23 December 2020

Modern physics built on quicksand?

The title of this post will provoke its immediate dismissal as mere polemic. Be that as it may. Let me continue. University physics departments have been increasingly renamed today as Departments of Physics and Astronomy. This signals a significant shift in the focus of physics since the 19th century, when mechanics and electromagnetic dynamics were at the centre of attention, to cosmology. This cosmology requires not only the use of huge telescopes of all kinds: ocular, radio, electromagnetic and even gravitational, as well as so-called particle colliders such as the LHC in Geneva, but also the application of ever more complex theories, starting with Einsteinian special relativity and general relativity, and even quantum dynamics requiring ever more complex mathematics. As a conservative estimate, a very able student coming from a school with competent maths and science teachers will need at least four years in an undergraduate physics degree plus four years of postgraduate work in physics to learn the mathematical foundations of advanced relativity physics and quantum dynamics. This is a prerequisite for getting comfortable with the complexities of these highly sophisticated mathematized theories of physics. These entrance barriers make of physicists working at the frontiers of modern physics a kind of small, exclusive, intellectual elite that can communicate in an unfiltered way only amongst itself. 

Physicists are therefore proud of having acquired the mathematical background to even understand modern physics. This pride spills over often enough into arrogance and smugness. After all, they are supposed to be the modern keepers of the keys to the secrets of the universe. The many popularizations of modern physics give a rough idea of some of the enigmas of modern physics such as quantum indeterminacy and space-time curvature, but it remains a rough idea that readers cannot seriously deploy in any confidently critical fashion. These critics would be ruled out of bounds, outside their area of competency, by the initiated physicists themselves. 

One could say, this is all to the good, because the physicists oversee their own work internally and mutually criticize it in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Hence physicists put their reputation on the line if they try to publish nonsense that is either theoretically inconsistent or empirically unverifiable or both. Rigorous internal controls are then said to guarantee falsifiable scientific 'truth'. Scientific endeavour in physics is thus in the hands of competent experts in the best of all possible scientific worlds, even if the rest of us can't follow in detail what they're up to.

But isn't there something fishy going on here? Doesn't the scientific elite of physicists, along with their renowned journals, share a set of pre-given rules for critically judging the worth of scientific discovery? One can often read from physicists themselves that their science's foundations consist of mathematical theories that are treated first as merely hypothetical theoretical models, but that these models then have to be tested and verified by finding the appropriate empirical data to test the model. If the model can account for, that is, explain, the empirical facts given by the data, then it has been verified, at least for now, until new, unexpected empirical facts come along with which the existing model cannot cope. The truth of such mathematical physical models amounts to the correctness in corresponding to the given empirical facts. These empirical facts, in turn, invariably concern movement that the theoretical model needs to accurately predict to prove its mettle as a scientific theory. Hence truth is really only the correct correspondence between model and empirical data relating to movement and change. More succinctly: truth is correctness, and not the unconcealment of the phenomena themselves. Since movement and change are the focus of concern for scientific prediction, the simple phenomena themselves are conceptualized by one-line definitions as a preliminary to moving on to where the action is, namely, the movement of the physical entities concerned. In predicting motion, physics fulfils its raison d'être of usefulness for the mastery of physical motion either in the mind or practically. Empiricism and pragmatism in philosophy and scientific methodology may be regarded as synonyms, and the one is as naïvely dogmatic as the other with respect to its own ontological foundations.

Modern scientific method is ruled by the necessity of testing the validity of hypothetical theoretical models against the experimental data concerning movement and change given by the physical phenomena. Such a procedure is the hallmark of all modern science, which is thoroughly empiricist in nature because it is convinced that theories can be confirmed or confuted by comparing them with empirical data in a circular fashion that, from the outset, rules out questioning the validity of the simple a priori assumptions that already pre-form how the phenomena of concerned are accessed and grasped at all by the scientific mind. This amounts to saying that all modern science is thoroughly clueless as to its own respective ontological foundations, physics no less than economics, biology no less than sociology. It guarantees its own blindness by adhering unquestioningly to an empiricist methodology and epistemology: if the model explains the quantitative empirical facts predictively, it must be true, at least for now (cf. Popperian falsifiability). The implicit ontology of all modern science, including physics, is as naïve and simple-minded as this.

Witness, for instance, the testimony of a sophisticated physicist who has written a very good text book on relativity theory:

"A physical theory, in fact, is a man-made amalgam of concepts, definitions, and laws, constituting a mathematical model for a certain part of nature. It asserts not so much what nature is, but rather what it is like. Agreement with experiment is the most obvious requirement for the usefulness of such a theory. However, no amount of experimental agreement can ever ‘prove’ a theory, partly because no experiment (unless it involves counting only) can ever be infinitely accurate, and partly because we can evidently not test all relevant instances." (Wolfgang Rindler Relativity: Special, General and Cosmological 2nd ed. O.U.P. 2006 p.33)

What is the above-mentioned unconcealment of the phenomena themselves supposed to be, you ask. The phenomena themselves in their revealing themselves of themselves must be hindered, if at all, by the assumed hypotheses of the mathematical physical models. These hypotheses, or underlying postulates must, from the outset (a priori), obscure and distort the view provided by the models based on them. To the present day, physics lavishly praises itself for its mathematization that took off in earnest at the beginning of the 17th century with major contemporaneous figures such as Kepler and Galileo. Galileo is even the author of the leading line of the era's playbook when he pronounces that the laws of nature are written in the language of mathematics. Descartes fills this out to a full-blown script for the modern scientific age in his De Regulae or Rules. This postulation of a mathematized mode of accessing the phenomena of nature is itself not evidence-based, but posited as an (allegedly obvious) axiom entirely for the sake of gaining a purely quantitative, precalculative, predictive power of knowledge over physical motion in a unified way through simple mathematizable laws of motion, namely, Newton's.

To precalculate physical (loco)motion, Newton's laws require the mathematical operation of infinitesimal differentiation with respect to the continuous, real, time variable, t. Without this variable, it cannot even start business. Armed with this assumed 'obvious' mathematization of time, physics was off to the races with unprecedented success, that is, until it hit a road block at the end of the 19th century. Whereas for Newtonian physics, time t was an absolute variable, anomalies in the theory of electromagnetic radiation coupled with the paradoxes of the absoluteness of the movement of electromagnetic radiation (light) in a vacuum in turn forced a relativization of time itself. With Einsteinian relativity, the human being, that is, the scientific observer-subject, was cast as the receiver of electromagnetic signals bearing empirical data at a certain clock-time that the observer-subject registered on his or her clock in the pertinent inertial reference frame. Voilà! Time t had been relativized to the time registered by receipt of an electromagnetic (light) signal in a given frame of reference. 

It had also been spatialized as the path taken by the light bearing the physical information from some event or other in the universe. Such events were of interest especially with a view to calculating the motion of cosmological entities, starting with planets and stars. This spatialized time was tied to the usual three-dimensional spatial co-ordinates by mathematical constraints known as the Lorentz transformation, which resulted in the time of a physical event registered by the clock in one frame being compressed or dilated compared to the time registered by the clock in another frame. Four-dimensional space-time (x,y,z,t) was born with time t becoming the fourth dimension as a continuous, real, linear variable with respect to which equations of motion could still be differentiated. 

The extension of special relativity, in which light moves invariably in a straight line at the absolute speed of light, c, to considering the curvature of the path of light necessitated that the ties between the spatial co-ordinates and the linear time co-ordinate had to be adjusted to account for the curvature of light's path that bore the signal data determining time, t. Hence a curved space-time had to be postulated whose treatment demanded a curved geometry known as differential geometry initially developed by the German mathematician, Bernhard Riemann, who introduced Riemann tensors to cope mathematically with curvature. The focus of theoretical interest remained, of course, the quantities involved and their variation, which could still be captured by (partial and ultimately covariant) differentiation. The phenomena of space and time themselves were taken for granted as self-evident to physical common sense. Only their mathematization was mysterious. For how could space-time be curved?!

Even with the advent of quantum mechanics, whose quantization was forced on physics by anomalies in the theory of electromagnetic radiation, i.e. again: of light, whereupon light (now conceived as nuggets of pure energy, i.e. as absolute, pure, massless movement) could now only be emitted in discrete Planck quanta rather than continuously. This quantization of light in photons led in the 1920s, with Heisenberg and Schrödinger, to the invention of the device of quantum indeterminacy. The motion of sub-atomic particles could no longer be uniquely causally determined, but had only a probability distribution. However, no attempt was made to break with the mathematization of time as a continuous, real, and hence differentiable variable measuring physical movement. The reason is simple: since its inception with Aristotle and his predecessors, physics has always been about investigating the movement of all that is movable, changeable (_kinoumena_). That is the definition of physics: the science of movement, whereby with Aristotle at least, this movement comprised not only locomotion (change of place), but also change of quality, change of quantity and change of entity itself (propagation). Modern mathematized physics started with the simplest kind of movement, namely (loco)motion, that was most amenable to mathematization. To the present day, physics hangs on for dear life to continuous, real, linear, differentiable time, even though the mathematical operation of differentiation itself becomes increasingly round-about, culminating in the covariant differentiation applicable to general relativity theory.

Convenience for the sake of mathematization, however, can hardly be the criterion for choosing a conception of time. (Linear equations in maths are easy to work with; non-linear equations make things complicated.) Nor is it beyond question that time as a phenomenon in its own right is merely derivative of phenomena of movement and motion. A continuous, real variable t is still basically only a counted time counted off one kind of movement or other. This circumstance, in turn, is dictated by physics' undivertible interest in predicting movement, thus gaining calculative power over it. Is the decision regarding the conceptualization of a phenomenon as fundamental and elementary as time to be dictated by the will to power over movement? What if it were instead the case more fitting the truth of phenomena of movement that it is time — now as three-dimensional time — which enables all kinds of movement to be conceived and understood by us humans as movement in the first place? For a modern physicist, such considerations are totally out of bounds because it is a recipe for declaring a modesty with respect to the knowledge claims of physics, instead of puffing oneself up as one who is investigating the deepest truths of the universe and where 'we' supposedly 'came from'. As it turns out, such alleged deep truth amounts to only the correctness of factual observation under certain restrictive assumptions concerning how the phenomena of concern are accessed and conceived. In particular, the violence done to the phenomenon of time ultimately does violence to our very conception of ourselves as human beings. 

