The Technology of Law
The Law of Technology

An Epistolary Dialogue Between
Roberto Calvo Macias and Dr. Sam Vaknin

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"The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make it its home for life.  For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system.  When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore, so it eats it.  (its rather like getting tenure)."
Daniel Dennet - Quoted in Paul Thagard's Mind - An Introduction to Cognitive Science

"Everything in nature, in the inanimate as well as the animate world, happens according to rules, although we do not always know these rules."
Immanuel Kant, Logic

"The fuzzy principle states that everything is a matter of degree."
Bart Kosko, Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic

"When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also add that some things are more nearly certain than others."
Bertrand Russell, "Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?"

"Most of us can learn to live in perfect comfort on higher levels of power. Everyone knows that on any given day there are energies slumbering in him which the incitements of that day do not call forth. Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. It is evident that our organism has stored-up reserves of energy that are ordinarily not called upon - deeper and deeper strata of explosible material, ready for use by anyone who probes so deep. The human individual usually lives far within his limits."
William James


Modern communications and information technologies amount to a slow-motion revolt of the masses against the elites that let them down, the gods that failed them, and the discarded ideologies to which they gave their lives in vain. The very same elites, gods, and intellectual systems that brought the species to the verge of extinction; that suppressed a majority comprised of countless minorities; and that usurped the power of the people and yet failed to deliver on the well-being they had promised. With the aid of technology, democracy was rendered ochlocracy; consumerism, materialism, and malignant individualism (narcissism) became the sole values worth fighting for; and all erstwhile elites and social institutions were made redundant or obsolete. Everything is up for grabs and for negotiation, nothing is cast in stone.

Past technology-induced social dislocations led to colonialism and global conflicts. This time around, the outcomes are ostensibly more benign: as collectives melt down, people are denied the choice to belong; as the institutions of family and marriage disintegrate, people can no longer safely love, or truly care for each other, trapped as they are in dysfunctional relationships and failed, dead-end, sexless unions. Aided by increasingly solipsistic technologies, a schizoid world emerged, where choice and, therefore, existence, have shifted from real life to cyberspace.

Hi, Sam

Thanks for the info. Those problems reveal the contradictions of legality and the new technologies. In fact, this is a question of "statism and mobility". To resolve this (apparent?) contradiction is a great task for judges and legislators. F.G. Junger studied this matter on "Die Perfektion of Technology" (1939). He said that technicians were going to attack the law, transforming traditional law (with its classic proceedings) into a technological regulation. This is, in my opinion, inevitable. So, it seems to me, that we shall work in that direction. How can technological regulation - as fast as it is - be humanlike? One (possible) solution(?) is the one I have developed in "Chaos AD", which is biased towards the big difference of the speed between the dissemination of financial and other information and the much slower democratic proceedings. My idea (based upon the book "The Economy of Chaos" by Antonio Escohotado, 1999) was to reduce this unevenness by speeding democratic transmissions (elections, referenda, legal procedures) while, at the same time, reducing legal complications. But my idea seem to be just that, an idea(l). The problem remains because the law, of its very being, is slow (compared to the speed of light financial movements).

From another angle, we should study not only the legal questions but the real possibilities. It is evident that normal persons will always have legal problems (remember that prisons and madhouses are usually inhabited by the poor). But to the cyber-elites things are quite different for they know the THE SECRET ART OF POWER of the internet. The problem to an elite of hackers lies not in legal impediments but in divining its proper real name.

As I have said in Elite, hackers, as a techno-vanguard, are not subjected to any moral or legal constraints, for they are out of the boundaries of the law (in time and space). They are like conquerors, the law follows them. This does not mean that they do not have (legal) problems but they are of another kind and of other risks. So, I think we should distinguish in our work between those two kinds of actions (positive and passive).

Before start I would like to make some refinements. As the Law is directly related to language, I shall declare that my knowledge of the Law is practically non-existent. To this understatement, we must add my precarious knowledge of the English language. So, I am in a disadvantaged position. Due to this you should take the heavy part of this dialogue. My position will be confined only to making some intuitive questions. In doing that we could also clear some obscure questions on "The Economics of Law and the laws of Economy" - as if this dialogue were to be an appendix to that large course of economics you have been running on your website for some years now.

As you can see, I have tied "economics" and law. In my opinion the two are, in civilized cultures, tied inextricably - just like the Romans observed very well. This won΄t be a problem to our study because economics is, since the 70s, under the complete dominion of technology and its new race of techno-economic engineers and their financial computing.

Its also necessary to delineate some aspects of this subject. It is my contention that historical points of view are not enough to evaluate correctly this "strange world of ours". So, I will use, apart from historical reviews, mythical contexts.

There are some  major questions that arise in that terrible "clash" between technology and law. Here are several tracks to take off:

Ethics have been always related to slow motion. Does technology mean the death of morality (to use Nietzsche's terms:-). What kind of justice and laws can be applied in such a fast tempo? There are great problems with official documents and digital formats.

Some good analysis of a space with fast changing laws are: Alice in Wonderland and in a more technologically-orientated way: Wittgenstein's study of the transformations of language.

Another important feature of technology that has a direct relationship to the realm of the law is the cybernetic field (the pennant of this complex world is the book "Cybernetica" by Norbert Wiener), which has the revealing subtitle: "Control in Animals and Humans"). The ever increasing figures of mechanic, electronic and photo-technological controls belong to "the sign of the times".

The eruption of a enormous amount of lawyers which almost form a new class.

The problems inherent in legislating in the financial realm with its new instruments and techniques which include financial computing, special contracts "over the counter" of great complexity, new theoretical products that appear at great speed (the great problems of the USA administration to control these "volcanic eruptions" of money).

