key note lecture at the NEW MATERIALIST POLITICS AND ECONOMIES OF KNOWLEDGE conference, 2 – 4 OCTOBER 2015, MARIBOR, SLOVENIA
Philosophy has to reconsider how it addresses the world, Michel Serres maintains in his “materialism of the incandescent void” (L’ Incandescent, 2003). This, for him, is an issue of metaphysics: the world, as we ought to address it, is a world that actively knows. The metaphysics Serres advocates revolves around a principle of invariance, it operates with “white concepts” (concepts considered as spectra rather than form), it draws upon an anonymous, impersonal agency at work in “knowing”, and it addresses the world by a six-fold proper name: Pantope (all of its places), Panchrone (all of its durations), Panurge (not demiurge, the public worker, but the universal worker), Panglosse (all of the spoken tongues), Pangnose (all of knowledge), Panthrope (all sexes, instead of only man as in ‘anthropos’). This talk provides a tentative introduction to Serres’ architectonics, and it suggests addressing his materialism of the incandescent void as a materialism of identity that articulates itself in the language of a mathematical realism: mathematics does not provide support or foundations, it provides a lexicon, according to Serres. I will attempt to speculatively develop this thinking further towards what it might mean to become literate in a kind of writing that is, irreducibly so, a “quantum writing”.
1 The quickness of a magnanimous universe
2 Impersonal agency
3 Invariance: Genericness as entropy
4 Genuine and immanent to the All of Time: Le “logiciel intramateriel”
5 White Metaphysics: How old does the world think it is?
6 Materialism of identity
7 (Pan’s) Glossematics: entropic economy
8 Quanta of agedness: from heat to incandescence, from storage to bank account
9 Quantum writing: the priority of substitutes to things themselves
Incandescent materialism, literacy in quantum writing
»It will do the practical man little good to say that only a metaphysician would ask such questions. The historical fact is that numerous impractical men not only asked these questions but struggled for centuries to answer them, and their successes and failures are responsible for much by which the practical man regulates his life in spite of his impatience with all metaphysics.«
– Eric Temple Bell, The Magic of Numbers; 22.
»In other words, while most of us can imagine what we owe to our parents as a kind of debt, few of us can imagine being able to actually pay it-or even that such a debt ever should be paid. Yet if it can’t be paid, in what sense is it a debt at all? And if it is not a debt, what is it?«
– David Graeber, The First 5000 Years of Debt; 92
1 The quickness of a magnanimous universe
Michel Serres, who introduced this concept central to my talk, ‘the incandescent’, thinks of himself as a materialist thinker and as a mystic of mathematics. We should bear this in mind when attending to the one formula that perhaps orientates his thinking as a writer and philosopher at large: to him, Reality and Rationality must be regarded as equipollent, as equals in force, power, or validity. It is a formula, hence, that has to be written in equations, an identity – yet an identity which is contractual. This was his argument in The Natural Contract (1990), which he has recently extended with his materialism of the incandescent void (L’Incandescent, 2003) into a detailed account of the metaphysics that could categorize such an identity-notion. Identity is not subjected to form, nor to kindred substance. His identity notion is subjected to the material agedness of the Universe. What is at stake with this materialism is universal and generic identity, an identity that is common to all there is, but in a manner that is abundantly unsettled and restlessly active . All that Serres assumes for it, with the attribution of equipollence to the formula of an equation between Reality and the Rationality, is that there be an indefinite yet determinable transversality immanent to such an identity – it is, hence, the identity of a universe that neither rests in time, nor in space, but is the All of time . The principle of this Universe, its Law, resides in its own active quickness (Lebendigkeit).
2 Impersonal Agency
An equation so articulated, in terms of equipollence, must hence be attributed a ‘status’ of its own. For Michel Serres, this status is metaphysical, it can be addressed with what he calls “White Concepts”, white in the sense of a spectrum where white is the zero-valued totality of all colors. It is a materialism because in terms of quantum physics, white light is the radioactive emission that contracts and diffracts as “matter comes to matter”. Concepts, hence, are spectrums and the reasoning they afford is at once “technical” and “natural”: it needs the records of measurements, and it needs accounts of what the measurements indicate. Such reasoning is exercised by an anonymous and impersonal agency, an interplay between the neutral pronouns “it” on the side of measuring, and “one” (French: on) on the side of accounting. Serres addresses the gnomon as the ‘objective ruler’ of this agency, the sundial that affords to take stock of temporality in all its durations: of the gnomon we can say, he maintains in L’ Incandescent, that “it knows” in the same manner as we say that “it rains”. And as the ‘bookkeeper’ or ‘accountant’ of this anonymous agency, he addresses the “nobody-in-particular” (French: on) as the “one” who is no one and at the same time every one.
The term gnomon is of neutral gender, Serres tells us. It used to designate in Greek,
“[…] the axis of a sun dial’s disk, and it signified ‘that which comprehends, decides, judges, distinguishes, interprets, yes, that which knows (connaître)[…] Intercepting the light of the sun, its shadow inscribes on the disk certain events of the sky and the earth, the solstice, the equinox, and the latitude of a location. It works automatically. Automatic means: without intervention of subjective and cognitive intention.”
The gnomon works a bit like a stylos, a writing tool, Serres continues, but there is no hand that holds it. And further: “The things of the world give themselves to be seen by an object that displays them. One thing, the gnomon, intervenes in the world and the latter reads in itself the writing that it traces.”
Generic identity, restless unsettlement, anonymous agency, the auto-logos of a world that reads within itself in an active manner that is called “connaîrtre”, “knowing” – does this not announce the very end of metaphysics? How can such a philosophy possibly remain committed to a dialectics, if we read this term literally, as a reasoning that presupposes a kind of lucidity that shines through, “dia”, while being realistic enough to take into account that perfect transparency is an idealization? Let us grant dialectics for a moment the status of the very motive force, the tragic plot whose drama unfold and inhabit the grand ambition of classical metaphysics, and that prevents the latter from ever realizing and fulfilling an ideal of its central promise, namely to deliver a thinking that is of autochthonous roots. How can Serres’ thinking be committed to a reasoning that doesn’t forget that it always only produces imperfect insights, that these insights can never rid themselves from being, to a certain degree, confused, occluded, ‘over clouded’ rather than ‘bright and clear’? That the ideal at work in metaphysic’s postulated universal commonality is bound to always already be corrupt, impure and invested with personal interests in domination? In short, isn’t the postulation of this identity in terms of equipollence between Reality and Rationality the ultimate collapse of reason itself – both, dialectical reasoning as well as metaphysical Reason?
