[-empyre-] 'Engines of Logic' and 'The Essential Turing'

Jim Andrews jim at vispo.com
Wed Mar 11 18:17:11 EST 2009

I'd like to mention a couple of books I'd recommend not only to people 
interested in digital poetry but in computer art more generally. And say 
something about why this is so.

The first is a book called 'Engines of Logic' ( http://tinyurl.com/b7queq 
and by the renowned USAmerican logician Martin Davis. This was only 
published a couple of years ago but, if I'm not mistaken, it will be read 
for many years to come by Computer Scientists, Mathematicians, Logicians, 
and (let's hope) digital artists.

Here are some relevant URLs:
http://tinyurl.com/b7queq (books.google.com)
http://tinyurl.com/6r89rr (amazon.com)

It looks at the development of the computer as "Leibniz's dream". Davis 
looks at the life and work of Leibniz, Frege, Boole, Cantor, Hilbert, Godel 
and Turing in relation to the development of the computer. These are 
mathematicians/logicians (in chronological order) from the seventeenth 
century to the twentieth.

It's a very intriguing book in its biographical sketches of these men. It 
looks at their trials and successes. Cantor was in and out of sanatoria. 
Godel starved himself to death out of paranoia that his food was being 
poisoned. Turing (probably) committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple. 
Leibniz had a day job writing the story of his boss's family and his boss 
valued that more than Leibniz's own work as one of the pre-emminent 
intellectuals of human history.

But what do these mathematicians/logicians have to do with the development 
of the computer? The book looks at the development of the computer in 
relation to the development of the languages and theory of symbolic logic. 
It's been remarked by people who built computers out of Mechano that 
computers are made of logic, not silicon.

You don't need to be a mathematician/logician to read this book. Though, if 
you are, you'll also dig it. Martin Davis is an emminent logician from New 
York who taught at the Courant Institute and has done significant work on 
undecidability, among other things.

It's a terrific book both in the 'history of ideas' and in the human 
dimensions of the lives of these giants of math/logic.

What's in it for digital artists? Well, I said at the outset that it's a 
good book for those interested to understand digital media. Not at the nuts 
and bolts level. But at the level of history, at the level of the relation 
of Godel and Turing's work to what the medium is saying.

As a student of math, I was particularly interested in the development of 
the foundations of mathematics and of metamathematics. If you have any sense 
of that history, you'll find this book remarkable in how it traces the 
relation of that movement to the development of the computer.

And in relation to the current discussion on -empyre-, what I'd point out is 
the way that computing emerges, in Davis's book, as a synthesis of logic and 
language, of code and language, of the machinic and the human.

Yes, the computer is a language machine, a writing system. But it's also a 
logic machine, a numeric machine. A profound synthesis of writing and 
mathematics/logic. I look with interest at work in digital poetry that shows 
similar or related signs of synthesis rather than being exclusively either 
of one or the other. Literary while remaining clueless about the nature of 
the computer. Or programmerly without a sense of poetry.

In 'new media', there's a sense of the importance of theory such as 
Manovich's work. But not much sense of the importance of the theory of 
computation to an understanding of the phenomenology of computing. I suppose 
that will change over time. I hope so.

The second book I'd like to mention is The Essential Turing edited by Jack 
Copeland. There's so much written *about* Turing. This presents Turing's own 
work along with excellent commentaries on crucial issues concerning Turing's 


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