Crypto-Current (002)

§0.03 — It approaches a truism – although not one for this reason to be glibly dismissed – that philosophy assumes, as if by right, a position of sovereign authority relative to everything it touches upon.* A discussion of Bitcoin and Philosophy amounting only to a confirmation of this stance would merit contempt, even if it were packaged as humor. Since any attempt to philosophize about Bitcoin would already be a joke, it is better to get it. Bitcoin seizes philosophical attention because it is already doing philosophy – or what philosophy is still (on ever rarer occasions) expected to do – and at multiple levels. It tells the truth. Bitcoin is not only a recognizable philosophical statement, but also, and more importantly, a philosophical automatism, a synthetic philosophical machine.** It not only philosophizes in the manner of a man – although this is its certain prospect – but also finally in the way of an angel, or a lesser god. The ‘intellectual intuition’ (Intellektuelle Anschauung) that is for Kant a mortal impossibility, is for Bitcoin an operational principle. It is destined to close upon itself, and thus know itself. By becoming time, Bitcoin promises an exhibition of unleashed thought, in a way no introspective anthropology ever can.***

§0.031 — Throughout this book, ‘philosophy’ is employed freely as an abbreviation for ‘modern philosophy’, which is in turn consistently conceived – tacitly when not overtly – as critique in its (roughly) Kantian sense. To philosophize on any subject over recent centuries, as still today, has been to criticize, in the positive acceptation of this term, by differentiating the transcendental format from the empirical datum, and then resolving – or, stated more realistically, negotiating – the boundary conflicts between the two.**** However it is specifically articulated, critique isolates a properly transcendental productive principle, or function, which is constitutive of a domain rather than existing as an item within one. It thereby marks a unilateral or ontological difference (which is to say, a discrepancy irreducible to any relation between terms that are internal to the domain considered). Critique is, necessarily, the theoretical assertion of a non-empirical partition. Through critical abstraction, the consistent order of the system considered is liberated from its specific instantiation, to become a philosophical preoccupation, immunized against the distractions of any merely factual controversy about its content, but also – simultaneously (or diagonally) – from purely formal considerations of its internal logical organization. It is committed to a zone of positive discovery (which logic cannot be) that is systematically enveloping (as no empirical concern can be). Philosophy, as such, no longer has anything else whatsoever to attend to. If philosophy cannot be critique, it cannot be anything (that matters within Modernity). That is its essential immanent Law.

* Among the nagging contexts of this book is the emergence over recent years of a neo-humanist philosophical school, constituting the dominant development of speculative realism. While specifically differentiated from earlier modes of humanist thinking by its consistent collectivism, it remains deeply conservative in its metaphysical commitment to the irreducibility of reflective human cognition to non-linear machine-process. In this regard, it affirms a species of philosophical writing understood as transcending the algorithm in general, as if – even after Gödel – we could presume to set such limits with confidence. It is a school that resonates with a specific neo-Kantian lineage, inflected terminologically through the work of Wilfrid Sellars, and the resuscitation of a ‘space of reasons’ irreducible to anything cognizable within the space of a supposedly strictly-bounded ‘understanding’ that is now carried techno-historically by comparatively informal engineering initiatives and disciplines. That which can be justified, it is asserted, cannot be dissolved into mechanical production, in principle. This claim is both bold, and traditional. By its very nature, it defies all prospect of determinable testing. Since any possible digital sequence is potentially the output of a program (and actually of an infinite number of programs), there cannot be any definite criterion of cognitive competence, when this is formulated in terms of a transcendent rationality. Testable performance is inescapably vulnerable to the prospect of mechanical emulation. Definite criteriology has, therefore, to be surreptitiously side-lined if the algorithm, in general, is to be subjected to philosophical delimitation. Whatever it might possibly be that no ‘algorithm’ could do, in principle, cannot – in principle – be clear. Critique is demarcation. It sets the limits of a topic (of pure reason, practical reason, and judgment, inaugurally). Crucially, these critical exercises are immanent, i.e. limited to realizable tribunals, or fields of judgment. They mark horizons. No Archimedean position is available to them. They do not ever in reality successfully project beyond themselves, to set the limits of something outside, in an attempt to ensure security against it. In other words, according to a proposal drawn directly from the philosophical tradition, critique has no rigorously conceivable speculative employment. Yet it is exactly some such speculative inflation that is required in order to assert the irreducibility of thinking to complex machine behavior. If this is the only way for philosophy to reproduce its effective cultural dignity, it can be confidently predicted that it will not long survive the techonomic intelligence explosion in which it is factually embedded. Transcendence over against the machine (in general) is the epitome of metaphysical presupposition. Neohumanism, then, is a consistent implicit theme here, as it will be far beyond the bounds of this discussion. It is engaged here, primarily, via a route-around – or an unbound evasion. The bypass operation is the critical current. What cannot be stopped also should not be.

