Breathe

I.

Could you explain Galilean relativity to an anatomically modern human from 25,000 years ago?

Galilean relativity is at the core of what natural science defines to be the world. Its threefold tenets: (1) that the world is stable (i.e. it obeys eternal laws), (2) homogeneous (ontically uniform, there being no privileged locations) and (3) isotropic (ontologically uniform, there being no privileged frames).

The great scientific achievement of the Enlightenment is that we find these tenets within the reach of believability. We’re told (and trusting so has enabled the true miracles of technology) that the large-scale structure of the universe (something that only fools and philosophers would fail to identify with the world as presented) obeys these strange rules of uniformity (nomic, ontic and ontologic). But try telling this to our imaginary time-traveler.

The words “anatomically modern” mean that our new friend is exactly like us in every material aspect: same toes, guts, heart, voice box, eyes, brain, hair. Indeed, if we could secure contact with a live specimen, we’d have splayed, in the (stable, homogeneous, isotropic) space between us and him, the entirety of the mind-body problem. What’s more, the smash hit that is the Enlightenment might as well lead us to think that what distinguishes us from him is that we’ve been educated in Galilean relativity (both in physics and in the Moldbuggian sciences).

We are, after all, from the future. What can we possibly learn from Thag? There is chatter of “paleo” diets, but we certainly wouldn’t take his eating habits as an ideal — let alone his attitudes towards gender and race relations, vaccines, chord changes, monetary policy…

It’s well possible that our friend could learn to speak (the H. Sapiens brain organ is pretty nifty). We could then try and have a precivilized discussion about the tenets of Galilean relativity. To put words in Thag’s mouth is, of course, declassĂ© — but in your speculative mind, try asking him:

— Thag, is the world stable?

— Thag, is the world homogenous?

— Thag, is the world isotropic?

It’s not that we’re supposed to take his answers over those of Neil deGrasse Tyson PhD, exactly; rather, we are to assume his beliefs on Galilean relativity reflect his world, not ours. But subsequently — if Thag’s responses were anything unlike the Enlightenment ones — we have to ponder what could have caused the world to change from his time to ours.

II.

Could you explain pandemics, race riots, power grabs by elder councils or, heck, rocket launches to Thag, an anatomically modern dude from a hundred thousand generations ago? I’d bet you (assuming language acquisition) cash money that you could. With some more effort, you could even explain the basics of Lacanian psychoanalysis. He’s the same as you, no less intelligent or “more primitive” in any objective sense.

Since Galilean relativity is three bits deep (there are eight possible beliefs), the exhaustive enumeration of cases gets somewhat repetitive. The interesting extremes are that his world is three bits on Galilean (111, and therefore exactly like ours) or that it’s three bits off (000): non-stable, non-homogeneous, non-isotropic. We’re assuming, rather optimistically, that if his ancient world is Galilean (111), everything else in our culture can be conveyed. Otherwise, if his world is off-Galilean in some combination (000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110), there are certainly aspects of our culture that can’t be conveyed (modern science, broadly, but also much of what Moldbug terms the Cathedral).

Likewise, if our beliefs about Galilean relatively were full-up always-on 111, we’d be unable to comprehend anything that didn’t agree with Galileo-111. But we are: we live in a time and a space that are contingent, heterogeneous and ambivalent. Thus the graph laplacians: the large-scale structure of the universe may be Galileo-111, but generic structure is, well, more generic than that.

III.

It’s rather obvious that Thag would readily understand that people sometimes don’t get along. Having grown in a small band or roving tribe, he might also understand that circumstance and common interest can align a few fellow humans in the same effort. Thag has deep knowledge and investment in an axiology where wants and crushing needs are at best dimly distinguished. This axiology probably has no name, even if Thag’s band has some abstract language: tools are abstract, but the hunger for food and sex is Nature’s boot pressing on his neck before it is desire. It’s not even hunger yet — it is only at the point where food has lost its place as ultimate value that one can self-starve for spiritual enlightenment, political statement or the search for a flat tummy.

It’s tempting to give Thag’s axiology the status of first axiology and unwind some purple prose (the genericity of genericities, etc.) from it. The temptation comes from the power of words themselves: out of some factoids about hunger and strife, an origin myth seems to congeal on its own. But there is no Thag. There’s no time-travel encounter; there’s also no clear universality to the human condition before language. What was the world like before food silos and recorded memory? Contingent, heterogeneous and ambivalent.

Still, there’s some value in designating certain axiologies as “from within scarcity”. This designation gives some clarification to the idea that there are smaller and larger axiologies: namely, any axiology from without scarcity is larger than one from within. An alternate name might be “from within suffocation” — axiologies arising from the situation where one’s desire and the boot pressing on one’s neck are one and the same.

It would be further desirable (note the placement of words) that scarcity and suffocation can be translated to relative terms such that a smaller axiology is “scarce” or “suffocating” with relation to its larger counterpart. But this is a difficult step; it would mean, for one, that all the actual axiologies in our actual-ongoing Situation are suffocating with respect to General Axiology. Reversing language may yield better imagery: in General Axiology, we will all breathe easy.

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