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restricted access From Light to Dark: Daylight, Illumination, and Gloom
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Leonardo Reviews 317 Bell Labs a few times before he was finally hired full-time as a research mathematician there. Indeed, the lab’s records omit the fact that Shannon was a summer intern there in 1937. Another detail that interested me was that he did a PhD in genetics, largely prodded toward this topic by Vannevar Bush. As it turned out, his passion was not in that area. Suffice it to say that in the end, the richness of Shannon’s accomplishments show how difficult it is to come up with any one-size-fits-all characterization of our humanness. While he was somewhat of a loner, Shannon’s proclivities nonetheless anticipated the kinds of collaborative projects often found in our world today. Yet he “was the sort of person for whom the concept of ‘networking’ was distasteful when applied to anything other than telephone lines” (p. 107). He is nonetheless a figure who deserves more attention, particularly from individuals who favor a broadening transdisciplinary approach. Finally, what can we learn from Claude Shannon? According to the authors: Acknowledging his creative body of work and how it defies characterization offers a useful corrective to the urge to applaud specialization in our time. I agree with this. I’m less enthusiastic about Shannon’s view of the human mind. In an interview with John Horgan he said: “I’m a machine and you’re a machine, and we both think, don’t we?” (p. 199). Clearly his interest in artificial intelligence was evident in many of his pursuits and in the machines he built. Yet, sadly, Shannon’s life reminds us that while our equations may soar to godly levels and we can craft objects that contain a machine-like precision, our human biological components and consciousness are not reducible to equations. Although Shannon believed that artificial brains would in time surpass organic ones, the book ends by reminding us that his aspiration to surpass the biological is not a part of his personal legacy. Tragically , and perhaps ironically, Shannon developed Alzheimer’s disease. There were indications in the 1980s, and he entered a nursing home in 1993. Even as his body degraded, he continued tinkering. Ultimately he lost his personal communications bandwidth entirely when he died in 2001. His dementia meant that he was not able to see the digital revolution advance during his waning years, characterized by the launch of the Internet and other communication tools far beyond what twentiethcentury minds conceptualized. Even so, as books like The Mind at Play remind us, Shannon’s signal lives on in what he added to our communal communications repository. He was instrumental in creating the technologies of our digital age even though his inability to fathom this demonstrates that life itself is not an engineering problem, or at least not yet. . . . As the authors write: In 1948, Shannon’s theoretical work posed as many questions as it answered. But the value of that challenge shouldn’t be underestimated . . . . The striking feature of his paper is the reverberation, the way in which it inaugurated an entire field of study, a body of dialogue and deliberation that would long outlive its author. . . . Few papers can claim an impact so enduring (it has more than 91,000 citations and counting!), and it’s no exaggeration to say that, though information theory has important antecedents prior to Shannon, the formal study of information begins in earnest with his work” (p. 274). References 1 The two-part paper is available online; see C.E. Shannon, “A mathematical theory of communication,” The Bell System Technical Journal 27, No. 3, 379–423 (1948). doi: 10.1002/j.1538-7305.1948. tb01338.x (URL: ; C.E. Shannon , “A Mathematical Theory of Communication ,” The Bell System Technical Journal 27, No. 4, pp. 623–656 (1948), doi: 10.1002/j.1538-7305.1948.tb00917.x (URL: . 2 The short film is available at . 3 See my recent Leonardo review of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America meeting, . 4 Havelock, Eric. 1982. Preface to Plato: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. From Light to Dark: Daylight, Illumination, and Gloom by Tim Edensor. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2017. 248...