Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way causal effect. A closely related term is interconnectivity, which deals with the interactions of interactions within systems: combinations of many simple interactions can lead to surprising emergent phenomena. Interaction has different tailored meanings in various sciences.

Casual examples of interaction outside of science include:

  • communication of any sort, for example two or more people talking to each other, or communication among groups, organizations, nations or states: trade, migration, foreign relations, transportation,
  • the feedback during the operation of machines such as a computer or tool, for example the interaction between a driver and the position of his or her car on the road: by steering the driver influences this position, by observation this information returns to the driver.- Wikipedia, accessed 15:38 EDT 23 May, 2012

The idea presented in the Wikipedia article is that two or more objects effect each other. We don’t have to go far to find examples. A light is dark, we flick as switch( the simplest binary computer we have) and the light goes on. Digital games offer more complex interactions. Different combinations of information, or movement(watch closely, that term, and others that could be replaced with the term ‘motion’).

But when we look at the painting, it does not change. To be sure, age has an effect on paintings, so their colours change and dim due to dirt and oxidisation. But merely looking at them doesn’t change them, does it?

yet I will argue that time and the social frame in which they occur changes them. The painting that is generally ignored will have a different interpretation than a celebrated painting, say the Mona Lisa. It’s audiences will move quickly past, while staring at the good paintings. it is here I am begining to think about Thomas Kuhn’s studies on science. He recognised that motion as contemporary physics defines it is much narrower than Aristotle did. Aristotle used the term motion to mean change. This lead to Kuhn developing his concept of the paradigm. For Kuhn, a paradigm was a series of assumptions and methodologies for developing particular scientific discoveries. These were instrumental principles, in that they developed knowledge that could guide action, but they weren’t absolute.

So each painting isn’t merely looked at; each painting was looked at in a particular paradigm as to its significance. As that significance changes, so the painting changes, even if it’s colours remain stable, and it’s physical form is not changed. For Walter Benjamin, an artistic object has an aura, and I argue this aura can be changed by the interpretative changes around it. For Alfred Gell, an art object was granted an agency by its interpreters. This agency again could change over time, as interpretation changes.

One may object that changing opinion doesn’t reflect a changing object. I would reply that the meaning of an object, its most significant element, is more crucial then the lack of chemical or kinetic changes. This notion of change again can be reflected in earlier metaphyics, that of Aristotle. He defined four causes by which a thing came to be: Its material cause- that from which it is made, and unchanging i.e. paint, laquer and canvas in the case of many paintings; The Formal cause; that which changes such as the particular design; the efficient cause, in this case the artist; and the Final cause, for what was this made.

The possible mutability of the final cause is what leads me to argue that a painting enjoys a form of interactivity. Its final cause is subject to review and revision. Why should we privilege Aristotle’s characterisation of the origins  of an object using his concepts of cause, versus more contemporary notions of origin and change? I will deal with that problem later. But I suggest that answers to that problem can be found in Duns Scotus’ discussion of quiddity, and in the work of Martin Heidegger, especially the origin of the work of art.


Horgan, John. “What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific ‘Truth'” . Scientific American, May 23, 2012
accessed 23 May 2012


The title of this blog is Interactive intentions. The second word, intentions, I have begun to define. However, I have only used the first word, interaction, as if we knew exactly what we were talking about. Philosophers spend much time defining exactly how they will use a word. They are interested in what examples count as denotating a given word. For example, when I say dog, what do I refer to? A four legged animal. You mean like this horse? no, I mean…. And so defining exactly what we are referring to has to be precise.

What examples can we give that count as interaction? And what examples would make that a problem? In a sense, all visual & performative culture is interactive. We see a painting, watch a dance and so on. It has some degree of affect on us. It makes us feel some emotion, it may make us think. It may even bore us, sending us away. In a special case, we may not consciously notice it.

We may have multiple meanings assigned to the same word. For example the word dog may have several meanings in the English language. A dog may mean the furry mammal of genus Canus; It may be an example of a badly executed artifact, including but not limited to airplanes and movies- “That movie was a dog, i wished I hadn’t gone to see it”; It can be a crude assessment of a young women’s perceived lack of beauty- “She’s a dog- really ugly”; it can be an expression of young male friendship(usually colloquially spelled ‘Dawg’- “Yo, Dawg, wazzup?” . Of course some words have meaning that can be so close together they become conflated. Then meanings become skewed and arguments, especially philosophical ones, start to fall apart because the author isn’t talking about the same thing from one sentence from the next.

So what examples count as exhibiting interaction? And what are counter-examples that cause problems for our definition? I don’t have an answer today, but I hope to have a beginning soon.