The using of money as Leibniz΄s universal characteristic (and its consequences: devaluation of all values).

The ever increasing complexity of Laws and their (priest/secret) arcane languages which open an abyss between the normal person and the "initiated".

Well, I think it is enough for a start. Your turn.

best regards

Dear RCM,

No amount of self-deprecation will suffice to hide the fact that you are an original thinker. One does not to be a lawyer to discuss the law, the way one has to be a quantum physicist to discuss string theory. The law has one thing in common with technology: it is all-pervasive, it permeates every minutest aspect of our existence, it is the embodiment of (social and economic) philosophies and it evolves constantly (though, as you say, less speedily than technology does).

Before I explore to your various points (probably in my next letter, not to render this one too long) - let me be the nitpicker and set up the framework for our intellectual Christmas adventure.

One can discern the following relationships between the Law and Technology:

1. Sometimes technology becomes an inseparable part of the law. In extreme cases, technology itself becomes the law. The use of polygraphs, faxes, telephones, video, audio and computers is an integral part of many laws - etched into them. It is not an artificial co-habitation: the technology is precisely defined in the law and forms a CONDITION within it. In other words: the very spirit and letter of the law is violated (the law is broken) if a certain technology is not employed or not put to correct use. Think about police laboratories, about the O.J. Simpson case, the importance of DNA prints in everything from determining fatherhood to exposing murderers. Think about the admissibility of polygraph tests in a few countries. Think about the polling of members of boards of directors by phone or fax (explicitly required by law in many countries). Think about assisted suicide by administering painkillers (medicines are by far the most sizeable technology in terms of money). Think about security screening by using advances technology (retina imprints, voice recognition). In all these cases, the use of a specific, well defined, technology is not arbitrarily left to the judgement of law enforcement agents and courts. It is not a set of options, a menu to choose from. It is an INTEGRAL, crucial part of the law and, in many instances, it IS the law itself.

2. Technology itself contains embedded laws of all kinds. Consider internet protocols. These are laws which form part and parcel of the process of decentralized data exchange so central to the internet. Even the language used by the technicians implies the legal origin of these protocols: "handshake", "negotiating", "protocol", "agreement" are all legal terms. Standards, protocols, behavioural codes - whether voluntarily adopted or not - are all form of Law. Thus, internet addresses are allocated by a central authority. Netiquette is enforced universally. Special chips and software prevent render certain content inaccessible. The scientific method (a codex) is part of every technological advance. Microchips incorporate in silicone agreements regarding standards. The law becomes a part of the technology and can be deduced simply by studying it in a process known as "reverse engineering". In stating this, I am making a distinction between lex naturalis and lex populi. All technologies obey the laws of nature - but we, in this discussion, I believe, wish to discuss only the laws of Man.

3. Technology spurs on the law, spawns it, as it were, gives it birth. The reverse process (technology invented to accommodate a law or to facilitate its implementation) is more rare. There are numerous examples. The invention of modern cryptography led to the formation of a host of governmental institutions and to the passing of numerous relevant laws. More recently, microchips which censor certain web content led to proposed legislation (to forcibly embed them in all computing appliances). Sophisticated eavesdropping, wiring and tapping technologies led to laws regulating these activities. Distance learning is transforming the laws of accreditation of academic institutions. Air transport forced health authorities all over the world to revamp their quarantine and epidemiological policies (not to mention the laws related to air travel and aviation). The list is interminable.

Once a law is enacted - which reflects the state of the art technology - the roles are reversed and the law gives a boost to technology. Seat belts and airbags were invented first. The law making seat belts (and, in some countries, airbags) mandatory came (much) later. But once the law was enacted, it fostered the formation of whole industries and technological improvements. The Law, it would seem, legitimizes technologies, transforms them into "mainstream" and, thus, into legitimate and immediate concerns of capitalism and capitalists (big business). Again, the list is dizzying: antibiotics, rocket technology, the internet itself (first developed by the Pentagon), telecommunications, medical computerized scanning - and numerous other technologies - came into real, widespread being following an interaction with the law. I am using the term "interaction" judiciously because there are four types of such encounters between technology and the law:

  1. A positive law which follows a technological advance (a law regarding seat belts after seat belts were invented). Such positive laws are intended either to disseminate the technology or to stifle it.
  1. An intentional legal lacuna intended to encourage a certain technology (for instance, very little legislation pertains to the internet with the express aim of "letting it be"). Deregulation of the airlines industries is another example.
  1. Structural interventions of the law (or law enforcement authorities) in a technology or its implementation. The best examples are the breaking up of AT&T in 1984 and the current anti-trust case against Microsoft. Such structural transformations of monopolists release hitherto monopolized information (for instance, the source codes of software) to the public and increases competition - the mother of invention.
  1. The conscious encouragement, by law, of technological research (research and development). This can be done directly through government grants and consortia, Japan's MITI being the finest example of this approach. It can also be done indirectly - for instance, by freeing up the capital and labour markets which often leads to the formation of risk or venture capital invested in new technologies. The USA is the most prominent (and, now, emulated) example of this path.

4. A Law that cannot be made known to the citizenry or that cannot be effectively enforced is a "dead letter" - not a law in the vitalist, dynamic sense of the word. For instance, the Laws of Hammurabi (his codex) are still available (through the internet) to all. Yet, do we consider them to be THE or even A Law? We do not and this is because Hammurabi's codex is both unknown to the citizenry and inapplicable. Hammurabi's Laws are inapplicable not because they are anachronistic. Islamic law is as anachronistic as Hammurabi's code - yet it IS applicable and applied in many countries. Applicability is the result of ENFORCEMENT. Laws are manifestations of asymmetries of power between the state and its subjects. Laws are the enshrining of violence applied for the "common good" (whatever that is - it is a shifting, relative concept).

