A (quick) digression on speed
Acceleration, as Accelerationism employs it, is a concept abstracted from physics. In this philosophical (and socio-historical) sense, it preserves its mathematical definition (consolidated by the differential calculus) as higher derivatives of speed, with continued reference to time (change in the rate of change), but with re-application from passage through space to the growth of a determinable variable. The theoretical integrity of accelerationism, therefore, rests upon a rigorous abstraction from and of space, in which the dimension of change — as graphed against time — is mapped onto an alternative, quantifiable object. The implicit complicity of this ‘object’ with the process of abstraction itself will ultimately translate into explicit theoretical complications.
The flight into abstraction is theoretically snarled by reflexive tangles. Comparable difficulties arise on the side of the flight ‘out’ of space, primarily because the coincidence of intelligibility and spatiality tends rather to thicken than dissolve with each further increment of abstraction, propelling intelligence into phase-spaces, probability-spaces, Cyberspace, and deterritorialization. Space is released from its ‘original’ concreteness into the purity of the intuitive medium, while acquiring active intelligibility as display space, within which concepts become sensible. There is no more archaic, or more contemporary, illustration than the intuition of time through space, as demonstrated by the entire history of horology, the time-line, time dimensionalization, and graphed dynamics. Space sticks to measure on its path into abstraction, and even leads it there.
The insistence of space is also demonstrated by a tendency for any abstraction of acceleration to undergo reversion, as its index of change is re-attached to differentiations of (physical) speed. In the context of the Great Stagnation debate — the most prominent hiatus within the recent history of accelerationist thinking — a highly abstracted notion of (negative) technonomic acceleration is restored to measure in exactly this way.
In an interview with Francis Fukuyama, Peter Thiel demonstrates the process:
… you have … two different blind spots on the Left and Right, but I’ve been more interested in their common blind spot, which we’re less likely to discuss as a society: technological deceleration and the question of whether we’re still living in a technologically advancing society at all. I believe that the late 1960s was not only a time when government stopped working well and various aspects of our social contract began to fray, but also when scientific and technological progress began to advance much more slowly. Of course, the computer age, with the internet and web 2.0 developments of the past 15 years, is an exception. Perhaps so is finance, which has seen a lot of innovation over the same period (too much innovation, some would argue).
There has been a tremendous slowdown everywhere else, however. Look at transportation, for example: Literally, we haven’t been moving any faster.
In an earlier article, published in National Review, Thiel refers explictly to a “measurement problem” — at once theoretical and political — obstructing reliable estimates of techno-scientific development. While important to acknowledge, he advises, it should not “stop our inquiry into modernity before it has even begun”:
When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. Today’s advocates of space jets, lunar vacations, and the manned exploration of the solar system appear to hail from another planet. A faded 1964 Popular Science cover story — “Who’ll Fly You at 2,000 m.p.h.?” — barely recalls the dreams of a bygone age.
The official explanation for the slowdown in travel centers on the high cost of fuel, which points to the much larger failure in energy innovation. …
Notably, in an assessment of the anomalous rapidity of computer innovation, he re-poses the “measurement problem” in terms familiar (much more recently) from #Accelerate: “how does one measure the difference between progress and mere change? How much is there of each?” His procedure then anticipates the one recommended throughout this series:
Let us now try to tackle this very thorny measurement problem from a very different angle. If meaningful scientific and technological progress occurs, then we reasonably would expect greater economic prosperity (though this may be offset by other factors). And also in reverse: If economic gains, as measured by certain key indicators, have been limited or nonexistent, then perhaps so has scientific and technological progress. Therefore, to the extent that economic growth is easier to quantify than scientific or technological progress, economic numbers will contain indirect but important clues to our larger investigation.
Theoretical necessity drives us from physical space into economic abstraction. It is only realistic, however, to be prepared for the ways in which — according to deep and obscure necessities — this path will be curved by the insistent return of space. Of all those things with over-confidence in their own powers of acceleration, or smooth attainment of escape velocity, philosophical abstraction is by no means the least susceptible to counter-productive — and delusive — haste.