeps, 
Keeps place with thought, and almost like the gods 
Does thoughts unveil in their dumb cradles.

The increasing awareness of the action of media, quite independently of their "content" or programming, was indicated in the annoyed and anonymous stanza: 

In modern thought, (if not in fact) 
Nothing is that doesn't act, 
So that is reckoned wisdom which 
Describes the scratch but not the itch. 

The same kind of total, configuration awareness that reveals why the medium is socially the message has occurred in the most recent and rad,cal medial theories. In his Stress of Life, Hans Selye tells of the dismay of a research colleague on hearing of Selye's theory: 

When he saw me thus launched on yet another enraptured description of what I had observed in animals treated with this or that impure, toxic material, he looked at me with desperately sad eyes and said in obvious despair: "But Selye, try to realize what you are doing before it is too late! You have now decided to spend your entire life studying the pharmacology of dirt!" 
(Hans Selye, The Stress of Life) 

As Selye deals with the total environmental situation in his "stress" theory of disease, so the latest approach to media study considers not only the "content" but the medium and the cultural matrix within which the particular medium operates. The older unawareness of the psychic and social effects of media can be illustrated from almost any of the conventional pronouncements. 

In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame a few years ago, General David Sarnoff made this statement: "We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is the voice of the current somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, "Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value." Or, "The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value." Again, "Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply nothing in the Sarnoff statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium. of any and all media, in the true Narcissus style of one hypnotized by the amputation and extension of his own being in a new technical form. General Sarnor Twent on to explain his attitude to the technology of print, saying that it was true that print caused much trash to circulate, but it had also disseminated the Bible and the thoughts of seers and philosophers. It has never occurred to General Sarnoffthat any technology could do anything but add itself on to what we already are. 

Such economists as Robert Theobald, W W. Rostow, and John Kenneth Galbraith have been explaining for years how it is that "classical economics" cannot explain change or growth. And the paradox of mechanization is that although it is itself the cause of maximal growth and change, the principle of mechanization excludes the very possibility of growth or the understanding of change. For mechanization is achieved by fragmentation of any process and by putting the fragmented parts in a series. Yet, as David Hume showed in the eighteenth century, there is no principle of causality in a mere sequence. That one thing follows another accounts for nothing. Nothing follows from following, except change. So the greatest of all reversals occurred with electricity, that ended sequence by making things instant. With instant speed the causes of things began to emerge to awareness again, as they had not done with things in sequence and in concatenation accordingly. Instead of asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, it suddenly seemed that a chicken was an egg's idea for getting more eggs. 

Just before an airplane breaks the sound barrier, sound waves become visible on the wings of the plane. The sudden visibility of sound just as sound ends is an apt instance of that great pattern of being that reveals new and opposite forms just as the earlier forms reach their peak performance. Mechanization was never so vividly fragmented or sequential as in the birth of the movies the moment that translated us beyond mechanism into the world of growth and organic interrelation. The  message of the movie medium is that of transition from lineal connections to configurations. It is the transition that produced the now quite correct observation: "If it works, it's obsolete." When electric speed further takes over from mechanical movie sequences then the lines of force instructures and in media become loud and clear. We return to the inclusive form of the icon.

To a highly literate and mechanized culture the movie appeared as a world of triumphant illusions and dreams that money could buy. it was at this moment of the movie that cubism occurred, and it has been described by E.H. Gombrich (Art and Illusion) as "the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture - that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas." For cubism substitutes all facets of an object simultaneously for "the point of view" or facet of perspective illusion. Instead of the specialized illusion of the third dimension on canvas, cubism sets up an interplay of planes and contradictio or dramatic conflict of patters, lights, textures and "drives home the message" by involvement. This is held by many to be an exercise in painting, not in illusion.

In other words, cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of the structure and of configuration? Is that not what has happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication? Specializied segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we can now say, "The medium is the messsage" quite naturally. Before the electric speed and total field, it was not obvious that hte medium is the message. The message, it seemed, was the "content," as people used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to ask what a melody was about, nor what a house of a dress was about. In such matters, people retained some sense of the whole pattern, of form and function as a unity. But in the electric age this integral idea of structure and configuration has become so prevalent that educational thhas taken up the matter. Instead of working with specialized "problems" in arithmetic, the sturctural approach now follows the linea of force inthe field of number and has small children mediating about number theory and "sets."

Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, "He understood the grammar of gunpowder." Napoleon had paid some attention to other media as well, especially the semaphore telegraph that gave him a great advantage over his enemies. He is on record for saying that "Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets." 

Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to master the grammar of print and typography. He was thus able to read off the message of coming change in France and America as if he were reading aloud from a text that had been handed to him. In fact, the nineteenth century in France and in America was just such an open book to de Tocqueville because he had learned the grammar of print. So he, also, knew when that grammar did not apply. He was asked why he did not write a book on England, since he knew and admired England. He replied: 

One would have to have an unusual degree of philosophical folly to believe oneself able to judge England in six months. A year always seemed to me too short a time in which to appreciate the United States properly, and it is much easier to acquire clear and precise notions about the American Union than about Great Britain. In America all laws derive in a sense from the same line of thought. The whole of society, so to speak is founded upon a single fact; everything springs from a simple principle. One could compare America to a forest pierced by a multitude of straight roads all converging on the same point. One has only to find the center and everything is revealed at a glance. But in England the paths run criss-cross, and it is only by travelling down each one of them that one can build up a picture of the whole. 

Alexis the Tocqueville was the first to master the grammar of print and typography. he wsa thkus able to read off the messag of coming change in France and America as if he were reading aloud from a text that had been handed to him. In fact, the nineteenth century in France and in America was just such an open book to the Tecqueville because he had leanred the grammar of print. So he,also knew when that rammar did not apply. He was asked why he did not write a book on England, since he knew and admired England. he replied.

One would have fo have an unusual degree of philosophical folly to believe oneself able to judge England in six months. A year always seemed to me too short a time in which to appreciate the United States properly, and it is much easier to acquire clear and precise notions about the American Union than about Great Britain. In America all laws derive in a sense from the same line of thought. The whole of society, so to speak, is founded upon a single fact; everything springs from a simple principle. One could compare America to a forest pierced by a multitude of straight roads all converging on the same point. One has only to find the center and everything is revealed at a glance. But in England the paths run criss-cross, and it is onlyl by travelling down each one of them that one can build up a picture of the whole.

De Tocqueville, in earlier work on the French Revolution, had explained how it was the printed word that, achieving cultural saturation in the eighteenth century, had homogenized the French nation. Frenchmen were the same kind of people from north to south. The typographic principles of uniformity, continuity, and lineality had overlaid the complexities of ancient feudal and oral society. The Revolution was carried out by the new literati and lawyers. 

In England, however, such was the power of the ancient oral traditions of common law, backed by the medieval institution of Parliament, that no uniformity or continuity of the new visual print culture could take complete hold. The result was that the most important event in English history has never taken place; namely, the English Revolution on the lines of die French Revolution. The American Revolution had no medieval legal institutions to discard or to root out, apart from monarchy. And many have held that the American Presidency has become very much more personal and monarchical than any European monarch ever could be. 

De Tocqueville's contrast between England and America is clearly based on the fact of typography and of print culture creating uniformity and continuity. England, he says, has rejected this principle and dung to the dynamic or oral common-law tradition. Hence the discontinuity and unpredictable quality of English culture. The grammar of print cannot help to construe the message of oral and nonwritten culture and institutions. The English aristocracy was properly classified as barbarian by Matthew Arnold because its power and status had nothing to do with literacy or with the cultural forms of typography. Said the Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon upon the publication of his Decline and Fall; "Another damned fat book, eh, Mr. Gibbon? Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?" De Tocqueville was a highly literate aristocrat who was quite able to be detached from the values and assumptions of typography. That is why he alone understood the grammar of typography. And it is only on those terms, standing aside from any structure or medium, that its principles and lines of force can be discerned. For any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of Narcissus trance. But the greatest aid to this end is simply in knowing that the spell can occur immediately upon contact, as in the first bars of a melody. 

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster is a dramatic study of the inability of oral and intuitive oriental culture to meet with the rational, visual European patterns of experience. "Rational," of course, has for the West long meant "uniform and continuous and sequential." In other words, we have confused reason with literacy, and rationalism with a single technology. Thus in the electric age man seems to the conventional West to become irrational. In Forster's novel the moment of truth and dislocation from the typographic trance of the West comes in the Marabar Caves. Adela Quested's reasoning powers cannot cope with the total inclusive field of resonance that is India. After the Caves: Lite went on as usual, but had no consequences, that is to say, sounds did not echo nor thought develop. Everything seemed cut off at its root and therefore infected with illusion." 

A Passage to India (the phrase is from Whitman, who saw America headed Eastward) is a parable of Western man in the electric age, and is only incidentally related to Europe or the Orient. The ultimate conflict between sigh and sound, between written and oral kinds of perception and organization of existence is upon us. Since understanding stops action, as Nietzsche observed, we can moderate the fierceness of this conflict by understanding the media that extend us and raise these wars within and without us. 

Detribalization by literacy and its traumatic effects on tribal man is the theme of a book by the psychiatrist J. C. Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease (World Health Organization, Geneva, 1953). Much of his material appeared in an article in Psychiatry magazine, November, 1959: "The Culture, Psychiatry, and the Written Word." Again, it is electric speed that has revealed the lines of force operating from Western technology in the remotest areas of bush, savannah, and desert. One example is the Bedouin with his battery radio on board the camel. Submerging natives with floods of concepts for which nothing has prepared them is the normal action of all of our technology. But with electric media Western man himself experiences exactly the same inundation as the remote native. We are no more prepared to encounter radio and TV in our literate milieu than the native of Ghana is able to cope with the literacy that takes him out of his collective tribal world and beaches him in individual isolation. We are as numb in our new electric world as the native involved in our literate and mechanical culture.

Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory with the dregs of industrial marketeers, the nonliterate with semiliterate and the postliterate. Mental breakdown of varying degrees is the very common result of uprooting and inundation with new information and endless new patters of information. Wyndham Lewis made this theme of his group of novels called The Human Age. The first ofthese, The Childermass, is concerned precisely with accelerated media change as a kind of massacre of the innocents. In our own world as we become more aware of the effects of technology on psychic formation and manifestation, we are losing all confidence in our right to asssign guilt. Ancient prehistoric societies regard  violent crime as pathetic. The killer is regarded as we do a concer victim. "How terrible it must be to feel like taht," they say. J. M. Synge took up this idea very effectively in his Playboy of the Western World.

If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to meet the demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot conform as somewhat pathetic. Especially the child, the cripple, the woman, and the colored person appear in a world of visual and typographic technology as victims of injustice. On the other hand, in a culture that assigns roles instead of jobs to people - the dwarf, the skew, the child create their own spaces. They are not expected to fit into some uniform and repeatable niche that is not their size anyway. Consider the phrase "It's a man's world." As a quantitative observation endlessly repeated from within a homogenized culture, this phrase refers to the men in such a culture who have to be homogenized Dagwoods in order to belong at all. It is in our I.Q. testing that we have produced the greatest flood of misbegotten standards. Unaware of our typographic cultural bias, our testers assume that uniform and continuous habits are a sign of intelligence, thus eliminating the ear man and the tactile man.

C. P. Snow, reviewing a book of A. L Rowse (The New York Times Book Review, December 24, 1961) on Appeasement and the road to Munich, describes the top level of British brains and experience in the 1930s. "Their I.Q.'s were much higher than usual among political bosses. Why were they such a disaster?" The view of Rowse, Snow approves: "They would not listen to warnings because they did not wish to hear." Being anti-Red made it impossible for them to read the message of Hitler. But their failure was as nothing compared to our present one The American stake in literacy as a technology or uniformity applied to every level of education, government, industry, and social life is totally threatened by the electric technology. The threat of Stalin or Hitler was external. The electric technology is within the gates, and we are numb, deaf, blind, and mute about its encounter with the Gutenberg technology, on and through which the American way of life was formed. It is, however, no time to suggest strategies when the threat has not even been acknowledged to exist. I am in the position of Louis Pasteur telling doctors that their greatest enemy was quite invisible, and quite unrecognized by them. Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the "content" of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as "content." The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The "content" of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech. 

Arnold Toynbee is innocent of any understanding of media as they have shaped history, but he is full of examples that the student of media can use. At one moment he can seriously suggest that adult education, such as the Workers Educational Association in Britain, is a useful counterforce to the popular press. Toynbee considers that although all of the oriental societies have in our time accepted the industrial technology and its political consequences: "On the cultural plane, however, there is no uniform corresponding tendency." (Somervell, I. 267) This is like the voice of the literate man, floundering in a milieu of ads, who boasts, "Personally, I pay no attention to ads." The spiritual and cultural reservations that the oriental peoples may have toward our technology will avail them not at all. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception. 

The operation of the money medium in seventeenth-century Japan had effects not unlike the operation of typography in the West. The penetration of the money economy, wrote G. B. San-som (in Japan. Cresset Press, London, 193 1) "caused a slow but irresistible revolution, culminating in the breakdown of feudal government and the resumption of intercourse with foreign countries after more than two hundred years of seclusion." Money has reorganized the sense life of peoples just because it is an extension of our sense lives. This change does not depend upon approval or disapproval of those living in the society. 

Arnold Toynbee made one approach to the transforming power of media in his concept of "etherialization," which he holds to be the principle of progressive simplification and efficiency in any organization or technology. Typically, he is ignoring the effect of the challenge of these forms upon the response of our senses. He imagines that it is the response of our opinions that is relevant to the effect of media and technology in society, a "point of view" that is plainly the result of the typographic spell. For the man in a literate and homogenized society ceases to be sensitive to the diverse and discontinuous life of forms. He acquires the illusion of the third dimension and the "private point of view" as part of his Narcissus fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake's awareness or that of the Psalmist, that we become what we behold. 

Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in which it was unknown. Professor Wilbur Schramm made such a tactical move in studying Television in the Lives of Our Children. He found areas where TV had not penetrated at all and ran some tests. Since he had made no study of the peculiar nature of the TV image, his tests were of "content" preferences, viewing time, and vocabulary counts. In a word, his approach to the problem was a literary one, albeit unconsciously so. Consequently, he had nothing to report. Had his methods been employed in 1500 a.d. to discover the effects of the printed book in the lives of children or adults, he could have found out nothing of the changes in human and social psychology resulting from typography. Print created individualism and nationalism in the sixteenth century. Program and "content" analysis offer no dues to the magic of these media or to their subliminal charge. 

Leonard Doob, in his report Communication in Africa, tells of one African who took great pains to listen each evening to the BBC news, even though he could understand nothing of it. Just to be in the presence of those sounds at 7 p.m. each day was important for him. His attitude to speech was like ours to melody - the resonant intonation was meaning enough. In the seventeenth century our ancestors still shared this native's attitude to the forms of media, as is plain in the following sentiment of the Frenchman Bernard Lam expressed in The Art of Speaking (London, 1696): 

'Tis an effect of the Wisdom of God, who created Man to be happy, that whatever is useful to his conversation (way of life) is agreeable to him ... because all victual that conduces to nourishment is relishable, whereas other things that cannot be assimulated and be turned into our substance are insipid. A Discourse cannot be pleasant to the Hearer that is not easily to the Speaker; nor can it be easily pronounced unless it be heard with delight. 

Here is an equilibrium theory of human diet and expression such as even now we are only striving to work out again for media after centuries of fragmentation and specialism. 

Pope Pius XII was deeply concerned that there be serious study of the media today. On February 1 7, 1 950, he said: 

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the strength of th techniques of communication and the capacity of the individual's own reactions.

Failure in this respect has for centuries been typical and total for mankind. Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users. As A. ]. Liebling remarked in his book The Press, a man is not free if he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get there. For each of the media is also a powerful weapon with which to clobber other media and other groups. The result is that the present age has been one of multiple civil wars that are not limited to the world of art and entertainment. In War and Human Progress, Professor J. U Nef declared: "The total wars of our time have been the result of a series of intellectual mistakes ..." 

If the formative power in the media are the media themselves, that raises a host of large matters that can only be mentioned here, although they deserve volumes. Namely, that technological media are staples or natural resources, exactly as are coal and cotton and oil. Anybody will concede that society whose economy is dependent upon one or two major staples like cotton, or grain, or lumber, or fish, or cattle is going to have some obvious social patterns of organization as a result. Stress on a few major staples creates extreme instability in the economy but great endurance in the population. The pathos and humor of the American South are embedded in such an economy of limited staples. For a society configured by reliance on a few commodities accepts them as a social bond quite as much as the metropolis does the press. Cotton and oil, like radio and TV, become fixed charges" on the entire psychic life of the community. And this pervasive fact creates the unique cultural flavor of any society. It pays through the nose and all its other senses for each staple that shapes its life. 

That our human senses, of which all media are extensions, are also fixed charges on our personal energies, and that they also configure the awareness and experience of each one of us, may be perceived in another connection mentioned by the psychologist C. G. Jung: 

Every Roman was surrounded by slaves. The slave and his psychology flooded ancient Italy, and every Roman became inwardly, and of course unwittingly, a slave. Because living constantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology. No one can shield himself from such an influence (Contributions to Analytical Psychology, London, 1928).

