Evolution as Translation Project Report: The "Elements" of Web Schemas and Denis Diderot's Éléments de Physiologie.

This is an outline for a software project that would have coincided with my translation of Diderot's rare work of speculative biology, Éléments de Physiologie, on which I began a translation in 2006.

Not simply describing a software project, this outline seeks to maintain Diderot's radical project against classification systems such as those of Linnaeus, while it intends in turn to locate them along with formal systems in general, as objects within a continuity of Nature.

  1. My translation of Diderot's Éléments de Physiologie can function as experimental work in rendering English from French by treating Diderot's text like the very same empirical objects in his "science of things", a science first established with the author's Pensées sur l'interpretation de la nature (1754).
  2. More importantly, my development of a software architecture for this translation can parallel, through emergent qualities of software ontologies able to "make inferences", evolutionary combinations of components behaving differently upon inhabiting different natural and somatic contexts.
    • Although, while I plan to author its architecture, I would like to suggest that larger social and cultural structurings folded even into Nature, will “write” this architecture as culture/nature, in keeping with Diderot's notion of emergent development.
    • Additionally, a conscious diminishing of the importance of authorship, in poised reference to Diderot's elimination of final causes of philosophy, will redefine evolutionary software "localized" to a specific point in our biological universe.
  3. One question is, what is the place of the formal system, either linguistic, mathematical, or computational, when Diderot, according to Pierre Saint-Amand, would have been highly opposed to all abstract systems except the infinitesimal calculus of Leibniz?
    • According to Saint-Amand, Diderot's project of establishing a science of things in contradistinction to abstract mathematics, as in Pensées sur l'interpretation, is strongly opposed, in its emphasis on nuanced meaning created from experience, to utopian systems, including Linnaean classification.
      • The infinitesimal calculus resists Diderot's criticisms because it conforms to his notion of an infinite number of beings contained by the concept of one overall being. Such a being is necessary for making reference to the whole of Nature, and stresses only qualitative lives of living beings beyond quantitative lives fixed into abstract enumerations.
      • In invoking the infinitesimal calculus, our world of objects, whether as an idea or as a recourse to an understanding of this mathematics, is introduced into such quantitative frames of reference.
      • If abstract mathematical systems are super-layers above empirical thinking because they are in fact its poor shadows and because they are reifications, then the objects of mathematics - making what is abstract concrete - are conversely material for empiricists.
      • Artifacts of mathematics are texts that become exploratory fields for new empirical conceits.
      • Artifacts of formal systems, on the other hand, can be artifacts also of more metaphorical or literary expression.
      • As modular creations, they are not predetermined as artifacts of one field but may emerge into any variable field once within that field.
    • Similarly computer systems more easily find their power when they attempt to develop ideas relationally and empirically.
  4. According to Bruno Latour and Geneviève Teil in Mechanical Bodies, Computational Minds (2004), computers should serve in applications for which they excel: not in emulating formal systems historically created by humans, but in the manner of a Hume Machine, an experimental, "skeptical" point of view on software that they discuss, which maps out sets of relations symmetrically, relationally, and relativistically.
    • Latour and Teil remark that in having computers imitate an aspect of a humanity that separates nature and society, these machines fall short of any approximation of meaningful knowledge production that humans have exercised historically.
    • Because computers are good at determining literal equivalences between things, they should be used to show researchers of Latour's concept of "symmetrical anthropology" relational aspects of their critical topics, in the manner of the software concept-mapping application, Candide.
    • Formal systems could at this moment, be left to human creation.
    • Indeed, a formal computational system could be seen as an expressive use of language by humanity/nature. Formal systems always refer to things in the world and are coupled among its actors and fortuitously arranged in our most infamous binary oppositions.
  5. Formal systems do not transcend a science of things but say different things in being used within this science of things, as objects themselves.
  6. More so than Diderot is believed to have thought, formal systems outside of his texts exist within the continuity of nature as if they were the things classified by Linnaeus, rather than the apparatus of classification itself.
  7. The infinitesimal calculus, Diderot's notion of a chain of being, classification in general, and common concepts of a “world out there” place natural science's notions of general and particular into paradox, showing that utopian classification systems are incorporated into an infinite chain of beings once presumed to be "real" nature.
    • Formal systems are contained by rather than coexist with global notions of a "whole" as demonstrated in Diderot's Rêve de d'Alembert: readers will likely never erase from memory the image Diderot gives of mixing stone with humus and using it to grow vegetables that are then consumed by animals including humans. As Saint-Amand has brought to light, this image nearly destroys all systems of classification by creating a thorough mélange of animal, vegetable, and mineral realms.
    • Let us be cognizant of this ultimate place of classification. Even in the system I am proposing, while classification is a starting point, it ultimately yields to what is beyond it, namely life practices that disturb a clear apprehension of knowledge and continue their projects even if mired in "disorder".
    • Classification as "humus" then functions in the following rapports:
      • Out of the need to name a variety of species, classification can be seen to be born, that is from everyday life and the need for being clear in denoting things in the world. The world of experience creates at least psychological or visual classification
      • While rooted in experience, this form of classification also has a tendency to lead to the systematization and creation of a hierarchical ordering that realizes any number of filiations of the particular in the general or global.
      • At the Same time, the infinitesimal calculus, while potentially describing an infinity of beings, creates an abstraction from this infinity, in the form of "One Being".
      • Together with this "One being" is "la chaîne" or "continuity" as defined by Diderot, a multiplicity of beings from an abstraction of one single natural being.
  8. This incorporation of the formal system into objects of the universe is mirrored in the language of Diderot in the Éléments de Physiologie especially, his use of “le tout” and “la partie”.
  9. It is mirrored in the notion of "sensibilité", described by Diderot as "a quality belonging to the animal, which forewarns it of relations between itself and all that surrounds it".
  10. Some form of classification now incorporated into the continuity of living beings might then be seen not to fix objects, but merely to qualitatively register them in the mind of its classifiers, enabling a Leibnizian infinitesimally encoded nature as "One being", in order to permit objects to emerge from a fabric of things.
  11. We may thus share Diderot's and the 18th century philosophes' critique of "system" while formalizing a system attached to a language text and translation, by directing its neighboring objects within a project of reflection on what we classify.
  12. While an artifact of 18th century science such as the Éléments de Physiologie can be meta-formatted according to the conventions of computer science, with such reflection, the formal system it evokes will be subordinate to Diderot's text, critical of such systems.
  13. Thus a computer science meta-structuring of Éléments inhabits the domain of biology and computer science is an inscription process of Nature.
  14. A semantic specification for a translated Éléments de Physiologie would thus be one giant whole/part homology dually transposed upon an act of language translation and semantic classification.
  15. (A closer look parts of the translated Éléments de Physiologie formatted semantically)
  16. (A closer look at the supporting architecture)
  17. Conclusion