This comment thread wandered into a discussion of science, of considerable intricacy and originality. The post in question is focused upon Heidegger, who has very definite ideas about natural science, but these ideas — dominated by his conception of  ‘regional ontologies’ — are not especially noteworthy, either for an understanding of Heidegger’s principal pre-occupation, or for a realistic grasp of the scientific enterprise. For that reason, it seems sensible to recommence the discussion elsewhere (here).

The first crucial thesis about natural science — or autonomous ‘natural philosophy’ — is that it is an exclusively capitalist phenomenon. The existence of science, as an actual social reality, is strictly limited to times and places in which certain elementary structures of capitalistic organization prevail. It depends, centrally and definitionally, upon a modern form of competition. That is to say, there cannot be science without an effective social mechanism for the elimination of failure, based on extra-rational criteria, inaccessible to cultural capture.

Whether a business or scientific theory has failed cannot — ultimately — be a matter of agreement. No possible political decision, based on persuasion and consensus, can settle the issue. Of course, much that goes by the name of science and capitalist business enterprise is subject to exactly these forms of resolution, but in such cases neither capitalism nor science is any longer in effective operation. If an appeal to power can ensure viability, the criterion of competition is disabled, and real discovery has ceased to take place.

Under conditions of unleashed capitalistic social process, both enterprises and theories involve a double aspect. Their semiotic expression is mathematized, and their operation is reality-tested (or non-politically performative). Mathematics eliminates rhetoric at the level of signs, communicating the experimental outcomes — independent of any requirement for agreement — which determine competitive force. It is no coincidence that capitalist enterprises and theories, when unsupported by compliant institutions, revert to the complicity with war, and military decision, which accompanied them at their birth in the European Renaissance. There can be no ‘argument’ with military defeat. It is only when the demand for argument is set aside — when capitalism begins  — that military reality-compulsion becomes unnecessary.

Capitalism is in operation when there is nothing to discuss. An enterprise, or theory, is simply busted (or not). If — given the facts — the sums don’t work, it’s over. Political rhetoric has no place. ‘Politicized science’ is quite simply not science, just as politicized business activity is anti-capitalism. Nothing has been understood about either, until this is.

Insofar as there is anything like a ‘social contract’ at the origin of capitalism — enterprise and science alike — it is this: if you insist upon an argument, then we have to fight. Real performance is the only credible criterion, for which no political structure of disputation can be a substitute. War only becomes unnecessary when (and where) argument is suspended, enabling the modern processes of entrepreneurial and scientific reality discovery to advance. When argument re-imposes itself, politicizing economics and science, war re-emerges, tacitly but inevitably. The old, forgotten contract resurfaces. “If you insist upon an argument, then we have to fight.” (That is the way of Gnon.)

It is quite natural, therefore, for ‘technology’ to be considered an adequate summary of the capitalist culture of discovery. Machines — social machines no less than technical machines — cannot be rhetorically persuaded to work. When science really works, it’s robot wars, in which decision is settled on the outside, beyond all appeal to reason. Well-designed experiments anticipate what a war would tell, so that neither an argument, nor a fight, is necessary. This is Popperian falsificationism, re-embedded in socio-historical reality. Experiments that cannot cull are imperfect recollections of the primordial battlefield.

It is intrinsic to the Cathedral that it wins all the arguments, as it succumbs — through sheer will-to-power — to the re-imposition of argumentative sociology. By doing so it destroys capitalism, enterprise, and science. At the end of this trajectory, it excavates the forgotten social contract of modernity. Its final discovery is war.



July 12, 2013admin 19 Comments »
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19 Responses to this entry

  • Alrenous Says:

    I don’t think you can safely take for granted that capitalism-as-market-failure is causally antecedent to science. The correlation may be due to having a common cause.

    I think it would be worth telling us your working definition of ‘science’ so we don’t start discussing three different things. Leave aside whether your science is the best thing to call science until you’re done discussing the thing presently at hand.