(pp. 19-35)


Bantam Books 1967




Blog: Arefactphil, December 27, 2017

McLuhan's "electric age" raises the question as to how the medium of electricity affects the message. The electric age was a long time coming, starting, perhaps, with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the beginning of the 19th century, once the electrons started to flow as electric current, instead of just being stored up statically as a positive electric charge (i.e. lacking electrons with negative charge) in ἤλεκτρον (amber) by rubbing the amber that could be discharged with a mighty spark, about which the Greeks already knew, not to mention Zeus' lightning bolts. Then in the early-to-mid-19th century came Faraday's experimenting and Maxwell's field equations for electromagnetism that enabled the reciprocating dance between the flow of electrons and magnetic force-field to be mathematized in four neat equations. Along with that, on the technological side, the invention of the telegraph (literally: far-writing) for sending Morse-coded electron messages along wires to write in far-off places revolutionized communications. Here the speed of the medium had a huge effect on messaging; the world grew smaller through having electrons assuming the wings of Hermes. Even the swiftest horses could not compete. 

Excitation of the electrons took off with the incandescent lamp, with electrons emitting pure bearers of light-energy (photons) on becoming mightily excited in a wire enclosed in glass along with an inert gas. Then, instead of sending little electron messages along wire, there came the invention of the radio, which wirelessly and concentrically sent out (trans-mitted) messages as electromagnetic signals that could be deciphered at the other end by a radio receiver. For such messaging, 
Claude Shannon later developed the necessary mathematics for technologically managing signal-loss through electromagnetic noise. Radio transmission accelerated and contracted the world still further, tying a mass public into its messages in a way that exceeded the massifying of society already accomplished by newspapers, which themselves emerged as a powerful medium in the early 19th century. 

The electromagnetic medium has engendered a yet more massified, fake togetherness. Today, anonymous 'people' have long since become the ubiquitous, constantly addressed 'subject' of the mass-media age, whose massified opinions matter solely in anonymous, massified form, as in 'People think this...', or 'They do that...' or the ubiquitous fake 'we' of democracy, as in 'What are we to do about ...?' The ongoing 
discussion of fake news enabled by cyberworld platforms leaves entirely out of account the fakeness of the 'we' in 'our' democratic societies, which the media's talking heads are loath to even mention for fear of offending their mass audiences. Do I hear the word 'sycophancy'?

To come now to music: in the first half of the 20th century, along with inventors from the U.S. radio and electronics industry, 
Les Paul experimented with electrifying the guitar, succeeding finally in making the first solid body electric guitar in the 1940s. Magnetized pick-ups positioned beneath the guitar's strings picked up their vibrational motion, thus inducing an electric current that was passed from the guitar along a wire to the amplifier. Boom! Electric music was born, exciting electrons for the sake of the musical human ear. This culminated in the 1950s in rock music, a prancing & dancing with electrons in which the electronic phenomena themselves became musical. It was not merely a case of amplifying volume, but of sui generis electro-acoustic phenomena attuning our shared psyche. Such sounds include the feedback, overdrive, distortion, flanging, phasing, fuzzing and wah-wah-ing of the electric guitar that has been rapidly mastered by outstanding guitarists within just a few decades. The energy of electrons was harnessed for powerful acoustic experience in stadium concerts and also recorded on wax, shellac, vinyl and finally digitized in CD and mp3 recordings. The code signalling how the electrons were to dance could be reproduced easily million-fold in these latter media.  

Electrons came to be bearers of musical messages setting the times' moods into vibration, thus attuning us to the world in a way different from lute, cello, flute and harpsichord. If the stately classical music of courtly times had given way in Europe to the more dynamic movements of horses after the French Revolution (cf. e.g. Beethoven), in the 20th century the electronic media came to dominate the musical messaging, just as communication in general became electronically massified. The electronic medium itself gives us the message of electrification, culminating in today's digitization of the world in which not only our age's mind is quickly adapting to algorithmic entrapment, but also to which our age's psyche has rapidly become more and more musically attuned.

Further reading: 
Thinking of MusicThe Digital Cast of Being, Rafael Capurro's 'Angeletics 


A Response to Rafael Capurro and Suggestions for a Research Agenda

Published in: International Information & Library Review, 2000 v.32 (3/4) pp.283-289.

As the science of messages and messengers, Angeletics has much appeal. As a term, Angeletics may sound like an invitation to study angels and the divine real, a theological endeavor. That is not Capurro's intention. Rather, he seeks to focus attention not on the divine butr on the human and the approaches that the human sciences, the social sciences, might bring to phenomena of message making and message sharing. Capurro's interest is to find unifying ways to understand information and its role in human life and global society.
Exploring the cultural roots in relation to current issues, Capurro asks if there is help to be found in the study of the message.

What is the relationship between the message and the messenger?

Is the meaning in the medium of the message?

Are content and form separate?

Can form and content be separated in order to understand how knowledge is created, transmitted, and used?

What is the relationship between hermeneutics and Angeletics? Could hermeneutics be said to dealwith the interpretation of the message or messenger in the aftermath of delivery and prior to another transmission?

What are the practices of message creation, dissemination, storage, retrieval, evaluation, and utilization? How do these practices shape the interfacing activity?

Who are the messengers in these practices? What are the technologies of messenger practice?

Capurro's insights and the question he raises offer a rich agenda for further research.

For example, Angeletics can cast new light on the collected wisdom of traditional academic disciplines, from established fields of study such as:

History - World History as Message, Great Messengers;
Language and Literature - Etymological Roots of the term Message in All Languages; Message Mediation in Literary Genres, Reader Response Criticism and Message Reception;
Art, Music, Dance, Film - Messengers and Imagination;
Physics, Chemistry and Biology - DNA Messengers;
Engineering/AI - Robot Messengers;
Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Economics - The Social, Psychological, etc. Aspects of Messages and Messengers.
The new understanding gained can be used to build the conceptual foundations of Angeletics. There are similarities to the agenda of social epistemology as described in 1967 by Jesse Shera (Shera, J. (1967): The sociological foundations of librarianship. Sarada Ranganathan lectures, 3. New York. Asia Publishing House) and by Steve Fuller in 1988 (Fuller, S. (1988): Social epistemology, Bloomington. Indiana University Press.), both of whom see the structures and uses of knowledge and knowledge transmission a keys to understanding social institutions and human life.

While shifting away from a preoccupation with the term "information", with all its problematic conceptual ambiguities, Angeletics probes the depths of another etymological river and its tributaries. Angeletics also moves in the direction of studying the processes of message transfer, at the interface as well as before and after. It heightens the role of the transaction, the mediation - the interface, and the mediator - human, print, electronic, cyberspatial/cyberspacial, bricks and mortal. Angeletics does not ignore definition and the value of asking ontological, epistemological, and theological questions. The nature of the message and its goal or purpose are important. […] 

To go in the direction of critical theory, other questions might arise. For example:

Who are the messengers?

How are they chosen?
What interests do they represent?
What determines the content and the delivery form of the messages?
Who receives which messages?
Who receives messages first? Last?
Are any receivers excluded?

To stretch a bit beyond the present discussion into potential uses for Angeletics in knowledge organization and management. Could it be that the agenda for Angeletics might be expanded into specific domain areas, drawing from academic, professional, and popular discourse communities and their practices of knowledge creation. Are the styles, methods, practices and content domains sufficiently different to justify analysis? To plat common elements and patterns as well as disticntive characteristics? Could this be another approach to building controlled vocabularies for information retrieval and domain specific portals to serve particular user communities on the Web? For example, could there be American studies angeletics? Business angeletics? Engineering angeletics? Environmental angeletics? Medical angeletics? Historial angeletics? Biblical angeletics? Medieval angeletics? If the goal of abstract conceptual analysis is to provide a unifying foundation for life in the real world, then angeletics analysis may be the key. We are all creatures of messages and messengers ourselves. How can we unite to understand each other and peacefully separate to preserve identity, unique communities, and accomplish the tasks of life?
Finally, Capurro's contribution by suggesting Angeletics as a new field of study challenges scholars to think of other historical and philosophical streams that may converge into a better broading understanding for practicing the art of living as Digital Cosmopolitans. While specific etymological traditions can enlighten research, they also should not constrain contemporary enquiry. Angeletics, tempting us to explore messengers and messages in the realms of art and imagination, may open our eyes to images, sound, and experiences as well as in our electronic and print texts. Where this may lead is the next challenge." (283-289)


 Carnbridge: Mass. 1958


Chicago 1999


Introduction: The Problem of Communication
The Historicity of Communication
The Varied Senses of "Communication"
Sorting Theoretical Debates in (and via) the 1920s
Technical and Therapeutic Discourses after World War II

1 Dialogue and Dissemination
Dialogue and Eros in the Phaedrus
Dissemination in the Synoptic Gospels

2 History of an Error: The Spiritualist Tradition
Christian Sources
From Matter to Mind: "Communication" in the Seventeenth Century
Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism

3 Toward a More Robust Vision of Spirit: Hegel, Marx, and Kierkegaard
Hegel on Recognition
Marx (versus Locke) on Money
Kierkegaard's Incognitos

4. Phantasms of the Living, Dialogues with the Dead
Recording and Transmission
Hermeneutics as Communication with the Dead
Dead Letters

5 The Quest for Authentic Connection, or Bridging the Chasm
The Interpersonal Walls of Idealism
Fraud or Contact? James on Psychical Research
Reach Out and Touch Someone: The Telephonic Uncanny
Radio: Broadcasting as Dissemination (and Dialogue)

6 Machines, Animals, and Aliens: Horizons of Incommunicability
The Turing Text and the Insuperability of Eros
Animals and Empathy with the Inhuman
Communication with Alliens

Conclusion: A Squeeze of the Hand
The Gaps of Which Cmmunication Is Made
The Privilege of the Receiver
The Dark Side of Communication
The Irreducibility of Touch and Time

Appendix: Extracts (Supplied by a Sub-Sublibrarian)

Introduction: The Problem of Communication

The Varied Senses of "Communication"

"Communication" is a word with a rich history. From the Latin communicare, meaning to impart, share, of make common, it entered the English language in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The key root is mun- (not: uni-), related to such words, as "munificent," "community," "meaning," and Gemeinschaft. The Latin munus has to do with gifts or duties offered publicly―including gladiatorial shows, tributes, and rites to honor the dead. In Latin, communicatio did not signify the general arsts of human connection via symbols, nor did it suggest the hoope for some kind of mutual recognition. Its sense was not in the least mentalistic: communicatio generally involved tangibles. In classical rhetorical theory communicatio was also a technical term for a stylistic device in which an orator assumes the hypothetical voice of the adversary or audience; communicatio was less authentic dialogue than the simulation of dialogue by a single speaker.[8]
As in Latin, one dominant branch meaning in "communication" has to do with imparting, quite apart from any notion of a dialogic or interactive process. Thus communication can mean partaking, as in being a communicant (partaking of holy communion). Here "communicatiion" suggests belonging to a social body expressive act that requires no response or recognition. To communicate by consuming bread and wine is to signify membership in a communion of saints both living and dead, but it is not primarily a message-sending activity (except perhaps as a social ritual to please others or as a message to the self or to God). Moreover, here to "communicate" is an act of receiving, not of sending; more precisely, is to send by receiving. A related sense is the notion of scholarly "communication" (monograph) or a "communication" as a message or notice. here is no sense of exchange, though some sort of audience, however vague or dispersed, is implied. Communication cal also mean connection or linkage. In the nineteenth century United States, "steam communication" could mean the railroad. In Hawtherne's House of Seven Gables we read: "She approached the door that formed the customary communication between the house and garden." In the sense of linkage, comunication could also mean coitus.[9] Curiously, "communication" once meant what we now call communication (the varieties of human dealings). The ambiguous term "relations" underlies both.
Another branch of meaning involves transfer or transmission. The sense of physical transfer―such as the communication of heat, light, magnetism, or gifts―is now largely archaic, but it is the root, as I argue in chapter 2, of the notion of communication as the transfer of pschical entities such as ideas, thoughts, or meanings. When John Locke speaks of "Communication of Thoughts," he is taking a term with a physical acceptation and appropriating it for social uses. here too there is nothing necessarily two-way about communication. One can speak of the one-way transmissions of advertising and public relations as communications, even if no response is possible or desired. One senses that the purveyors of these things would like them to work like communicable diseases, another transmissive sense of the term.
A third branch of meaning is communication as exchange, that is, as transfer times two. Communication in this sense is supposed to involve interchange, mutuality, and some kind of reciprocity. The nature of the exchange can vary. Communication can mean something like the successful linkage of two separate termini, as they say in telegraphy. Here simply getting through, as in delivery of mail or e-mail, is enough to constitute communication. If both ends know the message has arrived, then communication has occurred. A further, colloquial sense of communication calls for the exchange of open and frank talk between intimates or coworkers.[10] Here communication does not mean simply talk; it reers to a special kind of talk distinguished by intimacy and disclosure. An even more intense sense of communication as exchange dispenses with talk altogether and posits a meeting of minds, psychosemantic sharing, even fusion of consciousness. As Leo Lowenthal put it, "True communication entails a communion, a sharing of inner experience." [11] Although Lowenthal is not necessarily saying we can share inner experience without the materiality of words, he nicely states the hight-stakes definition of communicatias contact between interiorities. And though clearly not the only definition of communication, it is the one that has risen to prominence in the past century. Here the normative pathos is most intense.
"Communication" can also serve, in a much more modest way, as a blanket term for the various modes of symbolic interaction. here communication is free of spe pleading about what we human should be capable of but is a descriptive term for our relations in signification. There is something of this in the King James translation of Matt. 5:37, "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay:  for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." Here communication translates logos, one of the richest words in the Greek lexicon. Ranging across such senses as word, argument, discourse, speech, story, book, and reason, logos served as an overall term for the capacities that foll from the fact that humans, as Aristotle said, are animals possessing the word. Matt. 5:37 suggests that our speech be simple, but the usage suggests a general policy about humans and the logos.
"Communication" can mean something similarly general. As Charles Horton Cooley wrote in 1909, "By Communication is here meant the mechanism through which humans relations develop―all the symbols of the mind, togethe with the means of conveying them through space and preserving them in time." In this book I will use "communications" in the plural in this sense. As Raymond Williams puts it in a serviceable but too psychological definition, communications are "the institutions and forms in which ideas, information, and attitudes are transmitted and received."[12] They might include tombs, hieroglyphics, writing, coins, cathedrals, stamps, flags, clocks, the press, the post, telegraphy, photography, cinema, telephony, phonography, radio, television, cable, computer, the Internet, multimedia, virtual reality, or any other signifying medium.[13] "Communication," in contrast, I take as the project of reconciling self and other. The mistake is to think that communications will solve the problems of communication, that better wiring will eliminate the ghosts.
Although I am skeptical that the word "communication" can ever fully shake the ghosts of worldless contact, the term marks out a marvelous zone of inquiry: the natural history of our talkative species. Communication theory claims this zone. As I argue below, the notion of communication theory is older than the 1940s (when it meant a mathematical theory of signal processing), and no one had isolated "communication" as an explicit problem till the 1880s and 1890s. Throughout I use "communication theory" not to refer to any extant pract of inquiry, but in a loos, ahistorical sense for a vision of the human condition as in some fundamental way communicative, as anchored in the logos. In this  way communication theory becomes consubstantial with ethics, political philosophy, and social theory in its concern for relations self and other, self and self, and closeness and distance in social organization. Though few of the figures examined in this book had any notion of "communication theory," our current situation allows us to find things in their texts that were never there before. As Benjamin knew, the present can configure the past so as to open up new points of rendezvous."