We have to consider what it entails for Serres to say “information theory is the philosophy of physics”.
3 Invariance: Genericness as entropy
In his text “Life, Information, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics”, Serres maintains that it has been a mistake of information theory before Léon Brillouin, to make the principle that reigns thermodynamics also its own. The principle that reigns thermodynamic entropy is that of “telenomy” – a nomos, a lawfulness, that acts from a distant point at the end of time. Serres contrasts “telenomy” with another principle, that of “invariance,” from which the former, in fact, is being derived (all depends upon the amount total of energy in the universe being invariant; Serres draws here from the work of Jacques Monod in his seminal book Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology 1972). Serres metaphysics rejects telenomy as a principle and claims that this nomos, which acts from a distance, is determining all that happens while being, itself, undecided and receptive to what he calls “temporal transcendentals”. Thus, invariance, to him, is the true principle for information theory.
It is crucial to grasp what is at stake thereby. Without going very far into technical details, let us just remember that entropy in thermodynamics is an ideal state attributed to a “system” of which is assumed that it be infinite (the universe). But “an infinite” is not countable, and hence cannot be regarded as a “system” – not without making some further assumption as to a limiting function that cuts trough this infinite. In thermodynamics, the operationalization of this idea assumes that the amount total of energy in the universe be 1) finite and undecided, and 2) invariant. Its magnitude can neither increase nor decrease. Entropy, here, is a descriptive term for the state in which such a system’s totality of its possible events are equally likely to happen next. This state is the ideal called ‘thermodynamic equilibrium’, and heat, or rather: its measurement in temperature, is the operative agency in it. Any ‘real’ system in this state would have disintegrated and dissolved all forms of organization; it is what has worried some people in the 19th and early 20th century that the (then) new laws of nature will by necessity end up in the “heat death” of the universe (Baron Kelvin, Heisenberg, Rankine). – In a universe of maximal entropy, there would be no life.
Now to the crux of the story. We have seen the ideal condition, but of course in practice, the laws of thermodynamic are applied to subsystems and the metastable balances they maintain among each other. And here, in order to allow for their description, the principle of invariance is usually translated into rules that render constancy. But there is a crucial mathematical distinction between invariance and constancy: invariance does not require any apriori specification of that peculiar quantity, whereas with constancy, such specification is required. If we speak of invariance, we argue with algebraic elements, in terms of equations and their immanent transversality, while if we speak of constancy, we argue on the level of functional mappings that trace some of this “transversality” in empirical observation, which they then render explicit. It is the functional mappings that give us control and praxis, they frame conditions of possibility; but these framings are empirically motivated, they are rooted to a representational paradigm: They must presume the identity of the elements, and hence disconnect the framed conditions of possibility from the source of which they are extracted when being framed. Serres critique is as follows: as long as heat is the operational concept, not much is lost when the difference between invariance and constancy is neglected, because heat counts as a continuous force; all particles in a physics of forces are rightly thought of as equivalents. But when information rather than heat is the operational concept, as it is the case in information science, this distinction becomes relevant: unlike heat, electricity is not a continuous force, but electro-magnetical, quantum physical, its quanta must be regarded as being at once continuous and discontinuous. There is an eminent role played by code in electricity. In quantum physics, hence, constancy preempts the elements of a modeled system of their virtual shares in an immanent transversality that is never exhaustively grasped in the way a particular functional rendering of that system arrests its ‘undecided matrix of conditionability’ (an identity not subjected to any order-relations).
The implications are weighty: with invariance, we always think in terms of greatest possible preservation (of immanent transversality), while with constancy, we always think in terms of most reasonable expenditure. Now, as long as physics thinks of itself as the ‘other’ to life, and as long as the focus is mainly analytical, this distinction might have seemed unnecessarily moralistic. But as soon as the focus is synthesis, in chemistry and also in the study of biological systems – organisms – it turns substantial. Erwin Schrödinger introduced the notion of negative entropy in order to distinguish animate systems from inanimate ones by saying that animate systems are capable of binding and incorporating a kind of energy, which he called ‘free’ in the sense of ‘available’, or ‘unbound’. Organisms import negentropy, as he put it, and the more they do so the more they rid themselves of entropy, that is, of undecidedness – in other words, life forms minimize entropy and maximize negentropy. Thereby, biology and physics are set up into a competitive relation about having the last say with regard to the ultimate reservoir of resources. Specific Natures (biology) and universal Nature (physics) are arrested in a dialectical opposition: from the point of view of a principle of telenomy (which operates with constancy), specificity appears to consume universality, and universality appears to consume specificity. The pragmatic answer to this dilemma has been to revert to notions of ‘norm’ and ‘normalization’. But from a metaphysical perspective, identity (local, specific) henceforth seems to negate genericness (universal), and genericness (universal) seems to dissolve identity (local, specific) into an undecidedness (global, general) that is, ultimately, hostile to the rich variety of life forms.
So how does the notion of invariance play in here? It brackets the question of the “free energy’s reservoirs” finitude and treats its quantity algebraically as invariant, meaning at once in-determined (not subjected to ordering-relations) but determinable. With a mathematical understanding of invariance, we can link identity and genericness on the scale of the universal instead of opposing the two on the scale the empirical. Thereby it shifts focus from a preoccupation with expenditure to one with preservation. It keeps the level of morality apart from that of science’s claims to universality. As Serres put’s it: it liberates us from the reign of an anonymous thanatocratic regime that came to power on behalf of a betrayal: by declaring that it protects life-in-general, it reigns by actually distributing death among its subjects.
4 Genuine and Immanent to the All of Time: Le “logiciel intramatériel”
Universal invariance, in Serres’ metaphysics, is neither biological nor physical nor chemical, it is communicational. This is how he can say “information science is the philosophy of physics”. Let us look closer.