    Verbal logic can be put in the same rule-based regime as mathematical logic. However, it doesn’t seem to come naturally the way it does to math, It can only be driven by conscious purpose.

    The Cathedral loses its arguments all the time. It’s just that almost nobody notices. Of those that do notice, almost none care whether they’re logically worthless or not; if the powerful say black is white, then we say black is white too.


    admin Reply:

    Going backwards:

    “The Cathedral loses its arguments all the time. It’s just that almost nobody notices.” — That isn’t losing an argument, except formalistically. Losing an argument — substantively — is ‘like’ losing a court case (or the historical dialectic, as the Marxists might say): it’s a socio-cultural conclusion. Whatever gets to decide the ‘correct’ way of thinking wins the argument,and that’s the Cathedral (academy and media). What else could an institution that massive and expensive be for? Sure, the New York Times is wrong about everything, but it always wins the argument.

    Does the verbal / mathematical difference describe a true faultline? I would draw it between the strictly formalizable (and especially algorithmic) and the informal. The important thing about mathematics (and strict formality) is that it is theorematic, i.e. non-arguable. This, of course, by far the greatest legacy from the Greeks. (There is no mathematical dialectics).

    Science: Competitive theorizing (with ‘competitive’ meaning that outcomes are decided effectively by a culturally extrinsic criterion). This definition is broadly equivalent to: ’empirically sensitive theorizing, expressed mathematically’ (but it is articulated more realistically).

    A “common cause”? I would probably agree. Science is perhaps described quite satisfactorily as a capitalist enterprise, based on the common principle of real competition (non-dialetical, non-judicial, fact-sensitive simulated warfare).


    Alrenous Reply:

    Science is checking your ideas, rather than simply assuming they’re correct if they feel correct. You feel 99.9% certain? That’s great. Now go check. Even, perhaps especially, if your intuition is trained and thus reliable.

    Competitive theorizing seems necessary for tribes of humans to in fact check their ideas. However, it is physically possible to eschew it, as long as the ideas get checked. The point is to care more about what Reality thinks than what other humans think; it’s just that this seems impossible for most, so we have to have a proxy that amounts to caring about Reality.

    And here’s the thing: to check Cathedral ideas, you don’t need to run experiments. Simply analyzing the arguments is sufficient. For anyone who cares about Reality, figuring out they’re wrong is trivial. Being convinced by them is slam-dunk evidence against epistemic competence: their opinions are worthless.

    (Indeed, part of what’s wrong is that the opinions of the incompetent are held in high esteem. “Everyone should have a say.” Oddly, academics think this about government but not about academics.)


    admin Reply:

    Even if some fraction of epistemological agencies, through effective methods, advance their theorizing in the direction of reality, that only gets to first base. The second phase is to sift out the defective theorizing from the wider social field — at least from positions of dominating influence — and that requires a (reality-grounded) mechanism of competition.

    Alrenous Reply:

    I don’t see why true science needs to be social activism. Empirically, the two are incompatible. It’s society’s choice to respect scientists or not. It’s just that science-respecting societies will out-compete the science-deprecating ones. (Again.)

    Posted on July 13th, 2013 at 1:21 am Reply | Quote
  • Erik Says:

    More of this, please!


    Posted on July 13th, 2013 at 7:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Matt Olver Says:

    This got me thinking about the practical or maybe not so practical advancements of science and what the capitalist marketplace brings in for new science based jobs. Some of this is far off, others are closer than they appear. Of course, the military industrial complex isn’t going away any time soon and these jobs would be nice if war and this — see ATLAS T-Model 101 from DARPA/Skynet doesn’t doom us all first.

