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A Philosophy of “Doing” in the Digital

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Towards a Philosophy of Digital Media


Playing in counterpoint with the general theoretical orientation of the book, this chapter does not focus its attention on the recording and archiving capabilities of the digital medium. Instead, it proposes an understanding of the digital medium that focuses on its disclosing various forms of “doing.” Gualeni’s chapter begins by offering an understanding of “doing in the digital” that methodologically separates “doing as acting” from “doing as making.” After setting its theoretical framework, the chapter discusses an “interactive thought experiment” designed by the author (titled Something Something Soup Something) that is analyzed as a digital artifact leveraging both dimensions of “doing in the digital” for philosophical purposes. In extreme synthesis, one could say that this chapter is about several kinds of soups.

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  1. 1.

    The terms used to indicate this aspect of flexibility in our relationship with technologies are “multistability” (as introduced by Don Ihde) or “metastability” (coined by Bernard Stiegler, who adapted the concept from Gilbert Simondon). Both notions indicate, in different ways, that the relationships that people establish with technologies and the meanings that they attribute to such relationships are always influenced by a variety of socio-technical factors and situations.

  2. 2.

    The adjective “virtual” was originally used in modern Latin to encapsulate the idea of “potentiality.” Virtualis is a late-medieval neologism, the existence of which became necessary when Aristotle’s concept of δύναμις (dynamis: potentiality, power) had to be translated into Latin (Van Binsbergen 1997, 9). The concept of ‘potentiality’ at the etymological foundation of the adjective “virtual” provides the background for understanding why, at least in one of its interpretations, it is used to indicate the latency of certain possibilities inherent in a specific artifact, combination of artifacts, or state of things (Gualeni 2015, 54–5). A more common connotation of the adjective “virtual” was presented by Pierre Lévy, a connotation that did not stand in opposition to “actual” in the sense discussed above, but to “actual” in the specific sense of something that is pertinent to the world humans are native to (Lévy 1998, 14). The latter understanding of “virtual” has definite affinities with a digitalist approach to virtual reality such as the one heralded by David Chalmers (Chalmers 2016, 2, 3)

  3. 3.

    Something Something Soup Something is available for free for a number of different computer platforms at It was designed and written by Stefano Gualeni, in collaboration with Isabelle Kniestedt (art and programming), Johnathan Harrington (field research and additional design), Marcello Gómez Maureira (web-design and additional programming), Riccardo Fassone (music and sound effects), Jasper Schellekens (narrator and research support).

  4. 4.

    See Chapter “8.1.2 Humans who calculate” in Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools (Gualeni 2015, 156–7).

  5. 5.

    During the development of Something Something Soup Something, we had to identify the properties and features that different people in a variety of different cultures use to describe soup. By doing so, we tried to remove our personal biases about what soup is (or is not) from the conceptual design of the video game. Inspired by Eleanor Rosch and Carolyn B. Mervis’s linguistic experiments, we organised focus groups in different countries (Rosch and Mervis 1975). The various activities involved in those focus groups ensured that our conceptions of soup, as designers, were as inclusive as possible (Harrington 2017).


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Several, recurring conversations with Michelle Westerlaken in the past months were both inspiring and shaping for the arguments offered in this chapter. If this text adds anything interesting or useful to the current discourse, she is probably the one to blame for that. In this acknowledgments section I would also like to thank Johnathan Harrington and Isabelle Kniestedt, who significantly contributed to the design and the development of Something Something Soup Something, to the preliminary research and technical work leading to it, and to the editing of this chapter.

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Correspondence to Stefano Gualeni .

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Gualeni, S. (2018). A Philosophy of “Doing” in the Digital. In: Romele, A., Terrone, E. (eds) Towards a Philosophy of Digital Media. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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