Brillouin generalized Schrödinger’s notion of negative entropy from thermodynamics more strictly, and applied it to information science. Instead of making use of this distinction (entropy/negentropy) with regard to energy, where it amounts to deciding about free and available energy versus bound and distributed energy, Brillouin applied it to information, where the boundedness versus unboundedness relates to the amount of information conserved in sign chains that circulate in the channels of communication. A message with little ambiguity has high negentropy, whereas one with much ambiguity has high entropy. It is important to remember here that in information science, as opposed to thermodynamics, entropy is not a descriptive term but an operational one: Entropy acts as a measure of order only because this order is set relative to a channel.
But, from a philosophical point of view, does this generalization not suggest that Brillouin thereby voided the original commitment of entropy-theory to realism, and delivered it to a frame of linguistic transcendentality ? With Serres, we would be mistaken to think so. Communication, for him, means to trace back the thermodynamic force, heat, to its quantum physical ‘condition of possibility’: ‘communication’, for him, means the exchange of quanta of electrical charges – quanta that must count, as we know, as at once discrete and continuous, particle and wave, magnitude and code.
There is, hence, a materialist point of view from which an apparently animistic statement like “the world inscribes itself upon itself”, and “deciphers from itself what it itself has encrypted” does not amount to a dualist metaphysics where a distinction between subject and object is always already presupposed. It does, however, introduce a transcendentality. But the a priori of this transcendentality is not universal (unlike Kants a priori of the forms of intuition), it is structural and multiplicitious: local variety without a given (apriori) global integral. The transcendental is thereby handed over from the domain of a subject to the domain of objects. All objects exist
“as an objective support for an information to be received, conserved, emitted.”
The Cogito of the objects, a cogito that is distributed throughout all the things in the world, is also a nomos that acts from a distance. Serres thinks of it as “un type de logiciel intramatériel”:
“This type of intra-material software conditions our cognitive performance, as if it were a kind of transcendental objective. […]”
Serres nomos that acts from a distance, his ‘transcendental objective’ (goal, telos), now depends upon being, itself, instructed. The telos of this nomos does not only act determinatively from the end of time and upon all that can happen until then, it itself is being acted upon instructively, from all that happens within the immanence to an All of time.
The gnomon takes stock of measured temporality, but not in the sense of keeping track of history. It does not take stock of temporality in a sense that would seek to describe its passing objectively, but neither does it do so in a manner that would seek to program it subjectively. Serres stresses the importance of Brillouin’s generalization of negentropy because for him, when the gnomon or any other clock measures temporality it imports ‘unbound quanta of temporality’ from the All of Time (the universe) just like a plant imports and organizes ‘unbound energy’ from the solar light. But unlike the plant, the clock doesn’t metabolize and organize these quanta of energy, Serres maintains that it banks its unbound quanta of temporality. Such taking stock of temporality is the kind of writing with a stylos that needs no hand to guide it. Its concepts are spectrums, and the language at work in such concepts is that of mathematics. Mathematics is “the quasi-electric circuit” , as Serres puts it, of the impersonal, objective Cogito’s cunnings. All things ‘articulate’ in the silent but objective language of mathematics when they exchange, store, deal with, and receive information among each other.
Hence, mathematics provides first of all entries to a novel kind of lexicon, it is not a support or a guard rail. Its concepts are “invariant forms”, spectrums, they are “the any form in general” as Serres specifies. The impersonal Cogito of his “intramaterial software” produces a Logos that speaks silently, physically, and neutrally (the gnomon is of neutral gender).
5 White Metaphysics: Who does the World think it is?
With this banking of unbound quanta of temporality, Serres’ metaphysics operates with a notion of “neutrality”. We have to understand the full implication of Serres’ replacement of telenomy with invariance, and of his “objective Cogito” and “neutral Logos”. It is not merely a slippery metaphor, when Serres reverts here to finance: Thinking of equations in terms of equipollence (equality in force, power, or validity) amounts to a metaphysics that is also one of value (validity). Serres must be read in relation to Nietzsche. His universe as the All-of-Time challenges the latter’s doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Serres metaphysics of value allows for extrapolating a Nature of Economy – in a similar gesture, and doubtlessly tackling with the same problem, as Nietzsche’s metaphysics of revenge allows for extrapolating a Nature of Morality. Who does the Earth think it is, Nietzsche asked in order to characterize and dramatically address the dawn of a new world age he saw breaking. Serres poses the question: How old does the World think it is? His Nature of Economy, derived from a Metaphysics of Value, introduces the ‘currency’ of neutral elements of agedness.
These elements are not “neutral” in the sense of normal, stripped from all properties other than a general base. Rather, they are “neutral” because the axiomatics – the systems of valuation – that build on them have to account for all of the properties that might be attributed to the world. Without any rest. They are elements of an ‘omnipotent neutrality’ – and they cannot be taken for granted (they are what needs to be ‘achieved’ via a materialism of identity/equations of equipollence) whereas Value, as the invariant (un-ordered, material) amount total of such omnipotent neutrality, can (this is what ‘Metaphysics of Value’ means).
If the entropic universe is a universe in which all things are at once nothing-at-all and anything-at-all, then the Cogito at work in universal reason can no longer feel entitled to address the world in any immediate way. There is a chapter in L’Incandescent entitled “Accès à l’Universel”, which begins by maintaining that, hence, we have to reconsider how we address the world. In it, Serres complements the logical ladder of differentiation and speciation (which proceeds by identifying a common denominator) with what he calls an entropic ladder of de-differentiation and neutralization that proceeds by identifying a common factor. By replacing telenomy with invariance, Serres’ metaphysical universality is not one where one looks for necessities; it is where one turns and finds only possibilities. Hence, there is authorship in Serres metaphysics, despite the anonymous and objective agency at work in it. To author, for Serres, means to augment. Access towards the universal grants augmentation.
But how can augmentation mean something else than generalization, advances on an orderly and logical ladder whose steps are deductions? If Serres’ philosophy is a realism, and not an idealism, as he claims, then there must be an other way to think about “augmentation”. But if things in their universal genericness are nothing-at-all in a manner in which they can be anything-at-all, then surely this “augmentation” cannot be concerned with the universal nature of things either, or can it?
One way out would be to assume that this metaphysical status of value, and the Nature of Economy at stake, is a transcendent – fatalist – Government of Pure Capital, of competition between General Equivalence that has lost all reason. But this is irreconcilable with the emphasis Serres gives to his materialism as one that quantizes the Agedness of the All-of-Time (to which I will turn shortly). ‘Capital’, if we so call the magnitude of the invariant amount total of Value in Serres’ metaphysical universe, is not the positivity of an empty form – it is the plentiful abundance of a void that is incandescent.