    The Jobs:

    10. In-Store 3D Fabricator – Kinkos for 3D printing
    9. Domestic Robotician – tech repair for your home robots
    8. AI Trainer – tutor for your newborn artificial intelligences around the house
    7. Transhumanist Surgeon – smart mechanic for upgrading your body
    6. Nanobot Immune System Augmenter – doctor or nurse skilled in nanomedicine
    5. Human DNA Programmer – gene therapy or enhancement by modifying your genes
    4. Cosmetic Bioprinter – advanced commonplace plastic surgery with 3D printing
    3. Vertical Farmer – farming on specially designed skyscrapers
    2. Space Elevator Attendant – pilot/driver of tether transport from Earth into Space
    1. Climate Engineer – controlling global climate and weather


    admin Reply:

    This calls out for a post, something roughly in the ‘humans and technological replacement’ category. The AI trainer job is especially thought-provoking, SF novel material. (Lots of expat work in China has a slight edge of that to it.)


    Posted on July 14th, 2013 at 2:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • Contemplationist Says:

    I broadly agree but I wonder how you would characterize 17th century genius scientists like Newton? Can capitalism be said to have been operational for his motivations?


    admin Reply:

    I don’t think motivations are the primary question (what motivates any kind of successful enterprise?). In any case, we know that Newton’s motivations were byzantine, with occult theology in a central position. The key to Newtonianism being science is the competitive matrix that prevented it being dismissed and religious heresy, or any other kind of unacceptable argument, once the experiments were seen to systematically come out right.


    Artxell Knaphni Reply:


    Not to forget that Newton was Master of the Mint, so heavily involved with money..

    Admin, have you ever come acoss “Behold Metatron, the Recording Angel” (1985) bySol Yurick?

    “the old philosopher’s stone could convert base metals into gold. now humans, real estate, social relations are converted into electronic signs carried in an electronic plasma. the dream of magical controll has never been exorcised. perhaps, after all, modern capitalism is a great factory for the production of angels.”

    I read it in the early 90s, it had an SF flavour, which I like. It’s a short book, but it has a lot of ideas.

    I’m not so sure if you’re right in the paragraph that begins:
    “The first crucial thesis about natural science — or autonomous ‘natural philosophy’ — is that it is an exclusively capitalist phenomenon.”
    Your articulation of “elementary structures of capitalistic organization” effectively appropriates everything, even Communism, if you choose it to do so.

    Science is just knowing; the specific institutionalisations you seem to be referring to are just systematic and intensified knowledge productions concerning the object of ‘Nature’.
    That scientists compete with, cooperate with, and learn from, each other, is the corollary of being in a developing tradition. I know one guy who’s only goal was to get into the standard textbooks of his field, a footnote was enough for him.
    I’m not necessarily saying that I think you’re wrong either. In fact, I think the post is a strong expression of core issues that should be addressed. I’m trying to organise my stuff now, so can’t really engage with the topics in the way that I would like, right now.


    admin Reply:

    “Science is just knowing” — this is too general, surely. Logic and mathematics are knowledge, but they’re not natural science. Of course, a strong historical claim is inevitably controversial when applied to a matter this broad, but I would still defend the notion that nothing can be truly scientific unless it functions as a (capitalist) enterprise, selectively honed by competition, which is in turn anchored technologically in extra-cultural reality. Much better to say that businesses are kinds of (very concrete) ‘scientific’ theory, than to generalize science beyond the capitalist horizon.

    Communism, in strict contrast, is the social model of absolute argument, like any sovereign church, hence its affinity with the teleology of the Cathedral. Communist ‘science’ is Lysenko, or in the Cathedral version, Michael E. Mann.

    Sol Yurick is triggering hazy recollection. (I don’t know why, since I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any of the novels attributed to him by Wikipedia.) Anyway, that quote is remarkable.

    Posted on July 14th, 2013 at 5:29 pm Reply | Quote
  • Artxell Knaphni Says:

    Just had a look at it again – In the interests of academic research, I think it’s permissible to scan a few pages, I can post them here, they can be copied and removed.
    I haven’t read his novels. A film called “Warriors” (1979) on gang warfare, is by him. I think it was a cult film. I saw it on British TV in the 80s/90s, it’s very mythic – he’s very good.


