Shifting

I. Meta

A beautiful way of working through theory is proliferating slashed distinctions. “Is/ought” is the standard-setter: in catchy plainspeak, it carves out the space of axiological thinking proper. In the “asema chromata” period we’ve been promulgating chrema/chroma as a luminous (even if not necessarily enlightening) hypergeneralization of the difference between morality and ethics. But both of these are firmly axiological — they’re on the side of the “ought”. Theory in this period has, in contrast, struggled, with varied degrees of success, to remain silent on the vast country spanned by the “is”; refusing that sprawl has enabled us to call, as forcefully as this thing-blog allows, for a strategic refusal of epistemics: ought over is — that shall be the discourse of infinity.

Yet: if we are to issue takes of any temperature or to stake any relevance at all for theory, we have to engage with that which in the Jairwave period was called the Thing-of-the-World: to the extent that people read asemic horizon at all, they do it for stuff like salacious dirt on incels or Alice Glass (and so on, and so on); the abstract-upon-abstraction project of General Axiology tends to read as framing device rather than goal-to-end-all-goals. While no longer grounded on any metaphysical device like Jairwave, this has never stopped.

We* want to talk about a new slashed pair: omics/nomics. Both terms refer to styles of science, one quite novel (but not exclusive to asemic horizon) and one quite classical. Nomics (spanning more or less from astronomy to Ricardo’s political economy) is concerned with Laws, in the precise sense of the word that allows conflation of the natural with the juridical. Nomic laws (a near-pleonasm — to the mind of nomic thinkers, at least) govern dynamics. If this sounds like rancid Platonism, that’s because phonetic divergence obscures how closely related government and cybernetics (that is: systems theory) are. Omics is concerned instead with dynamics arising out of microstructure — typically, an already-specialized scientific subfield sprouts an omics by reimagining itself in the setting of complex networks. (There is more to this — but please don’t expect me to provide a scientific education.)

II. Matter

Needless to say, most fields of inquiry style themselves neither as an x-omics or an x-nomics, but rather as a x-λόγος — a logic, meaning a technique for preserving soundness (we avoid “validity” for technical reasons) and an arrangement of known facts in valid theories. Not for nothing, research training in biology refers (barely concealing a haughty derision) to its core omics (gen-, prote-, transcript-, metabol-) as technologies, i.e. means for transforming (high dimensional) data inputs into auxiliary to-science-proper outputs. But — and despite the folk wisdom that biology is not amenable to the kind of hard modeling found in physics — advanced data analysis is not new to that field: indeed, the pioneers of 20th century-style statistics were also pioneers of population genetics. It is tempting to think of genomics as a product of fast computers, but beneath lies a violent chroma shift. Geneticists from Pearson to Dawkins were working in a fundamentally nomic field, governed by the Darwinian mechanism and by Mendel’s laws of inheritance; in the omics setting, meanwhile, the selfish gene has disappeared from view entirely.

Now: the story of how genetics (in its classical, nomic sense) is replaced by genomics can be seen in reverse in how astrology diverges from astronomy proper: by dodging κυβερνήτης, it becomes delinquent λόγος. Perhaps more, perhaps less controversially, this is the claim that ecology stakes for itself as an “everything science” within biology. The object of ecology is constitutionally the object of a systems theory; but the only object of a rigorous ecology is the biome, and how before the genome -> transcriptome -> proteome -> … -> metabolome -> … ladder reaches it? And if a biomics eventually displaces ecology — if it becomes compiled to a technology — how are we supposed to milk the awkward lexical proximity to economics for moral points? Thereby a pure chrema play (twice: in the truthful sense of preserving the wealth of nature, and in the cynical game of environmental politics) is dissolved by the chroma shift.

It should go without saying that this reduction of biology to an epistemorality play is meant as theoretical, rather scientific discourse. Elements of this — the ongoing dissolution of nomic science into omic technology — are stressors in the larger morality plays (but here the meaning drifts from stageplay to playbook) of academe and scientific progress. And as pure theory, this idea rests on the shoulders of a giant: Deleuze’s ultimate point may as well be characterized as a protracted denounciation of nomic tendencies (sometimes inflammatorily termed “microfascism” etc) and a wonderful celebration of the open-ended becoming of the “ecumenon” and eventually the “mechanosphere”. The concepts we’ve been toying with might have saved someone like Delanda a lot of time — his project is one of recasting Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism” into a “omic materialism”.