But first, how can we think about augmentation? We must turn again to this notion of equipollence between Rationality and Reality at this point, and ask about that peculiar status of such equations. It is metaphysical, we saw, but in which sense? – if the physical nature of things is universal, then what exactly is metaphysics concerned with? It cannot only describe the universe, else it would be absurd to hold on to a notion of authorship – unless one were to postulate History as this author. Which Serres clearly declines: To conceive of the entropic universe in terms of invariance instead of telenomy is to dethrone History from exactly this position.
The status of an equation is metaphysical insofar as Serres’ metaphysics affirms a principle Law that reigns the universe, the Law of Chance (the physical nature of the universe is entropic). The ‘status’ of an equation, hence, is universal insofar as it contracts what this law ‘states’: all next steps (as far as this metaphysics’ universality is concerned), are to be equally likely to happen in any moment. Serres’ metaphysics, then, is the metaphysics of these contracts, and the materialism of identity it entails makes of it a metaphysics of the impartial nature of Law: Serres thereby proposes a metaphysical notion of freedom.
To augment means to proceed on the entropic ladder of neutralization, because steps that identify a common factor (rather than settling on a common denominator) render in multiplicitous manner how a bondage can be decoupled, and hence guarantee the articulation of contracts to continue at any point in in all directions.
6 Materialism of Identity
Generic identity is metaphysical and universal for Serres in the sense that to be is not just to be the value of a variable, to quote the famous formulation by another so-called ‘computational metaphysician’, Willard Van Orman Quine. Quine’s notion of Being all too readily sacrifices the possibility of Serres entropic ladder that proceeds towards de-differentiation and neutralization, and hence also the dimension of a metaphysical notion of freedom. For Serres, then, to be, in his generic sense, means not only to figure variably, but more profoundly, to be abundantly unsettled and restlessly active. Serres proposes a materialism of identity in which incandescent void is the universal property: in its generic nature, a thing can lighten up to become any thing at all in any moment. Serres materialism of identity conceives of its incandescent materiality as a fragmented and distributed elementaricity of discretely packaged indefiniteness – like the energetic traces of cosmic dust in the impure vacuum space of the All, which astrochemists today talk about, and from where Serres, without a doubt, appropriates that concept. Incandescent materiality cannot only enter bondages, by exchanging energy packages, it is also capable of nuclear synthesis and nuclear fission. Like today’s astrophysical universe, Serres’ metaphysical universe is not only dynamic and revolving, it is also expanding.
Thus, much of what is needed, for making sense of Michel Serres proposal, can be collected in the question of how we think of the status of a formula. Does it really state identity? does it express it? does it confine it? Does it realize it? Does it signify it? Does it refer to it? For Serres it does all of these, but only mediately so: a formula is a vehicle to transcend through the immanent versatility of universal activity. Whenever a formula is transcribed into a functional mapping that singles out a particular angle of the quarrelsome noise at work in the immanent transversality of such generic identity, it creates a channel of transit. It takes place, it conceives space, and it engenders the neutrality of the incandescent void. It renders the universal specific. Every functional mapping plots a solution of the enigma that the universe both is and is not one; likewise, the transcription of a formula into an algorithm explicates the mechanisms with which such a re-solution can be generalized and differentiated.
A formula, for Serres dis-ciphers identity rather than re-solving it, to borrow a term I take from the German translation of Quentin Meillassoux’s book on Mallarmé [Die Verrätselung der Zahl]. We would be on the wrong path if we simply took from the above that Serres affirms obscurity at the heart of knowledge, that a formula to him conserves an insuperable sacrality, that its formality guards devotedly over a secret that is not ever meant to be shared in all the time of the world; that formula would merely deprive whoever attends to them from a nucleus of bare truth, through distraction, concealment, camouflage or dressing up. Rather, for Serres, a formula dis-ciphers identity through providing numerous keys to encrypt and decipher it – it provides these keys in the code of just such “transcriptions” that render equations re-solvable (functional mappings) and its solutions computable (algorithms). It is the dis-ciphering of identity that gives us at once theory and praxis, without giving us absolute legitimization in either one domain.
But what exactly should be attractive about this idea of dis-ciphering? It is from such transcriptions, that render identity in re-solutions, that Serres’ universality can be one that expands – despite it being, from the very beginning, itself and only itself, as all that it generically is . Serres universality is actively comprehending itself, and as it longs ahead of what it can already grant and strives to comprehend more of all that it has been encompassing all along, it expands in ‘magnanimity’ (an old Latin word for the loftiness in thought or purpose, which Serres, however, doesn’t use (to my knowledge)). This arguably mystical idea backs up Serres central affirmation, which he shares with Nietzsche: meaning originates in promises. To Serres, I want to suggest, the metaphysical status of equations in terms of equipollence is exactly this: a promise. But a promise, however, that cannot be made without having already been where it will lead whoever follows it. A promise that is the well of ‘meaning’ and ‘knowledge’ in this sense decouples credit from capital and reverses the customary vector: in order to make it, one does not need to own capital and give credit; one must, quite inversely and daringly so, take credit from a source whose solvency is all but granted . Meaning so conceived is neither public nor private initially, the promises from which it originates do not take some of an originally public meaningfulness away, lock it up and make it proprietary. It is only through encryption of identity, and the rendering of the code of that encryption into a script (its alpha-numerical-ness) that both are coming to be: a code must be made explicit in order to be shared (hence it establishes publicity), but those who know the code build a sphere of privacy against those who don’t.
Dis-ciphering and transcription is how Serres’ entropic ladder of augmentation works. They are what Brillouin’s principle of negentropy, when applied to information (rather than to energy) afford: here, Brillouin’s negentropy does not fix order into an organization, like Schrödingers negative entropy does; Brillouin’s provides for the keys with which an order locked into an organization can be unlocked. Dis-ciphering and transcription afford to complement the evolutionary ladder of differentiation and specialization with an “involutionary” one of de-differentiation and neutralization.
