Unreal Nature

November 18, 2016

Access to a Vast Multiplicity of Different Kinds

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:21 am

… number is always in the middle of things.

This is from In Defence of Quantity: Living by Numbers by Steven Connor (2016):

… Number is that to which, and through which, time moves, for time is nothing without, and so nothing but, the movement of nothing into number. Time is not only necessary for number to emerge, number is equally necessary for time itself to be able to pass, or to be the movement that it is. For time to pass, there must be entities by which one might tell the time, where telling means counting as well as recounting: when Nathaniel Fairfax needed a Germanic word for mathematics in his strange project of delatinizing metaphysics, he called it ‘talecraft.’

… Most mathematicians are Platonists in that they believe that mathematical truths are given and eternal, which must mean that they are already, somehow, even maybe somewhere, in existence. For such mathematicians, mathematical truths are worked out in the sense that they are driven out from hiding, rather than undergoing some change into themselves by being brought out of latency into actuality. But where are all the places of π, exactly, or all the prime numbers?

[line break added] It is hard to believe they are really stored up somewhere, as though on some celestial, super-cerebral hard drive. Philosophy of mathematics divides between those who believe that things like prime numbers are disclosed by mathematical reasoning, and those who believe they are produced by it. What I have been arguing puts me in the second group. The word ‘produced’ should not be understood here to mean arbitrarily fabricated out of thin air.

[line break added] The decimal expansion of an irrational number is produced in the sense in which a play is produced — it is drawn out of a script, or a set of prescribed conditions, which limit without fully determining the actualization of that script, which will always nevertheless be the making-actual of that script specifically. Every Hamlet is a different Hamlet, but, and even because, all of them are stagings of Hamlet.

… It seems obvious to many of us that, if you count something, you reduce its complexity to one dimension alone, taking account only of its numerical aspect, with everything else dropping out of consideration. But this reduction is by no means the end of the process. For the reduction effected by quantification gives access to a vast multiplicity of different kinds of mathematical relation (that, for example, of multiplication itself), performable on different scales and across different periodicities.

[line break added] One might imagine the objection that these relations are nevertheless pure mathematical relations, and therefore lack the richness and complexity of qualitative relations, between things like colors, hopes and difficulties. But ours is a world in which the interchange between quantities and qualitative states is richer than ever before.

[line break added] We do not any more have to regard numbering as final or definitive, a putting-to-death through exactness. Number is no longer the end of any story. To say that we have become more quantitative than ever before is not to say that everything must be rendered up as number, without remainder, and then abandoned: it is to say that number is always in the middle of things.

My previous post from Connor’s book is here.

-Julie

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