Perplexing Purple

We have three sets of cones (or colour sensors) in our retinas, each of which is sensitive to a different part of the colour spectrum; the brain then constructs the rest of the spectrum by extrapolating from the relative strength of these three. In the case of purple, which occurs when the red and blue sensors but not the green ones are triggered, the brain creates a colour to fill the gap. If your brain were more objective, rather than showing you purple, it would display a patch of flickering grey with the words “system error” on it. — Rory Sutherland in Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense (2019), section 6.2

Guat Da Fack?!

From Intellectual Impostures (1998) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont:

To conclude, let us quote a brief excerpt from the book Chaosmosis, written by Guattari alone. This passage contains the most brilliant melange of scientific, pseudo-scientific, and philosophical jargon that we have ever encountered; only a genius could have written it.

We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multidimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously. A machinic assemblage, through its diverse components, extracts its consistency by crossing ontological thresholds, non-linear thresholds of irreversibility, ontological and phylogenetic thresholds, creative thresholds of heterogenesis and autopoiesis. The notion of scale needs to be expanded to consider fractal symmetries in ontological terms.

What fractal machines traverse are substantial scales. They traverse them in engendering them. But, and this should be noted, the existential ordinates that they “invent” were always already there. How can this paradox be sustained? It’s because everything becomes possible (including the recessive smoothing of time, evoked by Rene Thom) the moment one allows the assemblage to escape from energetico-spatiotemporal coordinates. And, here again, we need to rediscover a manner of being of Being — before, after, here and everywhere else — without being, however, identical to itself; a processual, polyphonic Being singularisable by infinitely complexifiable textures, according to the infinite speeds which animate its virtual compositions.

The ontological relativity advocated here is inseparable from an enunciative relativity. Knowledge of a Universe (in an astrophysical or axiological sense) is only possible through the mediation of autopoietic machines. A zone of self-belonging needs to exist somewhere for the coming into cognitive existence of any being or any modality of being. Outside of this machine/Universe coupling, beings only have the pure status of a virtual entity. And it is the same for their enunciative coordinates. The biosphere and mecanosphere, coupled on this planet, focus a point of view of space, time and energy. They trace an angle of the constitution of our galaxy. Outside of this particularised point of view, the rest of the Universe exists (in the sense that we understand existence here-below) only through the virtual existence of other autopoietic machines at the heart of other bio-mecanospheres scattered throughout the cosmos. The relativity of points of view of space, time and energy do not, for all that, absorb the real into the dream. The category of Time dissolves into cosmological reflections on the Big Bang even as the category of irreversibility is affirmed. Residual objectivity is what resists scanning by the infinite variation of points of view constitutable upon it. Imagine an autopoietic entity whose particles are constructed from galaxies. Or, conversely, a cognitivity constituted on the scale of quarks. A different panorama, another ontological consistency. The mecanosphere draws out and actualises configurations which exist amongst an infinity of others in fields of virtuality. Existential machines are at the same level as being in its intrinsic multiplicity. They are not mediated by transcendent signifiers and subsumed by a univocal ontological foundation. They are to themselves their own material of semiotic expression. Existence, as a process of deterritorialisation, is a specific inter-machinic operation which superimposes itself on the promotion of singularised existential intensities. And, I repeat, there is no generalised syntax for these deterritorialisations. Existence is not dialectical, not representable. It is hardly livable! (Félix Guattari 1995, pp. 50-52)


• εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν. — Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος

• • Si toutes choses devenaient fumée, on connaîtrait par les narines. — Héraclite d’Ephèse

• • • If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would tell them apart. — Heraclitus of Ephesos, quoted in Aristotle’s De sensu, 5, 443a 23

A Ladd Inane

“I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others.” — Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948)

Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this post is, of course, a radical reference to core Jethro Tull album Aladdin Sane (1973).


Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

“Jonglietzsche” is a portmanteau of German Jongleur / jonglieren, “juggler, juggling”, and the surname of core counter-cultural philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Jongleur is pronounced something like “zhawngloer”, as in French.