The truly metaphysical question now is whether there is an ultimate limit to the entropic ladder: “Does there exist a boundary stone, a bottom limit for this de-differenciation into neutrality?” For Serres, the prefix meta means exactly this: ce seuil là, this bottom limit. It does not signify, as has often been maintained, above or beyond, it means below. For him, yes, this limit does exist: metaphysics itself actively de-signates it. Metaphysics is the mathematical group of all white concepts. It is this “group” in the mathematical sense of the word “group”: a group comprehends a computable solution space, it has introduced the structural point of view to mathematics. Hence, Serres metaphysics is committed to structure, but not in the sense that it would look for one universal and fundamental structure that accommodates of things in an orderly manner. To him, the order of a structure is an “island of rationality” in the oceans of noise.
With this idea Serres is actually very much in tune with rising interests in the philosophy of mathematics. Fernando Zalameo has, in a recent book entitled Synthetic philosophy, Contemporary Mathematics, urgently called for a philosophy that engages with the levels of abstraction that ‘real’ mathematicians work with since the introduction of the group concept, and especially since the 50ies of the 20th century: category theory, sheaf and topos theory, among many other branches of various algebraic geometries, topologies, co-homologies, all treat objects as if free-floating, without anchor or gravity, without a total integral, but with the capacity to be “glued” or “bridged”, as the mathematicians say, from wherever to wherever appears as full of promise.
7 (Pan’s) Glossematics: Entropic Economy
In other words, what we have to consider is the decoupling of code from signification. We have to consider the a-signifying character of mathematical notation, in the sense of a notation that is decoupled from the substance/content it forms/expresses. I am reverting thereby to Louis Hjelmslev’s concept of double articulation, but not in order to subordinate such a mathematical notion to linguistics. In fact, Hjelmslev himself is perhaps the most eminent scholar who teaches us otherwise, namely the exact inverse of this: the notion of the double articulation allows him to treat linguistics as subordinate to algebra – but, and this is the reason why he would be ill considered as an epistemologist or a logicist – in a manner that sidesteps a supposedly necessary mediation by a logical calculus. His approach to language looks at it in terms of a natural economy, it studies how languages produce significance from circulating a linguistic kind of indefinit unit, a linguistic universal which he calls “purport.” Purport is the invariant quantity that transits through the nature of language and characterizes its economy, just like, according to thermodynamics, energy transits through the universe and characterizes the universal nature at stake in physics. The crucial assumption is, with Hjelmslev’s purport as well as with the thermodynamic energy concept, as we have already seen, that the amount total be considered indefinite but invariant (it can neither decrease nor increase). This entails that the quantities of such invariance be counted neither in terms of enumeration nor measurement or accounting immediately, but in the inter-play of all three, that an alpha-numerical calculus sets up. If the apriori in Serres’ transcendentality is no longer itself universal, it is because arithmetics itself is no longer regarded as universal, but as structural in the sense of such alpha-numerical encryption. It is algebraic. An algebra is precisely this: an arithmetics, both with indefinite articles.
To maintain this indefiniteness is what the algebraic treatment of “an unknown” as an unknown in both axial aspects, the quantitative ones as well as the qualitative ones, is all about. Hjelmslev’s purport in his glossematics treats meaning like heat in thermodynamics treats energy or like number theory treats the real numbers: as ubiquitous, indefinite and generic, “an unanalyzed, amorphous continuum”, itself ungraspable except via a particular organization that is imposed upon it in a particular language (or subsystem or calculus, respectively to thermodynamics or number theory).
Serres’ notion of the incandescent void dis-solves the thermodynamic model to the level of quantum physics, where, in other words, this “unanalyzed, amorphous continuum” is subject to a kind of quantization who’s “quanta” are undecided as to whether they must count as discrete or continuous, wave or particle, magnitude or code. Or rather, for which we always have to take both aspects into our accounts. The most important implication of this is that the entropy notion changes: while Hjelmslevian purport manifests as the spectrum itself, immediately so, superimposed on which the different languages organize zones in variable manner, Serres’ background of the incandescent void decouples what Hjelmslev calls “purport” also from the immediate givenness of a spectrum. Energetic entropy is complemented with informational negentropy, and spectrums reveal themselves as “conceptions”. Glossematics, for Serrs, is pan-glossematics.
Serres Cogito, the agency at work when concepts that are white spectrums are dealt with, produces a Logos (all that can be articulated with the lexicon of white concepts) that cannot do without a metaphysics, without categorical registers of how that which is universal in all things can be ‘identified’. These categorical registers, to Serres, cannot be deduced from the principle law that reigns in his universality (Chance) – rather, they must be extracted from the name of the world, the name that impersonates the amount total of all that belongs to the world. The world, then, is the only referent to a “proper name” and “address” in his metaphysics, and hence must be attributed a legal status (the natural contract, the insatiable (‘panurgist’) articulation of universal rights for all things of the world). Hence he suggest to call the world by a six-fold name (from which all categorical registers in his metaphysics are to be extracted):
“I call it [the world, VB] Pantope [all of the places, VB], Panchrone [all of the durations, VB], Panurge [not demiurge, the public worker, but the universal worker, VB], Panglosse [all of the languages, VB], Pangnose [all of knowledge, VB], Panthrope [all of the sexes, “men and female six times integrated”, instead of anthrope, VB].”
8 Quanta of Agedness: From Heat to Incandescence, from Storage to Bank Account
Serres references the notion of the incandescent to Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and author of d’Alembert and Diderot’s encyclopedia in the 18th century. Buffon wrote a Natural History of the Earth in several volumes, in which he criticized Carl Linnaeus’s taxonomical approach to natural history, outlined a history of the Earth with little relation to the Biblical account, and proposed a theory of reproduction that ran counter to the prevailing theory of pre-existence. Serres writes:
“Buffon takes the incandescence of balls of earths containing iron, then lets them cool down in order to calculate the age of the planet according to a reduced model. Neither Newton nor his universe of forces had memory; Buffon’s burning bowles of earths accumulate energy under the form of heat and they function, accordingly, like bank accounts that use up their money when they cool down; here we have a new clock. It counts not points in reversible time à la Newton, and as my watch indicates, but an irreversible and entropic time of the usage of the wheelwork, that is, the time of its aging.” 