We have thus been caught in the inexorable progress of linear time in one dimension as what-beings that (not who) are themselves one-dimensional. We are, however, if we open the question of time, beings exposed to the openness of three-dimensional time that enables our freedom of movement. Without a proper conception of three-dimensional time there can be no well-founded conception of human freedom. By contrast, modern physics is built on ontological quicksand and must be unfrocked as obscuring the view of the phenomena themselves through unbridled mathematization for the sake of its self-aggrandizement.

Further reading: Movement and Time in the Cyberworld


06 December 2020

Zu Albrechts "Der Geldbegriff zwischen Hermeneutik und Phänomenologie"

Sascha Erich Albrecht hat 2018 eine Dissertation mit dem Titel Der Geldbegriff zwischen Hermeneutik und Phänomenologie: Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Moderne zwischen Martin Heidegger, Alfred Sohn-Rethel und Hannah Arendt eingereicht. Der Autor setzt sich kurz mit einer früheren (2000) Arbeit von mir, Kapital und Technik: Marx und Heidegger, auseinander. (Die neueste Fassung dieses Buches ist von 2015.) Das Hauptanliegen meiner Abhandlung ist es, den grundlegenden Unterschied zwischen dem von Heidegger artikulierten Wesen der Technik (dem sog. "Gestell") und dem Wesen des Kapitals herauszuarbeiten, das ich  — von einer gewissen phänomenologischen Auslegung der berühmten Marxschen Wertformanalyse ausgehend — als das "Gewinnst" in der früheren Arbeit bzw. als das "Gewinnspiel" in der 2015 Ausgabe begreife. Albrecht lehnt diesen kritischen Ansatz ab. Er schreibt dementsprechend gegen Schluß seiner Arbeit:

"Die vorliegende Untersuchung [die Dissertation] legt jedoch nahe, die Entfremdung im Marxismus nach Sohn-Rethel und Heidegger im Wesentlichen als deckungsgleich auszulegen. Dies ermöglicht erst das Zusammenfügen des Marxschen und Heideggerschen Denkens mit Hinblick auf das Geld als Erkenntnisleistung. Da Eldred im Zuge seiner Grundannahme der Unvereinbarkeit der Entfremdung bei Heidegger und Marx dieser Weg versperrt bleibt, sieht er das Geld als Mittel, durch das der Mensch erst die Dinge in einem berechnenden Horizont wahrnimmt. Deutlich wurde jedoch an obiger Stelle, dass die Annahme, das Geld selbst sei der Ursprung der Herausforderung an den Menschen, verkürzt ist. Ausgehend von der Gleichursprünglichkeit von Geld und modernem wissenschaftlichen Denken ist das Geld vielmehr ein Indikator dafür, dass die Herausforderung an den Menschen schon ergangen ist." (S.180f)

Zunächst einmal: Es handelt sich nicht um irgendeine "Grundannahme", sondern um die Hermeneutik von gewissen Phänomenen. Keineswegs will ich behaupten, daß das Geld "erst die Dinge in einem berechnenden Horizont" erscheinen läßt.  "Berechnung" hat zwei grundverschiedene Bedeutungen in zwei wesensverschiedenen phänomenologischen Bewegungsontologien, die ich hier kurz erläutern möchte (siehe aber die vertiefende Lektüre unten).

Deshalb grundsätzlicher: Ich wollte und will gerade diesen Weg zu einer Zusammenfügung des Marxschen und Heideggerschen Denkens versperren! Denn es liegen hier zwei wesentlich unterschiedliche, einfache Paradigmen vor, nämlich: das Paradigma der produktiven, herstellenden Bewegung einerseits und das der Austauschbewegung andererseits. Diese beiden Bewegungsarten haben wesensunterschiedliche Ontologien. Heidegger richtet sein Augenmerk ausschließlich auf das Paradigma der _technae poiaetikae_, das Aristoteles für seine Ontologie der produktiven Bewegung verwendet. Diese Bewegungsontologie behält ihre totalisierende Vorherrschaft über das Denken bis heute. Heideggers kritischer Wesensbegriff der Technik zielt darauf, die geschichtliche Vollendung und Totalisierung der wissenden, berechnenden Herstellung in der heutigen Welt auf den Begriff zu bringen.  Für ihn sowie für die meisten seiner Leser sind _technae poiaetikae_ und _technae_ gleichbedeutend. Damit unterschlägt er stets, daß die Griechen viele verschiedenen _technai_ außer der _technae poiaetikae_ (die produktive, machende, herstellende Kunst wie z.B. das Tischlerhandwerk) — insbesondere die der _technae chraematistikae_, d.h. der geldmachenden Kunst — nicht nur kannten, sondern auch in philosophischen Schriften (vor allem Platons) thematisierten. Mit der _technae chraematistikae_ kommt das Paradigma des Austausches (_metabolae_ in einer seiner zwei grundlegenden Bedeutungen), nämlich des Warenaustausches, als einer nicht-produktiven Bewegungsart ins Spiel. Dieses Austauschspiel auf dem Markt wird im 5. Buch der Nikomachischen Ethik unter der Rubrik "Austauschgerechtigkeit" abgehandelt, und es ist gerade diese Aristotelische Abhandlung, die Marx als eine der Aristotelischen Quellen zur Ausarbeitung seiner Wertformanalyse dient.

Das Warentauschspiel auf dem Markt kann als elementares Paradigma für die Vergesellschaftung der Menschen gelten, wohl gemerkt: eine dinglich vermittelte Vergesellschaftung, deren geschichtliche Entfaltung wir heute in der vollen Blüte des globalen Kapitalismus erfahren. Weder Heidegger noch Aristoteles noch Marx haben die Ontologie des Austauschspiels ausgearbeitet, die ich mit dem Begriff des Gewinnspiels fasse, sofern es wertdinglich vermittelt ist. Das vergesellschaftende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen muß aber nicht wertdinglich vermittelt sein. In diesem Fall rede ich vom "mutually estimative interplay", d.h. vom gegenseitig ein- und wertschätzenden Wechselspiel.

Das gegenseitige Wechselspiel des Wertschätzens und vor allem seine eigentümliche Bewegungontologie als Interplay wird grundsätzlich weder von Heidegger noch von der modernen Wirtschaftswissenschaft gesehen, denn sie bleiben jeweils dem Paradigma und der Ontologie der produktiven, herstellenden Bewegung verhaftet bzw. verpflichtet. Deshalb kann z.B. der Markt in der heutigen Wirtschaftswissenschaft als bloßer "Mechanismus" der effizienten Ressourcenverteilung (miß)verstanden werden, was Albrecht affirmativ zitiert, weil sein Ansatz unwissentlich darin besteht, die wesensverschiedenen Bewegungsontologien zu nivellieren. So übernimmt er kritiklos eine weitverbreitete Selbstdefinition der Wirtschaftswissenschaft, "wonach Wirtschaft der Ausschnitt menschlichen Handelns ist, der in Verfügung über knappe Mittel zur Erfüllung menschlicher Bedürfnisse besteht" (S.181). Diese Definition ist gerade dadurch motiviert, daß die Wirtschaftswissenschaft von Anfang an immer schon auf den Erfolg der Naturwissenschaft geschielt und sich bemüht hat, sich möglichst an das Paradigma und die Ontologie der produktiven, effizienten Bewegung anzupassen, wobei sie allerdings auf die Hilfe von "speziellen mathematisch-statistischen Verfahren" (S.182) angewiesen ist, da eindeutige wirkkausale Beziehungen wie etwa in der Newtonschen Mechanik fehlen. Damit aber wird das Phänomen und die Ontologie des gegenseitig wertschätzenden Wechselspiels und seiner Vermittlung durch den verdinglichten Wert nicht nur unsichtbar, sondern auch unterdrückt. Auf diese Weise tut die Wirtschaftswissenschaft den Phänomenen mutwillig Gewalt an, um dem Paradigma der herstellenden Bewegung treu zu bleiben und ihre Wissensmacht sowie ihren Status als Wissenschaft aufrechtzuerhalten. 

Dem Schein der Wissenschaftlichkeit der Wirtschaftswissenschaft wird dadurch Vorschub geleistet, daß das Medium des verdinglichten Werts, in dem das Gewinnspiel des Kapitalismus gespielt wird, das wertschätzende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen selbst und mit der Natur verschleiert. Stattdessen werden die Wertdinge selbst fetischisiert, sie scheinen, an sich Wert zu besitzen. Deshalb erscheint die Welt des Gewinnspiels im verdinglichten Wertspiegel verkehrt. Die Fehldeutung elementarer Phänomene macht blind und hat verheerende Folgen für die Menschen sowie für die Erde. 

Im  wertdinglich vermittelten Gewinnspiel des Kapitalismus wird der Mensch zum Spieler und verliert seine neuzeitliche Wesensbestimmung als Subjekt, das der Bewegung der Welt zugrunde liegen soll. Die Setzung dieses Sollen ist ein vergebliches normatives bzw. ethisches Unterfangen in unserer heutigen Welt. Vielmehr ist das gegenseitig sich einschätzende, wertschätzende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen immer ein Kräftespiel (power play), — ob wertdinglich vermittelt oder nicht, und ob es füreinander, miteinander oder gegeneinander gespielt wird. Alle Ethik gründet damit in solchem wertschätzenden Kräftespiel, in dem Werte im weitesten Sinn auf dem Spiel stehen. Die Ethik erlangt so ihre ontologische Fundierung dadurch, daß die eigentümliche vergesellschaftende Bewegungsart des gegenseitig wertschätzenden Wechselspiels auf den Begriff gebracht wird.

Vertiefende Lektüre: Kapital und Technik: Marx und Heidegger (2015)

 Social Ontology of Whoness

24 October 2020

Pursuit of Happiness?

 "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence.[1] The phrase gives three examples of the unalienable rights which the Declaration says have been given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect." (Wikipedia)

The origin of this famous triad is usually given as "Life, Liberty and Estate" from John Locke's Two Treatises of Government from 1689, although this is disputed among scholars, as the Wikipedia article notes. This dispute among the scholars need not concern us here since usually the line of descent for the triad is assumed to be Locke's Two Treatises and this line has left its firm mark in political-philosophical thinking.

The phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" occurs in a founding document from 1776 for government of the nascent United States, proclaiming "inalienable rights" for all those "men" entering into a compact for government. In Locke's Two Treatises, it is clearly said that “Government has no other end but the preservation of Property”, a man’s property being considered to comprise “his Life, Liberty and Estate”. The preservation of estate thus translates to the pursuit of happiness, i.e. from a more conservative, static connotation (preservation) to a more dynamic connotation of pursuit. Whereas estate is already possessed, happiness has to be striven for, without guarantees of success. Taking the cue from Locke's famous triad, the phrase in the U.S. Declaration translates to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property.

