ORDER/SUBSCRIBE           SPONSORS           CONTACT           WHAT'S NEW           INDEX/SEARCH

Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression

by D. Fox Harrell
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013
440 pp., illus., 91 col. Trade: $40.00
ISBN: 9780262317658.

Reviewed by Brian Reffin Smith


Phantasmal Media is officially about humans and computers interacting, with the emphasis on imagination. It treats of the construction and revelation, via computers, of 'phantasms', especially in the context of games. But interesting in a more general way - and more applicable to the computer-based arts as a whole - is its discussion of metaphorical mapping, from one conceptual space to another. Years ago, Gregory Bateson wrote that he wanted computers to be able to deal qualitatively with metaphors, analogies, syllogism... Grass dies, men die, men are grass. (Incidentally, until artificial intelligences can understand punning references to metaphor, out of context: 'life's a beach', then victory in the Turing test can surely never be claimed, not that the computer will care.)

D. Fox Harrell, Associate Professor of Digital Media at MIT, writes about the idea that data structures are usefully and interestingly considered as human views about the world. Going the other way, in the other direction, of course might hijack analysis for art. It's also interesting for the reader to think about the fact that as often in the games field and elsewhere, what we might usually call graphic design is frequently there called 'art'. This is not, I hope, a snobbish distinction, but I would claim that art and graphic design are not synonymous, being done, mostly, for different reasons. What is excellent, however, is that in this book nearly everything the author writes can be relocated to the art domain with little stress and strain, and with some benefit to the artist reader. Although aimed perhaps at developers of computer systems, there is also much general and well-argued propaganda for more human based systems in general that can enhance imagination. This should not be limited to games but extended to all creative uses of computers. And to avoid 'simply' embodying crude models of human cognitive processes in computational systems and drawing vulgar distinctions or making use of facile similarities between computers and people, studies such as this are vital and can enrich and provoke ideas in art and elsewhere.
Finally, my hobby-horse, it has a useful, stimulating index. These are not to be underrated!

Last Updated 4th January 2015

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.info

Contact Leonardo:isast@leonardo.info

copyright © 2013 ISAST