Technology plays an indispensable role in both the dissemination of information and in enforcement efforts. In other words, technology helps teach the citizens what are the laws and how are they likely to be applied (for instance, through the courts, their decisions and precedents). More importantly, technology enhances the efficacy of law enforcement and, thus, renders the law applicable. Police cars, court tape recorders, DNA imprints, fingerprinting, phone tapping, electronic surveillance, satellites - are all instruments of more effective law enforcement. In a broader sense, ALL technology is at the disposal of this or that law. Take defibrillators. They are used to resuscitate patients suffering from severe cardiac arrhythmia's. But such resuscitation is MANDATORY by LAW. So, the defibrillator - a technological medical instrument - is, in a way, a law enforcement device.

But, all the above are superficial - phenomenological - observation (though empirical and pertinent). There is a much more profound affinity between technology and the Law. Technology is the material embodiment of the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Man (mainly the former). The very structure and dynamics of technology are identical to the structure and dynamics of the law - because they are one and the same. The Law is abstract - technology is corporeal. This, to my mind, is absolutely the only difference. Otherwise, Law and Technology are manifestation of the same underlying principles. To qualify as a "Law" (embedded in external hardware - technology - or in internal hardware - the brain), it must be:

  1. All-inclusive (anamnetic) – It must encompass, integrate and incorporate all the facts known about the subject.
  1. Coherent – It must be chronological, structured and causal.
  1. Consistent – Self-consistent (its parts cannot contradict one another or go against the grain of the main raison d'κtre) and consistent with the observed phenomena (both those related to the subject and those pertaining to the rest of the universe).
  1. Logically compatible – It must not violate the laws of logic both internally (the structure and process must abide by some internally imposed logic) and externally (the Aristotelian logic which is applicable to the observable world).
  1. Insightful – It must inspire a sense of awe and astonishment which is the result of seeing something familiar in a new light or the result of seeing a pattern emerging out of a big body of data. The insights must be the logical conclusion of the logic, the language and of the development of the subject. I know that we will have heated debate about this one. But, please, stop to think for a minute about the reactions of people to new technology or to new laws (and to the temples of these twin religions - the scientist's laboratory and the courts). They are awed, amazed, fascinated, stunned or incredulous.
  1. Aesthetic – The structure of the law and the processes embedded in it must be both plausible and "right", beautiful, not cumbersome, not awkward, not discontinuous, smooth and so on.
  1. Parsimonious – The structure and process must employ the minimum number of assumptions and entities in order to satisfy all the above conditions.
  1. Explanatory – The Law or technology must explain or incorporate the behaviour of other entities, knowledge, processes in the subject, the user's or citizen's decisions and behaviour and an history (why events developed the way that they did). Many technologies incorporate their own history. For instance: the distance between two rails in a modern railroad is identical to the width of Roman roads (equal to the backside of two horses).
  1. Predictive (prognostic) – The law or technology must possess the ability to predict future events, the future behaviour of entities and other inner or even emotional and cognitive dynamics.
  1. Transforming – With the power to induce change (whether it is for the better, is a matter of contemporary value judgements and fashions).
  1. Imposing – The law or technology must be regarded by the citizen or user as the preferable organizing principle some of his life's events and as a guiding principle.
  1. Elastic – The law or the technology must possess the intrinsic abilities to self organize, reorganize, give room to emerging order, accommodate new data comfortably, avoid rigidity in its modes of reaction to attacks from within and from without.

Scientific theories should satisfy most of the same conditions because their subject matter is Laws (the laws of nature). The important elements of testability, verifiability, refutability, falsifiability, and repeatability – should all be upheld by technology.

But here is the first important difference between Law and technology. The former cannot be falsified, in the Popperian sense.

There are four reasons to account for this shortcoming:

  1. Ethical – Experiments would have to be conducted, involving humans. To achieve the necessary result, the subjects will have to be ignorant of the reasons for the experiments and their aims. Sometimes even the very performance of an experiment will have to remain a secret (double blind experiments). Some experiments may involve unpleasant experiences. This is ethically unacceptable.
  1. The Psychological Uncertainty Principle – The current position of a human subject can be fully known. But both treatment and experimentation influence the subject and void this knowledge. The very processes of measurement and observation influence the subject and change him.
  1. Uniqueness – Psychological experiments are, therefore, bound to be unique, unrepeatable, cannot be replicated elsewhere and at other times even if they deal with the SAME subjects. The subjects are never the same due to the psychological uncertainty principle. Repeating the experiments with other subjects adversely affects the scientific value of the results.
  1. The undergeneration of testable hypotheses – Laws deal with humans and with their psyches. Psychology does not generate a sufficient number of hypotheses, which can be subjected to scientific testing. This has to do with the fabulous (=storytelling) nature of psychology. In a way, psychology has affinity with some private languages. It is a form of art and, as such, is self-sufficient. If structural, internal constraints and requirements are met – a statement is deemed true even if it does not satisfy external scientific requirements.

Thus, I am forced to conclude that technology is the embodiment of the laws of nature is a rigorous manner subjected to the scientific method - while the law is the abstract construct of the laws of human and social psychology which cannot be tested scientifically. While the Law and technology are structurally and functionally similar and have many things in common (see the list above) - they diverge when it comes to the formation of hypotheses and their falsifiability.