But what is property? It seems to be obvious: it consists in all the goods and chattels a person owns on the land this person also owns. 'Estate' is 'Anwesen' in German and οὐσία (ousia) in Greek. 'Anwesen' also means 'presence' in German and can be heard both as a noun (i.e. substantive) and a verbal noun, 'presencing'. The Greek οὐσία, on the other hand, is the substantive formed from the feminine present participle for 'to be', thus literally 'beingness'. It is also the concept at the very core of Greek ontology as the first category, signifying the substance and essence of what something is, i.e. its substantive whatness. Read this way, the pursuit of property becomes the striving for substance in thingly possession. A 'man of substance' is therefore understood as a man with substantial propertied estate. Is a man's whoness, however, to be conceived adequately as his standing as a substantial property owner?

Understood in a more dynamic way, however, the striving for property can become the endless striving for possessions that may or may not be successful, although it keeps the striver on his or her toes. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property translates easily into the twentieth formulation of the so-called American Dream that has served as an advertisement of the desirability of the American way of life, especially for those poor immigrants reaching the shores of the United States as long as, and to the extent that, the government had a welcoming, open-door policy. The American Dream has at least served as one of the justifications for American exceptionalism and its purported 'greatness'.

But what is property apart from being a collection of things owned by a person? What is its essence? The essence only becomes visible by delving below the everyday appearances and turns out to be, as I have unfolded elsewhere (see links below) in extenso, thingified value. What is usually called capitalism is the movement of thingified value through its Protean guises on the way to its augmentation, its accumulation, its bloating. The movement of total global thingified value as capital requires its bearers, its players who are enticed and necessitated to participate in the gainful game by striving for one of the guises of thingly value as income. The most basic income in this gainful game is wages and salaries. The other elementary forms of income are ground-rent, interest and profit of enterprise. A sole trader, for instance, earns both a profit of enterprise and a self-paid wage. These four basic forms of thingly value as income together constitute the total amount of thingified value generated by the gainful game in a given period.

When seen this way, the pursuit of happiness can be deciphered socio-ontologically as the pursuit of income in the gainful game. Each free U.S. citizen has the "inalienable right" to become a player in the gainful game, striving for income without any guarantee of success and often failing to gain sufficient income to live well. All players in the gainful game, whether successful or not, are kept breathlessly in motion and motivated by the gain-promising movement of thingified value itself, bloating itself by continual circular Protean transformation through its various value-form guises. 

Is this supposed to be the American vision of human happiness that is to serve as an ideal to be emulated by the rest of the world?

Further reading: Capital and Technology, Social Ontology of Whoness.


22 October 2020

Turing's test of thinking

The Turing test is perhaps the best-known detail of Alan Turing's work, if only because it is easy to understand. But it also approaches one of the deepest questions by asking whether a digital machine can think like a human being without attempting to prescribe in what human thinking itself consists. It poses only the comparative question concerning whether a digital machine's responses to questions are comparable to, or indistinguishable from, the responses a presumably intelligent human being would give to the same questions.

Wikipedia summarizes as follows: "The test was introduced by Turing in his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" while working at the University of Manchester.[4] It opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Because "thinking" is difficult to define, Turing chooses to "replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words."[5] Turing describes the new form of the problem in terms of a three-person game called the "imitation game", in which an interrogator asks questions of a man and a woman in another room in order to determine the correct sex of the two players. Turing's new question is: "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?"[2] This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered. In the remainder of the paper, he argued against all the major objections to the proposition that "machines can think".[6]" [Note that Turing is concerned with what is "imaginable", i.e. conceivable.]

Significantly, Turing's paper was published in the influential, establishment Mind journal, and the entire discussion in the Wikipedia entry is in terms of the human being conceived as a subject endowed with interior consciousness, as if this question were settled, cut and dried for all time, in fact, as if this question were a non-question that thinking does not have worry about.

One of the best-known objections to the Turing test was formulated by John Searle under the name of the Chinese room. Wikipedia summarizes this objection thus: "John Searle has argued that external behaviour cannot be used to determine if a machine is "actually" thinking or merely "simulating thinking."[36] His Chinese room argument is intended to show that, even if the Turing test is a good operational definition of intelligence, it may not indicate that the machine has a mind, consciousness, or intentionality." [Intentionality is the directedness of the mind toward something.]

Note that Searle's objection rests on the distinction between internal consciousness and external behaviour, a more than obvious objection for any philosopher, like Searle, steeped in and captive to the ontology of subject-object. Without the supposedly self-evident distinction between inside and outside consciousness the objection makes no sense and has no force at all. Searle's Chinese room objection begs the question whether human being itself can be adequately conceived as subjectivity endowed with intelligent internal consciousness at all.

Let us ponder the presupposition that the human being is a subject a little further. Turing's test is set up to test whether a human subject in conversational interplay with a digitized computer operating in line with the algorithmic steps of Universal Turing Machines or, alternatively, with a living human being, conceived as a subject, is able to distinguish reliably between his of her interlocutors. In his paper, Turing is confident that a computer will one day pass the Turing test, becoming indistinguishable from a human interlocutor, thus vindicating Turing's own conception that human thinking is 'nothing other than' the computation of computable numbers somehow by neuronal brain activity.

It is a human subject that [not who] is required to make a judgement about the status of his or her interlocutors: real human being or artificial computer? As subject, the human underlies and is the source of the judgement made. Note that 'sub-ject' means literally 'that which is thrown under'; it is the Latin translation of the ancient Greek ὑποκείμενον (hypokeimenon) which, in turn, means literally 'that which underlies'. [For the Greeks the 'subjects' were what today are called 'objects'. We live in a topsy-turvy world in many respects, that doesn't seem to faze anyone.] It is thus presupposed for the Turing test that the human being underlies the judgement, but is the human being really the underlying, judging, discerning subject in this test situation in which thinking itself is at stake?

The judging, discerning human being already conceives him- or herself reflectively in some way as a human being, and this reflective self-conception in our age will be inevitably as a living being (i.e. a kind of animal) endowed with interior consciousness and a mind embedded in that consciousness vis-à-vis the external world of objects. This self-conception inevitably also includes the preconception that thinking consciousness is somehow located in the brain, perhaps also connected with the rest of the body via the central nervous system. This latter preconception is highly convenient and axiomatic for today's neuroscience with all its ongoing and fast progressing research into the brain in order to 'solve' the problem concerning what constitutes thinking as such. Without the inside/outside distinction there could be no neuroscience. The resolution of this problem goes hand in hand with ceaseless efforts to make Artificial Intelligence. The very endeavour under the name of AI makes no sense at all if there is not already the preconceived conviction that human thinking is basically 'nothing other than' computation, of which Turing himself was convinced.

This leaves open the possibility that, with the advancement of the self-serving conviction that thinking is to be conceived as computation carried out somewhere inside, the behaviour as well as the self-conception of the human him- or herself adapts to that of digital computers running on algorithms, with the consequence that it becomes all the more likely that a machine can pass the Turing test. This eventuality is not a consequence of more and more superb supercomputers with petaFLOPS of computational power being built, but of human beings themselves conceiving themselves more and more as computers. In this scenario, the human subject is thus not only adapting to, but is being absorbed by the cyberworld and thus becoming indistinguishable from a cyborg by thinking their selves as cyborgs. The underlying subject thus becomes in the human mind an algorithmically operated what. The cyberworld here is not only an artificially built electronic network run by algorithms, nor only an electronic medium in which we immerse ourselves, but also, and even prior to its being built as an electronic medium, a conception in the mind, i.e. a state of mind.

Those who promote, who are fired up and excited by the approximation of human being to computational being composed of Universal Turing Machines will presumably be among the first to judge that a computer has passed the Turing test. In so doing, they will be unwittingly begging the question concerning human being itself without even noticing it. In any case, the hermeneutic-ontological conception of human being as animal endowed with intelligent consciousness is no ontological bulwark against this possibility lying on the horizon of our historical future today.

The question, Who is the human being? is not even on today's philosophical agenda. It is dismissed without a second thought if it obliquely crops up somewhere. The reason is that academic philosophy has today become the handmaiden and whore of effective modern science, either stridently defending the unquestioned ontological presuppositions of modern science or timidly and vainly seeking some kind of rapprochement with the more strident and aggressive analytic and post-analytic philosophy that so far maintains its hegemony in the academy.

Related: Interview with Katina Michael.

21 October 2020

Values, rights, power

Ethics are concerned with values and rights with regard to human beings living with one another on the Earth. Values are what we humans value, cherish, treasure, respect, estimate, esteem, starting perhaps with life itself and living well. Rights, on the other hand, are protected values, either by law or aspirationally so, as with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the value of life itself, for instance, is the value that children should be spared labour in favour of being educated so as to be better prepared for adult life. This value is then proclaimed aspirationally as a regulative ideal in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one that ought to be protected for every child on the planet. Or it is also protected and enforced in the laws of certain countries, thus passing from what ought to be to what is the state of affairs. Infringements of rights, their negation, are legion. There are never-ending power struggles of every imaginable kind worldwide to establish values as actually protected and enforced values. 

With regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there is also dispute among the various cultures over whether they truly deserve universal status. These disputes are fueled not only by non-Western cultures, but especially by political regimes for which the non-acknowledgement and suppression of human rights are convenient in order to exert and maintain power over and control their respective populations. It is plausible to point out that individual human rights are an 'invention' of the West that emerged through thinking on human freedom as individual freedom. In intercultural ethics it is often disputed that such individual freedom as proclaimed and cemented in individual human rights is inapplicable in non-Western cultures. The most visible and contentious example of this is the patriarchal nature of non-Western cultures in which androcratic customs serve to keep women and girls under the thumb of male power. Such androcracy is still very much alive in the West, but it also has long been put into question, at the latest since the 18th century, and the struggle to assert the value of female lives as women's rights has also had some success.

The human being as a human individual living in society is an historical event accompanied by philosophical thinking on human freedom itself within a given age. The individuality of the individual itself emerges through the loosening of feudal bonds of dependence and the ascendancy of capitalist market economists in struggles that threatened and ultimately deposed the political and social power of the feudal nobility. In the place of sociation through social relations of direct hierarchical subordination, sociation came to be mediated increasingly by thingified value in its various forms. The modern individual as an individual is enabled (not caused) by virtue of sociation via thingified value. 

