Crypto-Current (026)

§2.64 — “Once the CPU effort has been expended to make it satisfy the proof-of-work, the block cannot be changed without redoing the work. As later blocks are chained after it, the work to change the block would include redoing all the blocks after it.” System integrity is therefore identified with a robust past, and even with tensed time as such. What makes the past the past, that is, the separation of time, is indistinguishable from a resistance to revision. “As later blocks are chained after it, the work to change the block would include redoing all the blocks after it.” That which most incontestably demonstrates its resilience – by enduring into the future ¬– is the past. What has happened, alone, is realized. Time is here captured as it tenses,* in the execution of an ontological operation, through which Being is decided. In this way, the process dividing the future from the past provides a selective criterion. What has been discovered by the Bitcoin protocol, is that the model contract is necessarily timelike in this sense, to such an extent that it can implement time. Here’s the deal. That which is done has contractual integrity insofar as it is not easily undone. Irreversibility is the key.**

§2.641 — When the problem of time is apprehended as the principle architectural factor in the history of philosophy, it places modernity on exhibition as an epoch of teleological eclipse. The systematic suppression of explanatory finality within modernity anticipates, and envelops, the temporary retirement of time – or irreversibility – ‘in general’. As with all good things (philosophically speaking), the basic structure is profoundly paradoxical, or, more strictly, pseudo-paradoxical. The occidental intellectual modernity that rose in revolt against medieval scholasticism, under the banner of a mechanistic rejection of teleological thinking, was not only colored by intense religious commitments, it was also itself – still more twistedly – propelled by profound teleological inclinations. The comprehensive mechanization of causal concepts was the guiding telos. Scientifically-respectable causes were determined as implicitly reversible. Modernity, self-described in its name as the epoch of irreversible historical succession, was to be characterized by sovereign temporal reversibility, and thus by the abolition of time. This fertile mad loop (without precedent) might be compressed further, into the claim: Time had never been annihilated before. Extirpation of purposive explanation soon hardened into a commanding purpose, coincident with a distinctive cultural reproduction of nature. With consummate objective irony, a world determinedly stripped of anthropomorphisms accelerates into the Anthropocene.***

§2.642 — The idea of telic compulsion (in general) was rejected by the moderns, in very substantial part because the specific social and historical order identified with it was undergoing a great refusal, involving tumultuous conflict of such proportions that the idea of common governing ends had become implausible, and in fact ideologically intolerable. ‘Mechanism’ was both an explanatory procedure and, relatedly, a commitment to the disintegration of social purposes, with special relevance to those new micro-social redoubts most indispensable to the formulation and testing of techno-scientific hypotheses, indispensable to germinal industrial capitalism. Modern mechanism thus arose as a counter-convergence, in which the multiple senses of freedom from interference found coherence. It was simultaneously an image of nature, captured in abstraction from divine intervention, and a distributed manifesto in defense of autonomous research practices. In proclaiming the irrelevance of ecclesiastical judgment to all matters of natural fact, modernity liberates mechanization, or initiates a mechano-liberalization, continuous with the impulse to algorithmic governance of our present time. The conspicuous – perhaps ‘apparent’ – paradox at work has provided the staple nourishment for philosophical reflection ever since. Over a span of five centuries, the seemingly contradictory cultural bearing that heads – simultaneously – into unconstrained volition and rigid mechanical determinacy has been bound together by the tacit aspiration to actualize a freedom machine. Bitcoin is, beyond all serious question, its most remarkable recent instantiation.

§2.643 — The transcendental is not the transcendent,**** but rather the rigorous dismissal of the transcendent (in the name of immanence). It is ‘that’ which cannot be transcended. Whatever cannot be surpassed, or even momentarily eluded, is transcendental. The term designates whatever is always already and everywhere in effect. It thus frames the contingency of things. In other words, it marks any announcement of arrival in absolute contingency as premature, in the same way that Kant walks Hume back from his expedition into philosophical hyperbole. The unnecessary is encapsulated within a system of indetermination, comparable to the physical limit of a global entropy maximum, against which local aberration is contextualized, by restriction. However contingent any particular occurrence may be, the transcendental structure of occurrence as such is invariant. This is only to say, critically, once again, that time itself cannot be apprehended as an intra-temporal phenomenon, or something in time. In granting this conversion, the intrinsic solidarity of time with a teleological problem has already been conceded.

§2.644 — Complexity, or emergent irreducibility, connects the thematics of telos (or leading end) with the transcendental. It invokes a synthetic principle of intelligibility that coincides with the whole, at the end, or at least on the way, and one that cannot be derived by an analysis – however exhaustive – of its parts, or its precursors. Equally, however, it is fully compatible with the most vigorous reductionism, allowing only that a number of parts does not disappear into its parts. A three-body problem requires three bodies, but also nothing extraneous to those three bodies, considered together as a system, a number, a multiplicity, or as such (in their numeracy). It is a thing, consisting of its parts taken together, and nothing else. The error at work in any attempt to push analytical reduction beyond this point is precisely metaphysical, in the critical sense. The systematicity of the system is not an accessible datum within the system. It has an irreducible mathematical integrity of its own, and in this way alone are there ‘things’ (or real objects) at all.*****

* In the Anglophone philosophical tradition, the most influential statement of the distinction between tensed and untensed (geometrical) time is that of John McTaggart, in his The Unreality of Time (1908), where they are labeled the ‘A-series’ and ‘B-series’ respectively. The missing element in McTaggart’s discussion, subsequently contributed by the diagonal conception of intensities, and then implemented by Bitcoin block-succession, is envelopment. From the perspective of classical transcendental philosophy ‘B-theory’ or tenseless time is simply not time. See Huw Price (1996), Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point for an incomparably lucid defense of the ‘atemporal viewpoint’ in philosophy and physics.