[8] Cicero, De Oratore, trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942), 3.204, and Heinrich Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik: Eine Grundlegung der Literaturwissenschaft (Munich: Hueber, 1960), 379-84. Thanks to Donovan Ochs for help on this point.
[9] Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "communication," 5b.
[10] Tamar Katriel and Gerry Philipsen, "'What we Need Is Communication': 'Communication' as a Cultural Category in Some American Speech," Communication Monographs
[11] Leo Lowenthal, "Communication and Humanitas," in The Human Dialogue: Perspectives on Communication, ed. Floyd W. Matson and Ashley Montagu (New York: Free Press, 1967), 336
[12] Raymond Williams, Communications (London: Penguin,1962), 9. In contrast to the common usage that calls the academic field "communications," I will use "communication studies."
[13] The motley list is a standard genre in treatises on media that I have no intention of omitting. 48 (1981): 301-17.
(pp. 7-10)

Sorting Theoretical Debates  in (and via) the 1920s

Two other visions of  communication from the 1920s remain: those of Martin Heidegger and  John Dewey. These are paths less taken but are fertile sources of communication theory that I want to rehabilitate. Despite their profound differences, each rejects the mentalist vision and its accompanying subjectivization of meaning; each makes an end run around the solipsism/telepathy couplet. Heidegger's Being and Time (1927), perhaps the single most influential work in twentieth-century philosophy, announced its distaste for any notion of communication as mental sharing: "Communication [Mitteilung] is never anything like a transportation of experiences, such as opinions or wishes, from the interior of one subjectinto the interior of another." [21] The transmission of messages or assertion of facts was for Heidegger a special case; more fundamentally, Mitteilung is the interpretive articulation of our "thrownness" into a world together with other people. Being with ohters is fundamental to our existence. To be human is to be linguistic and social. Speech can make our relations explicit, but there is no question for Heidegger of communication's failing between people any more than there is of people's ceasing to dwell in societies and in language. We are bound together in existential and lived ways before we even open our mouths to speak. Communication here does not involve transmitting information about one's intentionality; rather, it entails bearing oneself in such a way that one is open to hearing the other's otherness. As in Jasper's Psychology of World-Views (1919) or Buber's I and Thou (1923), here communication is about the constitution of relationships, the revelation of otherness, or the breaking of the shells that encase the self, not about the sharing of private mental property.
Certainly communication has its dangers for Heidegger. Whereas for Ogden and Richards the chief worry is discrepancy or clouded meaning, for Heidegger it is inauthenticity. The chatter of the crowd and the brooding omnipresence of "das Man"―a coinage variously translated as the "anonymous anyone" or the "they-self"―threatens to drown out "the call of conscience" and the care (Sorge) of being. The dictatorship of "das Man" is inconspicuous and hard to detect, but it can swallow up authentic selfhood. [22] Heidegger claimed to be describing a perennial existential possibility in human life―the descent into distraction―but but in fact it has a clear historical and political dimension. As Peter Sloterdijk puts it, "Everything we have heard about [das Man] would be, in the final analysis, inconceivable without the precondition of the Weimar Republic with its hectic postwar life feeling, its mass media, its Americanism, its entertainment and culture industry, its advanced system of distraction." [23]
The political dimension is also clear in Heidegger's disdain for the public sphere. Like his fellow Nazi Carl Schmitt, Heidegger took politics as a matter of sorting out friends and enemies, not of compromise and discussion. Government by public opinion was a prescription for the reign of chatter. In contrast to Ogden and Richards, Lippmann , and Dewey, Heidegger found the question of how to provide accurate information to the citizenry all but irrelevant. he wasted no love on the democratic public. His notion of communication was neither semantic (meanings exchanged) nor pragmatic (actions coordinated) but world disclosing (otherness opened).[24] Communication as the revelation of being to itself through language resounds variously through those influenced by Heidegger―Sartre, Levinas, Arendt, Marcuse, Leo Strauss, Derrida, Foucault, and many more. Some took his vision as an agonistics impossible dialogue, others as a mode of authentic encounter, but no one in the Heideggerian inheritance has any time for communication as information exchange.
John Dewey, also writing in 1927, was equally concerned with distraction: "No one knows how much of the frothy excitement of life, of mania of motion, of fretful discontent, of need for artificial stimulation, is the expression of frantic search for something to fill the void caused by the loosening of bonds which hold persons together in immediate community of experience." Dewey's historical account of such froth is more precise than Heidegger's: the conquest of scale through technology and industry and the subsequent disappearance of the face-to-face community. Like Heidegger, Dewey eschewed a semantic view of language as intermental plumbing, carrying "thought as a pipe carries water." The mediation of thought by language was not dangerous, but fruitful and necessary. He viewed as folly the attempt to create a consensus in idem between isolated individuals, in either a spiritulist or a scientific guise. In his educational ambition, however, he was more like Ogden and Richards than Heidegger: he aimed for the reinvigoration of communication on a large scale to correct for the loss of "immediate community of experience." [25] Dewey's conception of communication as pragmatic making-do in community life represents a final strand for analysis.
Like the other pragmatists, and like Hegel, Dewey regarded the univrse as more than matter and mind: it was also the worlds that open up between people. What Hegel called Geist, Peirce called "thirdness," and Royce called "the world of interpretation"," Dewey called "experience"; in his very old age he proposed the term "culture" instead. For Dewey, communication went on in the publicc world of experience interwoven through shared signs and practices; it could not reduced to reference to objects without of psychic states within. To be sure, he thought the discovery of individual private experience "great and liberating," but it was also misleading if it painted communication as the junction of two sovereign egos. With Heidegger he viewed language as the precondition of thought: "Soliloquy is the product and reflex of converse with others; social communication not an effect of soliloquy." [26] Thus solipsism would be the luxury of already socialized individuals who had forgotten their histories. 
Each of these five views is also anticipated in earlier doctrines. Communication as propaganda was famously captured in the quip of Juvenal, the Roman satirist, that it takes nothing more than panem et circenses to satisfy the passes―bread and circuses.[29] The dream of mental conjunction via semantic agreement was traced by John Locke and mysticism. The breakdown of communication was explored by Kierkegaard and Emerson, and Hegel saw communication as the staking of an existential claim to recognition of action appears in the British empiricists and its central theme in pragmatism before Dewey's Experience and Nature.[30] The 1920s serve as a window for both what has come since and what went before.
Today the most influential thinkers about communication are probably Jürgen Habermas and Emmanuel Levinas. Certainly each has much of originality. But their lineages are clear enough. Habermas, like Dewey (though it is mead he more frequently invokes), takes communication as a mode of action that not only implicates a morally autonomous self but is also a process that, if generalized, entails the creation of a democratic community. Habermas is emphatic that communication is not the sharing of consciousness but rather the coordination of action oriented to deliberation about justice. The term has for him an undeniable normative tint.[31] Levinas, in turn, builds  on the phenomenological inheritance of Husserl and Heidegger to understand communication not as fusion, information exchange, or conjoint activity but as a caress. 
The task today, I will argue, is to renounce the dream of communication while retaining the goods it invokes. To say that communication in the sense of shared minds is impossible is not to say that awe cannot cooperate splendidly. (This was precisely Dewey's point). On the other hand, to point to the pervasiveness of pragmatic coordination is also not to say that no abysses loom in the self and the other. (This was precisely Heidegger's point). Habermas, to my taste, underplay the strangeness of language; his French foes such as Derrida (himself importantly influenced by Levinas) underplay its instrumentality. Each of the Dewey-Habermas and Heidegger-Levinas-Derrida lineages grasps important truths about communication that are inaccessible to the propagandists, semanticists, and solipsists in our midst, but neither has quite the full palette of colors. The one position hast too much gravity while the other floats in a zero-gravity chamber. Habermas's sobriety misses what Charles Sanders Peirce called the play of musement; Derrida's revelry misses the ordinariness of talk.
The tak is to find an account of communication that erases neither the curious fact of othern at its core nor the possibility of doing things with words. Language is resistant to our itnent and often, in Heidegger's phrase, speaks us; but it is also the most reliable means of persuasion we know. Though language is a dark vessel that does not quite carry with I, as a speaking self, might think it does, it still manages to coordinate action more often than not. This middle position is represented in recent debates by Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer, but I also want to identify it with a pragmatism open to both the uncanny and the practical. Pragmatism, in its Emersonian lineage, remembers both the wildness of the signs and tokes around us and the massively practical fact that we must finds ways to get on with business. Dewey and Habermas know the latter but generally forget the former, an oblivion that stains their vision of democracy through dialogue." 

[21] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (1972; Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1962), 162.
[22] Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 126.
[23] Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. Michael Eldred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 199.
[24] Stephen K. White, Political Theory and Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
[25] John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (New York: Henry Holt, 1927), 214; Dewey, Experience and Nature, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (1925; Caarbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), 134.
[26] Dewey, Experience and Nature, 136, 135.
[30] For an empiricist forerunner, See George Berkeley, The Principles of Human Knowledge (17210), section 20: "Besides, the communicating of ideas marked by words is not the chief and only end of language, as is commonly supposed. There are other ends, such as raising of some passion, the exciting to or deterring from an action, the putting the mind in some particular disposition."
[31] See especially Jürgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy, 2, vols. (1981; Boston: Beacon Press, 1987).
(pp. 16-22)

2 History of an Error: The Spiritualist Tradition
Christian Sources

Dialogue and Eros in the Phaedrus

[...] In the Phaedrus the question is not about media, but about love; not techniques but mutuality. The dialogue's sensitivity to the wrinkles in new forms of inscription grows from an appreciation of the potential for distance and gaps between people, even in the supposedly immediate situation of face-to-face interaction. The dialogue contrasts modes of distribution (of words, of seeds, of love) that are specifically addressed and reciprocal in form to those that are indifferent to the receiver's person and one-way in form. Socrates' critique of writing is part of a larger deliberation on the varying tightness of the coupling between person and person, soul and soul, body and body. For Socrates the issue is not just the matching of minds, but the coupling of desires. Eros, not transmission, would be the chief principle of communication. In this the Phaedrus is far richer than the long spritualizing trend in the intellectual history of communication theory―the dream of angel-like contact between sols at any distance―a trend that Plato, to be sure, indirectly contributs to.
The dialogue sketches both the dream of direct communication from soul to soul and the nightmare of its breakdown when transposed into new media forms. Both in its dramatic form and in its famous conclusion, the Phaedrusunites the hope of soul-to-soul contact with worries about its distortion. Facing the new medium of writing, Plato was haunted by multiplication, a term that ought to be taken in its double sense of simple copying and sexual reproduction [6]. Whereas oral speech almost invariably occurs as a singular event shared uniquely by the parties privy to the discussion, writing allows all maner of strange couplings: the distant influence the near, the dead speak to the living, and the many read what was intended for the few. Socrates' interpretation of the cultural and humanficance of the new medium of writing is erned by worries about erotic perversion; writing disembodies thought, thus forging ghstly sorts of amatory and intellectual linkage. His sense that new media affect not only the channels of information exchange but the very embodiment of the human foreshadows similar anxieties in the nineteenth century, when the concept of  "communication" first took its current shape. (p. 37)
All the themes are announced in the opening scene. Phaedrus, an eloquence junkie and impressario of the great speakers of the dayit is Phaedrus who gets the speechmaking rolling and serves as toastmaster general in the Symposiumhappens upon Socrates outside the walls of Athens. [12] The pastoral setting of the dialogue―with its brooks, plane trees, cicadas, and grass―is described in unusual detail for Plato and is an unusual setting for Socrates, clearly a man of the city (cf.  230d); this is a place of abduction and inspiration, a place to have one's soul swept away by words or love. (pp. 38-39)
The dialogue again presents a double drama in which performance and content coincide: the setting of Phaedrus's reading to Socrates involves an erotic relation as lopsided as that proposed by Lysias. Phaedrus, as it happens, is the intended of Lysias. More specifically, reading for the ancient Greeks was often figured as the sexual relation between penetrator und penetrated. Since reading was almost always vocal, to write was to exert control over the voice and body of the eventual reader, even across distances in time and space.[16] To read―which meant to read aloud―was to relinquish control of one's body to the (masculine) writer, to yield to a distant dominating body. To write was to act as an erastēs; to read, as an eromenos. The writer was commonly understood to be dominating and active and the reader passive and defeated.[17] In the opening scene of the dialogue, tghen, an absent author, Lysias, exerts remote control over a reader's body and voice, and in the process his words come to unintended ears, those of Socrates. Writing allows distortions of address: words meant for two ears only are overheard by others. To record is to relinquish control over the confidentiality and personal destination of the message. Phaedrus's reading of words from his suitor that momentarily take possession of his physical being mirrors Lysias's argument that an asymmetrical relationship between a rational controller and a submissive beloved is best. Lysias wants to love Phaedrus in the way a book loves its readers: openly, without regard to particularities, and for the use of the reader. (pp. 40-41)
Socrates treats interpersonal communication as not only a happy mode of message exchange but, at its finest, the mutual salvation of souls in each other's love beneath the blessings of heaven. this is the legacy, filtered through Christian, courtly, and romantic notions of love, against which "communication" has been measured ever since. It is an ideal both glorious and severe. (p. 46)
[...] Socrates' views on speachmaking, then, parallel his views on love. Just as it is wrong to yield indiscriminately, it is wrong to speak words to those not suited for them. The soud of the speaker and of the hearer need to be closely knitted. Loose coupling between soul and soul, body and body, is the problem in each case. Indiscriminate dissemination is bad; intimate dialogue or prudent rhetoric that matches message and receiver is good. Speeches not appropriate to audiences can bring dangerous harvests. For Socrates the specificity with which expression fits recipient is the criterion of goodness in communication. "Spurious rhetoric turns out to be the phantom image of justice; genuine rhetoric is the science of eros." [26] Bad rhetoric is a parody of justice because it is blind, like justice, to the individualities of the listeners; good rhetoric is erotic because f its care for their particular souls. Rhetoric concerns the many, eros the one, but in their true forms for Socrates, both involve a reciprocal coupling of speaker and hearer, a closed communication circuit. [27] Socrates thus conceives mass communication as aa kind of dialogue wr large; no stray messages, furtive listeners, or unintended effects are allowed." (p. 46)
In sum, though reciprocity is a moral ideal, it is an insufficient one. The Christian doctrine of communication is a doctrine of broadcasting, of single turns, expended without the expectation the one good turn deserves." 

[6] Plato's Seventh Letter gives evidence specificalla of Plato's interest in writing as a cultural form.
[12] The characterization of Phaedrus as an "impressario" is found in Ferrary, Listening to the Cicadas, 5-9
[17] Svenbro, Phrasikleia,  213.
[26]  Seth Benardete, The Rhetoric of Morality and Philosophy: Plato's "Gorgias" and "Phaedrus" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 2.
[27] As Aristotle says, Rhetoric, 1356b, the art of rhetoric conerns itself with types, not individuals.

(p. 61)


Chicago 2015


Chapter 1 Understanding Media
Chapter 2 Of Cetaceans and Ships; or, The Moorings of Our Being
Chapter 3 The Fire Sermon
Chapter 4 Lights in the Firmament: Sky Media (Chronos)
Chapter 5 The Times and the Seasons (Kairos)
Chapter 6 The Face and the Book (Inscription Media)
Chapter 7 God and Google

Conclusion: The Sabbath of Meaning
Appendix: Nonsimulteanity in Cetacean Communication

Chapter 7: God and Google

Ontology is Bent

Google came of age when the cosmos was being charted in a new way. In common images the Internet looks like the Big Bang, a nebula, or a brain. Recent cosmology, like Google is a totality project, and both show that the royal road to knowledge of the universe is reading its structure as a recording and transmitting medium. To know the universe is also to know our time and place in it.
The cosmos is subject to Seinsgeschichte as much as anything else, and the sky requires shiplike media in order to be accessible. The telescope placed earth in a system unimaginably vaster that the reigning geocentric vision. The closed universe gave way to seemingly endless space, frightening Pascal, among others. [...] 

What does this convergence of seeing old and seeing far mean? That distance in space is distance in time was central to the work of the man for which this telescope is named, Edwin Hubble. Hubble's Law, formulated in the 1920s, states that the farther away a celestial body is, the faster it is moving and the older it is. The farther we see into space, the earlier we look into time. The light we see from distant galaxies is old to us, but young in its date of transmission. A supernova witnessed recently may have occurred billions of years ago. It is tempting to think that if we could see far enough we would look back to the beginning of everything, but light came on the scene hundreds of millions of years after the beginning, and the observable universe is limited by the cosmological horizon, the point at which we can no longer retrieve information. Astronomy is not, as Auguste Comte thought because only observation and no experimental manipulation was possible, the purest science next to mathematics; it is, like geology, a historical science. The universe is its own fossil record. An enormous universe has taught us that all transmissions come out of the past. Telescopes are machines of time travel as of space travel; we could call them paleoscopes.

Both geology and astronomy face the problem of belated reception, of interpreting messages that come posthumously. The content of both sciences is inseparable from signal and channel properties. "We cannot magnify the object without magnifying the medium," said Herschel in 1800.[103]. One could not better state the point where media theory and the philosophy of science converge: the indiscernibility of medium and object. The very fact that we possess evidence of distant bodies at at all is the problem to be solved. What events have shaped and distorted optical, radio, and other signals as traveling for billions of years? It takes a lot of interplanetary funksmanship to get them right. Disturbances in transmission are key data for the history of the universe. The older the light, the longer its journey. Since the universe is expanding, light that travels the arthest risks the most extreme disturbance. The universe continues to hurl itself apart at appalling speeds, such that the sourced of old light have moved even farther away during the time their light has been traveling toward us. According to the Doppler effect, waves from receding objects stretch, and waves from approaching objects shrink. Light from distant cosmic sources shifts into longer, red and infrared, wavelengths because the distance between those sources and us is expanding, since every part of the universe is still rocked by the explosion of the Big Bang. [...]

That the medium is the message in astronomy is clear in the genesis of Einstein's special theory of relativity, as fascinatingly recounted by Peter Galison. the theory of relativity has specific technical and historical conditions: a "media apriori," as Kittler would put it.[...] 

Einstein's great discovery was, as he put it in a 1905 note to a friend, that "there is an inseparable relation between time and signal velocity." [106} [...] For Einstein, gravitation is not an action at distance, but a warping of the time-space field; information from a massive object's movement can travel no faster than the speed of light, which explains his later resistance to the "spukhafte Fernwirkungen (spooky actions at a distance) of entanglement. 
Relativity, in other words, is a theory of communication - more specifically, a theory of the universe's difficulty of communication with itself. There is no cosmic telegraph to synchronize clocks at distant points. Einstein's universe, curiously enough, looks more like the old order of clock time before railroad time, where every town had its own local time (noon set by the point of the shortest shadow, when it points due north), than like the Newtonian regime of Greenwich Mean Time, where the whole planet is centrally coordinated in a single greed. (Einstein's theory was a pacifist's revenge against the standard tiem pushed by the German military that he hated.) There is no single "now" that pervades the universe. Every now has a radius of dissiplation, a broadcast "footpring" like a satellite. "Now" only stretches as far as our signals carry: a finding that perhaps the dophins and humpbacks got the first. [...]

Is our partiality as observers bad news? I don't think so. As David Deutsch suggests, astrophysics needs a theory of people, an account of those who are knowing the stars. [108] The universe looks just as it would look to beings that could have evolved with the ability to look at it. The fact that I even exist to see the sky coincides in some way with the history of the universe. Position in time and space and insight are inseparable. The "anthropic principle" suggests that only a certain kind of universe could support us as knowers, and could do so only at a certain point in its history. [...] Our receptivity to transmissions from deep space and deep time owes to our position in space and time. Medium and message are inseparable. As Emerson might have said:

My experience is democracy
Of everything that is. Ta tvan asi.

[103] William Herschel, "On the Power of Penetrating into Space by Telescopes," Collected Scientific Papers (1800: London: Royal Society, 1912), 2-31-52, at 49.
[106] Quoted in Galison, "Einstein's Clocks," 375
[108] The Beginning of Infinity (New York: Viking, 2011), 70.