When, in the 17th century, John Locke famously proclaims individual human rights, he does so in an historical context in which thingified value has already assumed a major role in sociating society. But Locke does not see thingified value as thingified value. He sees and thinks it as private property which is one of the phenomenal forms, guises or 'looks' of thingified value. It is therefore not merely incidentally that the idea (εἶδος or 'look') of human rights, as formulated in Locke's famous threesome of rights, includes the right to individually own property. If you own property or, more to the point, if you have at your disposal thingfied value in one of its several  garbs, usually money, you also have the freedom of social movement that reified value affords you as an individual. Money as universal equivalent gives you power over all that is for sale; the more money, the more power. 

Since capitalist market economy has long since become globalized as the gainful game in which almost all of us inhabitants on Earth are players, one can plausibly assert that the historical socio-ontological basis for individuality has today permeated and been established worldwide. Such individuality of human rights may well and does collide with other historical forms of sociation via other cultures' customs of hierarchical personal dependence, notably patriarchal androcracy, under which women and girls live and suffer. Their suffering as such is only visible to the mind against the backdrop of the historically cast individual rights intimately interwoven with sociation through thingified value.

Sociation in any society is accomplished through the interplay among the members of that society according to certain rules of play, namely, the customs of a culture and the power relations structuring the society through political power. Political power wielded by the state today ubiquitously includes the power to raise taxes from the subject-population and also the power to do physical violence to it by means of the police and, if need be, the military. The free interplay among individuals as such may be and is often fettered. Nevertheless, individual human freedom is the freedom of the individual to be the source of its own life-movements in the interplay with other individuals, where here life-movements are conceived very broadly (e.g. whether to have a child or not).

In the interplay with others, you exert your powers of life-movement as does your opposite player. The interplay is therefore necessarily a power interplay. As players in power interplay, you mutually estimate and esteem, i.e. value, each others powers, whether it be appreciatively or depreciatingly. The power interplay is either fair or ugly, fair or foul (cf. Macbeth's witches). It is social power interplay in which values are constituted in the first place. What we value as individual values in living with each other always has a grounding in how values are valued in sociating power interplay. Values are hence grounded in power interplay, just as rights are grounded in values in the sense of protections and guarantees for such rights.

Social freedom itself cannot be thought as such without a conception of sociation in power interplays, that is, through a kind of movement that is social, sociating movement emanating ultimately from individual players (no matter whether they regard themselves as individuals or not). Such power interplay can be seen more clearly when the overlay of customary forms of social power hierarchy is stripped away. Established customary forms of hierarchy, in effect, rig the outcomes of power interplay according to pre-given rules of play. In patriarchal societies, for example, a wife must always subjugate herself to and obey the man of the house. There is no room for a free power interplay, albeit that the woman may well resort to subterfuge and intrigue to get her way in the power interplay behind her lord and master's back.

Individual human rights as proclaimed and enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights therefore do not fall from the sky. Nor are they simply a set of regulative or normative ideals set up and envisaged by individual moral conscience, as Kant would have it. Rather, they have their socio-ontological origins i) in the values valued in a given historical way of living in which thingified value plays a prominent sociating role and ii), moreover, in the sociating power interplays played out. In this sense, one could say that values and rights, and hence ethics and morality themselves, are rooted in social power — and, more particularly, in those movements called power struggles — rather than in ideals.

 

20 October 2020

The way Americans talk

 A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us... "

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, kind of like, disturbing..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us..."

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, like, unsettling..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us..."

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, like, discouraging..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

 

17 October 2020

What is conservative?

 A commonly accepted definition of conservative in both the political and social sense is that those who hold conservative views on the world want to conserve the social status quo. The opposite of conservative is progressive, meaning that those who hold progressive views on the world see and diagnose all sorts of failings in the present social set-up and want to change the status quo for the better. Whereas conservatives are pretty much satisfied with how the world is and will fight actively or passively resist to preserve the current state of affairs, progressives struggle to overcome the inequities of social living. This seems to me to be a tenable basic definition of conservative and its opposite, progressive.

Here, however, I want to take a different, unfamiliar tack by focusing on values, for conservatism is often cast as a desire and striving to conserve certain values characterized as moral and ethical. Such is, for instance, the ethical value of the right to life that is widely comprehensive and open to many different interpretations ranging from the anti-abortionist right of the unborn to live, to the right not be killed by the state under laws of capital punishment. The debates over ethical and moral values rage on. They all relate to how we estimate and esteem each other and/or the Earth, and they are never finally settled as perpetual rights, but subject to ever-renewed social and political struggle.

But what about that other sort of value intimately familiar from everyday life, namely, the value of things, in particular, commodity things sold on the market? Such economic values are normally cordoned off from the 'higher' ethical values as if they were, indeed, values, but of a somewhat lower, grubby status. A cover for this grubbiness is often provided by masking it with the 'high' value of economic freedom, such as the entrepreneurial freedom to set up a profit-making enterprise or the freedom of the consumer to choose among the endless array of goods and services for sale on the market. 

To start with the most elementary: goods and services. They are valued because they are useful for leading your life, such as a hairdresser who styles your hair or an electric shaver for shaving unwanted hair from your body. Usually you buy these services or goods with money for a price. The price paid is a practical, quantitative valuation and estimation of the value of the good or service; it values directly the work providing the service or indirectly the work that went into making the good or and also the contribution that the Earth made either by way of providing raw materials or simply a location for the work to be done.

The good or service is valuable in itself as being useful, but it is also valuable because it can be sold for money which, in turn, can be exchanged in buying something else. This exchange-value, as distinct from use-value, is quantitative in nature and it is also thingly, reified. With this value-thing you can buy anything that can be had for a price, not just goods and services, but also, say, a politician's honesty or a bureaucrat's official permission, both of which are said to be an abuse or illegitimate use of the exchange-power inherent in money. Money-value can also be legitimately exchanged to hire labour power, whose hiring and setting-to-work is at the heart of capitalism. The exchange may be fair or unfair depending on the wages paid and the working conditions.

Value, whose form or 'look' (εἶδος) we clearly understand, can assume many other thingly guises, including landed property, real estate, factories, mines, exquisite works of art, debt claims, shares in publicly traded companies, the option to purchase a commodity in the future. The list goes on and on, but all the derivative guises, forms or 'looks' of thingly value can be traced back to more elementary guises and especially to the monetary form of thingly value as the universal equivalent for anything else of thingly value. Money as the epitome of thingly value obscures and covers up that it is a social power to harness the powers and abilities of people to produce useful goods and services as well as the natural powers of the Earth for the same end.

Conservatives will usually claim that they value and stand for high ethical values they want to conserve and preserve, including traditional rituals and practices. They value the right to life in a certain traditional religious interpretation and also the traditional androcratic form of social living in the family. But underlying all this valuing of the traditional status quo conserving a given way of social living deemed "the best of all possible worlds" there is, almost without exception, the high estimation and valuing of the thingly property they own, along with the prospect of earning future income that, in turn, is thingified in some form of valuable property of whatever kind, even if it be a portfolio of stocks. Those who have property and also good prospects of enhancing and augmenting their property ownership, thus accumulating and 'having' thingified value in one of its myriad guises, have a strong leaning toward wanting to conserve their thingly value above all else. Their ethical and moral values are relegated to a secondary status behind the value of owning property for their own well-being, and this even to the extent of being morally hypocritical, bigoted and corrupt.

This valuing of thingly value over all else makes of conservatives worshippers of a god I call Pleon Exia. His name derives from the ancient Greek word πλεονεξἰα (pleonexia) meaning 'the wish and striving to have more, gain, greed, advantage'. The 'having' part of πλεονεξἰα, namely, -εξἰα, derives from the Greek verb 'to have'. Those who worship this god strive to have more and more and more, and also to savagely fight, with any deceptive rhetorical argument to hand, anything that stands in the way of this striving. Conservatives, in the first place, are those who have more and want to conserve this status above all else, including their 'higher' moral values with which their unbounded desire to have stands in conflict. 

In the second place conservatives are those who aspire and strive to have more, as in the seductive American Dream. Both classes of conservatives want, above all, to conserve their thingly value and all that supports and enhances its acquisition, its appropriation, either by fair means or foul. The foul means consist primarily in unfairly exploiting, and thus misesteeming, the labour power capitalist enterprises hire and also in rabidly exploiting the Earth, thus misesteeming its powers, solely with the aim a generating thingly profits. The thingified nature of value serves to cover up their bigotry in slavishly worshipping Pleon Exia at the cost of treating others (their powers) and the Earth (its natural powers) fairly in a fair and equitable estimation of what they offer. Fairness here is to be thought in the twofold sense of both beauty and fairness in social interplay.

Related: Philorock song Pleon Exia.

09 October 2020

A priori, a posteriori

Kant's main work, The Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft 1781A, 1787B), is famous for its investigation into whether there are "synthetic judgements a priori". These are propositions that are not merely analytic, but have a content and are prior to any experience of the world. A posteriori propositions, in sharp contrast, are only possible on the basis of experience of the world; they are empirical. Apart from mathematical propositions, which are analytic because they can be deduced from axioms defining a mathematical entity of some kind, all the science we are fed with today through the media has to be 'evidence-based', that is, based on empirical facts, empirical data gathered from the world on the basis of scientists' experience of the world, whether it be in an experiment or an empirical survey (e.g. mining mountains of data). 

That is to say that today's science is based overwhelmingly on a posteriori, factual experience of the world, and (purportedly) not on any a priori knowledge of the world prior to any experience of it. Any theory of any aspect of the world is assumed to be a kind of mental model of the world that first has to be tested empirically through experiment. As such, scientific theories of any kind (purportedly) are not and cannot be a priori. Even those mathematized theories thought up a priori to capture movement and change in the world, such as the weird and wonderful theories of quantum physics or Einstein's theory of general relativity, have to be tested a posteriori by suitable experiments. Or so it is claimed. (Hence, for instance, there is the simplistic verificationist epistemology of a Karl Popper.) Any reputable scientist has to believe in this dogma of experimental verifiability and deny that scientists can only proceed on the basis of a priori presuppositions prior to any conceivable experiment.

In truth, when today's science — as well as all the rest of us following obediently — denies the a priori and fixates on the a posteriori experiential givenness of the world for its evidence, it is coming too late, after the event.

Nonetheless, Kant claims against all empiricism that there are synthetic propositions about the world that can and must be made prior to any experience, even through they are not articulated. This ineluctable synthetic a priori that does not have to be given by experience is formulated in his famous assertion at the climax of the KdrV that the preconditions of possibility of experience of the world are identical with the preconditions of possibility of objective experience of the world. In German: "die Bedingungen der Möglichkeit der Erfahrung überhaupt sind zugleich Bedingungen der Möglichkeit der Gegenstände der Erfahrung, und haben darum objektive Gültigkeit in einem synthetischen Urteile a priori."(KdrV A158, B197) Against all empiricist theories of knowledge of the world, Kant is here claiming, after a long and involved discourse, that the world can only be experienced objectively and that the objectivity of the objects inhabiting the experiential world is constituted within the subject prior to any experience of the world.

