an essay


If anyone was wondering what my exact beef with economics is, I just found my final undergrad philosophy paper. (I was lucky and got free rein on question choice, so of course at once I chose to beat up on economics.) It's pretty derivative of Phil Mirowski, Steve Keen and John Emerson, but the framework is new. And from the writing style you can see why my markers often had a problem with me.

Given the word limit, it's just a sketch of a vast topic - and embarrassingly sketchy on the history, sociology and technical economic details (i.e. failing at everything that I accuse PE of) - but most of it strikes me as crudely true and worthy of a careful book in future.


Who are we when we play Civ?

'Jeanne d' Arc', by Eugene Thirion (1897)

What entity are we when we play Civ? Not a mere king; these games span 5000 years without any change in focalisation. Despite appearances, we're not a race either; the tiles in Civ IV show a mix of ethnies almost from the start. We can't be an institution or government because I remain through my revolutions; in fact I cause a dozen revolutions when it suits me. Not God; there is too much we do not know and could not do if we did. (We can't even be a tribal god structure like Shinto, because all tribes begin without religion or even, mostly, the speculative mystical mindset.) A 'culture' is vague enough to fit, but almost meaningless, and worse, it gets in the way of my exciting idea.

But what does that leave - except the Geist of Hegel? Yes; our gameplay constitutes one tendril of one virtual iteration of Hegel's deistic God, the 'Weltgeist'. We play a Volksgeist which, through violent dialectic with other Volksgeister, creates history, and develops the world's consciousness through self-development. This process 'has to be' progressive; all our machinations and achievements are part of the generation of History/God. Though mortal, we feed that which is unkillable. Our eventual victory is the final synthesis, the contact if not actual identification with the Absolute; our eventual loss is our subsumation in another's final synthesis.

It's all because I became a serial addict of 'Civilization'. I played it for three months and then realized I hadn't done any work. In the end, I had to delete all the saved files and smash the CD. It is very unprofessional of me.
- Iain Banks

I'm playing [Civilization] thinking about sex. I'm definitely seeing Y tomorrow and I can't stop thinking about sex. I've got an erection and I'm sitting here in front of the machine in the darkness, crouched here in the box room of the flat with the light off and the radio on and the computer screen awash with the seductive, gently scrolling graphics of [Civ] and the light from the screen — blue, ochre, red, green — throws the shadow of my cock onto my belly
- Banks' Cameron Colley


the mathematical food chain

"Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum,
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on
- Augustus De Morgan

I do maths these days. But, even studying the elementary things I am, I get vertigo off the scale of the differences in mathematical ability. It's super-logarithmic. Let's torture a metaphor:

  • God: Euler. Cos of his thousand instinctive transformations, foundation of the modern manner, and being 200 years ahead of his time. Hear us testify!
    "I discovered the works of Euler and my perception of the nature of mathematics underwent a dramatic transformation. I was... expelled from the Cantorian paradise." - Alexander Stepanov

    "Like a Shakespearean sonnet that captures the very essence of love, or a painting that brings out the beauty of the human form that is far more than just skin deep, Euler's equation reaches down into the very depths of existence." - Keith Devlin
    'Physicists and mathematicians sometimes jest that, in an effort to avoid naming everything after Euler, discoveries and theorems are named after the "first person after Euler to discover it".'

  • Prophet: Ramanujan. Riemann.

  • Theologian: Hilbert, Frege. (Probing the roots.) Perelman. 

  • Anchorite: The likes of James Reid and his mere million current and historical peers.

  • Missionary: Johnny, and all the other Applied users.

  • Lay preacher: Me

  • Congregation: everyone.

(Alternative metaphor: God > Stars > Primary producer > Secondary producer > Reproducer > Consumer > Coprophage. Yes, I did just put plants closer to god than humans.)

I'm not in general enamoured of hierarchies. To do the above (list the BEST EVER) in art terms, or philosophy terms, or even science terms would be tasteless, misleading and sensationalist. (And it should be emphasised that almost anyone with the time and inclination can get themselves up to Missionary grade.) What makes maths different? There is after all certainly still loads of room for disagreement, human factors, and politicisation in it. But it maybe isn't so mysterious, since consensus and the appreciation of fixed measures are in the essence of maths, and since with a good fixed measure (and only with that measure) one can appreciate magnitude.


my geometry

My cock is inconstructible;
My kiss could square the lune.
O my love is like an infinite series
And its roots are in this room.