(p. 362-369)


Pantheon Books 2011


The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood is a book by science history writer James Gleick published in March 2011 which covers the genesis of our current information age. It was on the New York Times best-seller listfor three weeks following its debutt


Gleick begins with the tale of colonial European explorers and their fascination with African talking drums and their observed use to send complex and widely understood messages back and forth between villages far apart, and over even longer distances by relay. Gleick transitions from the information implications of such drum signaling to the impact of the arrival of long distance telegraph and then telephone communication to the commercial and social prospects of the industrial age west. Research to improve these technologies ultimately led to our understanding the essentially digital nature of information, quantized down to the unit of the bit (or qubit).

Starting with the development of symbolic written language (and the eventual perceived need for a dictionary), Gleick examines the history of intellectual insights central to information theory, detailing the key figures responsible such as Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and John Archibald Wheeler. The author also delves into how digital information is now being understood in relation to physics and genetics. Following the circulation of Claude Shannon's A Mathematical Theory of Communication and Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics many disciplines attempted to jump on the information theory bandwagon to varying success. Information theory concepts of data compression and error correction became especially important to the computer and electronics industries.

Gleick finally discusses Wikipedia as an emerging internet based Library of Babel, investigating the implications of its expansive user generated content, including the ongoing struggle between inclusionists, deletionists, and vandals. Gleick uses the Jimmy Wales created article for the Cape Town butchery restaurant Mzoli's as a case study of this struggle. The flood of information humanity is now exposed to presents new challenges Gleick says, as we retain more of our information now than at any previous point in human history, it takes much more effort to delete or remove unwanted information than to accumulate it. This is the ultimate entropy cost of generating additional information and the answer to slay Maxwell's Demon.


In addition to winning major awards for science writing and history, The Information received mostly positive reviews. In The New York Times, Janet Maslin said it is "so ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it." Other admirers were Nicholas Carr for The Daily Beast and physicist Freeman Dyson for The New York Review of Books. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow in his BoingBoing review called Gleick "one of the great science writers of all time", "Not a biographer of scientists... but a biographer of the idea itself." Tim Wu for Slate praised "a mind-bending explanation of theory" but wished Gleick had examined the economic importance of information more deeply. Ian Pindar writing for The Guardian complained that The Information does not fully address the relationship between social control of information (censorship, propaganda) and access to political power.


This paper was presented at the symposium: "Hierarchies of Communication. An inter-institutional and international symposium on aspects of communication on different scales and levels"  organized by Center for Art and Media (ZKM) Karlsruhe, Germany and Future University - Hakodate (FUN), Hakodate, Japan, July 4-6, 2003. Organizers: Hans H. Diebner (ZKM) and Lehan Ramsay (FUN).(PowerPoint). It was published in: Hans H. Diebner, Lehan Ramsay (Eds.): Hierarchies of Communication. An inter-institutional and international symposium on aspects of communication on different scales and levels. ZKM - Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany July 4-6, 2003. Karlsruhe: Verlag ZKM (2003), 58-71.


The Greek word angelia means message. We use the word angel with regard to a divine messenger. There is an old theological tradition dealing with the study of such messengers, namely angelology. Angeletics is different from angelology as it is concerned with the study of natural and particularly of human messages and messengers. This does not mean that the analysis of the religious phenomenon is irrelevant (Serres 1993). Quite the contrary, it is a contribution to the study of production, distribution, interpretation, storage, and control of messages and messengers in pre-modern societies. Angeletics in a narrow sense belongs to the Humanities and Social Sciences and is closely related to rhetoric (McElholm 2001; Capurro 1992). In a wider sense it deals with the study of messages as a natural phenomenon.  

In the first part of this paper I will briefly refer to angeletics as an interdisciplinary theory (Capurro 2003). The second part deals with some questions concerning the difference between messages at the organic and the human level. Some insights are based on the online discussions at the "Electronic Conference on the Foundations of Information Science" (FIS 2002). The concepts of message and information are closely related (Capurro/Hjørland 2003). 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 gives prima facie rise to an analogy between human communication and the question of message transmission at the sub-human level. I will argue 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 of a complex, non-reductive view of the manifold hierarchies of communication.   

I. Angeletics as an Interdisciplinary Theory

Claude Shannon's theory of communication (Shannon 1948) is not a theory about information transmission but about message transmission. Shannon uses the term 'message' instead of 'information' in its usual meaning as 'knowledge communicated'. The concept of information within this theory refers to the number of binary choices in order to create or codify – a message. In reality – as it was conceived an applied – the theory is about signal transmission and the ways in which to make it more reliable. Shannon correlates information and uncertainty, as opposed to the everyday meaning of information. The semantic and pragmatic aspects are excluded from this engineering perspective of communication. Warren Weaver found Shannon's definition of information as counterintuitive (Shannon/Weaver 1972). But Shannon had indeed substituted the everyday meaning by using the word message. 

Message and information are related but not identical concepts: 

  • a message is sender-dependent, i.e. it is based on a heteronomic or asymmetric structure. This is not the case of information: we receive a message, but we ask for information,
  • a message is supposed to bring something new and/or relevant to the receiver. This is also the case of information,
  • a message can be coded and transmitted through different media or messengers. This is also the case of information,
  • a message is an utterance that gives rise to the receiver's selection through a release mechanism or interpretation. 
Following Luhmann we make a difference between message ("Mitteilung") i.e., the action of offering something (potentially) meaningful to a social system ("Sinnangebot"), information ("Information") i.e. the process of selecting meaning from different possibilities offered by a message, and understanding ("Verstehen") i.e., the integration of the selected meaning within the system, as the three dimensions of communication within social systems (Luhmann 1987: 196). 

Messages can be of imperative, indicative or optional nature. A human sender, an individual or a group, may believe to have a message for everybody and for all times and vice versa, someone may think everything is a message to him/her. Between these two poles there are several possible hierarchies. In order to select or interpret a message the receiver must have some kind of common pre-understanding with the sender of the message, for instance a similar form or (linguistic) code. 

What kind of specific criteria can be postulated by a message theory concerning the way a sender, a medium and a receiver of messages should act in order to be successful under finite conditions? By finite conditions I mean that neither the sender, nor the messenger, nor the receiver have any kind of certainty that their actions will fit the ideal situation in which: 

  • a sender addresses a receiver, sending him/her a message that is new and relevant for him/her, i.e., he/she follows the principle of respect,
  • a messenger brings the message undistorted to the receiver, i.e., he/she follows the principle of faithfulness,
  • a receiver reserves judgement, based on a process of interpretation, about whether that the message is true or not, i.e., he/she follows the principle of reservation.
Messages can be studied according to their form, content, goal, producers, and recipients. In his theory of communication or "communicology" Vilem Flusser makes a basic distinction concerning two goals of communication: 
  • the dialogical goal, aiming at the creation of new information,
  • the discursive goal, aiming at the distribution of information (Flusser 1996).
According to Flusser the age of mass media with their hierarchical one-to-many structure of information distributors  we could call this the CNN-principle would finally dominate all forms of information creation. In other words, the possibility for a receiver to become a sender of messages within a dialogical system remains a subordinate option. Since the rise of the Internet things started to change, at least concerning the easier and cheaper possibility for many receivers to become senders, including such hierarchical distribution options as one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many and many-to-one. There is an ongoing debate on the future structure of the Internet. The pressure of established information oligopoles(= concentration of power in few hands) will not vanish although it may decrease. At the same time new forms of domination and exclusion arise (ICIE 2004). 

Digital messages have a deep impact on cultural, political, and economic activities leading to what can be called a message society. In other words, angeletics or the study of messages plays a paradigmatic role in 21st century science and society. The social issues concern different aspects such as origin, purpose, and content of messages, power structures, techniques and means of diffusion, history of messages and messengers, coding and interpreting messages, as well as psychological, political, economic, aesthetic, ethical and religious aspects. A scientific cosmos that can be explored only through a patient and long-term interdisciplinary effort. 

The question, 'what is a message?' opens a new perspective not only with regard to media studies but also to the study of signs and their interpretation. Angeletics is a research field at the crossroad of media studies, semiotics, and hermeneutics. Each interpretation presupposes a process of message transmission. Hermes is the messenger of the gods, not just an interpreter of these messages. The message-bearing nature of communication is what angeletics aims to analyse. But any process of message transmission presupposes indeed a hermeneutic situation in which sender and receiver have some common basis of understanding. In other words, angeletics operates with the sender/receiver difference based on the belief that understanding or, more generally, that a selection process between two systems is possible. Hermeneutics operates with the difference between pre-understanding and interpretation based on the belief that what is object of the process of interpretation has been successfully transmitted, i.e., offered to the receiver as an object of selection. Semiotics is concerned with the whole process by which a sign, what it intends to signify and what the interpreter is supposed to select are viewed as a dynamic, self-organising structure. 

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 multiply: “This is the very disangelium of current times” (Sloterdijk 1997). Nietzsche's word Disangelium (Nietzsche 1999, 211) in contrast to evangelium, points in this case to the empty nature of the messages disseminated by the mass media, culminating in Marshall McLuhan's dictum: "The medium is the message." The question now is to what extent the internet creates a new angeletic space producing new synergies of messages and messengers without the hierarchical one-to-many structure of mass media, i.e. giving the receiver the opportunity to become a sender. Information ethics deals with these new forms of human communication in a world where the classic local parameters for the creation and distribution of messages are more and more dependent on the global digital network  and vice versa (Capurro 2003).  


II. Angeletics at the Crossroad of Hermeneutics and Biology

How do we distinguish messages at the human level from messages, say, at the DNA-level? I call the view of natural processes as angeletic processes the postal paradigm. Taking into consideration the original twofold meaning of the term 'information' as 'moulding matter' and as 'knowledge communicated'  we can say that a cell or, more generally, a living system, is in-formed on the basis of message selection in order to satisfy its constraints. The physicist Carl-Friedrich von Weiszäcker remarks that the modern concept of information is a new way of asking for what Plato and Aristotle called idea or morphe (Weizsäcker 1974). But what is the main difference between Plato's concept of participation (methexis) as in-formation and today's view of communication? Answer: the inversion of the relation between time and form. According to today's evolutionary perspective forms evolve within the horizon of time not the other way round. What does it mean for angeletic processes to be in time? 

The biologist Koichiro Matsuno puts it this way creating implicitly a hierarchy between human and non-human communication: 

"Folks, Ted's crisp summary reminds me once again of one recurring theme surrounding the sturdy issue on the difference between dynamics in time and dynamics of time. Recently, I had an opportunity to spend some time with a young fellow just 1 year and 2 months old both in the morning and in the evening for about a month. Of course, she does not speak, but is very sharp in pointing to what she would like to do. She likes to eat pear much more than apple. She never fails in pointing to a piece of peeled pear when both pear and apple are on the plate. When her mouth is full of juicy pear, she does not care even if I have eaten up all pieces of peeled pear on the plate. But, she got angry to find no pear to take when she was ready for another piece. This incidence has again waken[ed] me up to the simple fact that dynamics of time is more basic empirically. Even if one does not have a clear perception of what time looks like, experiencing time-phenomena or dynamics of time can  proceed as facing no obstacles. A difficult problem, however, arises to those who can speak. Those who take framing whatever statements in present tense for granted has to have some preconception of time as a criterion of what present tense is all about. One popular vehicle for this objective is space-time continuum. Theoretically, it may be okay. Empirically, it is not. My young fellow has been quite sensitive to the discontinuity between the movement in progress (pear in her mouth) and the movement perfected (ready for another piece) without being bothered by the global context referred to in the present tense (somebody eats up all the pieces on the plate)." (Koichiro Matsuno, FIS 2002, 17.01.03)
When we observe dynamics in time, i.e. from the point of view of a neutral or objective observer, we do it methodologically in the same way in the case when, say, a DNA-messenger intends to in-form a cell or when we observe how this young fellow eats pears. Such an observation concerns, as Koichiro remarks, what is going on within the objective framework of a "space-time continuum". It is a view from nowhere. There is a leap if we switch to the internal perspective, the view from "now-here". Of course neither the young fellow nor the cell have a "preconception of time as a criterion of what present tense is all about". As far as we are using an objective methodology we neither understand the internal perspective nor can we understand how far the internal perspective of our young fellow is different from the one of a cell. Of course, when we take the internal or hermeneutic perspective in order to see these differences from the inner perspective we are indeed also taking a distance from life itself. This tension between life and our explicit explanations or interpretations, is inherent to both methodologies. What I am developing right now is a second order hermeneutics. 

What happens if we, as Koichiro does, interpret this process of our young fellow in an effort to reconstruct what is going on during the present progressive tense i.e. within the framework of a specific situation? Answer: We see an implicit process in which something is being grasped AS different from something else  pear instead of apple  and we see that there is a choice between several possibilities. This is a very accurate example of Martin Heidegger's (1889-1976) existential hermeneutics, who follows the paths opened by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). The young fellow has a key hermeneutic or practical capability, namely the one of being able to choose between several possibilities without an explicit linguistic reflection about what she is de facto doing. This is exactly the structure described by Heidegger in his seminal work "Being and Time" (Heidegger 1987). He stresses that before we start with a theoretical and objective interpretation of human knowledge, human existence is characterised by the fact of being already practically concerned with specific situations within a horizon of choices. Heidegger argues in favour of a pragmatic turn in epistemology and against cognitivism. Our choices rest upon a pragmatic pre-understanding of our existential needs such as the need of eating and the choice of eating something more pleasant than apple. 

Understanding means originally this very fact of being able to answer to possibilities or, as we could also say, to messages. In other words, the capability of being addressed by something gives us the opportunity to produce and not just to reproduce life creating a specific network  Heidegger calls this network "world" , according to our needs (Jung 2002). Our young fellow is not just eating a piece of pear but has made her choices considering pear much better than apple. She is in the process of pragmatic understanding i.e. not in the position of a neutral observer but in the condition of constructing her life. Of course, she will be (later on) able of an explicit (linguistic) interpretation of such a pragmatic understanding, as we are doing it right now. Heidegger postulates the primacy of hermeneutic or pragmatic understanding over theoretical interpretation. Our young fellow does not need words, as Koichiro remarks, in order to understand. But why does such explicit interpretation arise at all? Answer: Because we many times deal with situations of breakdown in which our expectations are not fulfilled or something goes wrong. In our case: our young fellow got angry as she saw no pear  or even apple. This is a strong feeling that gives rise to utterances and (later on) questions about why this is the case. In other words, there is a change-over from the know-how  into the know-that perspective: 

(1) situation -> pre-understanding (need) -> choice ->  
-> situation ->... 
Or, in a more general way and modifying the stimulus/response scheme: 
(2) message  -> release mechanism -> response -> 
-> message -> ... 
(3) know-how -> breakdown -> interpretation -> know-that -> 
-> know-how -> ... 
When needs and release mechanisms are more or less fixed as in the case of non-human organisms  with a great variety of possibilities concerning this 'more or less'  we deal with different kinds of responses to messages on the basis of, for instance, the genetic code aiming at the literal construction of form or at the in-formation of an organism. Weizsäcker calls this process of form generation "objectivised semantics" (Weizsäcker 1974). 

There is another difference between the pre-spoken experience of this young fellow and the one of a cell as she can refer to what is not there. In order to do this she must have an implicit pre-understanding of time that allows her to make a pre-verbal difference between what she sees and what she wants and what she does not see. In other words, our young fellow must be able to make a difference not just between beings but also between being and not being. We, as hermeneutic observers, may be able to understand not only the information processes as selective ones but also to make explicit the basic difference allowing our young fellow to refer to what is not there and to analyse the implicit ontology.  We may consider that for our young fellow the difference between things that can be eaten and things that cannot is also a very basic one. We may infer that what cannot be eaten is of less importance and has therefore a less degree of being. In a more fundamental sense it seems as if the meaning of 'to be' is being grasped as the difference between 'to be there' and 'not to be there'. But in some way 'not to be there' is for our young fellow also a way of being, otherwise she would not be able to relate to things that have only the possibility of being there. 

With such pre-understanding she is probably not far from Aristotelian ontology! What we do, when we try to interpret hermeneutically this pre-verbal situation is thus not just an objective description of dynamics in time but an interpretation of what we suppose to be the case within a dynamics of time which is indeed also our own. To take such an explicit interpretative position means thus becoming involved in the process itself. Implicit and explicit interpretations, to choose between several meaningful messages and to be able to reflect on this process, is the very essence of our own being. We may even start thinking about being itself as a message and on the different possibilities to interpret it. We then become philosophers! 

Koichiro is perfectly right when he points that in a pre-verbal situation the global context of the present tense, i.e., the viewpoint from 'nowhere' is irrelevant and that there is no bridge  just a leap  between dynamics in time and dynamics of time. Also the hermeneutic path of interpretation is not a bridge in the sense that we may be able to switch into another subjectivity. This would presuppose not only a kind of magic identification but would lead into another paradox. In order to understand this fusion we should be able to interpret it once again, creating another fusion and so forth. We may conclude that this tension is specific, as far as we know, to human life and human knowledge. But we may say that understanding creates links between networks of interpretation. 

Heidegger's formula "being-in-the-world" means to be pragmatically embedded in a network of relations and being able to answer to the messages things offer to us within specific situations and according to our specific needs. Heidegger calls this way of being "world forming" ("weltbildend") in contrast to the world of non-human living beings as "world-poor" ("weltarm"), and to non-living beings as "worldless" ("weltlos") (Heidegger 1983, Capurro 2002). This means that we can only make hermeneutic interpretations ex negativo about, say, the present progressive tense situation of a cell. But, on the other hand, "world-poor" does not mean, as Heidegger remarks, 

"that life ("Leben") with regard to human existence ("Dasein") is of poorer quality or a lower level. Rather is life a field with an own richness of openness that probably the human world does not know about." (Heidegger 1983, 371-372)
Heidegger describes this peculiar openness of animal life as a drive ("Trieb") to lose its inhibition remaining basically in a dazed state ("Benommenheit"). In other words, animals and, more generally, organisms are primarily characterised neither by a multiplicity of parts or organs (Greek organon = instrument) nor of isolated drives, but by the unity of a "ring-like" structure. "World-poor" means that  organisms do have an openness or a horizon of choices but that this openness is not of the kind of human world-openness. Poor means this 'not having' a world on the basis of having their own kind of dazed ring-like openness. On this premises we can say that the meaning of a message for a living organism and, consequently, for human beings, is basically dependent of the range of choices as well as on the release mechanisms. 