The objectivity of objects is an historically specific ontology — first articulated philosophically by Descartes — of how beings present themselves to our understanding, our reason, in their beingness as beings, namely, in their objectivity as objects. On the other, 'inner' side there is the transcendental (i.e. a priori) subject in its subjectivity, whose "Gemüt" (psyche, consciousness) is filled with Vorstellungen (representations) and Anschauungen (intuitions). Among the intuitions there are the pure, i.e. a priori, intuitions of space and time themselves, within which the representations given by the senses are ordered according to the rules of pure (a priori) understanding (Verstand) in such a way that these representations are rendered as objects to our understanding. 

Oddly enough, these objects constituted by pure understanding basically conform to Newton's laws of motion and, in particular, to the law of efficient causality! Hence, according to Kant, we live in a world governed by efficient causality among objects that move only in succession along the one-dimensional time of linear time. It should be noted that Kant's concept of the pure intuition of time is that merely of succession in movement. Hence time itself is conceived as derivative of movement rather than conversely.

The subject-object ontology presented by Kant that lays down that the world can only be experienced in its objectivity by a subject endowed with inner consciousness, however, is not the ultimate ontology with which we are stuck forever. Kant's KdrV, in fact, can be — and has been — deconstructed to open the way for an alternative ontology of the being of beings in which there is no longer any subject-object split.

But that is a story for another day. It goes without saying that today's degenerate mainstream philosophy has sold out its raison d'être of questioning deeply and denies that there is any ontological issue at all in Kant's KdrV. Rather, it reads KdrV merely as epistemology, thus deforming Kant's philosophy, and skirting and suppressing the ontological issue entirely through which there could be a radical change in our thinking.


08 October 2020

Is digital technology hurting our intelligence?

For this post I have adopted the title, slightly modified, from a debate between Katina Michael and Alex Halavais, both from Arizona State University. I approach the question in a different way by asking two questions whose answer is already presupposed when posing the question as to whether digital technology hurts our intelligence, namely, i) What is digital technology? and ii) What is our intelligence? In this post I will have to be brief and will take the first question first.

i) What is digital technology? 

The blue-print for today's digital technology is to be found in Alan Turing's famous 1936 paper ''On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem'' in which he invents the Universal Turing Machine as the appropriate, elementary digital machine that is able to compute any computable number. The Entscheidungsproblem part of Turing's paper concerns the fact that he is able to prove that not all numbers are computable, and this is equivalent to saying that not every statement formulable within the language of given axiomatic mathematical entity is provable using the given axioms. This Universal Turing Machine still serves today at the core of the theory of digital computation simply because any conceivable computation on a digital device can be broken down theoretically into myriads, or even billions, of UTMs. In principle, a UTM can compute anything a supercomputer can compute.

What is a Universal Turing Machine? It is a machine that works through one digital, i.e. binary, number, the algorithm, step by step, that instructs the machine how to alter, i.e. compute, another binary number, the data, into a third binary number, the output. The output decides how a given practical situation is to be controlled, such as whether access to a certain site (in the physical world or the cyberworld) is to be granted or not, or which direction a missile in flight should take.

The algorithm — even it is a so-called 'deep-learning' algorithm as employed in Artificial Intelligence — has to be first written by a human programmer who has an understanding of some practical situation or other. The algorithm determines how the data fed in are to be computed to obtain a useful output. Everything depends upon how well or how badly the programmer conceives the practical situation, especially whether every eventuality in a 'live' practical situation has been taken into account and whether this understanding has been correctly coded into a computer program that is ultimately nothing other than a long binary number. 

A corollary of the Entscheidungsproblem when transferred to practical situations whose control is entrusted to algorithms is that not every practical situation computes, that is, there are practical situations with which algorithms loaded into digital devices cannot cope. In other words, not all situations well understood by a human being are codable in a digital algorithm. This is not a practical, empirical limitation due to the complicatedness of practical situations, but a limitation in principle.

Digital technology is to be conceived as our intelligence in the guise of our understanding of practical situations concerning the control of movement and change that has been digitally encoded into algorithms and outsourced to digital devices designed to deal automatically with practical situations when fed with data. This is very convenient for us human beings, but it comes at the price of our i) no longer being able to understand how practical situations are algorithmically dealt with, ii) being exposed to the limitations of how a programmer understands and then encodes a practical situation, and iii) being subject to the inherent limitations in principle (i.e. not merely empirically) of how situations can be digitally encoded.

ii) What is our intelligence? 

The framing of the question already presupposes that we can speak sensibly of "our" intelligence. How is this to be reconciled with today's scientific dogma, supported by modern subject-object ontology of individual consciousness encapsulated inside vis-à-vis an external world taken in by the senses? If, as today's neuroscience proclaims, human thinking is the correlate of neuronal activity in an individual's brain, how is it possible that we humans can share thoughts at all? Does neuroscience, along with the media and the rest of us, tacitly assume that the neuronal-thought activities in individual brains are in a kind of prestabilized harmony brought about by evolution of the human species? Such an assumption would be a variation of Leibniz's metaphysical principle of a prestabilized harmony between the individual monads (that have no window on the world) and the external world itself.

Although neuroscience would vigorously deny this dilemma, even if it were aware of it, it is the same metaphysical dilemma pertaining to all subject-object ontology unquestionably taken for granted by all modern science, whether natural or social.

If we can genuinely speak of "our intelligence", then we always already share it. Moreover, this sharing is one of the preconditions for our being able to speak sensibly of a 'we' at all. We all share a certain elementary understanding of the world, even though we may disagree intensely with one another over almost all issues. It is not hard to see, for instance, that we share an understanding of the elementary categories such as 'something' or 'other'. For you or I to see anything at all we must have already understood the universal category of 'something' itself as distinct from an individual something. Similarly, you and I can see and easily understand the category of 'other', for without it we would be unable to distinguish anything from anything else, i.e. to differentiate one something from another something. We take all this for granted without a second thought, but it is worth thinking on. Such categorial understanding is prior to any experience of the world; it is a priori.

Beyond these most elementary categories, we share in a given age such as our own further basal concepts for understanding the world at all, such as subject and object. In our own time, it is taken as self-evident that the subject is endowed with an interior consciousness vis-à-vis an external world full of objects. Without taking a reflective step back, we take this understanding of the world as populated by conscious subjects over against thingly objects as obvious, unquestionable, incontestable.

In the particular context of digital technology, we tend to pose the problems associated with the digital cyberworld in terms of how we subjects, who supposedly 'underlie' (from sub-ject, 'thrown under') all movements and changes in the world, can maintain control over such movements once we outsource our understanding of changeable situations to algorithms. Cast as such subjects of consciousness, we have an inherent hubris to assert and maintain control and therefore are fatefully inclined to regard the myriads of outsourced algorithms as servants. At most we try to set up ethical roadblocks against certain algorithms deemed to be dangerous. By virtue of their outsourced independence, however, the algorithms take on a life of their own and entangle us in the intricacy of their own uncontrollable and complicated interwoven interplay with each other.

We human beings, however, have historically not always been cast and understood ourselves as conscious subjects. In fact, in an earlier time, the age of the ancient Greeks with the inception of philosophy, the world was experienced and cast in an inverted way. What we today call objects were for the Greeks the subjects, i.e. the hypokeimena (literally: the underlying) that were addressed as such-and-such by human beings employing the λὀγος (logos). Logos can mean 'language', but it also means 'reason, understanding' and, as a distinguishing aspect of the human psyche (ψυχἠ), it is called νοῦς (nous). 

The psyche, in turn, is the openness of human being for the world as a whole in its three-dimensional temporality of past, present and future which the nous within the psyche not only understands in some way, but also with which it resonates in moods of all kinds. It is only because we share this mooded resonance with three-dimensional time that we humans can share music.

By (falsely) promising us unlimited control of movement and change in the world, digital technology is befuddling our intelligence. The dream of total control through clever algorithms is the consummation of the Pythagorean belief that the world is ultimately number, a belief taken up by Plato and then later, in a more rabid form, by Galileo, Newton and Descartes who proceeded with the mathematization of the world with a vengeance. This historical cast of the world continues today in all branches of modern science.

It is not contemplated that there are kinds of movement in the world, those which I call interplay, that confound any attempt to control and master them, simply because they are our interplay of freedom with one another. Interplay demands mutual estimation and esteem. In this sense, with its overblown pretensions, digital technology is an insult to our intelligence.

There is much more to be said on this.

Further reading: Movement and Time in the Cyberworld, Social Ontology of Whoness


04 September 2020

Space, place, body

(Excerpt from a work in progress)

If the three-dimensional time of the psyche is pre-spatial, i.e. prior to space, then space itself must be embedded in time, i.e. space must presence, or even be somehow located, in time, if at all, and not conversely: time presence in space. Space is what concedes places to physically extended, real beings so that they can presence and absence (essence) somewhere; extended, real beings cannot be nowhere, but must have a where. These wheres are the places where extended beings are or can be placed or pass through. Their connected totality constitutes the topography of a locality with its geographical characteristics through which human beings can journey or where they can sojourn, beneath the sky in which the sun, moon and stars have their places and well-defined movements. On a smaller scale, in a domestic cosmos, each human existence is led embedded within an ordered manifold of places where real-extended things of all sorts are kept in their respective places, ready to hand for some purpose or other. This connected order of places can very well be disordered, i.e. infected by a negation. Whether it be on a large topographical scale or a smaller, local one, the surrounding space is always a manifold of places where things can occur and also belong. Such occurring somewhere is always an occurring for the psyche that is able to focus within three-dimensional time on a place and things in that place and resonate with it.
Whether it be on a large, topographical scale or the smaller, local one of a locality, the surrounding space is always a manifold of places where things can occur, either stationarily or mobilely. Empty space is an abstraction from the complexly interconnected totality of places in their unique geography that is motivated by the mind’s quest to mathematize change of place, i.e. locomotion, thus rendering it calculable and subject to mastery via equations of motion, whether they be Newtonian or quantum-mechanical. It must be underscored that the occurring somewhere of things and places is always an occurring for the psyche that is able to (δυνάμει) focus mentally on a place and things at that place within the openness of three-dimensional time.
With the consideration of extended, physical things occurring somewhere at a place in the surrounding space, the human body also comes into its own as the likewise extended, physical vehicle through which we humans, under the guidance of our understanding psyche (our mind), can ourselves move physically from place to place, whether it be domestically within the home, locally or on a journey. As extended, physical, the body can be regarded as a thing, like any other thing, but this is the body merely as soma or corpus, quasi in the third person. Medicine is the science that first and foremost studies and treats the body as a corpus, i.e. as a thing. The body in the proper sense, however, is my very own, singular body that is the organ or organism (complexly interrelated set of organs) of my psyche. The failure to distinguish ontologically between body and corpus has led fatefully to collapsing the mind and psyche into the body, even to the extent that today it is quite natural to say nonsensical statements such as, “My brain is thinking such-and-such” or “My brain wants me to do such-and-such”. This is in line with neuroscientists’ claims today that phenomena of being I myself or of free will are mere illusions sitting atop unconscious efficient-causal mechanisms centred on the brain.

