Irreversible Noise: The Rationalisation of Randomness and the Fetishisation of Indeterminacy

Wilkins, Inigo. 2016. Irreversible Noise: The Rationalisation of Randomness and the Fetishisation of Indeterminacy. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis aims to elaborate the theoretical and practical significance of the concept of noise with regard to current debates concerning realism, materialism, and rationality. The scientific conception of noise follows from the developments of thermodynamics, information theory, cybernetics, and dynamic systems theory; hence its qualification as irreversible. It is argued that this conceptualization of noise is entangled in several polemics that cross the arts and sciences, and that it is crucial to an understanding of their contemporary condition.

This thesis draws on contemporary scientific theories to argue that randomness is an intrinsic functional aspect at all levels of complex dynamic systems, including higher cognition and reason. However, taking randomness or noise as given, or failing to distinguish between different descriptive levels, has led to misunderstanding and ideology. After surveying the scientific and philosophical context, the practical understanding of randomness in terms of probability theory is elaborated through a history of its development in the field of economics, where its idealization has had its most pernicious effects.

Moving from the suppression of noise in economics to its glorification in aesthetics, the experience of noise in the sonic sense is first given a naturalistic neuro-phenomenological explanation. Finally, the theoretical tools developed over the course of the inquiry are applied to the use of noise in music. The rational explanation of randomness in various specified contexts, and the active manipulation of probability that this enables, is opposed to the political and aesthetic tendencies to fetishize indeterminacy. This multi-level account of constrained randomness contributes to the debate by demystifying noise, showing it to be an intrinsic and functionally necessary condition of reason and consequently of freedom.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


noise, entropy, Deleuze, Sellars, economics, music

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


30 November 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

15 Dec 2016 09:53

Last Modified:

12 Sep 2022 11:11


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