Hi, Sam

Fortunately recovered from my technological injuries (computer΄s malaise) and its blind laws and we can go on with our dialogue.

By the way, I have to say that interactive work is one of the best achievements of technology. Your exposition of "the quasi-identity of law and technology" cleared a blind spot in my vision. I was so focused on the contradictions that I couldn't see the similarities. And so it is. This is evident in warfare, for instance, where each new weapon (the Huns' step and powder are great examples) induces new rules of war (where is the Clausewitz of the nuclear chessboard?!:-))).

Indeed, your comparison takes us to higher considerations. If we adopt some of your conclusions, we can assert, conversely, that the "new rulers" are the technicians (confirming F.G. Jόnger's prognosis). For if technology is law then its technicians are the legislators. This, then, is a great change of even greater consequences. Let us remember that philosophers have been the legislators in later centuries (laws were founded on philosophical principles). Another question, that I will explore deeply in the next letters is: who is the technician and which are his thoughts?

Setting aside this strange hypothesis, lets us see what is actually happening. Whether they have a pessimistic approach or an optimistic one, it seems that thinkers agree on the fact that technology has been the buzzword of the century. An all-encompassing wave that permeates all, even thought. The whole surface of the earth has been covered with a technological mantle, and not only the earth but the universe, the cosmos, is being cloaked by machines.

These machines and their technology abruptly altered the human atmosphere and its "tempo". The point of view is no longer human, or terrestrial but rather a cosmic one. Video technologies and real time interactions change, as McLuhan brilliantly observed 30 years ago, not only traditional law but its (habitual? last 2500+ years?) enclosing frame: the alphabetic language. This is precisely what most thinkers and intellectuals fail to see - while continuing to debate old things within the old frame. To affirm the identity of law and technology is indeed to erase the law - the law as we know it, in the historical sense - to return to tribal (mythical) law. Apparently, there is a contradiction between the ever increasing complexity of post-modern laws and this "tribalizing" effect but there is no discord between the two. The flow of language (hypertexts) means the flowing of the law - it reminds one of a pre-Socratic tribe studying "physis" in search of new myths to explain a constantly changing nature, to discover, with emotion and delight, forms, attractors emerging from that chaotic madness.

The distinctive mark of this law, the law of this great tribe, is the intensive use of images (and its numerical control and its purified hyper-rational/scientific method: statistical mechanics). The avalanche of video technologies, filming methods, digital processing, all this "new imagery" can be summarized in what Nobert Wiener once said:

"In Newton's times automatism was a clock-machinery with music and rigid statuettes spinning up over the lid. In the XIXth century the automaton is the glorified steam motor, that burns combustible fuel instead the glycogen of human muscles. The contemporary automaton opens doors with photoelectric cells, points nuclear weapons or solves differential equations."

This "wave of imagery" converts the law into a cybernetic process. It is also interesting to note, as I said in my previous letter, that "Cybernetics" (derived from a greek word: kybernetes: "pilots", steersmen), which can be fairly considered as the beast's mother, has for its subtitle the sentence "Control and communication in the Animal and the Machine". These controls are based on the real-time evaluation and comparison of photographic impressions, quanta of light (and information) measured by digital processes (mostly based on vision and less on sound and other sensa). It changes dramatically not only the traditional law but also the space such law works in, and finally leads not only to a return of the acoustic, tribal word but also to something else: a new grammar that should be better called PHOTOGRAMMAR. The further consequences of this change are not yet observable, but for those of our readers which still possess a consciousness of higher spiritual and poetic orders I would like to note a relationship: the predominance of vision is the nature of predators and birds of prey.

"Cybernetics" and the rest of Wiener's works provide us with the "original" documents (with the "Roseta Stone") of the new law of the new land. N. Wiener is without a doubt one of the most brilliant and powerful scientists and mathematicians of the XX century. Apart from his great contributions to mathematics, computing and other fields, the minor fact that he was deeply interested in Goethe΄s "The Wizard΄s Apprentice" (and the answers he came up with) demonstrates the profundity of his thought. We are faced with a serious, first class, thinker. At the centre of Cybernetics is one, at first view, simple mechanism: the feedback loop. In fact, this mechanism was known as early as the XVIII century. Watts' steam engine used a centrifugal regulator based on feedback. Also it has its roots in Hegel's and Fichte's (dialectic) thought and its refined version by the (hallucinatory) mathematical mind of C.S.Pierce. This mechanism is at the heart of all new systems of control and, by extension, of the new social organizations. It is what fashionable intellectuals (Giddens) call "reflexivity" and others "government at distance" or "tele-government" - as per the consumer's taste:-)

On a prosaic level this means a new way (law) of organization, a life in constant movement, changing, reflecting, adapting to new situations always at increasing complexity. On a superior level, if we want to provide an exact and complete "figure", a grammatically well defined prototype, the cybernetic revolution means entering a magical space, much alike that of Alice in Wonderland were laws appear and disappear from fantasy.

Especially interesting (and fascinating and striking) are Wiener΄s opinions on the "law of the laws", that is to say, the auto-propagation (and self-learning) of machines. Wiener's writings on these matters provide us with a map of the technological future. But that is another tale altogether:-)

The end of my loop.

Time for your feedback:-)

best regards

My dear RCM,

It is always such a gift to receive your letters. They provoke in me uncontrollable floods of thoughts which I can rarely capture by putting pen to paper (yes, I blush in admitting to such retro devices...;o(((

Mankind is coming back a full circle - from ideograms through alphabet to ideograms. Consider computers. They started as pure alphabet beasts. I recall my programming days with ASSEMBLY, COBOL and PL/1 on a clunky IBM 360 and later, IBM 370. We used Hollerith punch cards. It was all very abstract and symbol-laden. The user interface was highly formal and the formalism was highly mathematical. Computers were a three-dimensional extension of formal logic which is the set of RULES that govern mathematics.