The biologist Jerry Chandler remarks: 

"The process of organic communication in natural systems admits multiple dynamics to form (biological plasticity or adaptability or flexibility). One type of dynamic can be called "error" if one has created a norm that admits a variance from that norm. Thus, organic communication can admit error in the process of  generating a message, in the process of transmitting the message or  in the process of responding to the message. (...) The natural history of living systems created an efficient form of message transmission. The generating function is one set of organic components. The transmitted message is another organic component. The response generating function is still another set of organic components. All of these functional components collaborate (work together in a thermodynamic sense). The system functions locally. This internal collaboration negates the need for a separate system to generate errors. (From a cynical perspective, one could say modern management methods are foreign to biological design)." (Jerry LR Chandler, FIS 2002, contribution from 6.07.02)
Life proceeds symptomatically on an in-formational and on an angeletical basis. It transforms given forms following rules or by making a difference through abduction. A cell constructs itself through angeletic processes that may make possible for an information or, sit venia verbo, for a form-as-message to inform it in both original senses of the word, namely the ontological (moulding matter) and the epistemological (moulding of the mind) ones. In other words, message phenomena at the biological level are processes of form production (Andrade 2002).  


These few remarks on the concept of message in the social and natural sciences make us aware about the possible road ahead towards an interdisciplinary message theory that takes seriously the hierarchical differences and similarities of communication at different levels. The basic questions of such a theory are not new, at least since the rise of cybernetics and system theory. But the main stream discussions so far have dealt mainly with the concept of information and they were often biased by the computer analogy and the digital paradigm (Capurro 2003). If we take the concept of message as a second-order category we may be able to avoid reductionism and to look for the complexity of the message phenomenon. 

The key question is to know, why, when and how some form-as-messages are accepted or denied by a receiver and how the receiver mutates into a sender. The metaphor of the hermeneutic circle is indeed, as Wolfgang Stegmüller with regard to the development of scientific theories in the sciences and the humanities once remarked, an expression that embraces "a whole conceptual family of problems" (Stegmüller 1979, 82). If all our observations are theory-laden this is not less the case with regard to all our actions, and not only of our actions. This hermeneutic insight seems to be also the core question when we try to understand the hierarchies of communication at the human and the non-human level from an endo-perspective (Diebner 2003). 

The postal paradigm conveyed by a message theory or 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 of the fact that the phenomenon of communication implies at least a sender, a receiver, a medium and  a message. If "the medium is the message" (McLuhan), what is a message? 



Thanks to Thomas J. Froehlich (Kent State University, USA) and Hans H. Diebner (ZKM) for critical reading of this paper.  


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FIS (2002): Electronic Conference on Foundations of Information Science 
Flusser, V. (1996): Kommunikologie. Mannheim.

Heidegger, M. (1987): Being and Time. Oxford (Transl. by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson)
- (1983): Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt - Endlichkeit - Einsamkeit. Frankfurt a. M. 1983 (GA 29/30).

ICIE (2004): International Center for Information Ethics, International Congress: Localizing the Internet. Ethical Issues in Intercultural Perspective

Jung, M. (2002): Hermeneutik zur Einführung. Hamburg.

Luhmann, N. (1987): Soziale Systeme. Frankfurt a. Main.

McElholm, d. (2001): Message. In: G. Ueding, Ed.: Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, Tübingen, Vol. 5, pp. 1081-1087.

Nietzsche, F. (1999): Der Antichrist. In: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. By G. Colli and M. Montinari. Munich.

Serres, M. (1993): La légende des anges. Paris.

Shannon, C. (1948): A Mathematical Theory of Communication. In: Bell System Technical Journal, 27, 379-423, 623-656.

Shannon, C., Weaver, W. (1972): The mathematical theory of communication. University of Illinois Press (Original work published in 1949).

Sloterdijk, P. (1997): Kantilenen der Zeit. In: Lettre International, 36, 71-77.

Stegmüller, W. (1979): Rationale Rekonstruktion von Wissenschaft und ihrem Wandel. Stuttgart.
Weizsäcker, C.F. von (1974): Die Einheit der Natur. Munich. 


Published in: Information 2012

Rafael Capurro has defined Angeletics (or messaging theory—John Holgate’s preferred term) as the study of messages and messaging and proposed its paradigmatic role in 21st century science and society. As stated in Messages and Messengers. Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication, edited by Capurro and Holgate, the objective of Angeletics is to further both a philosophical and a hermeneutical understanding of this phenomenon. My paper is directed at key issues outlined in the reference document by several authors that involve the physical grounding and evolution of messaging and information processes. My approach is to apply my recent extension of logic to complex real systems, processes and concepts, including information, messages and their interaction (Logic in Reality, LIR). LIR supports the grounding of Angeletics in reality and emphasizes the congruence between informational issues in science and in philosophy, as in Capurro’s distinction between an “angeletic philosophy” and “philosophic Angeletics”. From this perspective, LIR can act as a framework for the debate about the nature and function of messaging and information theory and their relevance for a more ethical information society.


published in:. Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers - Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication  Munich 2011, 85-112.


published in:. Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers - Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication  Munich 2011, 113-124.


published in:. Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers - Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication  Munich 2011, 147-160.


published in:. Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers - Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication  Munich 2011, 293-302.


Over the past five hundred years Raphael’s painting the School of Athens has been subjected to analysis by a number of interpreters starting with Raphael’s contemporary, the painter Giorgio Vasari, to theologians art historians classics scholars and travellers (Hall 1997, Smolizza 2007). There has scarcely been a consensus about the identity of many of the characters portrayed in the work. In this article I would like to shine a fresh light on the masterpiece by applying the key ideas and philosophical framework of angeletic hermeneutics, a discipline developed by Rafael Capurro since the late 1990’s and formulated in our publication “Messages and Messengers’ in 2012 (Capurro & Holgate 2012). In angeletics there is explanatory power in the dynamic interplay between Code (laws, social rules, accepted doctrines) and Message (individual expression, new idea, personal belief). Within aesthetic experience there is often a creative tension between the social, religious or political interpretation of a work and the artist’s personal vision, his or her ‘message’. It is this code/meaning interplay I wish to explore in the paintings of Raphael, particularly in his School of Athens. This enigmatic painting should be viewed not as a two-dimensional snapshot of famous personages from Renaissance and Antiquity but more like a piece of live theatre where the gestures, postures, costumes and unspoken dialogues need to be carefully understood in the context of Raphael’s world. In his ‘Raphael’s Poetics. Art and Poetry in High Renaissance Rome’ David Rijser (Rijser, 2012) referred to the ‘splendid tricks of illusionism’ by which ‘Raphael has made his groups interact with each other and the viewer in spectacular ways…He makes them come alive, articulates and joins separate groups gently and unobtrusively towards a single whole which is yet made out of diverse, individual parts…The many figures pointing out or reaching over parapets etc. are intended to connect the pictorial space with the real space, not just for fun, but with an essential message: the virtual figures are ‘here’ ‘now’, to be conversed with, to challenge and question.’ Let us now converse with, challenge and question those characters who have beguiled and intrigued us over the past five centuries.


Régis Debray: Cours de médiologie générale
Rafael Capurro: On the Relevance of Angeletics and Hermeneutics for Information Technology
Michel Serres: La légende des anges
Rafael Capurro: Theorie der Botschaft
Jacques Derrida: La dissémination
Jacques Derrida: La carte postale
Michel Foucault: Technologies of the Self
Rafael Capurro: On the Relevance of Angeletics and Hermeneutics for Information Technology
Jean-Luc Nancy: L'Oubli de la philosophie
Rafael Capurro: Operari sequitur esse. Zur existenzial-ontologischen Begründung der Netzethik
Jacques Lacan:: Le séminaire sur "La Lettre volée" Voir: VARIA 2

Paris 1946-54

Paris 1967

Paris 1983


Naissance d'une interdiscipline

I. Approches philosophiques

- Phèdre – Platon
- La sophistique – Barbara Cassin
- De la servitude volontaire – Étienne de la Boétie
- Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire des sciences, des arts et des metiers – D'Alembert
- Émile ou De l'éducation – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
- Esquise d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain – Condorcet
- Encyclopédie des sciences philosophiques – Georg W.F. Hegel
- Toutes choses se tiennent – Chef Seattle
- L'Industrie culturelle – Theodor W. Adorno
- Le Don de Dom Juan ou la Naissance de la comédie –  Michel Serres
- La Démocratie ajournée – Jacques Derrida
- Pour une communication sans concept – Jean-Michel Besnier

II. L'empire des signes (la sémiotique)

- La Séméiotique de Charles S. Peirce–- Davin Savan
- Cours de linguistique générale – Ferdinand de Saussure
- La Prisonnière – Marcel Proust
- Essais de linguistique générale – Roman Jakobson
- Introduction à l'œuvre de Marcel Pauss – Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Au-delà de l'analogie, l'image (présentation) – Christian Metz
- Cette vieille chose, l'art: – Roland Barthes

III. L'action parlée

- De l'orateur – Cicéron
- Trois Discours sur la condition des grands – Blaise Pascal
- L'Homme de cour - Baltasar Gracián
- Investigations philosophiques – Ludwig Wittgenstein
- Quand dire, c'est faire – John L. Austin
- Émile Benveniste et la théorisation – Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchini
- Vers une écologie de l'esprit – Gregory Bateson
- Une logique de la communication – Paul Watzlawick, Janet Helmick Beavin, Don D. Jackson
- Habermas et le champ de la communication – Roger Bautier

IV À quoi rêvent les masses

- La tour de Babel versets 1-9 du livre XI de la Genèse
- Rapport secret sur le mesmérime, ou Magnétisme animal – Jean-Sylvain Bailly
- Les Crimes des foules – Gabriel Tarde
- Psychologie des foules et analyse du moi – Sigmund Freud
- Le Zéro et l'Infini – Arthur Koestler
- Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse – Jacques Lacan
- Mensonge romantique et Vérité romanesque – René Girard
- Influence  – François Roustang
- L'Éfficacité mimétique – Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen
- La Panique – Jean-Pierre Dupuy

V Machinations de la pensée

- Frankenstein ou le Prométhee moderne – Mary Shelley
- Histoire de mes idées philosophiques – Bertrand Russell
- La Bibliothèque de Babel  – Jorge Luis Borges
- Théorie matématique de la communication de Claude Shannon
- Préface – Abraham A. Moles
- Contributions récentes à la théorie mathématique de la communication – Warren Weaver
- Les Ordinateurs et l'intelligence – Alang M.Turing 
- Cybernétique et société  – Norbert Wiener
- L'Ordinateur et le cerveau – John von Neumann
- La Construction de la réalité – Heinz von Foerster
- La Méthode I – Edgar Morin
- L'Énigme de l'Univers et sa solution – Christopher Cherniak
- Gödel Escher Bach – Dougals Hofstadter
- Les Ordinateurs peuvent-ils vraiment être intelligents? – Hubert L. Dreyfus

VI. Ouvertures médiologiques

- Notre-Dame de Paris – Victor Hugo
- La Guerre du faux  – Umberto Eco
- La Raison graphique – Jack Goody
- Les "Vues" de l'esprit. Une introduction à l'anthropologie des sciences et des techniques – Bruno Latour
- Les Technologies de l'intelligence. L'Avenir de la pensée à l'ère informatique –  Pierre Lévy
- Cours de médiologie générale – Régis Debray
- La Societé conquise par la communication – Bernard Miège

VII Médiologie 2: la logique des transmissions

- Rapport à la Chambre des députés – François Arago
- Salon de 1859 – Charles Baudelaire
- Le Temps d'une photo. De la sémiologie de l'image aux images de l'information – Eliséo Véron
- La folle du logis. La télévision dans les sociétés démocratiques – Jean-Louis Missika et Dominique Wolton
- L'Instrument de la démocratie de masse – Dominique Wolton
- "Le vieux canon de 75." L'apport des méthodes quantitatives à la connaissance du public de la télévision – Michel Souchon
- Le Temps de la lelcture et lesl nouveaux instruments de la mémoire – Bernard Stiegler
- La Transformation de l'argent en capital – Karl Marx
- Cash, check or charge? – Jean-Joseph Goux
- De l'étude des médias à l'analyse de la médiation: esquise d'une problématique – Antoine Hennion
- Structure et fonction de la communication dans la société – Harold D. Lasswell
- Les Deux Étages de la communication – Elihu Katz
- L'Actualité ou l'Impasse du temps – Jean-François Tétu
- Les Médias contre la démocratie – Jean-Claude Guillebaud

 VIII Donner un corps à la communauté?

- Première Épitre aux Corinthiens – Saint Paul
- Lettres à Serenus  – Grégoire le Grand
- Grammaire castillane – Antonio de Nebrija
- Andromaque de Jean Racine – Daniel Mesguich
- La Révolution et la libre pensée –  Auguste Cochin
- Pour une critique de l'économie politique du signe – Jean Baudrillard
- Penser les médias –  Armand et Michèle Mattelart
- L'Ère du vide – Gillesl Lipovetsky
- L'Amour sur minitel – Josiane Jouët
- Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main – Serge Daney
- Happy ending? Scénarios de la vie ordinaire – Gérard Leblanc





L'ange qui orne notre couverture, c'est, en grec, le messager, et celui qui s'appelle Gabriel fait généralement son entré par la gauche.
C'est que l'image, ici plus qu'ailleurs, est soumise à l'ordre du texte: l'Annonciation met en scène une énonciation, ce tableau très logocentrique est l'écrin d'une parole qui s'écrit sur certaines fresques (de Simone Martini ou Fra Angelico) à même la peinture. On voit les mots s'envolerll de la bouche de l'Ange vers Marie, comme un phylactère.
Parole pleine, et plus qu'une autre fécondante, puisque de logos spematikos engrosse la Vierge d'un enfant qu'on dit Fils de Dieu. Mais l'Annonciation n'est pas une partie de plaisir, et l'onsait que Marie commence par refuser, saisie d'effreoi devant cette chose énorme au seuil de la chambre... Quelques peintres nous ont rappelé la vraie nature des anges: non pas l'angelot kitsch mais l'éclaireur sillonnant le ciel, le guerrier des armées du Bien. Celui de Leonard de Vinci (conservé à Florence au musée des Offices) équilibre à merveille violence et suavité; cet ange a le corps éloquant, et l'injonction des doigts dressés est de celles qu'on ne discute pas.
Cette communication céleste, et qui demeure eunique dans l'histoire, a peut-être engendré une autre image: la dame des couvertures Larousse qui "sème à tout vent" les messages d'un pissenlit ne serait-elle pas un peu cousine de l'Ange?
(p. 19)

Paris 2001

Une randonnée critique

[...] Il n'est pas venu à cette (inter)discipline pour ce qu'elle avait d'original ou d'unique à dire, car ses contenus peuvent etre repris ou se trouvent déjà portés par ses voisines, mais pour le carrefour de confronter et de tresser ensemble des problématiques présentese dans d'autres dodmaines, mais inégalement éclairées.
lus précisément, une approche communicationelle de questions anciennes pourrait renouveler celles-ci. Pourquoi retrouve-t-on la "communication" aux principales intersections des réflexions philosophiques et de sciences sociales? C'est qu'il s'agit à notre époque, avec ou sans le secours des SIC, de comprendre plusieurs mutations
Penser la fin des transcendances: ou comment mettre en relations horizontales (c'est-à-dire, comme nous le verrons ci-dessous au chapitre II, en relations "pragmatiques") ce qui était vécu ou pensé par les générations précédantes selon une dimension verticale. Nos SIC accompagnent le mouvement de désacralisation, ou de sécularisation, par le quel Max Weber (avec d'autres) a décrit et défini la modernité.
Critiquer le logocentrisme: replongés dans la communication (chapitre III), les signes linguistiques perdent en prestige et en autonomie, ils participent d'un orchestre (comme dit Bateson) où les langages du corps, l'expression, mais aussi d'autres couches signifiantes, comme l'image ou l'indice, reprennent toute leur place. Notre langage n'est plus, ou pas seulement, l'élément par excellence du dévoilement de la vérité. De la photographie à la vidéo, l'essor d'autres supports visuels de la mémoire, de l'information ou du témoignage a rongé la transcendance accordé aux mots, au profit d'un orchestre sémiotique plus larage et plus conforme à nos échanges orginaires.
Critiquer l'égocetrisme: notre tradition philosophique a longtemps favorisé une conception individuliste de la connaissance. Les SIC accompagnent aujourd'hui la philosophie dans une pensée de la relation fondatrice ou première (chapitre II): seules l'intersubjectivité et une communauté (familiale, sociale), déjà institutée peuvent engendrer le sujet ou un Je doué d'une identité.
Penser l'essor de l'individualisme ou de l'autonomie: une compréhension plus fine des relations primières n'est pas contradictoire avec la dissolution progressive, et inéluctable dans nos sociétés, des solidarités organiques, ou holistiques, de la familler, du village ou de la nation. Qu'on le déplore ou qu'on s'en félicite, les "nouvelles technologies" (qui commencent avec l'écriture, en passant par l'imprimerie, la photographie ou aujourd'hui Internet) ont pour effet, et peut-être pour critère, de rendre plus difficile le monopole du sens des messages par leurs émetteurs, et plus facile leur retraitement ou leur réappropriation privée para des cercles de récepteurs de plus en plus larges.
Produire la raison comme communication: les philosophes on trop longtemps placé la raison à l'intérieur de chaque sujet, comme une faculté innée. Au rebours de cet innéisme, les SIC contribuent à décrire l'extériorité de la raison, qui réside notamment dans les réseaux sociotechniques de nos outils (de connaissance, de classement, d'administration...).
Évaluer les effets de la technique: les tecniques renvoient à une activité traditionnellement méprimsée ou traitée comme une réalité subalterne. Comment, sans tomber dans un déterminisme sommaire, décrire les enchevêtrements entre nous outils et nos performances symboliques (chapitres iv, v, vii)? Si le "haut" s'explique toujours par le "bas", le projet d'une médiologie - d'une logique des médias - devra examiner les multiples influences de ceux-ci sur l'esprit, et leur efficacité, selon une approche historique, matérialiste et résolument éco-logique.
Penser l'ouverture informationnelle: la valeur appelé information laisse l'avenir indéfiniment ouvert. Notre culture occidentale se montre sensible à l'événement, et cette ouverture aléatoire est une autre faccette des valeurs de progrès et d'autonomie (capitre vi).
Affronter l'interdépendance: à l'horizon de la communication moderne surgit aujourd'hui ce spectre, la mondialisation, aux conséquances bonnes et mauvaises (chapitre viii). L'ouverture des frontières (pas seulement géographiques), les bouleversements radicaux de l'ici et du maitemant, du proche et du lointain nous contraignent à repenser l'universel sans les facilités ethnocentriques de la philosophie des Lumières.
(p. 4-5)

I / Qu'est-ce qu'un problème de communication?

