Simulations and Environments

Simulations and Environments

11 March 2017

Digital Culture Unit, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK | Website

Simulations and Environments, Goldsmiths

When we think about computer simulation it is usually with one of two images in mind. In the first, we think of simulation in terms of its simulacra, or the resulting image of the thing being simulated, and we evaluate this image on the basis of how much it does, or does not, relate to the thing it copies. In the second, we think of simulation as the process of simulation, and we ask questions about the factors that guide that process. Over time, the latter view of simulation (as a process of simulating) has come to be more dominant, and, as Matthew Spencer argues, this view of simulating sets out not only to uncover “genuine novelty” but also to “[transform] ideas of [its] object while [transforming its] own technical foundations.”

Simulation in recent years has been a critical tool for understanding the Earth and outer space. This has only increased with the computation of the high-risk stakes of climate change. Yet the epistemological merit of simulating is rarely accompanied with a critical assessment of its simulacra, its aesthetic properties. Put another way, the history of nature and the environment is, particularly at its interstices with the human and the natural sciences, heavily laden with cultural and even theological ideas about how a nature should look, should make one feel, should be. What guarantee do we have that these ideological preconceptions are not making their way into our simulations and models today? And if they are being included, how are they influencing our data? Or conversely, should we be including the cultural and affective effects of nature so often associated with the experience of landscape into our computational models precisely because of the way they fold the human into the physical environment?