Stu’s Views

“Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.” — Stuart Sutherland (1927-98), in The International Dictionary of Psychology (1995), entry on “Consciousness”

Carved Cascade

Woodcut of a waterfall by Reynolds Stone (1909-79)

It’s the wrong kind of waterfall to go with this passage from Nietzsche, but that can’t be helped dot dot dot colon

Am Wasserfall. — Beim Anblick eines Wasserfalles meinen wir in den zahllosen Biegungen, Schlängelungen, Brechungen der Wellen Freiheit des Willens und Belieben zu sehen; aber Alles ist nothwendig, jede Bewegung mathematisch auszurechnen. So ist es auch bei den menschlichen Handlungen; man müsste jede einzelne Handlung vorher ausrechnen können, wenn man allwissend wäre, ebenso jeden Fortschritt der Erkenntniss, jeden Irrthum, jede Bosheit. Der Handelnde selbst steckt freilich in der Illusion der Willkür; wenn in einem Augenblick das Rad der Welt still stände und ein allwissender, rechnender Verstand da wäre, um diese Pausen zu benützen, so könnte er bis in die fernsten Zeiten die Zukunft jedes Wesens weitererzählen und jede Spur bezeichnen, auf der jenes Rad noch rollen wird. Die Täuschung des Handelnden über sich, die Annahme des freien Willens, gehört mit hinein in diesen auszurechnenden Mechanismus. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister (1878)

AT THE WATERFALL.—In looking at a waterfall we imagine that there is freedom of will and fancy in the countless turnings, twistings, and breakings of the waves ; but everything is compulsory, every movement can be mathematically calculated. So it is also with human actions ; one would have to be able to calculate every single action beforehand if one were all-knowing ; equally so all progress of knowledge, every error, all malice. The one who acts certainly labours under the illusion of voluntariness ; if the world’s wheel were to stand still for a moment and an all-knowing, calculating reason were there to make use of this pause, it could foretell the future of every creature to the remotest times, and mark out every track upon which that wheel would continue to roll. The delusion of the acting agent about himself, the supposition of a free will, belongs to this mechanism which still remains to be calculated. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (1908)

Lesz is More

• Matematyka jest najpotężniejszym intelektualnym wehikułem, jaki kiedykolwiek został skonstruowany, za pomocą którego uciekamy przed czasem, lecz nie ma powodu przypuszczać, że mogłaby kiedyś umożliwić tego rodzaju ucieczkę, jaką ucieleśnia pogoń za Absolutem. — Leszek Kołakowski

• Mathematics is the most powerful intellectual vehicle that has ever been constructed, by means of which we flee ahead of time, but there is no reason to suppose that it could someday enable the kind of escape embodied by the pursuit of the Absolute. — Leszek Kołakowski

A Clockwork Orang

A portrait of the clockmaker Thomas Mudge by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1772)

Note: The title of this incendiary intervention was buried by Anthony Burgess in the title of his magisterial A Clockwork Orange (1962): in Malay, orang means “man” (as in orangutan, “man of the forest”). The book asks whether man is clockwork or has free will. Obviously, Thomas Mudge was a “clockwork orang” in another sense.

Sphere Hear

οὐσίαν θεοῦ σφαιροειδῆ, μηδὲν ὅμοιον ἔχουσαν ἀνθρώπωι· ὅλον δὲ ὁρᾶν καὶ ὅλον ἀκούειν, μὴ μέντοι ἀναπνεῖν· σύμπαντά τε εἶναι νοῦν καὶ φρόνησιν καὶ ἀίδιον. — Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων

    “The substance of God is spherical, in no way resembling man. He is all eye and all ear, but does not breathe; he is the totality of mind and thought, and is eternal.” — Xenophanes’ concept of God in Diogenes Laërtius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers (c. 280-320 AD), Book IX, chapter 2 (translated by R.D. Hicks, 1925)