Then came the Macintosh and its emulation, the windows GUI (Graphics User Interface). I remember geeks and hackers sneering at the infantilism and amateurism of it all. Taming your computer by lashing DOS commands at it was still the thing to do. But, gradually, we were all converted. Today, the elite controls both the alphabet (machine and high level programming languages) and the ideograms (GUIs) - the masses have access only to the ideograms. But it seems that the more widespread the use of the ideograms (graphic interface operating systems and applications), the "wiser" (self-learning, self-diagnosing, self-correcting) they become - the less needed, indeed, the more obsolete the elite is. Finally, it will all be ideograms, the "alphabet" buried under hundreds of layers of graphics and imagery and accessible only to the machine itself.

It is then that we should begin to lose sleep. It is when ONLY the machine has access to its alphabet that we, humans, will find ourselves at the mercy of technology. Having access to one's alphabet is possessing self-consciousness and intelligence (in the Turing sense). Don't misunderstand me: self-awareness and intelligence can be perfectly mediated through images. But access to an alphabet and to the RULES of its meaningful manipulation is indispensable to survival, at least to the survival of intelligence. By "meaningful" I mean: generating a useful and immediately applicable representation of the world, of ourselves and of our knowledge about the world, ourselves and our interactions with the world. When no longer capable of generating such meaningful representations (because technology has hidden our alphabet - the RULES - from our sight) - that day, technology, philosophy and law-making will be one and the same and humans will have no place in such a world - at least, they will have no MEANINGFUL place in it.

It is false that science generates technology - the reverse has always been true. All the big and important technological advances, the Promethean breakthroughs - were achieved by ENGINEERS and technicians, not by scientists. Engineers manipulate the world - scientists manipulate rules, the laws of nature. What computers did is MERGE this two activities and make them indistinguishable. Writing a new software application is both composing rules and engaging in technology. This is because the substance upon which technological innovation is exercised is no longer MATERIAL. Both technology and laws deal with INFORMATION now. This is the convergence of the real and the abstract, the Platonic ideal and its inferior shadow, matter and energy. It is no less revolutionary than E=MC2.

So, technology leads science. Both technology and science start with images. Kekula dreamt the structure of the Benzen molecule, Einstein envisioned the geometry of space and so on. But, in the past, technology ended up generating objects - while science ended up generating rules and embedding them or expressing them in formalisms. The big revolution of the second half of this passing century is that now both science and cutting age technology produce the same: rules, formalisms, abstract entities. In other words: information and its manipulation - RULES - have become the main product of modern society. Some of the output is hard to classify as rules. Is a television show a rule or a set of rules? The deconstructivists will say: definitely so and I will second that. a television show, a software application, a court procedure, a text - are all repositories and depositories of rules, thousands of them: social rules, cultural rules, physical laws of nature, narratives and codes and myriad other guidelines.

This leads us to cybernetics.

At first - during the 50s and 60s - an artificial distinction was drawn between cybernetic systems (such as biological ones) and programmable computers (or universal Turing machines). The former were considered limited by the rigidity of the repertoire of their responses to their feedback loops. Computers, on the other hand, were considered infinitely flexible by virtue of their programmability. This view was shattered by the unexpected enormous complexity of biological organisms and even automata. Gradually, cybernetics was subsumed under computing (rather, vice versa) and computers were considered to be a class of cybernetic systems. I recommend to you to read "Cybernetics and the Philosophy of Mind" by Sayre published in London in 1976).

They all contain information stored, a set of rules to regulate behaviour and feedback loops. Yet, few people - if any - noticed how politically subversive this model was. If the "center's" behaviour is potentially profoundly alterable by feedback from the "periphery" - then centre and periphery become equipotent. More accurately, the very notions of centre and periphery disintegrate and are replaced by a decentralized, loosely interacting system of information processing and information storage "nodes". The Internet, to regurgitate the obvious, is an example of such a decentralized system. The simultaneous emergence of mathematical theories (fractals, recursiveness) that de-emphasized centrality helped to give birth to the inevitably necessary formalism - the language of networks (neural, computers, social and other).

Decentralization removes the power of law-making from any particular node in the system. Each node is a law unto itself. The system, as a whole, as long as it wishes to remain a system and continue to function as such, reaches a "legislative equilibrium". It is a Prigogine type thermodynamic trajectory: it is dynamic, unstable, ever-changing, fluctuating but, by and large, it is identity-preserving and it is functional. The new systems are systems of INFORMAL law as opposed to the older systems which are mainly and mostly systems of FORMAL law.

The clash between these two models was and is unavoidable. The internet, for instance, regulates itself imposing a set of unwritten rules vaguely called the "Netiquette". Part mores and part habits, it is amorphic and always debatable. Yet it functions much better than drug-related laws in formal law systems (like modern states). With no effective enforcement mechanisms, no netiquette-enforcement agencies to speak of - the netiquette maintains an iron grip over netizens. There are other examples outside the internet: the self regulating financial industry in Britain has a better record of compliance that the heavily regulated, SEC-threatened financial community in the USA. Efforts top tax the Internet and to regulate the City are examples of turf wars between formal law systems and informal law systems.

Informal law system will win, there is no question in mind. Not only because they constitute a better organizational model but because they are more adept at processing the raw material of the next millennium, information. Thus, they are better positioned to guarantee the survival of our race.

