Alexander R. Galloway has some interesting comments on Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude; part of a week-long seminar on contemporary French philosophy at The Public School in New York.
He begins with an overview of where Meillassoux has come from and follows this with a brief exposition of Meillassoux’s book.
His criticism of Meillassoux revolves around the idea that mathematics is not ontic. Meillassoux claim that there is a real, that we are not locked inside language or the subject position, is supported by geological practice; particularly radio-carbon dating, which can describe a world that was prior to all life. It describes this world in the discourse of mathematics.
So an object that has no possible relation to any Cartesian subject is described. There is a ‘great outdoors’ to human life, a real that we can describe within the discourse of mathematics.
Without going into any further details I thought these comments were sharp. Galloway says that we must historicise mathematics in the present; viz. not for all times but because of something particular about the latest stage of capitalism.
This comes at about three quarters of the way into the mp3:
Software is math.
Software consist of symbolic tokens, which are combined with mathematical functions; things like addition, subtraction, true/ false logic. They’re combined with functions and logical control structures; things like ‘if … then …’: ‘if x then y’. So I think at a very, very fundamental, and in a non-complicated way, software is math. And that needs to be underscored.
So what is the experience of real life today in industrial societies? And again I don’t think this is a huge secret. Our experience today its that of mathematical routine. The Taylorisation of behaviour according to mathematical efficiency charts. Data mining software that extracts value from networks, the monetisation of social networks using graph theory; which as we all should remember is a branch of mathematics, it’s a branch of geometry. The introdution of security protocols based on topological analyses of exploits and threats; again, topology is also a branch of mathematics.
So I don’t think that we can simply wish away the fact that the mode of production today is software, and that software is math. And if you just do the simple syllogism on these two claims, I think we can say, without too much of a stretch, that the mode of production today is math. Or, if that’s too strong we could say, there’s a special relationship today between the mode of production and mathematics.
So for this reason software is a kind of unseen thorn in the side of contemporary philosophy.
I think I’m with the ‘special relationship’ camp. Isn’t the mode of production also the relations of production, not simply the science and technology that make up the forces of production? Didn’t Althusser note that the structure in dominance of the mode of production is the relations of production. Can we say that the relations of production are math?