It is this notion of an aging of the earth that is central to Serres. It is a notion which has experienced a powerful evolution since Buffon, and which perhaps culminated in Nietzsche’s conception of a nature of morality, and in Zarathustra, the advocat-prophet who announces the coming of a new people for a new age, an age of the Eternal Return of the Same. Serres is well aware of this background. His book L’Incandescent is declared above all as a book on humanism. But what Serres takes and augments from this idea of a natural philosophy, is a material notion agedness (une vieillesse) in which the human partakes among all other things in this world:
How matter comes to matter is thereby brought in a mutually implicative relation with with how time comes to act as time.
Like Nietzsche’s, his thought as well is preoccupied with how to deliver the human from the spirit of revenge. But he rejects the latters doctrine of the eternal recurrence of the same, he replaces Nietzsches dynamical model with a quantum physical one in which everything that happens happens within the active transversality immanent to an All of time. While Nietzsche raises “Revenge” to the status of a metaphysical concept, arguably, in order to dissolve the directionality it implies into a state of in-determined-ness, Serres does the same with “Value” by substantiating this value with a materialism of the Real Age proper to all things universal. In Serres’ equipollence-notion of identity, age is incandescently indeterminate and active.
Nietzsches unsettling dictum was that all meaning originates in promise and derives from a relation of debt, from which it ‘naturally’ evolves according to the favors and privileges in how the settlement of this debt is negotiated. The agency at work in such promise is handed over by Serres from subjects to objects. The transformation of Nietzsche’s dictum hence reads as follows:
“All things, in principle, conduct themselves like memories. The universe banks accounts. All things are number, the memory of the world conserves traces.”
‘Agedness’ is what the universe banks and accounts. The traffic that circulates in this universes’ immanent transversality – within an All of Time – is addressed by Serres as transactions of incandescent quanta of this agedness. In other words, ‘value’, raised to its metaphysical level through identity in terms of equipollence, is ‘capital’ before it can be ad-tributed to things as their particular ‘proper’ value: It is Capital insofar as the universe actively banks quanta of its own agedness, in deposits that are accumulated and spent in how “things conduct themselves like memories”. The ‘transits’ that circulate in this universes’ immanent transversality – within an All of Time – are not trans-itive, they are ‘trans-actional’.
Serres Universal Nature of Economy, hence, banks on an abundant past rather than on an open future. The taking of credit that is necessary to make a promise is an investment to the immanence of time. Making a promise, hence, demands that one listens to the beauty in noise. This is, indeed, a high price: whoever commits oneself to it puts the innocent comfort of one’s soul, one’s intellectual sanity at risk. It is an investment to the gigantic (“galactic”) vieillesse (agedness) all things in the world always already share: “here we are”, Serres exclaims, “all almost as old as the Earth”.
“[…]My brain, speaking only of it instead of many other things to which the same would equally apply, is composed of ancient parts, reptilian, and others as new as those evolved with the chimpanzees or bonobos, and then furthermore with parts that are incomparably much more recent. […] Similarly, my DNA appeared, of course, with the conjunction of my parents who stitched it together like one stiches together different maps, but in its own structure, it is more than 3 milliards of years old; even older still, the atoms that compose it and me go back to the fabrication of hydrogen and carbon from the galactic energy of the universe.”
When Serres speaks of a “Real Age” that is common to “old men and the newly borne, grandchildren and grandmothers, animals and plants, friends and enemies, to all that are carrying DNA”, he gives us a model of how to hold on to the idea of generational descent in terms of dia-sequentiality, i.e. without submitting to the linear branching of the tree as a law of con-sequentiality. Before Time, all, at any instant, is equal, as he says, an equality that is contracted “in two fractions: one minimal, the individual age, the other much larger”, universal belonging. Serres La Grande Vieillesse not only introduces a novel notion of equality, and hence the possibility of a justice that no person or people can avail over. It also allows Serres to complement Darwinian evolution of speciation and differenciation with an inverse of de-speciation and de-differentiation. He calls this Exo-Darwinism, and it is crucial for his rejection of seeing the Natural and the Artificial as either in a categorical or a dialectical opposition. If Serres’ doctrine of an atomist materialism of identity would have to be reduced to one vector, it is surely to find an arrangement in which the hard and the soft, matter and code, share a common principle and origin.
9 Quantum writing: the priority of substitutes to things themselves
Serres universe is not an empty container, an impure vacuum or, a “storage-memory” or the sterile template-matrix of a “pre-figured data bank”. It is a universe that is temporal before it is spatial, but this time is not properly processual: a process presumes a beginning and an end. Serres considers it as entropic rather than processual, as in-definite, trans-actional, accounting – it actively “banks accounts” of the time that passes in the transits immanent to its transversality. Serres intuition hereby is close to Bergon’s in Matter and Memory, but unlike Bergson, Serres lets go also of the idea that presumes one grand Duration as an overall integral:
“The womb of a pregnant woman knows a billion different biochemical reactions per second; while I am writing this, my organism produces almost as many. Like a cornucopia [das Füllhorn, VB], the non-denumerable pours out of an instant. […] Our organisms carry, we will know it in the future, dozens of clocks, cardiatic, digestive, nervous or molecular, all of them tumbled up by the time difference towards the end of a long distance flight. How can we think the instant and duration without making reference to this internal unease, circulatory, existential, whose appearance indicates an organic knot through which our relation to time is constructed, or to our relation to the sum of durations these clocks indicate […] ?”
Universal time is the non-denumerable, the uncountable sum of all real durations, and as such it is always in a state of unease – like our organic time after a long distance flight. It is uncountable unless via its organization of how matter matters in how temporality acts as temporality, and this organization involves not only causes and consequences, but also the codes that establish the latter two.
“Things do not reduce to causes, they also carry codes. They act ones upon others, certainly, but they also signal among themselves”. (60)
Serres doesn’t think a materiality of memory that is general, as Bergson arguably does, but one that is generic and atomist. Time, then, doesn’t flow like a river, it percolates like one. Objects are the channels that behave like river banks, through which the streaming of time bifurcates and trickles through. Memory separates and mixes in the All-that-is-Time, it dissolves and concentrates in the becoming of all that is temporal. The time of the universe is entropic, the conduct of things is negentropic: things conserve traces, they conduct themselves like memories:
“All things, in principle, conduct themselves like memories. The universe banks accounts. All things are number, the memory of the world conserves traces.”
