Cybernetica Mesopotamica

A Balzan Foundation Research Project

III. The goals


Giorgio Buccellati – December 2022

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Methods and techniques

The fundamental distinction between methods and techniques must be stressed from the outset (see G. Buccellati, Critique, 7.3-5).

A technique refers to the way in which a tool is made, maintained and used. It is essentially non-inventory specific, i.e., it is independent of the data to which it is applied. Thus the use of digital photography requires a special know-how of cameras, but not of the object being photographed; in the same way, the use of a car requires to be able to drive it, not to know where one wants to go, or why.

A method, on the other hand, refers to the way in which a tool is applied with regard to a given set of data. It is, therefore, inventory specific. Thus a photo taken with a camera must have the purpose of illustrating a given aspect of the data, while setting a destination and showing how to go there is the reason for actually driving the car, not to mention the reason behind the trip.

In other words, shooting a photo or driving a car is matter of technique, whereas knowing why one shoots a photo with a camera, or knowing how to get to one’s destination with a car, is a matter of method.

The notion of cybernetics subsumes methods and techniques (see also I. The project), and the project aims to deal effectively with both, but highlighting the primacy of method within the framework of digital humanism. And we do this in two ways, through (1) a theoretical statement of the principles and (2) an actual implementation of these principles.

At the same time, we continue to be deeply involved in the technical aspect, and so we will continue to develop (3) a set a programs that serve two main purposes: (A) the processing of data and (B) the articulation of a digital argument.

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(1) Theory

The theoretical statement is given in a dedicated website, It focuses on the way in which a website should be used as a proper epistemic system, through the application of a multi-planar and multi-linear discourse that requires new skills in “writing” and “reading” a website.

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A basic dichotomy

Websites have quickly become an established channel for scholarly communication, but there is a profound epistemic dichotomy in their structure. They have a truly digital dimension as databases, but have remained quite atrophied with regard to the articulation of a properly digital argument. They serve a function as containers, where data are stored with an immensely greater potential for retrieval than is the case with pre-digital tools. But the argument, one that leads to original conclusions from known premises, is relegated to separate analog versions, whether in the form of .PDF renderings of printed publications, or as their .HTML equivalents. These are not integrated with the data, but juxtaposed to them.

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Artificial Argument

The current trend of Artificial Intelligence aims precisely in this direction: it constructs an argument. In fact, it may be more accurate to speak of an Artificial Argument: what we obtain is a sequential rearrangement of known data along lines that are suggested by the content of the individual cells.

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Digital Discourse

Our goal harks back to the time honored search for an integration between analysis and synthesis, between the fragments and the whole. The wider relevance of our approach is that it faces squarely the problems generally recognized as being posed by the unbridled development of the Internet. Our suggestion is that we should use it more rather than less, introducing an approach that allows multiple planes to be developed concurrently in such a way that they interlace structurally with each other and allow a multi-linear argument to be developed.

It is what we call “digital discourse,” an epistemic system parallel to that of a uni-linear sequential narrative as is normally available in printed format (or electronically in similar analog formats). In a website constructed with this in mind, there is a dynamic inter-planarity, in the sense that multiple concurrent planes “discourse” with each other and together create a whole. The concurrence of inter-planarity and multi-linearity may be also expressed with the term “polyhedral.”

The theory was first presented in full in the book A Critique of Archaeological Reason, and then developed in various articles. It is now being expanded in a dedicated website, This website is currently being written, and one of the first goals of the project is to fully complete the website and to publish at the same time a parallel printed book. They will also serve as a detailed introduction to the conceptual nature of the various other websites where the theory is implemented.

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(2) Implementation of the theory

The theoretical statement is not an end in itself – and it has, in fact, developed alongside its very implementation and to a large extent following it. Our goal is to bring out more clearly this connection between theory and practice.

All the websites in the system aim to do precisely that, i.e., to show how the website theory can be de facto implemented. But this new epistemic system is novel and its functioning is not immediately transparent. We used to store data in a website instead of writing it, and to use these data instead of reading the website seen as conduit for an argument, and this habit is so pervasive that it is difficult to see the much greater and deeper potential of the medium.

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Language and writing

We need to educate ourselves to this new dimension, and a reflection on the origin of language and of writing is helpful in this respect.

Sounds referring to things or events were an indispensable pre-condition of language, but were far from constituting a linguistic reality. Language emerged only when it became possible to render logical connections through a proper syntactical structure. And it certainly must have taken a great deal of time before the difference became clear and every speaker became accustomed to the power of the new medium.

Similarly, graphic representations of things had little in common with writing, even though such representations (pictograms) were a necessary precondition. But the real import of the new medium was in the articulate connection among signs and the organization of thought in a structured visible format. And while everyone in any given linguistic group had become a speaker of the shared language, very few acquired the new know-how and became scribes.

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Inter-planarity and multi-linearity

Just as language was to sounds, and writing was to representational images, so an inter-planar and multi-linear website is to a website in current use.

Current websites are multi-planar in the sense that their pages are parallel and directly accessible to each other, and so are websites among each other. What a multi-linear inter-planarity adds is the notion that an argument can proceed linearly along multiple paths and draw on planes that are written concurrently with each other in mind. It is a radical transformation of the earlier epistemic models where the argument, as presented by any given author, is intrinsically unilinear and uniplanar. Critical thought as such is indeed interplanar, in that it draws on multiple resources and on one’s own judgment. However, this interaction is not made explicit until it is formalized with additional written arguments that are superimposed on the original one. Interplanarity, instead, is construed as such from the beginning, and is possible only because of the digital format it can take.

It is our goal not only to describe this in a theoretical framework, but also to show through the implementation of the theory how it actually works. A full discussion of the concept will be given in the Digital Discourse website.

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(3) Programming

Several suites of programs have been written to make this implementation possible. They constitute the technical backbone of the system. Some have been completed in the first stage of the Balzan phase of the project, others will be finalized in the course of our work.

The entire programming aspect of the project is entrusted to Bernardo Forni.

There are two main aspects in the Cybernetica Mesopotamica programming plan: one that is more specifically linked to the processing of primary data, and the other that is geared to prepare an output in browser format especially in view of an effective interlacing of levels (interplanarity).

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Data processing

There are two sets of programs, one for two of the five domains.

The set of programs for the Texts domain has not been in use in recent years, and needs to be rewritten. For the time being, however, we can use the old outputs, which are available in ASCII format.

The set of programs for the Urkesh Global Record (UGR), within the Sites domain,on the other hand, is fully operative. A major rewrite has been completed in the first stage of the project, and is being currently used on a regular basis.

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In the service of the argument

A new program (MID) has been largely completed, and is in current use. What is needed is primarily the conversion of existing websites to a format that is suited for this program.

The program is used in all websites, from all five domains: it prepares the input for browser display and produces indices, in addition to enabling a full Search function.

The MNI program, which produces the “Multi-Nodal Index,” will also be implemented for all websites in the Bibliography domain.

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