The apartness (Auseinander) of extended physical things in many different places goes hand in hand with the embodiment of the universal psyche of an historical age. Each body is individual, singular, but each partakes ineluctably, both in understanding and moodedness, in the psyche of an historical time, albeit often in entirely idiosyncratic ways. In particular, each one of us partakes in the historical psyche’s map of the world in a given age, a map being a geo-graphy, i.e. a graph of the Earth, showing its places that is first of all in the mind, but which also can be made into a physically extended thing by employing cartographic skills. Each of us is able to orient him/herself within this geographical world by way of mentally focusing on a (mental or physical) map, that has an explicit or implicit reference to the four cardinal directions of east, west, north and south given by the regular movements of the sun, moon and stars across the sky. Hence the geography of the Earth is always overarched by an astrography of the sky by means of which the celestial bodies provide orientation. Such orientation allows us also to bring near (ent-fernen) what is far off at another place, first of all mentally by directing the mind in-tentionally toward that place, but then also physically by either bodily travelling to that place or by bringing something at that place physically near, changing its place by whatever means, so that ultimately, through such transportation, it can be physically manipulated by the body, i.e. put to use, almost invariably by using one’s hands, those bodily organs under ingenious control of the mind.
Bodying physically in the world is enabled first of all by the mind’s oriented understanding of the surrounding, connected totality of places constituting the world. Such surroundings must present themselves to the mind, i.e. presence for the mind, in psychic three-dimensional time in order to ‘be’ at all. A totality of places does not ‘exist’ for itself, objectively independent of the mind, but only in the two belonging together. In particular, so-called ‘outer space’ with its vast vacuous distances, too, ‘exists’ only in and for the mind; it is a thoroughly human conception. One could say that the psyche’s mind employs the physical body as the organ (tool) through which it can encounter and deal with extended physical things located somewhere in the surrounding world. The human body is organized as an intricate complex of organs, each with its particular function for coping with the physically extended world as well as its own sustenance and maintenance.
As far as I can see, human being itself, i.e. human essencing, must be conceived starting from the all-encompassing psyche that enables all else to essence within it. In particular, we humans have a mind not because we have a brain (that somehow or other ‘efficiently causes’ consciousness), but rather, we have a brain because we have a mind, and the brain can only be understood starting from the mind, not conversely (which does not amount to claiming that the mind somehow ‘efficiently causes’ the brain). Since the living, embodied psyche comprises more than the mind, intercoursing as it does 3D-temporally with both the physical world and the shared psychic world of others in various moods and attunements, the body itself resonates with the world in ways beyond mental comprehension and control. Hence it can move emotionally in ineffable ways and is attuned as a whole by the Zeit-Geist of the age.

Philorock musical companion: Space, Place, Body.

21 July 2020

Steuerhölle bitte schön

Wenn nach der üblichen Propaganda in den deutschen Medien Irland als EU-Steuerparadies gilt, wo bitte schön liegt dann die Steuerhölle?

Einkommensbelastungsquote eines Durchschnittshaushalts:
Irland 2019: 36,4% (Quelle: OECD)
Deutschland 2019: 46,8% (Quelle: OECD)
Deutschland 2020: 52,1% (Quelle: Steuerzahlerbund Prognose)

Zum Vergleich z.B.:
Schweiz 2019: 18,9% (Quelle: OECD)
Australien 2019: 29,0% (Quelle: OECD)
Großbritannien 2019: 32,3% (Quelle: OECD)

Die Steuerlast in Deutschland liegt überhaupt unter den drei höchsten weltweit.

(Der Steuerzahler 7/8 2020)

So stellt sich die deutsche Liebe zur Ordnung und zum Sichunterordnen unter den Staat noch einmal unter Beweis.

Power, fairness of interplay, justice, right and freedom

(Excerpt from a work in progress)