Of course this does not work — the ethical project so dear to Deleuze cannot be pure omics, as that would cross the is/ought firewall.

III. Theoremomics, deomics, “chromaomics“

But is it that inconceivable that omics technology might either cross or badly damage the Humean firewall? Theorists that get stuck in the philosophy of science might, in this case, identify this nomics-to-omics Becoming with an axiological move within science, an ought wrapped inside an is. Perhaps it’s this temptation that produces both serious reductionists like the Churchlands, and TV gasbags like Neil Tyson. This temptation in computer engineering receives names like “cracking“ or “decompilation“.

Yes, when we analogized proteomics and metabolomics, etc. as the endpoint of a process of compling the high-level logic in bio-λόγος, we were mostly trying for literary effect, but there is some truth (however fuzzy) to that: high-level code (Janet, Python, Nim) tries its best to look declarative and register intent — in short, to work in the nomic domain; meanwhile machine code is inscrutably operational and executed in uncertain order (cf. branch prediction, but also the original computer bug), something that we could analyze from the other end as an omic phenomenon. On the other hand, we have to take into account Jean-Yves Girard’s potent critique of Prolog as embodying the fundamental failures of declarative programming, at least in a “general-purpose“ setting: as bitmashers (and apparently we are all bitsmashers now), we have never been nomic. Corollary: you cannot fix Facebook.

Maybe if you laugh at David Hume — that prince of nomics — all that happens is that Hume laughs back at you. Girard’s critique is quite literally true; watch how Prolog proliferates control constructs trying to mimetize the look-and-feel of logic programming. If the compilation analogy happens to hold water, this would mean that you can never cross from the omic to the nomic — you can never have agent-based economics or workable long-run planetary dynamics simulations. Further: genome-wide association studies (the established acronym is GWAS) can never tell us anything about evolution. Maybe testing and quantifying evolutionary theory was too tall an order in first place, a leap into the Great Outdoors.

[Note well, what we just did was to take an analogy — nay, an image, conjured impromptu in an attempt to achieve a certain degree of literary verve — and run wild with it. This is something more than wordplay, but still consists of experimentation with words. Words are all we have as of late 2021.

IV. Examples

Theory as written is, at least in flavor and probably much further, a nomic affair. OG readers will remember this blog’s lemma used to be “notes on structural affairs“. But what happens if one plays with core omics technology (I chose the Louvain algorithm, well regarded in the field of protein-protein “interactomics“) instead of running wild with the structural texture of theory? I took some pictures of asemic horizon.

As a control I ran Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. (At some point, this essay had a digression on how Roland Barthes’s Sade contrasts with Deleuze’s Sacher-Masoch; when it came to making pictures, I briefly consider running some scraping on Literotica, but the analysis script was already running too long, even without counting the external implementation of the Louvain algorithm. In any case, Sacher-Masoch’s unusual emphasis on fur (rather than leather, that universal signifier of abstract sexuality) should be revealed in the lexical interaction subnetworks.

(Note: much like with what one expects of protein-protein interactions, text segments linked to each other should rarely be “close to each other“ in the original textual sequence. The full network — too large to visualize — is formed by producing an incidence matrix with paragraphs as rows and lexemes as columns, where terms that appear are marked with ones; then, instead of forming a laplacian matrix in the usual way, we run the graphical lasso to produce a sparse covariance network.

In the above, I am particularly interested in “simultaneously began“ and “beginning to enjoy“. If I remember anything from this book at all, it is that the wife is initially resistant to the mistress-slave dynamic into which the author-protagonist so earnestly wants to push her; later, her reluctance wears off and finally she goes way too far. Is there a point in which their desire-trajectories cross and they happen to want the same thing (complete power, but with velvet cushions), simultaneously? A railway station appears into this — presumably related to the trip to Italy when they assume their identities full time. Also note that none of Sacher-Masoch’s contractual obsessions show up here — this is a pure “complete power“ exchange.

