Databases & Divination

My initial project concept of exploring glitch between bodies of code (i.e. vocal recognition software) has been postponed to a day when the software gods are smiling upon me.

However the other area which I wished to explore was the concept of juxtaposing practices of divination with the algorithmic action of data mining.

I feel that pattern detection is a massive part of digital culture, especially ubiquitous computing. I am really interested in interrogating the idea of prediction that underpins the faith in data mining as a worthwhile endeavour. I am interested in this movement at all scales (for instance I consider it appropriate to deploy within science but nevertheless find the refiguring of science (it is now figured as a fourth paradigm of scientific enquiry) occurring therein politically interesting (from a science studies point of view). The area which interests me most is the application of data mining to social contexts, the notion that a form of knowledge alchemy can occur through weight of data aggregation and data mining algorithm execution.

So several areas therein interest me. One is the respective distillations of experience that occurs in divination and data mining. Non excitatory (and non substance – induced) divination tends to have an object of focus and there is a communion between diviner and the object. Per an Object Oriented philosophical approach I would be sympathetic to conceiving of a relational agency occurring in divination practice. In divination the distillation of experience is difficult to locate exactly, it is fluid. Data mining is reliant upon fast computers and database structures. But it is at the data entry stage of a data mining process that the distillation of experience occurs. In this regard I am very interested in the processes of classification highlighted by Leigh and Bowker Starr. I am also interested in what categorising an experience in this manner does relative to the intuitive process that characterises other divinatory practices.

I aim to explore this through various means of scrying: initially I drifted towards forms of lecanomancy (water gazing, using oil or ink drops as a focal point). However I have drifted towards focussing on tea reading, or tasseography (or tasseomancy), as the preferred practice.

The concept behind the project works as follows. I want a user to engage in the practice of tea leaf reading. They will follow the procedures of this process, and upon completion will be encouraged to enter their experience into a command line prompt. All the data entered by the user will be stored in a database.

The tasseomancy process will also be observed by the computer via webcam. Upon completion of the task the computer will take a picture of patterns of tea leaves in the tea cup. It will log the data as relevant to it’s processing of the pattern in the same database. I hope to gradually accrue records in the database wherein the process of human intuition, machinic vision pattern detection and pattern detecting database algorithms will all interact in the one assemblage.


~ by Stephen Fortune on February 25, 2011.

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