** When Benjamin Franklin concluded – prophetically – that “time is money” he surely could not have anticipated this equation bypassing all mediation by human effort, and locking directly into the foundations of the transaction as such.

*** Any programmatic elimination of ‘man’ as an explanans easily lurches into theoretical error – most especially when it becomes a mechanical reflex. In the case of the Anthropocene – a proposed geological epoch determined primarily by the deep geochemical impact of the human species – an empirical thesis is at stake, for which a principled antihumanist dogma has little to contribute. The legitimacy of ‘anthropic’ reasoning, which seeks to draw substantial consequences from ‘our’ existence as observers, merits comparable philosophical tolerance, which is to say: no less than partial immunity from accusations of anthropomorphic infection.

**** For non-philosophers, the temptation to confusion presented by the similarity of the words ‘transcendent’ and ‘transcendental’ is so seductive it amounts almost to a manifestation of terminological sadism. Unfortunately, this is a confusion that the critical enterprise is unable – even momentarily – to tolerate. Transcendental philosophy is the sole alternative to transcendent metaphysics. The terms are not merely distinct, then, but structurally antagonistic, or reciprocally defining. Abolition of the transcendent in the name of the transcendental is the whole of critique.

***** Natural science has been perpetually tempted by the thought of a world without things. This results inevitably from its Oedipal animus against the Aristotelianism that was relayed through Scholasticism, and which – even many centuries later – persists as a vivid infant trauma. (“Show us on the doll where the Schoolmen touched you.”) As systems – rather than generic regularities – increasingly become its principal objects of methodical fascination, however, the restoration of emergent individuals (or real things) becomes ever more inescapable. If a refusal of ‘teleology’ in the name of a radically naturalized ‘teleonomy’ is considered essential to the preservation of modernity’s cultural hygiene, it would perhaps be pedantic to object. Pre-critical teleology – which pretends to grasp the telos as an object – is indeed a fundamental philosophical error. From the critical perspective, there is no real telos beyond the emergent systematicity of the system considered. ‘Goal’ and spontaneous order are the same. It can thus be noted immediately that metaphysical teleology falls prey to a psychological projection. Rather than an outcome, the end is interpreted as an intention. The neuro-philosophical dissolution of the intentional phenomenon is therefore structurally complicit with the critical rigorization of the teleological idea.
If there were no real emergent individuals, the sole science with a definite domain would be physics – or more precisely cosmological physics – whose object is given by the universe. It follows, therefore, that many existing scientific disciplinary boundaries have been poorly drawn, and subsequently defended, proudly, on the grounds of an erratic empiricism – still associated in fading memory with the overthrow of an arcane medievalism. Of course, it would require bizarre naivety to imagine the natural sciences educable on this point. They, too, have their historical destiny – which is essential, or integral on this question. If they were not – through systematic artificial instinct – repulsed by every prospect of concession to teleological thought, they would be something entirely other to what they are. They would have had a different birth (and with birth, comes path-dependency). Yet, without a critically-reduced teleological discipline, scientific objects remain arbitrary. Biology, for instance, is the mock-up for a still-virtual science, whose various components are rigorously derivable from the systematic decomposition of a comprehensive ‘terrestrial biosphere studies’. Outside this framework, ‘What is life?’ if not necessarily a disastrously misconceived question, is at the very least vulnerable to gratuitous confusion, insofar as it erases singularity from its object. It is only when the still-infant questions of ‘xenobiology’ are raised that the contours of accessible biological factuality sharpen. Life, as we know it, falls out of a singular sequence of events, or singular thing. In all of its complexity – historical and ecological – it elaborates upon an occurrence. Generic biological reality is simply unknown. Only the haziest inferences reach out towards it. It is increasingly recognized, at least enough to be troubling, that “… life is not a minor afterthought on an already functioning Earth, but an integral part of the planet’s evolution and behavior. Over the last few decades, the Gaians have pretty much won the battle. The opposition never actually surrendered or admitted defeat, but mainstream earth science has dropped its disciplinary shields and joined forces with chemistry, climatology, theoretical biology, and several other ‘‐ologies’ and renamed itself ‘earth system science.’”
Teleological framing is the corrective to an always-premature universalization. In this way (alone) it is critical. Ironically, it is the contrary mode of illegitimate universalism that is, in any consistent application of the word – when applied in its denigrative sense – medieval. To leap from local regularities to a cosmic norm is to hasten to the unframed signals of a transcendent revelation. Even physics is vulnerable to this temptation, when it seeks to construct itself in unearned abstraction from cosmology. Among the emergent correctives in this case is the dissolution of ‘the universal’ in the multiverse, which fixes the basic conception that the universe, too, is a thing. According to the teleological corrective, all constants descend from singularity.
Allergy to the word ‘teleology’ is positively remarkable, because it so perfectly exemplifies the phenomenon of terminological flight. It demonstrates, in all innocence, the influence of critique within the linguistic realm, which is otherwise – and cynically – displayed by the motor of interminable (‘deconstructionist’) auto-revision. Running, in this way, rarely engages the basic problem that drives it, and thus tends to become perpetual yet without actual distanciation – like the flight of a hunted subject through a nightmare.

One thought on “Crypto-Current (026)

  1. To what extent is the transcendental separation of synthetic temporality dependent on P != NP ? Can this be taken as transcendentally given, or is it – as of 2018 – merely an intuitive hunch? Is it really so philosophically bankable to elide the difference between thermodynamic temporality and the synthetic absolute time of the blockchain, given that the latter rests on an unproven hypothesis?

    I hope you’ll clarify this point later on in the book.

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