When Serres maintains that “all things are number” he is not saying that all things are unitary identities. They are number because signals are signals (and not signs) in sofar as their recording happens in terms of numerical chiffres (figures). Numbers are crucial for maintaining an a-signifying notion of code, they allow Reality to figure in Rationality. Code can be a-signifying only insofar as it is always both, alphabetical (a finite set of elements) and numerical (units of infinity). In that precise sense, code is alpha-numerical: a logics of the alphabet, that on its own hurries forth straight to Omega (the ultimate destination, the locus of action in the principle of telenomy) is transversed in code by the numerical figuration of the Alpha. Within alpha-numerical code, if you say A you must not necessarily say B, to put it bluntly. The linear transport according to order relations is always intercepted – para-sited – and makes room for various transcriptions. In other words, the Alphabetical is forced by the Numerical to always also account for all the mutations that arise from these transcriptions: this is why Serres’ equipollence between Reality and Rationality cannot, in principle, admit for any “rest”.
Within communication so conceived, the Alphabetical’s ideal completion, Omega, turns into the real material support that sends News genuine to the world, the support of Serres’ “transcendental objective” which receives information like a plant receives light. Omega, here, is the cipher disk of any clock at all. It encrypts the measurement of temporality in all the units of its uncountable durations. The telos principled by Invariance (rather than Telenomy) is nothing-at-all and anything-at-all, it depends upon instruction. How? Through the multiplicitous manner in which the numerical that registers Reality bare of any attributed significance, counts within the alphabeticity of the accounts rendered by Rationality. Alphabetical writing becomes alpha-numerical coding (dis-ciphering), or shortly: it becomes quantum-writing.
With Serres’ white metaphysics, the algebraic group of all concepts of which each encompasses lucidity like spectra do, quantum writing no longer conserves the gospel of a beginning and an end of time; instead it conserve the secret key that belongs to no-one-in particular and every-one-in-principle, the passwords to a delivery from the a priori guilt that demands to make up for an original debt that keeps accumulating, in alphabetical writing, with every generation and proportional to the “wealth” of meaning that is guarded by a discourse’s legitimate statements.
In terms of generic identity’s “Real Age,” all things are equal: entropic noise. But insofar as they are addressed through quantum-writing that grants them this entropic reality, all the things of the world have inscribed in themselves the protocols of an ‘ad-tribution of value’ that knows no partition key or distribution scheme that would originate in a beyond of the obligations that contract them. Quantum writing articulates these obligations. The obligations of an equation in terms of equipollence between Rationality and Reality do not use up deposits, and thereby, inevitably, foreclose a future in some of its openness. They descend into durations, unlock the depth of an instant, and thereby create novel deposits. The promises with which the articulations of obligations fly are propelled by having taken, daringly so, an instant for a cornucopia. An equational formula, dis-cyphered in the probabilistic and dia-sequential (alpha-numeric) terms of equipollence, takes credit without being granted by any authority to do so. Such dis-cyphering takes credit from how the universe banks its Agedness in, among all else, the objects of the world. It settles this credit as soon as the equation is articulated into a solution space within which it augments, as promised by the articulation of the equation, the identity contracted therein. Different from debt, then, that has to be paid back later, obligations are settled in the very act of making the promise in which the meaning of that which the promise contracts, originates. I.e. as soon as the making of the promise dis-ciphers this contractual identity in a manner that gives a novel code of how to transcribe it, without any loss or reduction – but at the cost of facing, with the novel obligation, also an increase in shadows that are cast by the lucidity diffracted between one conceptual spectrum and another. These shadows suggest, to the gnomon, novel manners of taking stock of temporality. Obligations then make novel deposits that draw from the depth of any one instant which they encrypt – and thereby make last a little longer – as the well of durations yet to come, durations that creatively conserve the Real Age of the All of Time.
 eg. cf. the Natural Contract, p.24, 90
 cf. L’Incandescent, p. 101ff.. The promise of this metaphysics is not sterile and cold truth, but the excitement of vulnerability, quickness and liveliness: „Les concepts blancs forment un groupe plutôt qu’une simple classe: Ils procèdent les uns des autres. Cherchez la liberté, vous connaîtrez; cherchez la connaissance et vous inventerez, cherchez le savoir et l’invention ensemble et vous ne pourrez pas ne pas aimer.“ He goes as far as to answer his own question „A quoi sert la Metaphysique?“ with „incarnation“ of a generic ‚body’ that is born from any body’s body. It is crucial for understanding why his book is a book on humanism. Metaphysics is indispensible for „rester humain, et ne pas en mourir“ (106).
 If quantum theory is right to maintain that light is, after all, a particle, and that matter comes to matter from how the light’s radioactivity deals with charges of electricity; cf. Feynman, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.
 Karen Barad
 Serres, L’Incandescent, p. 61
 “De genre neutre, le terme gnomon qui désignait, en langue grecque, l’axe du cadran solaire, signifiait ‘ce qui comprend, décide, juge, distinguw, interpète, out, ce qui connaiît’ […] Interceptant la lumière du soleil, son ombre écrit, sur le cadran lui même, quelques évévements du ciel et de la terre, le solstice, l’équinoxe et la latitude du lieu. Il marche automatiquement. Automatique veut dire: sans intervention de l’intention, subjective et cognitive.” ibid p. 61
 Serres, Leben, Information Zweiter Hauptsatz der Thermodynamik“, Hermes III
 L’Incandescent: “Comme un transcendental temporel, certaines conditions du connaître datent de centaines de millions d’années.” p. 62
 Michel Serres, “Motoren. Vorüberlegungen zu einer allgemeinen Theorie der Systeme”, in: Hermes IV. Verteilung. Merve, Berlin 1992, pp. 43–91.
 Michel Serres, “Verrat: Thanatokratie,” in Hermes III: Übersetzung, trans. Michael Bischoff (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1992 ).
 cf. l’interférance, 106. Invariance “[…] is the transcendental space of all and any communication”.
 Serres, Leben, Information Zweiter Hauptsatz der Thermodynamik“, Hermes III
 cf. Giuseppe Longo’s discussion on the concept of invariance in his article: „Synthetic Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Sciences“ (http://www.di.ens.fr/users/longo/files/PhilosophyAndCognition/Review-Zalamea-Grothendieck.pdf)
 cf. Anne Crahay, Michel Serres, la mutation du cogito: Genèse du transcendantal objectif (1993)
 Serres, L’Interférence, p. 106.
 l’Incandescent, 61
 Serres, “Was Thales am Fusse der Pyramiden gesehen hat,” 214.