    Artxell Knaphni Reply:


    “We are in the middle of that Great Transformation into what is called the Information Age, or Post-Industrial Society. As in all Grand Transitions, fin du siecle’s and climacterics, perceptions of reality are again being redistorted by the insertion of a vast new mediational system into an already multiplexed, historically accreted maze of mediations. In the context of this forced march, the relationship of information to society and nature has to be rethought.
    Call information capital-intensive knowledge, a mechanelectronistic metaphor made to dominate more and more of life. All knowledge is in the process of being converted to computer-compatibility. The old philosopher’s stone could convert base metals into gold. Now humans, real estate, social relations … are converted into electronic signs carried in an electronic plasma. This would merely be an amusing game if people (in fact only a small subset of the world’s population: 90% of all information processing is controlled by a small part of the “developed” world) weren’t being forced to use and live through information processing and communications technology. Call it Informatics; call it telematics.
    The components of telematics are mainframes, minis and personal computers, cathode ray tubes, printers, copiers, automated bankteller machines, point-of-sale sensors, antennae, copper and fiber optic wire, copiers, remote-sensing devices, robots (remotely run or otherwise), calculators, integrated chips, software, mass-data-storages, tapes, discs, diagnostic equipment, a babble of “appropriate” languages, telephones, modems, telexes, terminals, microwave relays, radio, cable, satellites, switching and routing systems… Alongside of this, one has to consider the social communication systems and all the transcieving and routing operations there. Even the simplest of tions are seperated, reconfigured, sent and priced. And those who live in this new world are losing their grip on an older reality. As for those who have no access to, no participation in, this newly imposed world, they are out of the world’s new information economy, doomed to obsolescence and death.
    A glorious, transcendant and radiant future is promised us. Efficiency will increase, productivity will rise, the office and factory of the future will be automated, we will be able to work at home, teleconference, we will have hoards of instantly retrievable knowledge at our disposal, record-keeping will be easier, we will be freed from work and the burdens of memory. That, or an enormous disaster is in the making as parts of the world become metaphysical. For it’s time for Demiurge II. The Year 2000 is coming. Apocalypse and creation in one.
    Whole nations, their economies, their peoples, their resources, their land, can be simulated and displayed on some input/output device. But worse, taken for the real thing. National boundaries become porous and erode.

    America is no more as transnational data-flows penetrate borders. Nations become illusions as foreign enterprises buy pieces of many lands. The informational process has concrete results. True, this is nothing new. International cartels, merchants in past ages accomplished the thing. But as long as any enterprise becomes translated more and more into its essences—money and near-money, an all-purpose information, the blood and hormones of business—those essences cannot be held in containers called nations any longer.
    The technology can be likened to a nervous system, one external to humans yet connected to their internal nervous systems by a variety of devices, becoming more fused, joined. For example, with the onset of medical data-bases, monitoring, diagnostic and treatment machines, ancient dreams of being directly connected, the world “wired” to the brain-nerve complex, leads to the hope that thought alone will move reality.
    With the invention of new sensing devices, new perceptual systems come on line. All beings are some function of their information intake, no matter how indirectly the information is received. What was done in the mind must now be done through computers … programs begin to become quasi-solidified thought. New procedures for action and behavior take the form of a ritual, requiring the playing of an excruciating game called programming. People resist? The languages are too hard, the steps too long and complicated? Money is now poured into developing computers that “talk English,” are touch-responsive or voice-activated. Computers for dummies.
    But above all, price is attached to these mediational meditations. Price is a seasonally adjusted, value-added medium in this invented medium, a carrier of values standing for the signs of things sent along a carrier wave. The computer, and its languages, represent a frozen and hard-wired habituation of thought. The programs are a way of trying to introduce flexibility, variety and reference into the relative intractability of the machine. However, by itself, and with its operators, and its languages, it is impossible to truly metaphorize—an essence of human brain activity and thought—that is to say, fuse into one homgeneity any two or more disparate sensation-terms.
    Each “new age” rewrites the history of past (while thinking it has discarded the obsolescent past). The last great age of reinvention and rationalization of past and future took place, more or less, from the 15th to the 19th centuries. New world views were created. But does the process of rethinking and reorganizing the past really free any age that past? Has modern rationalization a secret rider, an incubus along in its intellectual and institutional baggage?
    New institutions advertise themselves, use the old images of domination to promote the transition. They draw their sales-imagery out of a central bank of symbolic forms. Knowledge of the past is simplified. Epochs are erased (perhaps there was too much that embarrassing in the past). New pasts,
    whole aeons are invented. Complex existence is simplified, and then recomplexified in another way. Forgetfullness follows. Scramble and resequence; but, in the process of borrowing symbolic energy from the past, new simultaneities and odd juxtapositions, like dreams, emerge.