1. La communication en marge des savoirs
Un noyau dur, la logique des médias
Opération technique et relation pragmatique
L'incertitude communicationnelle

2 . Les cercles de la communication
Communication animale et expresssion du comportement
Dans la sphère domestique

La communication domestique
La communication pédagogique
Sur les routes et par les rues
Relations publiques et communication marketing
La mondialisation
Vers une culture communicationelle

II / Vivre reliées
1. Le cadre
2. "Entrer dans l'orchestre"
3. La fonction phatique
4. Cure et care en médecine
5. La relation invisible
6. Le paradoxe

III / Faire Signe
1. Le tournant sémiologique
2. Les deux courants de la sémiologie
3. La sémiologie selon Charles S. Peirce
4. Indices, icônes, symboles
5. La clôture sémiotique
Type et token
Autonomie de la sémiosphère

IV / Acheminements du sens
1. Le primat de l'énonciation
La vérité autoréférentielle de l'énonciation
Énoncé secondaire, énonciation primaire
Expressions du mondre propre
versus manifestation
"On ne peut pas 
ne pas comminique" (Watzlawick)
2. Direct et différé
Où passe la coupure sémiotique?
Indice énergumène
Message manifesté, enchâ
ssé, détaché
La conntroverse Thot-Thamous
3. Au carrefour du sens, la métaphore

V / L'innovation technique et ses usages
1. Frontières du monde technique?
Maudits médias
L'oubli de la technique et la faute d'Épiméthée
Médias, milieux
2. De la causalité technique
Autoriser plutôt que déterminer
La pragmatique enchâ
3. Le temps technique
Rythmes techniques et temps humain(s)
Cliquets d'irréversibilité et effet jogging
4. Tâches d'une médiologie
Contenir le réel 

VI / Ouverture informationnelle et clôture communicationelle
1. La communication primière
Notre primière relation
Hypnose, influence, transe
La communauté réduite aux affects
Technologie de la confiance

2. Le travail de l'information
Mondes propres et pertinence
Entre la redondance et le bruit
Ce qu'on peut laisser tomber
S'informer fatigue

3. La communication contre l'information
L'impérativ du consensus
L'impératif publicitaire
Indépassable chauvinisme de l'information?
Le journalisme au pluriel
4. L'information contre la communication
"Avoir raison" en politique
Au présent de la relatioin
5. Deux pôles de nos études de notre raison

VII / L'espace public et les médias
1. Les outils de l'État-nation
2. L'espace public limité à la circulation des écrits?
Qu'est-ce qu'un livre?
L'explosion communicationnelle
Crise de la représenation
3. Vers la cyberdémocratie?

VIII / Comment peut-on être mondial?

1. L'universel de la raison et la philosophie des Lumières
Le logos totalisant
La philosophie des Lumières et ses points d'ombre
2. Morcellement romantique et démocratie multiculturelle
3. Notre facile culture de survol
Le sourire de Mickey et le recyclage planétaire
Le tourisme
world music
L'art contemporain
4. L'économie en orbite
Melting pot ou salad vowl?
La spéculation financière, fer de lance de la mondialisation
Cow-boys et jardiniers
5. Vers la connextion universelle

IX / Réponses à quatre questions au vu de ce qui précéde

Paris 1991


Première leçon  Le droit à l'indépendance
Deuxième leçon Le domaine médiologique
Troixième leçon Cinq dragons entre la technique et nous
Quatrième leçon Le mystère de l'Incarnation
Cinquième leçon L'expérimentation chrétienne
Sixième leçon Est-il vrai que "les idées mènent le monde"?
Septième leçon La dynamique du support
Huitième leçon La notion de médiasphère
Neuvième leçon Vie et mort d'un écosystème: le socialisme
Dixième leçon Propositions pour une médiologie civique
Onzième leçon Logique de la censure
Douxième leçon  La loi des trois états


[...] C'est qu'en 1988-89, en effet, je fus invité par Daniel Bougnoux, professeur à l'université Stendhal de Grenoble, à donner un enseignement de médiologie dans le cadre de l'unité de formation et de recherche (UFR) en sciences de la communication. En 1989-90, Daniel Bougnoux et moi-même avons ensuite conjointement dirigé un séminaire sur le même sujet au Collège international de philosophie. Ce livre reprend les séances de ce parcours didactique et correspond au tome premier du traité annoncé. [...]
Quel fil directeur nous a conduit à l'étude des médiations? Note viel interêt pour la figure du médiateur, de l'hommedium - le scribe, le clerc, l'intellectuel. La généalogie historique de cet être intermédiaire, Janus bifrons, à la fois homme de Dieu et homme d'Etat, chargé par su groupe d'appartenance de faire le lien entre les valeurs fondatrices et le cours des choses, débouchait sur une bifürcation. Vers l'aumont, vers la fonction symbolique elle-même: que faut-il que soit le groupe pour qu'il ait toujours besoin, à travers ce témoin de l'extérieur, d'un point de fuite, utopie ou transcendance? D'où la recherche, en quelque sorte transhistorique, d'un invariant explicatif, baptisé, à paratir du théorème de Gödel, incomplétude, qui a servi de noyau logique à un déchiffrement du fait religieux [1]. Vers l'aval, vers une connception opératoire des actes de pensée puisque la transmission du sens est l'exercice professionnel de l'homme de parole, qui, par son dire, fait faire. Que faut-il donc que soit le dire, mot dit ou écrit, pour qu'il fait, tout au long de l'histoire, des effets aussi réels de transformation du monde objectif? D'où la recherche d'une pragmatique de la pensée, qui fait l'objet de ce cours. En fait, ligne amont et ligne aval se rejoingnent. Logique de la trasmission et logique de l'organisation ne semblent pas séparables, et c'est bien l'hypothèse centrale de la médiologie.

1. Critique de la raison politique ou l'inconscient religieux, Paris, Gallimard, 1981.

(p. 10)

Première leçon  Le droit à l'indépendance

[...] En France, le terme de communication remonte au XIVe  siècle, inventé par un philosophe et physicien, conseiller du roi Charles V, Nicole Oresme. Charles V, fondateur de la première bibliothèque royale. Oresme, traducteur émérite, du latin au français, vulgarisateur décidé du savoir de son temps. Ce concept au XIVe siècle était nouveau, car l'univers médiéval ne connaissait que le concept de communion que suppose une non-distance, une symbiose non seulement entre ses acteurs mais aussi entre le médiums et les messages [1]. L'intrigue médiologique se noue peut-être, tout en amont, autour de ce premier décollement, ce flottement, ce dégagement d'une distance problématique, insolite, entre un savoir et une forme, une information et un médium langagier (le latin), reflet d'une distance nouvelle entre les hommes, où la questioin de la circulation du sens surgit comme quelque chose qui ne va plus de soi, qui n'est plus "naturel".
Ce qui m'emène à la question de la paternité. Elle ne se pose pas: seules les doctrines ont des géniteurs, les disciplines n'en ont pas. C'est même l'inverse. Nous sommes des enfants de la médiologie, issus d'elle et tissés par elle, simples continuateurs d'un tissu bicentenaire qui eut des dizaines d'ouvriers, inconnus ou célèbres. McLuhan, géniale et baroque figure de proue, leur a fait de l'ombre (nous parlerons de lui en détail dans un second cycle). Heureusement pour vous et pour nous, nos précurseurs son légion. Ils sont d'abord dans la littérature, chez les écrivains qui ont réfléchi à leurs support et à leurs moyens: Diderot et Balzac au premier chef, qui ont fait de la médiologie sans le savoir, comme monsieur Jourdain faisait la prose. Les familiers de la Lettre ont eu dans ce domaine plus d'intuitions que les servants de l'Esprit baptisés philosophes. Encore que Leibniz avec sa théorie des passages et de transformations, son goût pour les réseaux et les machines. Encore qu'Emmanuel Kant, lorsqu'il analyse dans son Anthropologie du point de vue pragmatique (trad. Michel Foucaul), ce qu'est "un bon repas en bonne compagnie" – la forme de bien-être, dit-il, qui paraît s'accorder le mieux avec l'humanité"  – pénétrant exercise de médiologie appliquée (à la table comme support et rite de communication). Encore que Valéry, avec son Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci, son approche physique de la pensée et sa constante préoccupation technique. Encore Derrida avec sa Grammatologie, qui a problématisé la trace et l'inscription. Bernard Stiegler, de son côté, après avoir conçu en 1987, l'exposition Mémoires du futur au Centre Pompidou, poursuit une réflexion fondamentale surr les "nouveaux instruments de la mémoire"[2]. Je m'arrê. Il me faudrait un cours entier pour mentionner nons créaciers. Sans parler du penseur de l'aventure humaine le mieux informé, le plus puissant et le plus synthétique de notre siècle. André Leroi-Gourhan. Il a posé, du dehors et sans même mentionner le poncif "communication", les cadres de référence de notre discipline. Mis à part ces grands noms, il est troublant de constater, parmis les pionniers de la médiologie, le rôle sinon des marginaux, du moins des outsiders de l'Institution universitaire. Je pense à Auguste Cochin, historien assez obscur mort au début du siècle. Et surtout à Walter Benjamin, l'auteur de L'Œuvre d'art à l'ère de sa reproduction mécanisée (1935), à qui Malraux doit le Musée imaginaire et qu'il passe sous silence. Cet esprit pathétique et froid qui, entre tant d'autres anticipations fulgurantes, notait à propos de la radio, au bas d'une page, en passant, que "cette nouvelle technique vide les parlements comme elle vide les théâtres". Benjamin, le Traducteur, l'homme des Passages et de la Photographie, le suicidé de Port-Bou en 1940, pourrait donner son nom à notre salle de conférences. Rien ne convient plus à la médiologie, qui se voudrait mémoire de toutes les mémoires, que de ployer soul "le noble joug du passé."

[1] Antoine Berman, "Traduction, communication, entropie", communication au colloque Mémoires du futur, sous la direction de Bernard Stiegler (Paris, 1987)
[2] Stiegler, "Les temps de la lecture", Signes du présent, Rabat, 1988, et "Mémoires gauches", La Revue philosophique, juin 1990.

(p. 31-33)

Interférer, c'est un bonheur et un malheur.
Un bonheur épistémologique: parce que c'est à et par l'intersection de diverses disciplines que "l'information croît et la transformation se réalise" (Michel Serres). Par-delà les pieuses exhortatiions à l'interdisciplinariité, c'est un fait commun aux sciences sociales et exactes, que "la dynamique des transports et des courts-circuits" assure à la connaissance sa plus forte productivité, comme nous le rappelle si souvant l'envoyé d'Hermès."

(p. 36)

Deuxième leçon Le domaine médiologique

Énoncés et messages

[...] Disons-le autrement. Dans l'infinie population des énoncés, nous avouons d'emblée un faible particulier pour la famille des messages. Vous connaisez les traits distinctifs du message. analogues àa ce qui oppose chez Barthes l'écrivant et l'écrivain dans le domaine littéraire: c'est un énoncé plus ou moins vocatif, à destinataire incorporé (vous, les pécheeurs d'ici-bas, vous les prolétaires du monde entier, vous les névrosés de Vienne, vous citoyens français, etc.); un énoncé prescriptif, plutôt que descriptif ou dénotatif (comme dans les scienes), un énoncé dont les valences pragmatiques, ostensibles ou implicites sont indéniables. Le premier domaine de la Raison pratique trouve sa là nourriture, en priorité. Les linguistes parlent de "pragmatique"; certains philosophes de "praxéologie". Je parlais à l'ancienne d'une physique "morale" – et ce que la linguistique nous précise dans ses termes spécialisés, le "règne moral" d'antan et l'Académie des sciences du même nom nous l'indiquaient déjà. Ouvrous un dictionnaire à l'article "Moral": "1) relativ à l'esprit, à la pensée (ant. matériel, physique)), 2) qui concerne les mœurs, les habitudes, les règles de conduite admises et pratiquées par une société; 3) qui concerne l'action et le sentiment (opposé à la logique, intellectuel)". Faisons de ces démarcations notre morale provisoire. Les pertinentes critiques du "grand partage" ont fort bien mis à jour "la fabrique rhétorique, instrumentale et sociale du vrai" (Bougnoux). Toujours la sémantique découle d'une pragmatique, et l'opposition de l'énoncé propre, froid, impersonnel et pacifique, et du message sale, chaud, polémique et rhétorique, bref de la science et de l'idéologie, se brouille dans l'exercice scientifique in vivo, in statu nascendi. "Les énoncés de la science aussi relèvent du rapport de force des énonciations" (Latour, Bougnoux). L'approche médiologique des sciences, déjà avancée en révélant le sournois, l'acharné des médiations à l'œuvre dans la recherche techno-scientifique, a quelque peu démystifié la transcendance du vrai. La médiologie des sciences n'envisagera pas seulement ses modes de vulgarisation, à la périphérie, ni même leur institutionnalisation, consécutive et seconde; elle rentrera sans doute, comme le font Serres, Lévy-Leblond, Latour et d'autres, dans la constitution même de la Raison savante, en so cœur. Mais puisqu'il faut commencer par le commencement, le débutant en médiologie que je suis trouvera sa pâture du côté des vieilles sciences morales, et non des sciences dites cognitives. Impure est la naissance des connaissances; mais l'âge adulte efface le bruit et les batailles de l'histoire d'une science. Bien plus cruciale, car indépassable et mille fois plus coûteuse, nous paraît l'impureté des "batailles d'idées" et des guerres d'images. Le bruit que font, au beau milieu de la scène sociale, des messages qui ne cherchent que l'adaequation intellectuos et intellectus et non rei et intellectus, cette course éperdue ete toujours recommencée à la reconnaissance par autrui qui donne son branle distinctif, bruit et fureur, au théâtre du monde."

(p. 41-42)




In: Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers, München 2011, 327-335

7. On the Difference between Angeletics and Régis Debray's "médiologie"

According to Marshall McLuhan's famous dictum, "the medium is the message" (McLuhan 1964). It seems to me that we have done a lot in order to explore what are media but that we have done little in order to answer the question 'what are messages?'  In his "Cours de médiologie générale" Régis Debray points to the figure of the mediator or the "hommedium" such as "the scribe, the priest, the intellectual." (Debray 1991). Debray is concerned with the study of the medium or messenger that makes possible the transmission and circulation of symbols, and he is also interested in the analysis of how "beliefs and myths" disseminate in early stages. He defines messages ("messages") as being a kind of statement ("énoncés") having the characteristic of being "calling" ("vocatif"), and "prescriptive" ("prescriptif"), and as having "pragmatic valences" ("valences pragmatiques") (Debray1991, 41). The reason why he is interested in the early stages of message dissemination is that at this moment the difference between cool statements and hot messages, or between science and ideology, is fuzzy (ibid.). His paradigmatic example in this regard is the development of early Christianity, a religion that makes a religion of the mediation itself ("la médiation faite religion") (Debray 1991, 92). Debray's mediology is in fact a secularised Christology:  "la médiologie n'est qu'une christologie à retardement, réflechie dans la sphère profane." (Debray 1991, 93). 

His analysis of Christian mediations or "interfaces" deals with militant institutions such as Catholic orders, holy texts, and God's people (Debray 1991, 143-144). At the end of his book he categorises three mediatic ages, namely the age of the "logos" or "logosphère" fixing an oral tradition, the graphic period or "graphosphère", and the electronic period or "vidéosphère" which he correlates with Comte's stages of human development (Debray 1991, 387).

There are indeed many similarities and common insights between Debray's mediology - not "medialogy," i.e., the study of mass media - and my views on angeletics (Capurro 2003a; 2008). This concerns for instance his analysis of the dissemination of messages or of mediologic interfaces. But this is, I think, only one aspect of the message phenomenon, namely the question of the medium or messenger. The analysis should include not only messengers, but also messages (content, form, production, impact) and the process itself of announcing a message. In this regard angeletics is closely related for instance to marketing, although marketing considers messages only within the horizon of economic profit. Such a comprehensive angeletic analysis would be not primarily concerned with the construction of a system but with detailed and comparative case studies as well as with different evaluation methodologies with regard to the social impact of messages and messengers. Debray's studies on Christianity and his Comtean inspired system are indeed fascinating but too unique in order to deal as a foundation of a "general mediology" or even for a general angeletics, i.e., they are biased with regard to the Western mediological tradition although they are an important contribution to comparative angeletic studies.