This contrasts acutely from the previous component-chain: most of this is about sensations, rather than power; much of 20th-century dominatrix-pop can be traced to this.

Note that we have to read not only from elements, but also from connectivity structure. In this small component, an axis of love-orders maps to the despot and the slave. It speaks from the strange fact that the abstract (and mostly imagined) dominnace-submission relationship is built on top of romance. I would suggest at this point to scroll back and read from the connectivity structure of the larger components.

In this last example from Venus in Furs, a kind of hierarchical structure emerges around a dominating (heh) fetish. The little chains connected to it (ground floor, beautiful venus) have no internal coherence if not connected the major theme.

What I find fascinating about the components discovered by the Louvain algorithm is that they seem to identify elements, rather than clusters. Words like “goddess“, “slave“ etc. appear in most components, but some refer to the tactile sensations in the fetish wardrobe (fur, velvet, satin); others spell out dynamic fetish scenes that would not be too out of place on Literotica or PornHub. Call this the “Sacher-Masoch DNA“ or even the “masochome“ — there is enough of a sex imagery industry that this kind of knowledge might prove profitable…

Let’s follow up with some stuff from asemic horizon? I tried to restrict the sample to the Jairwave and Epideictics periods because the asema chromata stuff is still open.

I might be better able to identify structural elements in Sacher-Masoch than in this due to a kind of critical distance: despite being intimately familiar with the things I wrote, much of the above surprises me — which should not matter!

This component is very densely linked, probably reflecting my tendency towards long paragraphs and little dialog. Much of it surprises me: “right wing“ to “ecstatic desire“ — and not as mediated by the “military coup“? New readers are, of course, excused for a lack of familiarity with The scenarios of ecstasy, if that essay was about Venus in Furs rather than faux-lesbians in the male gaze, it might have concluded that the object of ecstatic masochism is a glint in the loved woman’s eye that suggests the highest capacity for erotically-charged cruelty. This, of course, is fundamentally incompatible with Sacher-Masoch’s obsession with contracts (what is easier to near-willingly misread than a glint in the eye?) This is also true of this blog’s political stance ever since Jairwave: please, misunderstand it, that is how we get to General Axiology.

This is a smaller component that points to the core of early Jairwave (prior to Prince Kropotkin in Hi-Z, that is). Note how the death of Getulio Vargas (and not Macunaíma, nor the Situation, etc.) keeps quability and ambient conditions in touch. Again, this says to me something impressive about the modularity/configuration model approach of the Louvain algorithm — that it renders structural pieces rather than clusters.

Like our previous exemplar, this component is a complete graph — all of its terms are connected to all other terms. This means that despite interestingly placing some terms together, their local structure is a bit blurred. Isn’t interesting, nevertheless, that “clinical theory“ pairs with “sticking point“, but not point du capiton?

This is again a large and highly (if not completely) interconnected component. In cases like this, graph plotters attempt to minimize a simulated energy represented by the edges; a result of this is that the center-and-periphery pattern is a function of graph structure — many things orbit around “plain sight“, including ecstatic scenarios, value systems and small/common/real and (relatively) large axiologies. Many things there, indeed, have to be produced (but what is “background radiation“ doing there?), i.e. made to appear. But whatever is in plain sight may well be hidden in plain sight; this half-conceals half-exacerbates some fundamental tensions in theory — what to make explicit, how to approach something concrete, whether to venture in the is side of things. By publishing the results of some computations, this essay muddles the water some more.

Now: I am not saying that the road to General Axiology is paved by omics — what, in Part III of this essay we identified the risk that nomicizing the omic may be an impossible task. Instead, omics is something to be deployed in service of chroma shift, the nosebleed, the utter confusion of theory.


[*] “We“, as usual, is somewhat ambiguous: it stands both for the classical — and often misused — inclusive “we“ that drags the reader into the lexical scope of the argument; and the “we “ of theory, as distinguished from the “I“ who writes this (notionally, theory is a global — in the mathematical sense — effort, even if this, “asemic horizon“, is so far just me).

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