As already touched upon, the recasting of human being, for the first time, explicitly as whoness in lieu of as subjectivity has far- and deep-reaching ramifications for the conception of the ontology of power, for now it can no longer be the case that power continues to be conceived implicitly and uniformly as efficient, productive power over the movement of things (whats, including human bodies) as has been the case throughout the Western tradition from Aristotle onward up to and including all of today’s modern sciences as well as the ‘acceptable’ but innocuous, mainstream philosophy. To alleviate our mental blindness, the conception of power (δύναμις) under an ontology of whatness, which has been the way in which Western thought has come to grips with all phenomena of movement and change, must make way for an explicit conception of power under an ontology of whoness. In a rupture with traditional metaphysical ontology, such an ontology proceeds from a multiplicity of human beings sharing a world with one another via the interplay of mutual estimation. The opening of the view to plurality enables for the first time the ontology of social power to be thought through adequately, and that from a dynamic conception of being as essencing within the three-dimensional temporal clearing.
Each individual leading his or her life is necessarily engaged in interplays of mutual estimation of many and various kinds that per se, as life-movements, are power interplays. Why? Because each individual as an origin or ‘principle’ of his or her own life-movements is such an origin as a power, potential, potency over such movements (ἀρχή τῆς κινέσεως). Being the origin of one’s own life-movements does not render the individual as an underlying subject, but as a dynamic player in diverse power interplays; as one of many players, the individual does not ‘underlie’ the power interplays and, despite all ontic and ontological self-deception, cannot (ἀδύνατος) master them (cf. however below on phallic whoness).
Human being itself is thus stripped back from traditional casts of human being, such as a person morally demanding dignity (Kant), to a player essencing in diverse power interplays. To adequately conceive whoness, being thus becomes dynamic essencing. Due to the multiplicity of life-movements of a plurality in different, sometimes allied and often opposed directions, the exercise of individual powers is necessarily a power interplay of often antagonistic and mutually excluding, contradictory powers. Power interplay is thus the obverse side of the interplay of mutual estimation through which individual human beings are sociated with each other as whos on the most elementary level. These two sides of the coin are inseparable. The mutual estimation is either appreciative or depreciative or any subtle nuanced blend thereof; the power interplay is therefore either for, with or against each other, including all blends thereof.
All sociation (Vergesellschaftung) is dynamic power interplay. Your selfhood as a reflection from the world of others and hence your who-status is therefore also shifting throughout your life. The mutual estimation is also necessarily hermeneutic because, in mutually estimating and esteeming each other in whatever way, the players are simultaneously interpreting each other’s who-stands and -status evaluatively through the socio-ontological ‘looks’ of whoness predominant in a given age at a given place. These ‘looks’ are not merely culturally sociological, but socio-ontological, i.e. rooted in elementary modes of presenting oneself to the world as somewho, in short, of essencing as somewho. The power interplay provides room for movement for both putting somewho down or lifting them up estimatively, thus boosting or depressing that somewho’s standing. The estimative interplays, as mutual, can therefore become brutal and nasty.
Sociation as power interplay is thus a foundational concept in the ontology of whoness that must not be confused with socialization, which is a merely ontogenetic concept of explanation employed ubiquitously in modern disciplines such as sociology and psychology that are incapable of thinking ontologically. Socialization amounts to indoctrination into a cast of being within a given society along with its established mores and narratives. As necessarily sociating beings, we human beings live ‘simply’ in continual power interplay that is simultaneously and unavoidably an interplay of mutual estimation, hence, a mutually estimative power interplay that can assume the guise of virtually infinite variations and nuances ranging from private intimacy through earning a livelihood in fair or bruising economic interchange, to the brutal, conniving, intriguing power interplays of politics on all levels up to the geopolitical. In addition to all the personal power interplays, there are all the derivative, more impersonal, mediated power interplays, more often than not played out in the medium of reified value, among groups and also in the medium of the social institutions that precipate as organs for organizing society on all levels from bottom to top and are thus organs of social and political power. The holders of office in such organs of power are themselves endowed with social and political power and players in their respective power interplays.
If social living in an elementary sense is the diverse intertwining movements of myriad mutually estimative (and therefore also hermeneutic) power interplays, then the question of justice must relate also in an elementary way to such interplays. There is always a plurality of powers at play in such interplay which, as interplay among whos, is mutually estimative, reciprocally evaluative, either directly, or indirectly via the impersonal medium of reified value (money, etc.), and social and political institutions that are nevertheless borne by their agents such as officials and bureaucrats with their respective who-status. In such mutually estimative power interplay there is always the question as to the fairness of the power interplay which can be assessed according to how the powers at play are mutually estimated and receive their due. As a ‘look’ of the movement called mutually estimative power interplay, fairness is a socio-ontological, hermeneutic concept of estimating-as..., not just an ontic description. If one party in the power play is obviously at a great disadvantage, is put down and treated unfairly in it, this is seen clearly as an instance of injustice. Since, however, the judgement as to whether a power interplay is fair or not is necessarily an interpretation of the state of affairs, the power interplay itself inevitably shifts terrain to a power interplay of an exchange of words interpreting the power interplay one way or the other, more often than not diametrically contradictory, hence a struggle in the medium of the hermeneutic λόγος over fairness in a particular instance. The phenomenal ‘looks’ presented by the power interplay can be interpreted one way or another, all the way down to fundamental, elementary conceptions of whoness itself.
Fairness itself is no hard-and-fast, definitely definable criterion but, like the outcome of power interplays themselves, is also a shifting criterion that depends on how the players themselves and the onlookers interpretively estimate and evaluate the fairness of the interplay itself along with its outcome. If all sides in a power interplay are more or less satisfied with a given outcome, fairness, and thus justice, is generally deemed to have been attained, especially if the onlookers concur. Hence criteria of fairness themselves shift according to public opinion, and socio-political struggle itself becomes a battle over shifting the weight of public opinion regarding the fairness or unfairness of the outcomes of power interplays in one direction or another. The more momentous of these power interplays become long-term historical struggles that leave their indelible mark on an age. In this sense as the fairness of sociating, estimative power interplays, all justice is social justice and at base a question of power rather than a moral question of ought-to-be.
Social mores, how they look as fair or unfair, thus have a powerful influence and they shift over (linear) time according to common, invariably hermeneutic, conceptions of what shape social living ought to take according to moral judgements. This Ought as a look of fairness is itself subject to the ever-controversial power interplays over fairness, i.e. over the ‘fair sight’ of acceptable social practices of all kinds, as distinct from the ugly sights that take hold in social opinion as a blight and a blemish. There is thus an ineluctable hermeneutic circularity in determining the fairness of social power interplays, since the determination of fairness itself as criterion for justice is just such a social power interplay with fluctuating, shifting outcomes dependent upon public opinion. The circularity, however, is not vicious, but arises necessarily from the hermeneutic nature of the world itself: the world is as we think it interpretively to be which, of course, does not mean that the world is a subjective world-view that ‘we’ ostensible ‘subjects’ project onto an ostensibly ‘objective’ world. Rather, who ‘we’ are is always a way we interpret ourselves to be through the incessant estimative power interplays that make up life itself. In modern democracies there is the opportunity to politically play out social power interplays over determining their fairness insofar as the citizenry has the vote and there are, in turn, fair elections. In other non-democratic circumstances, such social power interplays may be played out in popular uprisings.
The acknowledged criteria of fairness for the outcomes of mutually estimative power interplays attain the solidity and fixity of a social value with the status of a right, only apparently set in stone. Such values evaluate estimatingly the outcomes of power interplays according to right and wrong. Individuals can thus be conceived as (institutionally and politically, especially constitutionally guaranteed) bearers of rights in a society who must be respected as such in intercourse among themselves. Such rights attain the force of laws in relation to the state that is endowed with the legitimate power (including physically violent power, legitimized by being accepted and affirmed by the citizenry)  over the power interplays of society within the framework of law that aims to regulate the power interplays within such legal bounds. Once certain rights are socially established as criteria of fairness for power interplays and enshrined in law, an individual can insist on his or her rights not being infringed or violated, and have them acknowledged and enforced by the state as the superior, preferably legitimated, instance of social power endowed with a monopoly of legitimate physical force. In an elementary socio-ontological sense, the state can be conceived, first of all, as the mediator and adjudicator of fairness, and thus as the guarantor of justice, in conflicts arising within the countless ongoing power interplays of society which constitute it as movement. Such adjudication as the state’s administration of justice is called for whenever certain power interplays are considered on one side or the other as unfair. The judiciary is the organ of state tasked with appropriately interpreting conflictual power interplays within the framework of law.
As instituted by the state and enshrined in enforceable law, rights are relatively stable fixations of the outcomes of social and political power interplays that may have been played out tediously and recurrently over generations and centuries. As the secular outcome of mutally estimative power interplays, rights are themselves values evaluating the fairness of power interplays of diverse kinds. Their apparent established fixity reifies them as if they were unchangeable, even inalienable human rights. However, rights are established nevertheless through socio-political power struggle in an historical age and can also be eroded and watered down in the same way; they are not ‘eternal’, but are exuded by the movement of social power interplays that never attain a final outcome once and for all, and themselves remain subject to controversial reinterpretation in one way or another, even to the point of perverting and inverting them entirely in a movement known as socio-political rollback.
The criterion of fairness underpinning justice and right serves for judging the outcomes of ongoing power interplays of all kinds and, as already stated, is itself subject to social power interplays that are always also essentially hermeneutic in nature. This makes fairness not only hard to define, but also susceptible to fluctuation through power struggles, especially in words. Underlying fairness is always how human beings as inevitable players in all sorts of mutually estimative power interplays estimate and esteem each other, i.e. whether appropriately or inappropriately in all shades and nuances. The power struggles over the criteria for fairness itself, justice and right thus recur again and again in historical time in ever new situations and interpretations and against diverse socio-historical cultural backgrounds. The fixation of criteria of fairness as rights is only ever relatively permanent; rights therefore have to be preserved and rewon from the incessant power struggles in societies that are invariably also hermeneutic struggles over the interpretation of key controversial phenomena such as the ‘right to life’.
Since power interplays are kinds of movement, the question of freedom itself is rooted in the question of the freedom of life-movements in such power interplays and most fundamentally in the freedom of each individual player to strive to cast her or his very own self. The power to play freely in such mutually estimative power interplays lies at the root of human freedom for us sharing the world with one another, estimating each other as whos. (As such, the conception of freedom as an individual’s freedom to do what he wants without restriction is grossly bogus.) The very socio-ontological ‘looks’ of whoness, albeit obliquely, unknowingly and only implicitly, underlie such struggles. An explicit struggle over such ‘looks’ of whoness would amount to a socio-ontological struggle itself, whose elementary presupposition is that ‘we’ understand what social ontology is as an endeavour arising from the hermontological difference itself. Today’s institutional status quo conspires ubiquitously against learning what social ontology, in its genuine sense, is. In this historical context, mainstream philosophy with its silently, but tightly, enforced mediocrity serves as an indispensably useful anaesthetic for the mind, in particular, for hindering young minds from going astray by questioning the status quo.
To be free, the interplay must be fair, and to be fair, the interplay must be free. Freedom thus resides elementarily in the fairness of mutual estimation of powers in dynamic interplay, in the first place, of individual powers, but not restricted to these, since there are also indirect media of power. The proclamation of human rights attempts to give the outcomes of struggles over fairness relative permanence or even ascribed, by wishful moral thinking, the status as ‘eternal’, ‘innate’ or ‘inalienable’ rights, although they originate from incessant social movement, i.e. from power interplays that are often long and bitter struggles. In this Nietzschean sense, the permanence of being is stamped upon endless becoming with a kind of pretence of permanence (which Nietzsche calls necessary “Irrtum”, i.e. error). Rights in this sense are ideals as ontological ‘looks’ that serve as orientation in power struggles. Such proclamation of human rights can also be the expression of mere wishful thinking that posits one-sidedly an ideal without roots in the interplay of opposed powers but which perhaps serves as a secular, idealistic goal that can become rooted in socio-political power struggles. The movement of history is thus not driven — pace Marx — solely by class struggle, but by the contradictions of opposing social powers of diverse kinds engaged in antagonistic struggles with each other.

Supplementary reading: Social Ontology of Whoness

11 May 2020

Movement as capitalist gainful game

(The following is an excerpt from a work in progress.)

In previous chapters various kinds of movement have been discussed at length and from various angles. A proper consideration of the kind of movement appropriately called power interplay and struggle requires, as investigated in the preceding, the introduction of whoness as a mode of being vis-à-vis traditional whatness. Movement within whoness is in general that of mutually estimative power interplay in which, in the first place, human beings themselves mutually estimate each other’s value, their worth in one respect or another. Such a mutually estimative interplay reflects back onto things themselves insofar as they are mutually valued in exchange, thus becoming owned commodities, here comprising both goods and services. Such movement is basically that of trade, commerce, mercantile activity, whose historical origins are ancient, well documented and narrated in economic histories. Money as a mediator of commodity exchange and insofar as a reification of commodity-value itself is also historically ancient, albeit as yet not predominant. Reification as a socio-ontological category of things, as well as the ontology of that kind of movement called exchange, is already inaccessible for any historical telling, including any purported dialectical-historical narrative.
Among others, the Greeks knew of two techniques or arts that distinguish themselves from the paradigmatic art of making called τέχνη ποιητική, namely, τέχνη κτητική and τέχνη χρηματιστική, i.e. the art of acquiring property and the art of making money, respectively. Both involve essentially the movement of exchange (μεταβολή), whereby μεταβολή, interestingly and crucially, ambiguously signifies also simply ‘change’ that can be understood productively. The movement of exchange, however, is a movement sui generis that, as a mode of being, differs from the movement of change initiated from a single origin (ἀρχή) as a productive power (δύναμις) for such change. Hence Aristotle’s definition of δύναμις as ἀρχή μεταβολῆς. Despite the millennia-long tradition of forcefully pressing the ontology of exchange into the mould of the ontology of productive change, thus ostensibly gaining predictive power over movement via efficient causality, the ontology of exchange has to be considered in its own right as homeomorphic with the ontology of mutually estimative power interplay of whoness, if only because the commodities exchanged are either the expenditure of powers and abilities (services) or the products thereof (goods) and are necessarily valued. Behind any valuation of goods in exchange there is always the estimation of the expenditure of human abilities exercised (as well as natural powers exploited), via exchange, for the benefit of others. (The estimation of natural powers as the gifts of nature, along with the appropriation of parcels of land or water as property requires a separate investigation.)

Both the art of acquiring property and the art of making money, however, imply a striving for ‘more’ in property or money, respectively, and thus a quantitative aspect. The movement of exchange then fails in one sense if a ‘more’ does not come from it. The ‘more’ or surplus is quantified in terms of money itself or money-value, since money is the reified or ‘thingly’ universal equivalent of everything of value, thus enabling their uniform valuation in a social (who-)measure sui generis that has to be distinguished from any physical (what-)measure. Money therefore embodies, apparently in itself, a power, namely, the power to acquire something of value, including the labouring power of individuals that is put productively to work by and for the benefit of the acquirer. Such augmentative movement of reified value to produce a surplus mediated by the necessary exchanges to acquire means of production and labour power is the prototypical movement of capital whose simplest formula is the movement of money to more money mediated by production, a social movement sociating both things and people, whats and whos. If the resulting surplus of all the required value interchanges is negative, i.e. a loss, then the movement has failed in a certain sense and its continuation is in put into doubt.
Although a circuit of capital proceeds from an initial advance of money-capital to purchase the required means of production and labour power, the money-capital or its bearer, the capitalist entrepreneur (who may be a natural person or an incorporated company), is not the sole origin of this movement because it requires multiple value interchanges with other players in the circuitous value movement: the suppliers of means of production, the workers/employees themselves, the lenders of money-capital, the owners of land, the purchasers of the end-product. These four kinds of figures are the basic players in this gainful game of value-augmentation each striving for their characteristic share of the resultant reified value in the form of wages, interest, ground-rent, leaving a residue of profit for the entrepreneur. All the various kinds of players are involved in mutually estimative power interplays with one another over gaining their respective kinds of income, in which uniform category the differences in the income-sources are disguised, more than often, conveniently so. Whether the income-outcomes of the countless various power interplays are fair or not depends on the current historical state of play of the power interplays, ranging from periods of relative all-round mutual satisfaction through to bitter and bloody power struggles among the players. The outcomes of power interplays over earning income in any given society in a given time are in any case uneven: fair, middling or downright unfair.