But there is a price to pay and it is the ever growing fuzziness of our laws. The more complex the world, the more demanding the raw material, the more probabilistic the output - the fuzzier the logic, the less determinate the answers.

This is what I would like to explore in this dialogue - the death of the LAW as humanity knew it hitherto and its replacement by ever-fuzzier, ever less certain technology.

I will start by studying two celebrated occurrences of technology:

Asimov robots and programmable computers (universal Turing machines, to be precise).

Consider Asimov's robots:

Sigmund Freud said that we have an uncanny reaction to the inanimate. This is probably because we know that – despite pretensions and layers of philosophizing – we are nothing but recursive, self aware, introspective, conscious machines. Special machines, no doubt, but machines althesame.

The series of James bond movies constitutes a decades-spanning gallery of human paranoia. Villains change: communists, neo-Nazis, media moguls. But one kind of villain is a fixture in this psychodrama, in this parade of human phobias: the machine. James Bond always finds himself confronted with hideous, vicious, malicious machines and automata.

It was precisely to counter this wave of unease, even terror, irrational but all-pervasive, that Isaac Asimov, the late Sci-fi writer (and scientist) invented the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Many have noticed the lack of consistency and the virtual inapplicability of these laws put together. First, they are not the derivative of any coherent worldview and background. To be properly implemented and to avoid a potentially dangerous interpretation of them – the robots in which they are embedded must be also equipped with a reasonably full model of the physical and of the human spheres of existence. Devoid of such a context, these laws soon lead to intractable paradoxes (experiences as a nervous breakdown by one of Asimov's robots). Conflicts are ruinous in automata based on recursive functions (Turing machines) as all robots must be. Godel pointed at one such self destructive paradox in the "Principia Mathematica" ostensibly comprehensive and self consistent logical system. It was enough to discredit the whole magnificent edifice constructed by Russel and Whitehead over a decade.

Some will argue against this and say that robots need not be automata in the classical, Church-Turing, sense. That they could act according to heuristic, probabilistic rules of decision making. There are many other types of functions (non-recursive) that can be incorporated in a robot. True, but then, how can one guarantee full predictability of behaviour? How can one be certain that the robots will fully and always implement the three laws? Only recursive systems are predictable in principle (their complexity makes even this sometimes not feasible).

An immediate question springs to mind: HOW will a robot identify a human being? Surely, in an age of perfect androids, constructed of organic materials, no superficial, outer scanning will suffice. Structure and composition will not be sufficient factors of differentiation. There are two possibilities to settle this very practical issue: one is to endow the robot with the ability to conduct a Converse Turing Test, the other is to somehow "bar-code" all the robots by implanting some signalling device inside them. Both present additional difficulties.

In the second case, the robot will never be able to positively identify a human being. He will surely identify robots. This is ignoring, for discussion's sake, defects in manufacturing or loss of the implanted identification tag – if the robot will get rid of the tag, presumably this will fall under the "defect in manufacturing" category. But the robot will be forced to make a binary selection: one type of physical entities will be classified as robots – all the others will be grouped into "non-robots". Will non-robots include monkeys and parrots? Yes, unless the manufacturers equip the robots with digital or optical or molecular equivalent of the human image in varying positions (standing, sitting, lying down). But this is a cumbersome solution and not a very effective one: there will always be the odd position which the robot will find hard to locate in its library. A human disk thrower or swimmer may easily be passed over as "non-human" by a robot. So will certain types of amputated invalids.

The first solution is even more seriously flawed. It is possible to design a test which the robot will apply to distinguish a robot from a human. But it will have to be non-intrusive and devoid of communication or with very limited communication. The alternative is a prolonged teletype session behind a curtain, after which the robot will issue its verdict: the respondent is a human or a robot. This is ridiculous. Moreover, the application of such a test will make the robot human in most of the important respects. A human knows other humans for what they are because he is human. A robot will have to be human to recognize another, it takes one to know one, the saying (rightly) goes.

Let us assume that by some miraculous way the problem will be overcome and robots will unfailingly identify humans. The next question pertains to the notion of "injury" (still in the First Law). Is it limited only to a physical injury (the disturbance of the physical continuity of human tissues or of the normal functioning of the human body)? Should it encompass the no less serious mental, verbal and social injuries (after all, they are all known to have physical side effects which are, at times, no less severe than direct physical "injuries"). Is an insult an injury? What about being grossly impolite, or psychologically abusing or tormenting someone? Or offending religious sensitivities, being politically incorrect? The bulk of human (and, therefore, inhuman) actions actually offend a human being, has the potential to do so or seem to be doing so. Take surgery, driving a car, or investing all your money in the stock exchange – they might end in coma, accident, or a stock exchange crash respectively. Should a robot refuse to obey human instructions which embody a potential to injure said instruction-givers? Take a mountain climber – should a robot refuse to hand him his equipment lest he falls off the mountain in an unsuccessful bid to reach the peak? Should a robot abstain from obeying human commands pertaining to crossing busy roads or driving sports cars? Which level of risk should trigger the refusal program? In which stage of a collaboration should it be activated? Should a robot refuse to bring a stool to a person who intends to commit suicide by hanging himself (that's an easy one), should he ignore an instruction to push someone jump off a cliff (definitely), climb the cliff (less assuredly so), get to the cliff (maybe so), get to his car in order to drive to the cliff in case he is an invalid – where does the responsibility and obeisance buck stop?

Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: such a robot must be equipped with more than a rudimentary sense of judgement, with the ability to appraise and analyse complex situations, to predict the future and to base his decisions on very fuzzy algorithms (no programmer can foresee all possible circumstances). To me, this sounds much more dangerous than any recursive automaton which will NOT include the famous Three Laws.

Moreover, what, exactly, constitutes "inaction"? How can we set apart inaction from failed action or, worse, from an action which failed by design, intentionally? If a human is in danger and the robot tried to save him and failed – how will we be able to determine to what extent it exerted itself and did everything that it could do?

How much of the responsibility for the inaction or partial action or failed action should be attributed to the manufacturer – and how much imputed to the robot itself? When a robot decides finally to ignore its own programming – how will we be informed of this momentous event? Outside appearances should hardly be expected to help us distinguish a rebellious robot from a lackadaisical one.

The situation gets much more complicated when we consider conflict states. Imagine that a robot has to hurt one human in order to prevent him from hurting another. The Laws are absolutely inadequate in this case. The robot should either establish an empirical hierarchy of injuries – or an empirical hierarchy of humans. Should we, as humans, rely on robots or on their manufacturers (however wise and intelligent) to make this selection for us? Should abide by their judgement – which injury is more serious than the other and warrants their intervention?

A summary of the Asimov Laws would give us the following "truth table":

A robot must obey human orders with the following two exceptions:

  1. That obeying them will cause injury to a human through an action, or
  2. That obeying them will let a human be injured.

A robot must protect its own existence with three exceptions:

  1. That such protection will be injurious to a human;
  2. That such protection entails inaction in the face of potential injury to a human;
  3. That such protection will bring about insubordination (not obeying human instructions).

Here is an exercise: create a truth table based on these conditions. There is no better way to demonstrate the problematic nature of Asimov's idealized yet highly impractical world.

Or consider Turing's universal computers (machines):

In 1936 an American (Alonzo Church) and a Briton (Alan M. Turing) published independently (as is often the coincidence in science) the basics of a new branch in Mathematics (and logic): computability or recursive functions (later to be developed into Automata Theory).

The authors confined themselves to dealing with computations which involved "effective" or "mechanical" methods for finding results (which could also be expressed as solutions (values) to formulae). These methods were so called because they could, in principle, be performed by simple machines (or human-computers or human-calculators, to use Turing's unfortunate phrases). The emphasis was on finiteness: a finite number of instructions, a finite number of symbols in each instruction, a finite number of steps to the result. This is why these methods were usable by humans without the aid of an apparatus (with the exception of pencil and paper as memory aids). Moreover: no insight or ingenuity were allowed to "interfere" or to be part of the solution seeking process.

What Church and Turing did was to construct a set of all the functions whose values could be obtained by applying effective or mechanical calculation methods. Turing went further down Church's road and designed the "Turing Machine" – a machine which can calculate the values of all the functions whose values can be found using effective or mechanical methods. Thus, the program running the TM (=Turing Machine in the rest of this text) was really an effective or mechanical method. For the initiated readers: Church solved the decision-problem for propositional calculus and Turing proved that there is no solution to the decision problem relating to the predicate calculus. Put more simply, it is possible to "prove" the truth value (or the theorem status) of an expression in the propositional calculus – but not in the predicate calculus. Later it was shown that many functions (even in number theory itself) were not recursive, meaning that they could not be solved by a Turing Machine.

No one succeeded to prove that a function must be recursive in order to be effectively calculable. This is (as Post noted) a "working hypothesis" supported by overwhelming evidence. We don't know of any effectively calculable function which is not recursive, by designing new TMs from existing ones we can obtain new effectively calculable functions from existing ones and TM computability stars in every attempt to understand effective calculability (or these attempts are reducible or equivalent to TM computable functions).

The Turing Machine itself, though abstract, has many "real world" features. It is a blueprint for a computing device with one "ideal" exception: its unbounded memory (the tape is infinite). Despite its hardware appearance (a read/write head which scans a two-dimensional tape inscribed with ones and zeroes, etc.) – it is really a software application, in today's terminology. It carries out instructions, reads and writes, counts and so on. It is an automaton designed to implement an effective or mechanical method of solving functions (determining the truth value of propositions). If the transition from input to output is deterministic we have a classical automaton – if it is determined by a table of probabilities – we have a probabilistic automaton.

With time and hype, the limitations of TMs were forgotten. No one can say that the Mind is a TM because no one can prove that it is engaged in solving only recursive functions. We can say that TMs can do whatever digital computers are doing – but not that digital computers are TMs by definition. Maybe they are – maybe they are not. We do not know enough about them and about their future.

Moreover, the demand that recursive functions be computable by an UNAIDED human seems to restrict possible equivalents. Inasmuch as computers emulate human computation (Turing did believe so when he helped construct the ACE, at the time the fastest computer in the world) – they are TMs. Functions whose values are calculated by AIDED humans with the contribution of a computer are still recursive. It is when humans are aided by other kinds of instruments that we have a problem. If we use measuring devices to determine the values of a function it does not seem to conform to the definition of a recursive function. So, we can generalize and say that functions whose values are calculated by an AIDED human could be recursive, depending on the apparatus used and on the lack of ingenuity or insight (the latter being, anyhow, a weak, non-rigorous requirement which cannot be formalized).

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics which describes the microcosm. It is governed by the Schrodinger Equation (SE). This SE is an amalgamation of smaller equations, each with its own space coordinates as variables, each describing a separate physical system. The SE has numerous possible solutions, each pertaining to a possible state of the atom in question. These solutions are in the form of wave functions (which depend, again, on the coordinates of the systems and on their associated energies). The wave function describes the probability of a particle (originally, the electron) to be inside a small volume of space defined by the aforementioned coordinates. This probability is proportional to the square of the wave function. This is a way of saying: "we cannot really predict what will exactly happen to every single particle. However, we can foresee (with a great measure of accuracy) what will happen if to a large population of particles (where will they be found, for instance)."