Finally it can be said that an empirical science called angeletics should be distinguished from a philosophic angeletics as well as from an angeletic philosophy. This is a similar distinction as the one made between hermeneutic as a methodology, philosophic hermeneutics as developed by Gadamer, and Heidegger's hermeneutic philosophy. In my opinion, Heidegger's phenomenology is in fact an angeletic thinking (Heidegger 1975).

Capurro, Rafael: Angeletics - A Message Theory. In: H.H. Diebner, L. Ramsay (Eds.): Hierarchies of Communication, Karlsruhe 2003a.
Capurro, Rafael: Theorie der Botschaft. Erich Hamberger, Kurt Luger (Hrsg.): Transdisziplinäre Kommunikation. Vienna 2008, pp. 65-89.

Debray, Régis: Cours de médiologie génerale. Paris 1991.
Heidegger, Martin: Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache. Zwischen einem Japaner und einem Fragenden. In: M. Heidegger: Unterwegs zur Sprache. Pfullingen: 1975.
McLuhan, Marshall: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York 1964.

Paris 1993

Michel Serres hat eine eindrucksvolle aber zugleich apologetische Analogie zwischen unserer heutigen message society und der "Legende der Engel" vorgelegt (Serres 1993). Seine Darstellung verwischt m.E. den Unterschied zwischen Engellehre und Angeletik. Gleichwohl steht die Vorstellung von der Materie getrennter reiner Vernunftwesen, was die mittelalterliche Philosophie "getrennte Intelligenzen" (intelligentiae separatae) nannte, nicht weit von einigen Phantasien heutiger Künstliche-Intelligenz-Forscher (Capurro 1995).


Paris 1972


Hors livre, préfaces

La pharmacie de Platon
1. Pharmacée
2. Le père du logos
3. L'inscription des fils: Theuth, Hermès, Thot, Nabû, Nebo
4. Le pharmakon
5. Le pharmakeus


6. Le pharmakos
7. Les ingrédients: le fard, le phantasme, la fête
8. L'héritage du pharmakon: la scène de famille
9. Le jeu: du pharmakon à la lettre et de l'aveuglement au supplément

La double sécance

La dissémination

1. Le déclenchement
2. Le dispositif ou cadre
3. La coupure
4. Le double fond du plus-que-présent
5. L'écriT, l'écrAn,  l'écrIN
6. Le discours d'assitance

7. L'avant-première fois
8. La colonne
9. Le carrefour de l'"est"
10. Les greffes, retour au sujet
11. Le surnombre

La pharmacie de Platon

2. Le père du logos


L'histoire commence ainsi:

SOCRATE: Eh bien! j'ai entendu conter que vécu du côté de Naucratis, en Égypte, une des vieilles divinités de là-bas, celle dont l'emblème sacré est l'oiseau qu'ils appellent, tu le sais, l'ibis. et que le nom du dieu lui même était Theut. C'est lui, donc, le premier qui découvrit la science du nombre avec le calcul, la géometrie et l'astronomie, et aussi le trictrac et les dés, enfin, sache-le, les caractères de l'écriture (grammata). Et d'autre part, en ce temps-là régnait sur l'Égypte entière Thamous, dont la résidence était cette grande cité du haut pays que les Grecs nomment Thèbes d'Égypte, et dont le dieu est appelé par eux Ammon. Theut, étant venu le trouver, lui fit montre de ses arts: "Il faut, lui déclara-t-il-, les communiquer au reste des Égyptiens!"" Mais l'autre lui demanda quelle pouvait être l'utilité de chacun d'eux, et, sur ses explications, selon qu'il les jugeait bien ou mal fondées il prononçait tantôt le blâme, tantôt l'éloge. Nombreuses furent donc les réflexions donc, au sujet de chaque art, Thamous, dit-on, fit part à Theut dans l'un et l'autre sens: on n'en finirait plus d'en dire le détail! Mais, le tour venu d'envisager les caractères de l'écriture: "Voici, ô Roi, dit Theut, une connaisance (to mathema) qui aura pour effet de rendre les Égyptions plus instruits et plus capables de se remémorer (sophôterous kai mnemikôterous): mémoire aussi bien qu'instruction ont trouvé leur remède (pharmakon). Et le roi de répliquer..." Etc.

Coupons ici le roi. IL est devant le pharmakon. Et l'on sait qu'il va trancher.
Immobilisons la scène et les personnages. Regardons.L'écriture (ou, si l'on veut, le pharmakon) est donc présentée au roi. Présentée: comme une sorte de présent offer en hommage par un vassal à son suzerain (Theut est un demi-dieu parlant au roi des dieux) mais avant tout comme une oeuvre soumise à son appréciation. Et cette oeuvre est elle-même un art, une puissance ouvrière, une vertu opératrice. Cet artefactum est un art. Mais ce cadeau est encore d'une valeur incertaine. La valeur de l'écriture – ou du pharmakon – est certes donnée au roi mais c'est le roi qui lui donnera sa valeur. Qui fixera le prix de ce qu'en recevant il constitue ou institutue. Le roi ou le dieu (Thamous représente [8] Ammon, le roi des dieux, le rois des rois et le dieux des dieux. Ô basileu, lui dit Theuth) est ainsi l'autre nom de l'origine de la valeur. La valeur de l'écriture ne sera elle-même, l'écriture n'aura de valeur que si dans la mesure où dieu-le-roi en fait cas. Ce dernier n'en subit pas moins le pharmakon comme un produit, un ergon, qui n'est pas le sien, qui lui vient du dehors mai aussi d'en-bas, et qui attend son jugement condescendant pour être consacré dans son être et dans sa valeur. Dieu le roi ne sait pas écrire mais cette ignorance ou cette incapacité témoignent de sa souveraine indépendance. Il n'as pas besoin d'écrire. Il parle, il dit, il dicte et sa parole suffit. Qun'un scribe de son secrétariat y ajoute ou non le supplément d'une transcription, cette consignation est par essence secondaire.

[8] Thamous est sans doute chez Platon l'autre nom du dieu Ammon, dont nous aurons à dessiner plus tard, pour elle même, la figure (roi solaire et père des dieux). Sur cette question, et le débat auquel elle a donné lieu, cf. Frutiger, op.cit. p. 233; n. 2 et notamment Eisler, Platon und das äygyptische Alphabet, in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 1922; Pauly-Wissowa,  Real Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (art. Ammon); Roscher,  Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (art. Thamus).

(p. 93-94)

3. L'inscription des fils: Theuth, Hermès, Thot, Nabû, Nebo

[...] En nous intéressant au fait que Platon n'a pas seulement emprunté un élément simple, nous mettons donc entre parenthèse le problème de la généalogie factuelle et de la communication empirique, effective, des cultures et des mythologies [12]. Nous voulons seulement annoncer la nécessité interne et structurelle qui seule a pu rendre possibles de telles communications et toute contagion éventuelle des mythèmes.
Platon ne décrit certes pas le personnage de Theuth. Aucun caractère concret ne lui est attribué, ni dans le Phèdre ni dans la très brève allusion du Philèbe. Telle est du moins l'apparence. Mais à y regarder avec insistance, on doit reconnaître que sa situation, le contenu de son discours et de ses opérations, la relation des thèmes, des concepts et des signifiants dans lesquels ses interventions sont engagées, tout cela organise les traits d'une figure très marquée. L'analogie structurale qui les rapporte à d'autres dieux de l'écriture, et d'abord au Thot égyptien, ne peut être l'effet d'un emprunt morcelé out total, ni du hasard ou de l'imagination de Platon. Et leur insertion simultanée, si rigoureuse et si étroite, dans la systématique des philosophèmes de Platon, cet ajointement du mythologique et du philosophique renvoie à une nécessité plus enfouie.
Sans doute le dieu Thot a-t-il plusieurs visages, plusieurs époques, plusieurs habitats [13]. L'enchevētrement des récits mythologiques dans lesquels il est pris ne doit pas ētre négligé. Néamoins des invariants se distinguent partout, se desinnent en caractères gras, en traits appuyés. On serait tenté de dire qu'ils constituent l'identité permanente de ce dieu dans le panthéon, si sa fonction, comme nous allons le voir, n'était pas de travailler précisement à la dislocation subversive de l'identité en général, à commencer par celle du principat théologique.

[12] Nous ne pouvons ici que renvoyer à tous les travaux sur les communications de la Grèce avec l'Orient et le Moyen-Orient. On sait qu'ils sont abondants. Sur Platon, ses rapports avec l'Égypte, l'hypothèse de son voyage à Héliopolis, les témoignages de Strabon et de Diogène Laërce, on trouvera les références et les pièces essentielles dans la Révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste de Festugière (t. I), Platon à Héliopolis d'Égypte, de R. Godel, les Prêtres de l'ancienne Égypte, de S. Sauneron.
[13] Cf. Jacques Vandier, la Réligion égyptienne, P.U.F., 1949, en particulier p. 64-65.

(p. 105-106)

Dans le Phèdre, le dieu de l'écriture est donc un personnage subordonné, un second, un technocrate sans pouvoir de décision, un ingénieur, un serviteur rusé et ingénieux admis à comparaître devant le roi des dieux. Celui-ci a bien voulu le recevoir en son conseil. Theut présente une tekhnè et un pharmakon au roi, père et dieu qui parle ou commande de sa voix ensoleillée. Lorsque celui-ci aura fait entendre sa sentence, quand il l'aura de haut laissé tomber, lorsqu'il aura du même coup prescrit de laisser tomber le pharmakon, alors Theuth ne répondra pas. Les forces en présence veulent qu'il restee à sa place.
N'a-t-il pas la même place dans la mythologie étyptienne? Là aussi, Thot est un dieu engendré. Il se nomme souvent le fils du dieu-roi, du dieu-soleil, d'Amon-Rê": "Je suis Thot, fils aîné de Rê [14]." Rê (soleil) est le dieu createur et il engendre par la médiation du verbe [15]. Son autre nom, celui par lequel il est précisément désigné dans le Phèdre, c'est Amon. Sens reçu de ce nom propre: le caché [16]. Nous avons donc ici encore un soleil caché, père de toutes choses, se laissant représenter par la parole.
L'unité configurative de ces significations – le pouvoir de la parole, la création de l'être et de la vie, le soleil (c'est-à-dire aussi bien, nous le verrons, l'œil), le se-cacher – se conjugue dans ce qu'on pourrait appeler l'hisitoir de l'œuf ou l'œuf de l'histoire. le monde est né d'un œuf. Plus précisement, le créateur vivant de la vie du monde est né d'un œuf: le soleil, donc, fut d'abord porté dans lo coquille d'un œuf. Ce qui explique plusieurs traits d'Amon-Rê: c'est aussi un oiseau, un faucon ("Je suis le grand  faucon sorti de son œuf "). Mais en tant qu'origine du tout, Amon-Rê est aussi l'origine de l'œuf. On le désigne tantôt comme comme oiseau-soleil né de l'œuf, tantôt comme oiseau originel, porteur du premier œuf. Dans ce cas, et comme le pouvoir de la parole est un avec le pouvoir créateur, certains textes nomment "l'œuf du grand caqueteur". Il n'y aurait ici aucun sens à poser la question, à la fois triviale et philosophique, de "l'œuf et de la poule", de l'antériorité logique, chronologique ou ontologique de la cause sur l'effet. A cette question certains sarcophages ont mangifiquement répondu: "O Rê, qui te trouves dans ton œuf." Si l'on ajoute que l'œuf est un œuf caché [17]", on aura constitué mais aussi ouvert le système de ces sisgnifications.
La subordination de Thot, de cet ibis, fils aîné de l'oiseau originel, se marque de plusieurs façons: dans la doctrine memphite, par exemple, Thot est l'exécutant, par la langue, du projet créateur d'Horus [18]. Il porte les signes du grand dieu-soleil. Il l'interprète comme son porte-parole. Et de même que son homologue grec Hermès, dont Platon ne parle d'ailleurs jamais, il détient le rôle du dieu messager, de l'intermédiaire rusé, ingénieux et subtil qui dérobe et se dérobe toujours. Le dieu (du) signifiant. Ce qu'il doit énoncer ou informer dans des mots, Horus l'a déjà pensé. La langue dont on le rend dépositaire et secrétaire ne fait donc que représenter, pour en transmettre le message, une pensée divine déjà formée, un dessein arrêté [19]. Le message n'est pas, représente seulement le moment absolument créateur. C'est une parole seconde et secondaire. Et lorsque Thot a affaire à la langue parlée plutôt qu'à l'écriture, ce qui est plutôt rare, il n'est pas l'auteur ou l'initiateur absolu du langage. Il introduit au contraire la différence dans la langue et c'est à lui qu'on attribue l'origine de la pluralité des langues [20]. (Nous nous demanderons plus loin, faisant retour vers Platon et vers le Philèbe, si la différenciation est un moment second et si cette "secondarité" n'est pas le surgissement du graphème comme origine et possibilité du logos lui-même. Dans le Philèbe, Theut est en effet évoqué comme l'auteur de la différence: de la différenciation dans la langue et non de la pluralité des langues. Mais nous croyons que les deux problèmes sont en leur racine inséparables.)
Dieu du langage second et de la différence linguistique, Thot ne peut devenir le dieu de la parole créatrice que par substitution métonymique, par déplacement historique et parfois par subversion violante.
La substitution met ainsi Thot à la place de Rê, comme la lune à la place du soleil. Le dieu de l'écriture devient ainsi le suppléant de Rê, s'ajoutant à lui et le remplaçant en son absence et essentielle disparition. Telle est l'origine de la lune comme supplément du soleil, de la lumière de nuit comme supplément de la lumière de jour. L'écriture comme supplément à la parole.

[14] Cf. S. Morenz, la Réligion égyptienne, Payot, 1962, p. 58. Cette formule est remarquable, selon Morenz, par la présence de la permière personne. "Cette rareté nous paraît remarquable parce que de telles formules sont fréquentes dans les hymnes composés en grec et faisant intervenir la déesse égyptienne Isis ("Je suis Isis", etc.); on est donc en droit de se demander si cela ne trait pas une origine extra-égyptienne de ces hymnes."
[15] Cf. S. Sauneron, op.cit., p. 123: "Le dieu initial, pour créer, n'eut qu'a parler; et les êtres et les choses évoquées naquirent à sa voix", etc.
[16] Cf. Morenz, op.cit., p. 46, et S. Sauneron qui précise à ce sujet: "Ce que signifie exactement son nom, nous l'ignorons. Il se prononçait cependant de la même façon qu'un autre mot qui significait "cacher", "se cacher", et les scribes jouèrent sur cette assonance pour définir Amon comme le grand dieu qui masque son réel aspect à ses enfants... Mais certains n'hésitèrent pas à aller plus loin encore: Hècatée d'Abdère a recueilli une tradition sacerdotale selon laquelle ce nom (Amon) serait le terme employé en Égypte pour appeler quelqu'un... Il est exact que le mot amoini signifie "viens", "viens à moi": c'est un fait, d'autre part, que certains hymnes commencerent por les mots Amoini Amoun..."Viens à moi, Amon". La seule assonance de ces deux mots a incité les prêtres à soupçonner entre eux quelque relation intime – à y trouver l'explication du nom divin: aussi, s'adressant au dieu primordial... comme à un être invisible et caché, ils l'invitent et l'exhortent, en l'appelant Amon, à se montrer à eux et à se découvrir" (op.cit., p. 127).
[17] Cf. Morenz, op.cit. p. 232-233. Le paragraphe qui se clôt ici aura marqué que cette pharmacie de Platon entraîne aussi le texte de Bataille, inscrivant dans l'histoire de l'œuf le soleil de la part maudite. L'ensemble de cet essai n'étant lui-même rien d'autre, comme on l'aura vite compris, qu'une lecture de Finnegans Wake.
[18] Cf. Vandier, op.cit., p. 36: "ces deux dieux [Horus et Thot], auraient été associés dans l'acte créateur, Horus représentant la pensée qui conçoit, et Thot la parole qui exécute" (p. 64). Cf. aussi A. Erman, la Religion des Égyptiens, Payot, p. 118
[19] Cf. Morenz, op.cit. p. 46-47; et Festugière, op.cit.. p. 70.73. Messager, Thot est aussi, par conséquant, interprète, hermeneus. C'est un des traits, parmi d'autres, fort nombreux, de cette ressemblance à Hermès. Festugière l'analyse dans le chapite IV de son livre.
[20] J. Černy cite un hymne à Thot commençant en ces termes: "Salut à toi, Thot-Lune, qui a rendu différentes les langues de chaque pays." Černy avait cru ce document unique mais ne tarda pas à s'apercevoir que Boylan (Thot, The Hermes of Egypt, Londres 1922) citait (p. 184) un autre papyrus analogue ("toi qui distinguas [ou séparas] la langue, de pays à pays") et encore un autre (p. 197) ("toi qui distinguas la langue de chaque pays étranger"). Cf. Černy, Thot as creator of languages, in The Journal of Egyptian Archeology, Londres, 1948, p. 121. S. Sauneron, la Différenciation des langages d'après la tradition égyptienne, Bulletin de l'Institut français d'Archéologie orientale du Caire, Le Caire, 1960.