6.4.1 Contradictoriness of the elementary exchange-movement

In what sense are the power interplays played out in the capitalist gainful game contradictory? As a kind of movement, albeit sui generis, power interplay partakes of the contradictoriness inherent in all movement as the ‘at-once-ness’ of presence and absence pertaining to all transition, an ‘at-once-ness’ that is seen by the mind’s temporally triple vision (cf. Chap. 3 above). But what is special or idiosyncratic about the contradictoriness of those movements that can be called mutually estimative power interplays?
Just as a carpenter’s making of a table can serve, and has served, as the simple paradigm for the productive movement of τέχνη ποιητική, the paradigm of the sale of wares on the market may serve as the elementary paradigm for, and even kernel of, the socio-ontology of the intricate web of power interplays constituting the gainful game. The simple paradigm of the art of making, on which the Aristotelean ontology of productive movement is based, has ‘blossomed’ into the onslaught of the modern sciences and technologies in striving to master all movement in the world, whereas the simple paradigm of commodity exchange has ‘blossomed’ into the untrammeled gainful game that today is unleashed globally with oft devastating effect. The socio-ontology of the paradigm of commodity exchange, however, has to date never been explicated, nor the fundamental difference in its ontology from productive movement made clear.
To start with, an elementary exchange between two parties mediated by money is idiosyncratic in the sense of being its own mixture (ἰδιοσύνκρασις) of two different movements proceeding from two different origins or starting-points (ἀρχαί), viz. the buyer and the seller. These two movements are in two different, indeed, opposed directions, but intertwine and depend on each other if they are to reach their respective destinations, i.e. each movement negates the other but also positively includes it. The seller aims at getting rid of, i.e. absencing, the good in his or her possession in favour of gaining, i.e. presencing, money in his or her hands, whereas the buyer aims at gaining possession, i.e. presencing, a good that is good for something or other, useful and therefore a use-value while at the same time handing over, and thus absencing, the purchase price in money, from his or her possession. Each party as a starting-point of the transaction has an opposed but interlocking, dovetailing, complementary intention in mind, namely, complementary to the other party’s intention. A successful, mutually satisfying transaction reached by agreement represents the Aufhebung (resolution) of the contradiction between two opposed movements. It is attained, if at all, through each party estimating the value of what the other party has to offer and, crucially, coming to an agreement (if the one party, say, appropriates the other’s good by force or cunning, the contradiction has not been resolved but only exacerbated).
The buyer assesses the value in use of the good on offer (which may be either a consumer or productive good) in relation to how much it costs, whereas the seller assesses the price at which he or she is willing to part with the commodity good, whereby this assessment includes an estimation of the margin of profit made or whether the expenditure of his or her own powers in producing the good in question is adequately compensated, i.e. valued, by the prospective purchaser. Insofar there is a formal parallel between the productive movement of making something and the completion of an exchange transaction: the contradictoriness inherent in the movements is resolved in attaining an end (τέλος), either in the finished product or in the finished, agreed transaction. Otherwise, however, the ontologies of these two different kinds of movement differ, as is apparent already in the necessity of two different ἀρχαί having to reach agreement, to strike a deal, on their mutual estimations. For instance, a carpenter can finish making a table and be satisfied with the result of his or her productive activity, but its sale requires the independent value-estimation of the table by another, namely, the prospective buyer and also that this buyer and the carpenter reach agreement with each other.
Whether the resolution of the contradiction between two opposite but complementary movements in a completed transaction is mutually satisfactory for both parties is entirely open, just as is whether a transaction comes about at all. In contrast to productive movement, neither party (ἀρχή) to the potential transaction has power over its eventual outcome, even though each may have definite intentions, such as the buyer or seller having envisaged (mentally) a fixed acceptable price range in advance. Despite best efforts, for instance, the seller cannot activate an efficient cause on the prospective buyer to effect a sale. Market conditions outside the control of either buyer or seller also set boundary conditions within which any transaction can be completed. A glut or scarcity of a certain good on the market may force transactions on one of the parties that are entirely unsatisfying, e.g. sale at a loss or purchase at an exhorbitantly high price. The mutual estimation of the values involved in the transaction then does not lead to a mutually satisfying resolution of the opposed movements with the consequence that the exchange, depending as it does on the mutual agreement of two parties, may not take place at all, or only begrudgingly on the part of one of the parties, who is in need. Exchange interplay therefore requires the two players (buyer and seller) to see not along one-dimensional, linear time in terms of cause and effect, but to envisage or imagine various future possibilities residing in the potential transaction during the course of bargaining and haggling (insofar as it occurs) over its terms. The movement called exchange is thus beset with an inherent uncertainty that must be situated in open three-dimensional time rather than predicted effectively along a time-line.
The simple paradigm of the buying and selling of wares can be easily modified to consider services which are a kind of ‘liquid’, not yet solidified, objectified good. The purchaser is not purchasing a finished good, but hiring a worker’s labour power to provide a certain service. In this case, the seller offers his or her own powers and abilities to the prospective purchaser to provide a service of whatever kind to him or her. The service-provider is then paid a wage for expending his or her own labour power for the other’s benefit. The interchange that comes about may or may not be mutually satisfying and is in any case likewise not under the control of either party, in particular insofar as external market conditions set boundary conditions for the transaction, but also simply because it requires an Aufhebung in an agreement. There is an asymmetry when the hirer of labour power is an entrepreneur and the service-provider is an employee earning a livelihood who has scarce or no reserves to play for time in the transaction. On the one side there is then a small or large or huge company with considerable financial power; on the other a worker of some kind seeking employment whose stand in the power interplay may or may not be strengthened by membership in a workers’ union that enhances bargaining power. In any case, a shift of the balance of power in the gainful game results when corporations face employees in the power interplays of the gainful game.
A given transaction is only one move in the more encompassing gainful game of earning income. It must be complemented by others to weave the complex fabric of the income-earning lives of many players. This applies especially for the enterprise player who, as the co-ordinator of productive collaboration, must complete countless transactions for purchasing means of production, hiring labour power and selling finished products in the circulation process of capital. The gainful game is enabled first and foremost by the reification of value in money that serves as the indispensable medium lubricating the game’s movement. Reified value is thus the medium of sociation bringing the players together, all of whom are striving for reified value in the form of the four characteristic incomes or hybrids thereof. Any talk of capitalism that is ignorant of reified value as the medium in which the gainful game is played — and this includes all of today’s economic theories(*)  — has failed to understand what it is.

6.4.2 Metaphysical eeriness of the gainful game

Although the gainful game seems motivated by the willed and willing strivings of its many and various players to earn income, and thus seems to be the result of the collective action of countless subjects, its core movement is far removed from any underlying human subjectivity. The core movement is namely the augmentative movement of reified value itself as capital, a seemingly eternal circular movement that draws all the players into its complexly intertwined and unforseeable movements of the countless circuits of individual capitals that the capitalist entrepreneurs and their agents, the executives, attempt to tame and manage profitably. Insofar, the will to earn income in competitive struggle is that of an unseen metaphysical will acting behind all the players’ backs: the will to play the gainful game per se. The players themselves, including even the powerful entrepreneurial players, are not the subjects of a game initiated by them and under their collective control; rather they are the pawns in a competitive game that comes over them like a stroke of fate. Each player may be out for modest or obscenely immodest success in earning income, but the game’s rules of value-augmentation are set by the overall, all-subsuming movement of reified value itself as capital willed by none of the players. Only within and underneath this overarching movement of total capital do the various players play out their individual gainful power interplays.
The metaphysical eeriness of the capitalist gainful game remains hidden to all the players caught up in it. They do not see the gainful game ontologically as such, but at most only pre-ontologically and explain it in merely ontic terms, i.e. in terms of facts, putative causes, historical narratives. This entails that the gainful game cannot be overcome historically by any collectivity of subjects, traditionally named as the working class, who are ostensibly destined to become historically an association of free producers consciously sociating and controlling the fruits of their labours. Such a projected overcoming of the capitalist gainful game is called socialism that is ruled out socio-ontologically, not merely, say, by historical experience of failure. A compromise between the gainful game and such a conscious sociation of the subjects via democratic power struggle in politics, where the state is supposed to tame excesses of the gainful game, is called social democracy. Its aim is to reform some of the asymmetries of the class power struggles by making the superior state power serve wage-earners. Neither of these political overcomings (Aufhebungen) relying on power struggle among humans conceived as a collectivity of subjects, however, is in the light of an insight into the socio-ontology of the gainful game, including its mysterious metaphysical, ‘theological’ will to gain ever more in the dimension of reified value. This hidden god of the gainful game, to whom all income-earners bow, could be called, in accordance with the Greek πλεονεξία (the striving for more, for a greater portion, for profit, for advantage, for superiority, etc.) Pleon Exia. Insofar, such collective political struggles for liberation from the gainful game are illusory. A socio-ontological insight into the gainful game would shed an entirely different historical-hermeneutic light on the world, recasting it as a world in which the alternative sight of fairness of mutually estimative power interplay were visible and in play, in which the blindness of being merely caught up in the gainful game as players of various sorts is meliorated. Overcoming blindness through a soberly enlightened eye on the capitalist gainful game is an historical precondition for any freedom whatsoever. Such freedom could be exercised in historical time by stepping back from an all-too-close entanglement in the machinations of the gainful game.
The boundless will to gain more in the gainful game is wedded to and intertwined with the absolute will to power over all kinds of movement and change in the set-up (Gestell), a metaphysical god I have named Willy P.,  the absolute will to power over all kinds of movement. Willy P.(**) and Pleon Exia are intimately related, but they are different, the former being an excessive outgrowth and dissemination of the ontology of productive movement derived from the innocent paradigm of τέχνη ποιητική, whereas the latter is an hypertrophic exaggeration and universalization of the socio-ontology of exchange interplay derived from the likewise initially innocent paradigm of τέχνη κτητική, the art of acquiring. When the obfuscating veil of the medium of reified value is stripped away, it can be seen ontologically that at the gainful game’s core lies the estimation and valuing of what human abilities and powers can do for each other on a basis of mutuality, along with an estimating and esteeming of the Earth (see below).

(*) Marx’s critique of political economy in his mature writings is the exception insofar as the so-called value-form analysis offers the kernel of a viable social ontology of capitalism based on a well-developed concept of reified value.

(**) For the character called Willy P., see my novel, The Land of Matta.

Further reading: Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger.
Social Ontology of Whoness.