So/aLu/vaTION (Theory of Relativity)

I want to offer a provocation for the theory of relativity here, I imagine it will almost sound too contrived, as we basically play a mapping game with the concepts we have been using, and also I want to ask the question of what knowledge could be if we are declaring a circular model.

This is how the mapping will take place: basically, phyisics is the ability to focus on the world, it is the rejection of all that isn’t physics for the ability to “work” with the world. The “shoulders of giants” metaphor, I think, may therefore be quite bad, since it, well, suggests a social journey rather than an inidividualistic one, and it furthermore suggests that the field of human knowledge is too vast or complex. Rather, we here emphasize the active, individualistic role of phyiscs, which we “map” onto Marlow’s pragmatism in the desolation of the jungle.

The theory of relativity is the moment of inversion in our “spiral” metaphor. If physics provides for the possibility of a definite, ordered experience, where measuring is this “simple” act that seems to produce results — we associate it with Marlow’s pragmatism — then the theory of relativity is a kind of undeniable aftermath to the world of pragmatic measuring. One can no longer declare a simple causal chain of observation, measurement, result. And let’s also remark on salvation here — I have here in my notes, “Sa/oLva/uTION” — just because it’s a kind of cool observation that “solution” and “salvation” are such similar words. I remarked last time that Marlow’s pragmatism was a salvation rather than a solution — meaning, that it was not intended to solve the complex problems of the colonies, but rather, to provide a sense of self, to save oneself, to provide the possibility of committing to something definite. This is the case for physics, too, and the scientific model of the world, which is basically salvational — which is why having engineers as political leaders is not necessarily a good idea. A salvation can be a solution only if one insists that everyone thinks the same way I do, that the commitment to science as a practice or discipline can help society, which is definitely not a given — I mean, it’s very wrong. In any case, the claim here is that physics provides a way to work, a salvation via work, and not a solution to all our questions.

So the idea is that the theory of relativity, with its emphasis on the act of measuring, really seems to question man’s location in these salvational, linear, causational processes. Of course this is not explicit, it is definitely a part of phyisics, which is why the figure of the spiral (rather than the “circle”) comes up: suggesting a return to another point with a difference. The theory of relativity is not, in fact, a return to the state of desolation before physics, nor is it regressive move that destroys the “misconceptions” of physics. Thus, the question of knowledge comes up: what do we come to know, with relativity?

Perhaps we come to know something about … “ourselves” … well, about what it means to be “human” in a sense. All this time, indeed, we have been focusing on the … “non-lazy”, on activities that are “human powered” — we emphasized, for example, the concrete social factors (eg, “slave”) that drove these interactions. The suggestion is that knowledge can only knowledge of the search for knowledge, but that this doesn’t make it any less useful.

Well — that is the preliminary proposal. The theory of relativity is “not given”, I mean, we are not simply saying that all those who try are doomed to fail. Like Marlow on the river, it is about more than the human — it is about a kind of “encounter”. It is indeed a radical revisiting of classical physics, it is — if one looks at it at a certain angle — an “inversion”, but this inversion does not itself flow along a definite path (as we misleadingly suggest with the spiral metaphor, actually) rather — I have in my mind, a mental picture, the movement towards relativity as a kind of “reordering”, a “flocking”, in the way that a school of fish will scatter when disturbed but then realign themselves, somewhat randomly, when the threat disappears.

Let’s return briefly to Heart of Darkness… Marlow finds salvation in work, on the river, but becomes disturbed at many points when he comes face to face with a possibility, an otherness, and perhaps one’s own injustice, in Kurtz and the Intended. Ie, (1) possibility — the possibility that there is sitting in the jungle some halfway reasonable human being, or some fellow devoted to work, progress, and pragmatism, in the middle of the jungle. (2) Otherness — the recognition of an alternative arrangement. For Marlow, there is no longer the effort of a precise remapping of the self to the other, from one school of fish to another, but he acknowledges the possibility that they “were human, like you or me” (actually, in this phrase, speaking of the Africans) — “human” here in the sense of “human-powered”, hopeful, intentional, non-lazy, etc.. Regarding women, he always states that they “live in another world”, regarding Kurtz, he says that he has “blasted free from this earth” (or something to that effect). (3) My own injustice — this is simply the recognition that there is a holism to my pragmaticism, my salvation, which is basically insight or maybe the driving conviction of the theory of relativity — that I am of another world, too, perhaps. This is the sort of self-knowledge that Marlow comes to recognize.

With relativity, the otherness becomes the act of “measuring”, to whatever ends. Physics, then, is not fundamentally some set of methods, ideas, principles, etc., but rather — the set of activities that take place about measuring. This is not quite “experimentation” nor even objectivity, since measuring is always towards some ends, for some purpose — as with salvation, it is a necessary error, the first necessary and incorrect step in the spiral. With the recognition of measuring, relativity can then make claims about the holism of measuring that severely disrupts the causational chains both in the world being measured and in the very process of measuring.


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