    To look up, to see the stars, the galaxies (in their past and glowing glories) with new kinds of lenses is to have recourse to addresses in data banks where long runs (projected in a short time) of computer-modeled, cosmological statistics are stored (with certain assumptions built in). Look closely at these computer-simulated, eons-long histories of distant stellar objects projected on the cathode-ray tube. Watch them appear to recede. What are we “seeing”? Are the simulations guided by an underlying compulsion to aesthetics, and does this become the ultimate gravitational lens? And those great galactic streamers of stars, and the great gouts of gas jetting off into the blackness… how like the monetary jet-streams that banks draw off into the black holes of their balance-sheets from once luminous nations, entropizing and then rematerializing as investments elsewhere. Transubstantiation? Is that what underlies the very concept of the preservation of matter and energy?
    Celestial bookkeeping? But see the flaw; the images are seen in squared-off pixels, reconstructions based on a relatively few observations, structured by certain recurring theories. All observational technology is, within limits, the concretization of a speculation. And what we see is all based on some initialising, mythic event: The Beginning.
    Troubles in paradise. While trumpeting the imminent emergence of the grand, unifying theory, the unifying theories fall apart. Fundamental forces and particles proliferate. The original central dogma of genetics is riddled with heresies. And even forms of credit go off and multiply. They become desperate to unify and simplify (an ancient compulsion).” etc

    This is just the beginning, he goes through everything. It’s best read quickly.


    Artxell Knaphni Reply:

    Errata correctio:

    “Even the simplest of tions are seperated, reconfigured, sent and priced.”

    should read:

    “Even the simplest of conversations are seperated, reconfigured, sent and priced.”

    The spelling mistakes here and in the rest of the text, are in the original. I only corrected a few.


    Posted on July 15th, 2013 at 1:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mark Warburton Says:

    Off topic, Nick, but I thought this might interest you:


    admin Reply:

    Thanks — that’s great. “The frontier is a liberating force.”


    Posted on July 15th, 2013 at 10:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Artxell Knaphni Says:


    That’s Kapital!

    “”“Science is just knowing” — this is too general, surely. ”

    Well, perhaps, but I would rather say it is etymologically specifying. That is, it acts as a literally radical anchor of sorts for any semantic history that might be subsequently foisted upon the word. So from this more general case of ‘knowing’, “natural science” emerges as a particular ‘narrowing of scope’ – the ‘knowings of nature’, as it were.
    If you don’t do this, if you hive off the general background into the more particular uses internal to the subsequent institutionalisations you valorise, you’re eliding those other, ‘radical’ origins – you lose a perspective perhaps ‘external’ to this valorisation of the logic of the ‘natural, one that could be useful.
    It doesn’t mean you have to choose ‘one’ or the ‘other’. but having access to both, theoretically, enables you to see both at play. You’re not going to get stuck.
    The obligations of ‘choice’ are more pertinent to the problems of specific implementation that arise when systematic commitments have already been made – in which case, you’re only extending those ‘commitments’, that ‘system’. The elision of even the possibility of extra-systemic perspectives brings the dangers of insularity: you’re in a ‘bubble’ of unawareness, vulnerable to all that that you exclude.
    That’s okay, if you’re just doing a limited task. It isn’t, if you imagine your system is possessed of any vitality or real ‘growth’. If there is no ‘growth of understanding’, you’re locked in your own regime, condemned to repeat metaphors of a particular form of ‘ignorance’. Even if you’re building stuff at the ‘end of the universe’, keeping it in ‘existence’, lol, you’re in a ‘holding pattern’, of fear?
    Yes, the argument could be made about ‘fear’ having a function in some holistic conception of ‘evolution’, etc., but all of that would be using images of ‘data’, ‘neutral description’?, as a form of sanction for ‘closure’ of possibilities, not to speak of the interpretative ghettos that tend to afflict such speculative enterprises, these days (“All observational technology is, within limits, the concretization of a speculation.” Sol Yuric). It neglects, too, the much vaunted phenomenon of spontaneous ‘self-emergence’ that is said to characterise the novel forms enabled by conditions of anomalous extremity (‘chaos theory’, ‘catastrophe theory’; Prigogine, Thom, etc.)