(p.   107-110)

Paris 1980




Spéculer - sur "Freud"
1. Avertissements
Je nous écrit
Un, deux, trois  la spéculation sans terme

2. Legs de Freud
Le "même toit" de l'autobioigraphie
Le conjoint des interprétations
"La séance continue" (retour à l'envoyeur, le télégramme et la génération des gendres)

3. La paralyse
La zone, les postes, la théorie porteuse du nom
Courriers de la mort
Trafic d'héritage: la dette de Platon

4. Sept: Post-Scriptum
L'insolvable: effet de poste
Platon derrière Freud
Fort : da, le rythme


Prétextes dérobés
Le trop d'évidence où le manque a sa place
Point de vue - la vérité au lieu de la sexualité féminine
Première seconde - la vérité de la lettre de la main de Freud
Lieu de rencontre: le double carré de rois



Vous pourriez lire ces envois comme la préface d'un livre que je n'ai pas écrit.
Il aurait traité de ce qui va des postes, des postes en tous genres, à la psychanalyse.
Moins pour tenter une psychanalyse de l'effet postal que pour renvoyer d'un singulier événement, la psychanalyse freudienne, à una histoire et à une technologie du courier, à quelque théorie générale de l'envoi et de tout ce qui pour quelque télécommunication prétend se destiner.
Les trois dernières parties du présent ouvrage, Spéculer - sur "Freud", Le facteur de la vérité, Du tout diffèrent entre elles par la langueur, la circonstance ou le prétexte, la manière et les dates. Mais elles gardent la mémoire de ce projet, parfois même elles l'exhibent.
Quant aux Envois eux-mêmes, je ne sais pas si la lecture en est soutenable.
Vous pourriez les considérer, si le coeur vous en dit, comme les restes d'une correspondance récemment détruite. Par le feu ou par ce qui d'une figure tient lieu, plus sûr de ne rien laisser hors d'atteinte pour ce que j'aime appeler langue de feu, pas même la cendre s'il y a là cendre.
Fors – une chance.
Une correspondance, c'est encore trop dire, ou trop peu. Peut-être ne fut-elle pas une (mais plus ou moins) ni très correspondante. Cela reste encore à décider.
Aujourd'hui, le sept septembre mil neuf cent soixante-dix-neuf, il n'y a là que des envois, des envois seulement dont ce qui fut épargné ou si vous préférez "sauvé" (j'entends murmurer déjà "accusé" comme on dit de réception) l'aura dû, oui, dû à un principe de sélection fort étrange et que je juge pour ma part, aujourd'hui encore, contestable, comme peut l'être d'ailleurs en toute occasion la grille, le crible, l'économie du tri, surtout si elle destine à la garde, pour ne pas dire à l'archive. Bref en toute rigeueur je ne l'approuve pas ce principe, sans cesse je le dénonce et la réconciliation à cet égard est impossible. On pourra voir à quel point j'y insiste chemin faisant. Mais j'ai dû y céder, à vous de me dire pourquoi.

p. 7-8

Qui écrit? A qui? Et pour envoyer, destiner, expédier quoi? A quelle adresse? sans aucun désir de surprendre, et par là de capter l'attention à force d'obscurité, je dois à ce qui me reste d'honnêteté de dire que finalement je ne le sais pas. Surtout je n'aurais pas accordé le moindre intérêt à cette correspondance et à ce découpage, je veux dire à leur publication, si quelque certitude m'avait à ce sujet satisfait.
Que les signataires et les destinataires ne soient pas toujours visiblement et nécessairement identiques d'un envoi à l'autre, que les signataires ne se confondent pas forcément avec les envoyeurs ni les destinataaires avec les récepteurs, voire avec les lecteurs (toi par example), etc., vous en ferez l'expérience et le sentirez paarfois très vivement, quoique confusément. C'est là un sentiment désagréable que je prie chaque lecteur, chaque lectrice de me pardonner. A vrai dire, il n'es pas seulement désagréable, il vous met en rapport, sans discrétion, avec de la tragédie. Ils vous interdit de régler les distances, de les prendre ou de les perdre. Ce fut un peu ma situation, et c'est ma seule excuse.
Rompus comme vous l'êtes au mouvement des postes et au movement psychanalytique, à tout ce qu'ils autorisent et matière de faux, de fictions, de pseudonymes, d'homonymes ou d'anonymes, vous ne serez pas rassurés et rien ne sera le moins du monde atténué, adouci, familiarisé par le fait que j'assume sans détour la responsabilité de ces envois, de ce qui reste ou n'en reste plus, et que pour faire la paix en vous je les signe ici de mon nom propre, Jacques Derrida [1]. 

le 7  septembre 1979

1. Je regrette que tu ne te fies pas trop à ma signature, sous prétexte que nous serions plusieurs. C'est vrai, mais je ne le dis pas pour m'augmenter de quelque autorité supplémentaire. Encore mois pour inquiéter, je sais ce qu'il en coûte. Tu as raison, nous sommes sans doute plusieurs et je ne sais pas si seul que je le dis parfois quant la plainte m'en est arraché ou que je m'évertue encore à te séduire.

(p. 9-10)

Le 3 juin 1977.

Oui, tu avais raison, nous ne sommes désormais aujourd'hui, maitenant, à chaque instant, en ce point-ci sur la carte, qu'un minuscule résidu "laissé pour compte": de ce que nous nous sommes dit, de ce que, n'oublie pas, nous avons fait l'un de l'autre, de ce que nous nous sommes écrit. Oui, cette "correspondance", tu as raison, tout de suite elle nous a débordés, c'est pour ça qu'il aurait fallu tout brûler, tout, jusqu'à la cendre de l'inconscient – et "ils" n'en saurant jamais rien. "Laissé pour comte", je préférerais dire de ce que nous nous sommes l'un à l'autre, uniquement, destiné. J'ai honte de souligner, de vouloir être intelligible et convaincant (comme pour d'autres, finalement), j'ai honte de dire dans la langue commune, de dire, donc, d'écrire, de signifier quoi que ce soit dans ta direction comme si
Je ressemble à un messager de l'antiquité, un coursier, le courrier de ce que nous nous sommes donné, à peine un héritier, un héritier infirme, incapable de recevoir même, de se mesurer à ce dont il a la garde, et je cours, je cours tout le temps. Bon, laissons. Pas le temps aujourd'hui encore, selement ces cartes. Jamais pris le temps en somme de t'écrire ce que j'aurais voulu, il ne m'as jamais été laissé, et si je t'ecris sans interruption
je ne t'aurai envoyé que des cartes. Même si ce sont des lettres et si j'en mets toujours plus d'une dans la même enveloppe
Après la séance, les échanges se sont poursuivis sur la pelouse de Ballioil. Tu devines en haut, au fond et à gauche, le petit appartement du collège dans lequel j'ai dormi, en haut d'un escalier de pierre très étroit (cette fleur, que'est-ce que c'est? vient de là).
Trops de lits partout qui appellent
Je t'apellle tout à l'heure.

Le 3 juin 1977.

et quand je t'appelle mon amour, mon amour, est-ce toi que j'appelle ou mon amour? Toi, mon amour, est-ce toi que je nomme ainsi, à toi que je m'adresse? Je ne sais pas si la question est bien formée, elle me fait peur. Mais je suis sûr que la réponse, si elle m'arrive un jour, elle me sera venue de toi. Toi seulement, mon amour, toi seulement tu l'auras su.
nous sommes demandé l'impossible, comme l'imposible, tous les deux.
"Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich",
bien aimé.
quand je t'appelle mon amour, est-ce que je t'appelle, toi, ou est-ce que je te dis mon amour? et quand je te dis mon amour est-ce que je te déclare mon amour ou bien est-ce que je te dis, toi, mon amour, et que tu es mon amour. Je voudrais tant te dire.

Le 3 juin 1977.

et toi, dis moi
j'aime toutes mes appellations de toi et alors qu'un lèvre, une seule pour tout dire
de l'hébreu il traduit "langue", si l'on peut appeler cela traduire, par lèvre. Ils voulaient d'élever sublimement pour imposer leur lèvre, l'unique, à l'univers. Babel, le père, en donnant son nom de confusion, multiplia les lèvres et que moi je meurs à l'instant, je meurs d'envie de t'embrassere de notre lèvre la seule que je vueille entendre.
(p. 11-13)

Le 15 mars 1979.

[...] Le mal que j'aurais à trier ce courrier en vue d'une publication, il tient entre autres périls à celui-ci: tu sais que je ne crois pas à la propriété, et surtout pas à la forme qu'elle prend selon l'opposition public/privé (p/p, soit). Cette opposition ne marche pas, ni pour la psychanalyse (surtout aujourd'hui avec le quadrillage tranche-férentiel qui s'abat sur les capitales comme un filet qu'ils ne maîtrisent plus eux-mêmes: c'est la fatalité des polices parallèles) ni pour les postes (la carte postale n'est ni privée ni publique) ni même pour la police (ils ne nous laissent, quel que soit le régime, que le choix entre plusieurs polices, et quand une pp (police publique) ne t'aborde pas dans la rue, une autre pp (police parallèle privée) branche ses micros dans ton lit, arraisonne ton courrier, te fait cracher le morceau en pleine extase  – et le secret circule en toute liberté, comme secret tu promets je jure, c'est ce que j'appelle une carte postale.
mais leur plus grossière erreur, à nos fins limiers, consistera à te nommer, ce à quoi je ne me serais jamais risqué. Si je me nomme, moi, ce n'est que pour ajouter à la confusion. Tu comprends, hier, 14 mars, dans mon compartiment de première classe (un train compartimenté, voilà de quoi je parle, et des classes: savais-tu que la post card, aux Etats-Unis, fait partie du courrier first class? Elle va aussi vite que nos lettres; chez nous c'est le contraire, on suppose que la lecture d'une carte postale peut attendre et c'est un bon calcul), hier, donc, tout seul dans mon compartiment, sans dodute parce que j'étais si seul, j'ai décidé de faire sauter tous les postes de police (privée et publique) et même toutes les postes, à la ville et à la campagne, l'une après l'autre, et de le faire justement tout seul. Je le ferai à leur barbe, sous leur barbe, en caressant la barbe de Plato et de Socrates, en y piquant, comme je le fais ici, des mots sans destination finale, les seuls qui échappent aux pp, en multipliant les lettres anonymes. Et ils ne me retrouveront pas, ils chercheront dans toute sorte de directions, imagineront tous les mobiles et les plus pathétiques. Ils ne saurant pas que c'est toi, et que c'est toi que j'aime, parce que c'est la chose la plus évidente."

(p. 199-200)

Fin juin 1979.

tu me  crois quand ça t'arrange et tu seras sûre d'être dans le vrai.
Rêve de tout à l'heure: obséquieux, autour du mot obséquieux. On me pressait, je ne sais plus qui, obséquieusement, de publier, de laisser lire, de divulguer. Mais le mot "obséquieux" avait la vedette. J'essaie de comprendre, de suivre du côté de ce qui reste à suivre, de toute l'obséquence requise, de la mère survivante qui suit la "dead letter".
Je relis, tantôt en sombrant dans notre immense mémoire, tantôt avec la méticuleuse attention du philologue. Même dans les années et les années qui ont précédé la séquence d'Oxford (à propos j'ai décidé d'y retourner après le symposium de Strasbourg, vers le 15 juillet, j'irai seul), le lexique "postal" est déjàa surabondant, par example le jeu sur le mot timbre, et avant même l'obsession qui date de Yale. Je pense à l'instant que toute "production", comme ils disent, d'un concept ou d'un système qui ne va jamais sans un num et une effigie, c'est aussi l'émission d'un timbre-poste, qui est lui-même une carte postale (image, texte, reproduction et le plus souvant de forme rectangulaire).
Timbre: type: Prägung des Seins.
The anxiety of influence naît alors de ce que pour faire tel trajet, pour transmettre ou transférer tel message, tu dois d'avance payer le timbre, le faire composter ou oblitérer, te faire taxer de ceci ou de cela, par exemple de platonisme. La redevance ne revient pas aux morts qui sont morts mais à leur nom (c'est pourquoi seuls les mortels son nommables et on meurt du nom même), et rien n'arrive à la fois à un nom et à son porteur. Un maître-penseur émet des timbres-poste ou des cartes postales, il construit des autoroutes à péage: mais contrairement aux apparences, personne n'aperçoit ni  perçoit  rien.
Il y a aussi le mot "voiture" – à croire que nous avons passé notre vie en voiture, et plusieurs voitures qui se rencontrent, s'immobilisent l'une en face de l'autre au premier rendez-vous, et des volants tenus à 4 mains, et des poursuites et des croisements et je te double et du me doubles et les trajets qui se perdent dans la nuit, les portière qui claquent et tu marches sur moi et je t'envoiture encore, et les pannes et le réveil au bord de l'autoroute, tu m'avais arrêeté au milieu des camions.
Ce secret entre nous n'est pas le nôtre.
J'ai de plus en plus de mal, de mal à t'écrire. Je sais maintenant à quoi sont vouées ces lettres, mais je l'ai toujours su.

(p. 215-216)


A Seminar with Michel Foucault
ed. by Luhter H. Martin, Huck Gutman, Patric H. Hutten
The University of Massachussetts Press 1988J


4. On Information Technology and Michel Foucault's "Technologies of the Self"

I believe that Foucault had in mind the old and ambivalent Greek concept of techne that is of the knowledge how things are being produced (poiesis). There is a classic discussion on this between Plato and Aristotle, Aristotle being the one who, on the one hand, made the distinction between techne and phronesis which is the word he uses for ethical knowledge, i.e., for the kind of knowledge which is specific human and related to the moulding of our character and actions (praxis), while techne refers to the knowledge need for the production of material things or poiesis. But, on the other hand, Aristotle also uses the word techne with regard to the moral as well as to the political sphere. Foucault speaks about four kinds of technologies, namely the first one concerning the production of material things, the second one concerning the production of signs, the third one concerning the production of power and finally the one regarding the operations of the individuals with themselves and with others that he calls "technologies" but also "practices" of the self (Foucault 1988, 18; Capurro 2005)

My view on this matter was to look for the connection between technologies of self and technologies of sign production such as modern information technology. My question is to explore in which way we use such technologies in order to produce or model or, remembering the Latin origin of the word 'information', namely informatio, in-form ourselves, as individuals and as a society, as we have been doing this for instance with printing technology and with writing. But information technology is not just a mean to an end or a mere instrument but in a more basic sense we are or exist online. This is the reason, I believe, why information ethics cannot take only the instrumental perspective. If this diagnosis of modern information technology as a digital ontology -- in the Heideggerian sense of this term -- is right, then we are dealing with a projection ("Entwurf") of Being and not just with the production of digital beings that pervades, for better or for worse, our existence, similarly as, for instance, in the case of modern physics, to which Heidegger refers in "Being and Time." The basic ethical question is then how do we model our lives within and beyond this digital horizon.

Paris 1986


Entscheidend und Voraussetzung dafür scheint mir aber die Einsicht zu sein, dass Hermeneutik als Kunst des Verstehens auf dem Phänomen der Verkündung oder des Bringens einer Botschaft (gr. angelia) basiert. Ich spreche von Angeletik als Gegenstück zur Hermeneutik. Eine solche Theorie der Botschaft liegt in Ansätzen vor (Capurro 1999, 2000b, 2001b). Jean-Luc Nancy schreibt in einer hier in extenso wiedergegebenen weil besonders denk-würdigen Stelle:
"Gleichsam auf der äußersten Spitze des hermeneutischen Denkens - eine Spitze, die so fein ist, daß dieses Denken sie oft selbst vergißt, obwohl es darauf zuläuft und auch dort ankommt - gibt es freilich etwas, das der Interpretation trotzt und sie von innen her zerreißt. Gezeigt hat sich das insbesondere in der "Deutung" der "Bedeutung" des griechischen hermeneuein, die Heidegger vorschlägt; er bietet als den neuesten Sinn dieses Wortes seinen ältesten an und versteht ihn als den Sinn der Übermittlung einer Botschaft, der Ankündigung einer Neuigkeit. Der Bote ist nicht die Bedeutung der Botschaft, er interpretiert sie auch nicht, er gibt ihr keinen Sinn und gibt ihr nicht den Sinn - während in einem anderen Sinne die Haltung des Boten, sein Stil, sein eigenes Verhältnis zum Inhalt der Botschaft (den er nicht unbedingt kennen oder verstehen muß) die Bedeutung derselben begleiten beziehungsweise befallen, das Signifikat durch die Art und Weise seiner Präsentation gleichsam vom Rande her angreifen kann. 

Und darin bestünde der erste Wert der "Vorstellung": Die Philosophie erschafft keinen Sinn, vermittelt keine Bedeutungen (oder zumindest ist das keine Beschäftigung, die ihr eher zukäme als anderen Diskursen), sondern stellt den Sinn vor; und sie stellt ihn vor, weil der Sinn des Sinns, vor aller Bedeutung, vor allem darin liegt: präsentiert zu werden, sich zu präsentieren. Die "Botschaft" - ein Begriff, der lange die Idee einer reichen, an Motiven und Entwürfen überreichen Bedeutung konnotiert hat und aus diesem Grunde jedesmal ins Spiel gebracht wurde, wenn in der Moderne die literarische Funktion in Frage stand -, die Botschaft ist eine Bedeutung mit einer Adresse, das heißt einer Bestimmung und einer Präsentation. (Diese von Heidegger herausgearbeitete Grenze der Hermeneutik entspricht gewiß in etwas Wesentlichem der Benjamischen Idee der Übersetzung, wie sie andererseits auch mit dem Wittgensteinschen Motiv des Zeigens im Gegensatz zum Erklären zusammenhängt.)" (Nancy 2001, 94-95) 
"The medium is the message" (McLuhan 1964: 23). Wir scheinen inzwischen zu wissen, was Medien sind. Was ist aber eine message? Die digitale Weltvernetzung hat zwei Seiten, eine angeletische und eine hermeneutische. Wir leben in einer message society (Capurro 2000).

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2001): Das Vergessen der Philosophie. Wien: Passagen Verlag (orig. L'Oubli de la philosophie, Paris 1986)


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