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ȘȈǤƝȘ 82: Fear in the Clever

7 minutes read

"A great philosophy is not a philosophy without reproach; it is a philosophy without fear." —Péguy

Landscape With a Clump of Trees by Théodore Rousseau (1844)
Welcome to Signs of Life, a periodic roundup letter from Other Life, the coolest newsletter in the world. If someone sent you this, subscribe for yourself here.

In this edition, you'll learn about:


News and Upcoming Events

The third cohort of IndieThinkers will start on June 27. We run a 6-week group program for working or aspiring writers, philosophers, scientists, artists, and engineers interested in building an independent intellectual life on the internet. If you're interested, request an invitation at IndieThinkers.org.

Master the key ideas of René Girard. Starting on July 27, we'll run this course for the second time. Geoffrey Shullenberger has a PhD in Comparative Literature, he's a lecturer at NYU, and he's a prolific internet writer as well. Geoffrey's been an active member of the Other Life community for about two years now, and this will be the second time we run this cohort—back by popular demand. Enrollment isn't open yet but save the dates on your calendar and get started on the readings now: Download the syllabus here.


Renaissance Rationalization and Oceanic Navigation

Some of my more technical readers still think the CRRU writings and the ideas of Nick Land are gibberish.

Yet I'm increasingly struck by how empirically compelling many of these texts are, including many of the more literary and seemingly absurd ones. For instance, Nick Land's essay Meltdown, written in the early 1990s, is dense with empirical intuitions that are not only defensible but now appear surprisingly prescient thirty years later.

To make my case, I'll present a close reading of only the very first sentence of Meltdown.

"The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off." —Nick Land

The advent of modernity represents a nonlinear takeoff. Any cursory look at economic output over time will corroborate this claim. For all of pre-modern history, economic growth and technological progress were slow and linear. With the industrial revolution, both lines go vertical.

Economic growth over time (Maddison Project Database via Our World in Data)

Historians and theorists have debated the cause of modernity's "singularity"—e.g, double-entry bookkeeping, the arrival of Arabic numerals in Europe, and many other candidate explanations—but "renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off" is a valid and helpfully parsimonious summary. Social scientists call these kinds of theoretical constructs stylized facts.

Whichever causes you prefer, it is clear that such a nonlinear takeoff can only be the outcome of multiple causes in positive feedback. Consistent with Crosby (1998), "rationalization" summarizes perfectly the quantitative mentalité that arrives precisely during the Renaissance.

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Crosby believes that quantification and visualization are two variables that enter into a particularly important feedback loop during the Renaissance. It's well known that perspective in painting arrives during the Renaissance, but why does vision matter? Crosby believes that vision imposes on all of the other senses. The distinguishing characteristic of vision is its consistency with quantitative measurement in terms of uniform and manipulable quanta. When you visualize ideas on paper, or you record events on paper, or you record music on paper, you can then rearrange them. Rearranging historical facts on paper is a kind of time travel. Crosby's emphasis on vision is particularly interesting given Land's claim, later in Meltdown, that the Human Security System is "predominantly vision-configured."

There are at least three examples of renaissance rationalization that supercharged oceanic navigation:

Oceanic navigation made money, funding more rationalization, making oceanic navigation more profitable, and so on. Positive feedback.

Early computational rationalization plus financial rationalization made oceanic navigation an early form of distributed, loosely organized, human-in-the-loop Artificial Intelligence. The Earth is captured by abstract value optimization; it locks in a swarm of financiers, seamen, and commodity traders. Commoditization take-off.


Other Life Podcast

The Pathless Path with Indie Consultant Paul Millerd. Paul Millerd was a McKinsey consultant before quitting for an independent life on the internet.

What's Going on With Milady Maker? How to Think About Decentralized and Controversial Art. I'm joined by @lb_dobis, @yung_calibri, @SCHIZO_FREQ, @addytheyoung.

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The Imperceptible Country

Highlights from the Other Life community this week

Become a citizen

How I Gained Creative and Financial Independence. "The Paul Millerd episode and subsequent discussion has prompted me to share my experience & perspective in hopes that some will find it helpful and encouraging...

I took the path of just trying to save as much as I could so that I could cut the strings altogether and ensure I had enough of a cushion to allow a period of sustained focus & effort, without having to worry about money. The tether that I have established for myself is linked entirely to my bank account, and there is no set “time deadline“ that I am giving myself to realize any particular milestone. So the alarm bell sounds when my savings gets down to a particular level. One month into leaving my job, I feel 100% vindicated that this was absolutely the right decision."

By ~nospex-larsut in the imperceptible city. Read and reply in the Open Group Blog.

Earn $5k for Publishing an Essay on the Valuation of Urbit. "We're currently looking for academics and analysts (institutional or public–serious thinkers with a blog or Substack qualify!) to write detailed analyses of valuation models for Urbit address space, the Urbit network as a whole, and/or the economic/commercial potential of such. This could be an extrapolation of current Urbit price and adoption dynamics, a historical comparison with other technologies/platforms, or an analysis of Urbit as a hedge against certain macro (economic/political/technological) dynamics."

You should apply via the green button with a short summary of your plan, before you start working on it; they will just check that your plan meets their criteria, so you don’t waste time on something too far afield. You'll then produce the finished product and if the panel determines that it meets their bar then you'll get $5k.

By ~hatryx-lastud in the imperceptible city. Read and reply in the Open Group Blog.

Book Review of Ontological Design by Danial Fraga. "The text, written by AI conversation designer Daniel Fraga, is an admixture of a manifesto and Novum Organum. Five significant ideas repeat throughout the text that washes over the reader like ocean waves. First, subjectivity is the only thing Real. Second, the extended mind is the self. Third, the change in the abundance of data is a qualitative change in existence. Fourth, symbols and rituals mediate this abundance of data to certain activities called affordances. Lastly, affordances frame nothingness in an unending deferment that organizes the social cognitive system named in order of smallest to largest: Meme, Reality Tunnel, Memeplex, Noosphere. Throughout the book, Fraga frequently quotes Hegel, Nietzsche, Adorno, Deleuze, Nick Land, and Camilla Page, enveloped in the incense of Christian Atheism."

By Thomas Jockin. Read more and reply in the imperceptible town.

Not Everyone Can Exit? On Gradual Exit via Freelancing. "I was thinking really hard about a total Exit, thinking that 'maybe I can create my own job, that there are so many opportunities in crypto, that I am an engineer, etc.' But in the end this Exit fever was more paralyzing than anything. I was putting energy on a too-big-for-me side project that I wouldn't be continuing if I wasn’t planning to chase some big chunks of money. And being a husband with a 2 years old, a loan, and the situation was just about pressuring myself like a crazy...

I started figuring out a sustainable path... I am a creative person and for my side projects I know I need time to figure out what works and what doesn't. I think I will eventually have the freelance job option with 8 months of missions."

By ~witwep-pagwyn in the imperceptible city. Read and reply in the Open Group Blog.

The Imperceptible Country
The frontier is vast but imperceptible.
The Imperceptible Country is a private network of philosophers, scientists, engineers, and investors building a new country on a new internet.

Fear in the Clever

The Port at Martigues by Francis Picabia (1903)
"I have always thought it rather interesting to follow the involuntary movements of fear in clever people. Fools coarsely display their cowardice in all its nakedness, but the others are able to cover it with a veil so delicate, so daintily woven with small plausible lies, that there is some pleasure to be found in contemplating this ingenious work of the human intelligence." —Tocqueville

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