    “nothing can be truly scientific unless it functions as a (capitalist) enterprise, selectively honed by competition, which is in turn anchored technologically in extra-cultural reality. ”

    You’re going from ‘science’ (all the forms of ‘knowing’) to “truly scientific”.
    You don’t qualify it (science) with “natural” here, you use “truly”, but you’re still referring to it in the same classical, institutional sense; veridical extensions of statements accepted as foundational by the institutions of “natural science”. So it’s a standardised form of ‘truth’, as dispensed by institutional production, for the purposes of those allied to the institution. A form of truth, wherein, the neutrality of uncontentious ‘factual’ statements (your “extra-cultural reality”) , disappears in the reconfigurative interpretations and deployments of “(capitalist) enterprises” whose ruling ethos is a rigged “competition”, with all the casuistical horrors that the self-reflexive play of driven manipulations can produce.


    “Much better to say that businesses are kinds of (very concrete) ‘scientific’ theory, than to generalize science beyond the capitalist horizon.”

    “What was done in the mind must now be done through computers … programs begin to become quasi-solidified thought.” (Sol Yurick)
    “Even the simplest of conversations are separated, reconfigured, sent and priced.” (Sol Yurick)

    Businesses are experiments in profit production.
    It is ‘investors’ who profit.
    Investors are those who have kapital to invest.
    Those investors who have most kapital, have the most to invest, can take more chances, can produce the most kapital, all other factors being equal.
    Kapital is not only money, but power to control networks, too.
    Thus, you enjoin us not to entertain ‘ways of knowing’ (science) that are beyond the horizon of this ‘profit production’.

    Could such censorship imply that the culture of business is ‘endangered’? The arts of profit, in need of the prophetic charismas of religion, perhaps?
    Or is it a religion itself? One that follows the uncertain gods of “Chance” and “beingBetterOff”? A devotional game in which its adherents no longer are able to envisage anything else, condemned to perpetually gamble, even though all bets have been, for some time now, off?


    admin Reply:

    “‘(capitalist) enterprises’ whose ruling ethos is a rigged ‘competition'” — you are wandering into a cognitive trap here, because if you insist that competition is fundamentally ‘rigged’ — i.e. with only metaphorical recapitulation of Darwinian dynamics, and no real purchase on the Outside — then why did Modernity prevail? Is there any answer left to you other than an unanchored conspiracy theory? And it is this drift which blinds you to what ‘profit’ actually is, basically and systematically — the functional surplus, returned to the process itself, which signals its real performance (rather than any mere political valorization or approval). The profitable enterprise, under capitalist conditions, demonstrates that it works, independent of any intra-cultural judgment of legitimacy. Such demonstration — equally at work in the cycle of natural-scientific theorization and experiment — requires a distinctive cybernetic operation (runaway, undampened, or open-endedly escalating integration of real performance), which no pre-modern society tolerated (and it is exactly this preventative capability that, retrospectively, defines them as pre-modern). Anthropological reduction of ‘Kapital’ is a grave conceptual error.

    Science is modern, not accidentally, but essentially. Modernity is no mere bet, but a venture, through which everything is hazarded, including itself. The widest horizons arise from ‘within’ it (but its ‘inside’ is not, in reality, inside).


    Posted on July 19th, 2013 at 2:27 pm Reply | Quote

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