CfP: Humanities & Social Sciences Communications / Generative Approaches to Noise

 Humanities & Social Sciences Communications is a fully open access journal publishing scholarship from across all areas of the humanities, social and behavioural sciences. The journal is published by Springer Nature. It began publication as Palgrave Communications (ISSN 2662-9992) and operated under that title until June 16th2020 and aspires to be the definitive peer-reviewed outlet for open access research in and between fields within its scope. 

Generative Approaches to Noise: Towards a New Paradigm in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Guest Editors: Cecile Malaspina (King’s College London, UK; Collège International de Philosophie, France) and Luca Possati (University of Porto, Portugal)

Few notions are more central than noise to the transformation of modern life. Noise has become synonymous with the complexity and uncertainty of our world and its global digitized information networks. The notion of noise has provided a pithy concept for information theory and computational logic, hailing from the history of statistical analysis (error of measurement) and probability theory (stochasticity), from the understanding of thermodynamic turbulence (entropy) and molecular disorder (Brownian motion). However, the negative connotation of noise as signal interference is increasingly giving way to a generative and functional understanding of randomness and stochastic variables. Noise is no longer treated only as detrimental, but as central to our understanding of emergent patterns and to the development of fault-tolerant, actionable data in the context of partial or noisy information. Stripping away assumptions and working through noise is becoming key to Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists no longer work only against, but also with noise to refine our knowledge of complex dynamical systems and to improve data processing.

From variations in population genetics to financial forecasting, from urban planning to climate change, every aspect of contemporary life is affected by this profound shift in the conceptualisation of noise. Wherever the human sciences rely on empirical data, we witness the rising prominence of noise. But the human sciences have an otherwise critical role to play in encompassing our understanding of noise. ‘What can be dismissed as noise?’ is a question the Humanities must subject to a critique that exceeds scientific concerns with data efficiency and accuracy. Data bias and algorithmic governmentality highlight how crucial it is to subject our changing understanding of noise to ethical and political critique. The filtering of our preconceptions into predictive processes, in the context of ubiquitous digitization, raises the challenge of artificial intelligence’s very own algorithmic unconscious.

The technical term noise has facilitated the communication of emerging scientific theories and technological innovations. It resonates because it is highly intuitive. Yet far from being self-evident, the pithiness of the term noise in fact reflects culturally dominant notions of order, organization, self-regulation and progress. The difficulty in accounting for the recent change in noise’s conceptualisation thus points to values and beliefs that remain tied to industrial and post-industrial capitalist worldviews. They testify, more fundamentally, to the lasting impact of the Cartesian paradigm. Even as logic and mechanics have become non-classical, Descartes’ analogy between classical logic and classical mechanics, aligning the suppression of error and that of unproductive energy, still informs the modern definition of information as negation of noise and entropy (negentropy).

By turning the attention increasingly toward the generative capacity of noise, modern science and technology are thus completing a shift away from the Cartesian paradigm. Also artists and designers have long explored the functional and generative qualities of acoustic noise, of randomness and ambiguity, thereby testing the parameters of social resilience and robustness.

What is lacking is a transversal approach to noise, a critique that assesses the conditions of possibility of thought and experience in contemporary society, in light of this paradigmatic shift towards the generative aspects of noise. The aim of this collection is to synergise contributions toward such a critique coming from recent developments in both the human and natural sciences, in technology and the arts.

This collection provides a multi- and inter-disciplinary forum for current thinking in this fast-evolving field of research. We invite submissions and article proposals for this rolling article collection dedicated to the concept of noise. Insights from a broad spectrum of areas are welcomed:  information theory and computer science, philosophy (epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics), digital humanities & media studies, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, musicology, literature, experimental artistic practices etc. 

Contributions are invited that provide perspectives on hot topics within this theme, including, but not restricted to, questions such as:

  • The generative use of noise in automated decision-making processes, from finely-granulated noisy life-world data to actionable data
  • Surveillance capitalism and algorithmic governmentality: the noise-free society
  • Noise, Data Bias and the algorithmic unconscious
  • Epistemological noise: transferring concepts between areas of knowledge
  • Aesthetic and ethical implications of the technical concept of noise
  • Noise: teleology, teleonomy and the ad hoc discovery of purpose
  • Generative approaches to noise in design, architecture, synthetic biology etc.
  • Enablement: noise and the co-constitution of environment and morphogenetic trajectories
  • Noise and requisite variety: complexity on the basis of noise vs order from noise
  • Reductionism: noise and the bridging problem
  • Noise: fake news and the communication strategy of smoke and mirrors
  • Noise: uncertainty, populism, conspiracy theories and the flight into meaning
  • Noise and Ancient Greek notions of clinamen, apeiron, chaos and cosmos
  • Noise & krach: tuché, fortuna, chance, speculation
  • The historical event as noise & krach
  • Chaos and cosmos: noise and the fetishization of order and disorder
  • Noise: historical invariance & unpredictability in novelty formation
  • Noise, information entropy and negentropy
  • Deterministic laws & empirical stochasticity
  • Noise, indiscernibility, indeterminacy
  • Recursivity and non-linearity
  • Computational dynamics based on the elimination of noise vs resilience, robustness of evolutionary and developmental paths with stochasticity & variability
  • Noise & game theory: topology, network complexity and indeterminacy
  • Functional noise in molecular biology and synthetic bio-technology
  • Conventional computable dynamics: resisting or embracing the role of noise?
  • Noise and the specificity of laws to phase spaces in living processes
  • Noise and the analogy of logic and mechanics in the history of philosophy
  • Diversifying the concept of noise: from white Gaussian noise to fluctuations, resonance and non-linear amplification.

This is a rolling article collection and as such submissions will be welcomed at any point up until 31st December 2021. To register interest prospective authors should submit a short article proposal (maximum 300 words) to the Guest Editors in the first instance.