** The techonomic horizon, for ‘us’, coincides with the impending crisis of historically-actualized artificial intelligence. Encapsulated within this by now manifest potential is the comprehensive automation of philosophy. It cannot be simply assumed, therefore, that professional philosophers will respond to the prospect with detached equanimity. The simulation – and thus replacement – of their defining activity is integral to the hypothetical outcome under consideration. Under such circumstances, a coherent defensive reaction is the natural expectation. This is, of course, what we see. We will see much more of it. Yet there can be no stable hierarchy, preserving the superiority of philosophy over against a Critical Automation Theory (of the type advanced, for instance, by Luciana Parisi), or some less explicitly formalized analog. Automation is no more tractable to philosophical reflection, in principle, than philosophy is practically tractable to automation. The dominating considerations in both cases are synthetic, or experimental. A circuitous skepticism balances the technicization of understanding against the understanding of technicity, with both locked into a productive cycle. Learning fuses cybernetically with the machine. There is no Gordian Knot here for traditional authority to sever. Instead, there is a ‘question’ that cannot be confidently distinguished from an informal technical research program, and which therefore shrugs off non-ambivalent philosophical determination. An armchair philosophical objection carries no serious weight compared to something coming together in the garage.

*** These will almost certainly seem to be inflated claims, even when attributed to sheer efficient multiplicity. That is why our credence is being effectively bypassed. Modernity has disconnected our doubts from any system of permissions. What cannot be believed is no longer preventable.

**** Transcendental-empirical difference is very far from being an uncontroversial conceptual commitment. Within the Anglophone world, its most celebrated critic has been Willard Van Orman Quine, whose ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ (1951) assaults the conceptual foundations of analyticity. Logical identity cannot find secure grounds in definition, Quine argues. The lexicographic features of any term are never simply given, but must always be produced. Language has no meta-level logical characteristics, capable of securing analytical judgments. Along these lines, an attempted re-absorption of the critical impulse into an expended empiricism has been the dominant Anglophone response to the transcendental blueprint for the modernization of philosophy. Such an approach coordinates well with the techno-empiricism of the computer age, in which programs are processed as data. Between codes and information, protocols and applications, there can be no logically secure hierarchy, once Turing-complete digital computation is at work. Yet, from the partial perspective of the crypto-current, it is obligatory nevertheless to dissent. The resilient value of the analytic-synthetic distinction lies in its emphatic asymmetry. That is ‘analytic’ which can be conveniently checked, while the ‘synthetic’ has to be laboriously discovered. Cryptography essentially coincides with this distinction. We are thus, in passing, compelled to dismiss Kant’s identification of synthesis with simple addition (“7 + 5 = 12”) as misconceived, and misleading. It makes no sense to discuss the analytic, or synthetic, except in regard to reciprocal asymmetric operations, exemplified by trap-door functions. In the most significant instance, the analytic-synthetic divide runs between arithmetical production and factorization. The rigorous content of the distinction is work, in the sense given to this term by computer science. Its entire domain is exhausted by twin procedures of asymmetric facility. In its scientific application, it divides theoretical construction from experimental replication (or, once again, discovery from checking). Nature only has definite secrets in respect to this split method. If ‘thinking’ – or experimental discovery – were as economical as testing, or attempted result replication, there could be nothing like science at all.