How to Think About Automata


These pages are full of short essays on automata and how these machines may be realized through interactions with the arts and humanities. How should we think about these automata? How do we make sense of them? Let's answer the first question. We need to think abstractly, and for this we turn toward mathematics, since mathematics represents the study of abstraction. My formal training is mathematics and computer science and so this has affected how I think, but my purpose is to say that we all need to walk the line between the two extremes: abstraction at one end and specification (or specialization) at the other. The other end is familiar to artists and humanists and is a necessary component for answering the second question posed above. Thinking abstractly may seem a bit peculiar to some who may not practice the art, but it is a most useful pursuit. We'll come back to this topic periodically, but I'd like to leave you with some doodles created by Henri Poincaré from Scott Walter's study of his notebooks. Poincaré said in Science and Hypothesis "Mathematicians do not study objects, but the relation between objects....they are interested in form alone." One of the effects of this thought process is that we see similarity and invariance where others may see difference.