 This fourfold activity is Serres „Quadruple universal“, an activity (rather than a property) in which all things being, alive or inert, participate. „Information and thinking“ (lecture manusript at Philosophy after Nature conference in Utrecht, 2014).
 Serres, Hermès I, Communication, p. 10: „La mathématique n’est plus un support, ou un garde-fou, elle est un dictionnaire.“
 (interference 110).
 “The simple and pure forms are not that simple nor that pure; they are no longer things of which we have, in our theoretical insight, exhaustive knowledge, things that are assumedly transparent without any remainder. Instead they constitute an infinitely entangled, objective-theoretical unknown, tremendous virtual noemata like the stones and the objects of the world, like our masonry and our artifacts. Form bears beneath its form transfinite nuclei of knowledge, with regard to which we must worry that history in its totality will not be sufficient for exhausting them, nuclei of knowledge which are profoundly inaccessible and which pose themselves as problems. Mathematical realism wins back in weight and re-adopts that compactness which had dissolved beneath the Platonic sun. Pure or abstract idealities will cast shadows once more, they are themselves full of shadows, they are turning black again like the pyramid. Mathematics unfolds, despite its maximal abstractness and the genuine purity which is proper to it, within the framework of a lexicon which results, partially, from technology.” Serres, “Was Thales am Fusse der Pyramiden gesehen hat,” 218.
 cf. The Natural Contract. Whenever one side of the equipollence (between Rationality or Reality) dominates the other, it produces pollution. p. xxx
 Cf, the beginning of La Communication, Hermes I
 cf. Serres, Genesis.
 L’Incandescent, p. 103
 ibid. p. 101
 Cf. Hermes, The Nord-West Passage
 Serres, Genesis
 Hjelmslev, Prolegomena, p. 52
 This is indeed, I think, why Hjelmslev was so much concerned with pointing out that his approach to language is one that affords a science of language, that its interest concerns languages generic objectivity rather than the subjective plays of interpretation it affords, or the imperialist claims to how proximate languages are with regard to a supposedly original language.
 Identity, for Serres, is a question of „appartenance“, belonging, affiliation, German Zugehörigkeit. cf. the chapter „L’Identité, les Appartenance“, p. 113ff.
 L’Incandescent, p. 184; But even if the world can be addresses as a legal subject, it’s “panonyme” is still haunted by all that pertains to it: panic – which in its Greek sense means ‘all that pertains to Pan, the god of woods and fields, the source of mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds, crowds, or in people in lonely spots’.
 “Buffon porte à l’incandescence des boules de terre mêlée de fer, puis les laisse refroidir, pour calculer l’âge de la planète selon ces modèles reduits. Newton ni son univers the force n’ont du memoir; les boules brûlantes de Buffon accumulent l’énergie sous forme de chaleur et fonctinonent donc comme des comptes en banque dépensant leur monnaie en refroidissement; voila une nouvelle horloge. Elle compte non point the temps réversible à la Newton qu’indique ma montra, mais le temps irréversible et entropique de l’usure de ses rouages, donc de son vieillissement.” (51).
 “Toutes choses, en principe, se comportent comme des mémoires. L’Univers banque des comptes. Toutes choses sont nombres, le monde mémoire conserve des traces.” (53).
 Cf. my argument on Serres reading of Balzac’s La Belle Noiseuse in: „“Ichnography”—The Nude and Its Model. The Alphabetic Absolute and Storytelling in the Grammatical Case of the Cryptographic Locative” Bühlmann et.al.,Coding as Literacy 2015 (https://monasandnomos.org/2015/04/03/ichnography-the-nude-and-its-model-the-alphabetic-absolute-and-storytelling-in-the-grammatical-case-of-the-cryptographic-locative/)
 “nous voilé tous presque aussi vieux que la Terre” (21).
 “Mais mon cerveau, pour ne parler que de lui, se compose de parties anciennes, a la manière reptilienne, d’autres aussi nouvelles que celles que développèrent chimpanzés ou bonobos, enfin d’autres encore, incomparablement plus récentes. […] De même, mon ADN apparut, certes, avec la conjonction de mes parents qui le bâtirent comme on bat des cartes, mais dans sa structures propre, il a plus de trois milliards d’années; plus ancien encore, les atomes qui le et me composent remontent à la fabrication de l’hydrogène et du carbone par l’énergie galactique de l’Univers.”
 “le ventre d’une femme enceinte connait un million de réactions biochimiques à la seconde; pendent que j’écris ce mot, mon organisme en produit presque autant. Comme d’une corne d’abondance [Füllhorn], l’innombrable jaillit [hochsprudeln] de l’instance. […]Notre organisme comporte, nous le savons désormais, des dizaine d’horloges, cardiaque, digestives, nerveuses ou moléculaires, toutes bouleversées par le décalage horaire à la fin d’un long vol en travers des longitudes. Comment penser l’instant et la durée sans nous référer à ces malaises interne, circulatoire, existentiel, don’t l’apparition indique le noeud organique ou se construit notre rapport au temps ou à la sommes des durées qu’indiquent lesdites horloges […]?”
 “Les choses ne se réduisent point à des causes, mais posent aussi des codes. Elles agissent les unes sur les authre, certes, mais encore se font signe entre elles.” (60)
 “Toutes choses, en principe, se comportent comme des mémoires. L’Univers banque des comptes. Toutes choses sont nombres, le monde mémoire conserve des traces.” (53).
 Serres, Les Nouvelles du Monde (1997)
 cf the chapter „Un aveu d’identité: tout inné, tout acquis“ in L’Incandescent, p. 120ff. where it reads: „Il n’y a pas de discussion ni de contradiction ni même de proportion entre l’acquis et l’inné, entre les deux cartes [d’ identité] dont je parle: tout inné, tout acquis, cette étrange addition forme l’homme“; and further: „En mon corps, mon âme et mon entendement-palimpseste, mille textes et dessins se donnent rendez-vous, pesamment surchargés, oubliés prestement, mémorisés, se chevauchant, effacés sans cesse et cependant toujours repeints et récits en sillons remodelés. Toute chose écrits sur cette absence; ou: personne plus les autres; voilà le moi. Ego nemo et alii.“
– David Graeber, The First 5000 Years of Debt; 92