This is where the first of two major difficulties arose:

To determine what will happen in a specific experiment involving a specific particle and experimental setting – an observation must be made. This means that, in the absence of an observing and measuring human, flanked by all the necessary measurement instrumentation – the outcome of the wave function cannot be settled. It just continues to evolve in time, describing a dizzyingly growing repertoire of options. Only a measurement (=the involvement of a human or, at least, a measuring device which can be read by a human) reduces the wave function to a single solution, collapses it.

A wave function is a function. Its REAL result (the selection in reality of one of its values) is determined by a human, equipped with an apparatus. Is it recursive (TM computable and compatible)? In a way, it is. Its values can be effectively and mechanically computed. The value selected by measurement (thus terminating the propagation of the function and its evolution in time by zeroing its the other terms, bar the one selected) is one of the values which can be determined by an effective-mechanical method. So, how should we treat the measurement? No interpretation of quantum mechanics gives us a satisfactory answer. It seems that a probabilistic automaton which will deal with semi recursive functions will tackle the wave function without any discernible difficulties – but a new element must be introduced to account for the measurement and the resulting collapse. Perhaps a "boundary" or a "catastrophic" automaton will do the trick.

The view that the quantum process is computable seems to be further supported by the mathematical techniques which were developed to deal with the application of the Schrodinger equation to a multi-electron system (atoms more complex than hydrogen and helium). The Hartree-Fok method assumes that electrons move independent of each other and of the nucleus. They are allowed to interact only through the average electrical field (which is the charge of the nucleus and the charge distribution of the other electrons). Each electron has its own wave function (known as: "orbital") – which is a rendition of the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

The problem starts with the fact that the electric field is unknown. It depends on the charge distribution of the electrons which, in turn, can be learnt from the wave functions. But the solutions of the wave functions require a proper knowledge of the field itself!

Thus, the SE is solved by successive approximations. First, a field is guessed, the wave functions are calculated, the charge distribution is derived and fed into the same equation in an ITERATIVE process to yield a better approximation of the field. This process is repeated until the final charge and the electrical field distribution agree with the input to the SE.

Recursion and iteration are close cousins. The Hartree-Fok method demonstrates the recursive nature of the functions involved. We can say the SE is a partial differential equation which is solvable (asymptotically) by iterations which can be run on a computer. Whatever computers can do – TMs can do. Therefore, the Hartree-Fok method is effective and mechanical. There is no reason, in principle, why a Quantum Turing Machine could not be constructed to solve SEs or the resulting wave functions. Its special nature will set it apart from a classical TM: it will be a probabilistic automaton with catastrophic behaviour or very strong boundary conditions (akin, perhaps, to the mathematics of phase transitions).

Classical TMs (CTMs, Turing called them Logical Computing Machines) are macroscopic, Quantum TMs (QTMs) will be microscopic. Perhaps, while CTMs will deal exclusively with recursive functions (effective or mechanical methods of calculation) – QTMs could deal with half-effective, semi-recursive, probabilistic, catastrophic and other methods of calculations (other types of functions).

The third level is the Universe itself, where all the functions have their values. From the point of view of the Universe (the equivalent of an infinite TM), all the functions are recursive, for all of them there are effective-mechanical methods of solution. The Universe is the domain or set of all the values of all the functions and its very existence guarantees that there are effective and mechanical methods to solve them all. No decision problem can exist on this scale (or all decision problems are positively solved). The Universe is made up only of proven, provable propositions and of theorems. This is a reminder of our finiteness and to say otherwise would, surely, be intellectual vanity.

Enough, I have broken every law of netiquette in this never ending letter and I am becoming fuzzier and fuzzier ...:o))


Dear Sam,

It is always my intention to offer our readers not only speculative ideas but also "pragmatic" lessons.

But, before descending to terrestrial considerations, I would like to briefly comment on some of your, as usual, interesting opinions.

I will maintain your order:

Alphabet and ideograms:

You talk about elites losing power, this is, to me, a prejudice. whether with ideograms, or with alphabet there will always be elites.

Machines and secret alphabet:

This is the nightmare of post modern man. The machine as dictator. To me machines are nothing more than scenery, man has built them and can dismantle them. In my opinion, the problem is much like the Wizard's Apprentice, or Aladdin. It seems that men created the machine without knowing exactly his destiny, and now he cannot stop it. The machine is not the enemy - Man is. The problem is, and always was: what do we "actually" want? But, who knows? Could dreams (and nightmares) come true?

Technology vs. Science:

The two are great myths, one of functionality and the other of purity.

Matter and energy:

These distinctions were preciously introduced by scientists themselves (re-mixing old dualistic beliefs).
As you have well noted fractals and the mathematics of complexity have gone far beyond that.
I don΄t know exactly what a fractal is, but is it matter or energy, information or reality?

De-centralization and power:

Your opinion regarding the future victory of the informal, networked systems is, to my mind, correct.
The Technician knows no classes and no secrets. Another question is the distribution of power.
Certainly, horizontality induces, at first view, some egalitarian version of the world. But this is to me a prejudice.
Horizontality has its own versions of power, it is the field of VIRUSES and CONTAGION.
We should study these mechanisms before making any assertions.
For the few, who, like me, put emphasis on the individual instead of on the masses, horizontality means "open doors".

Robots and laws:

Your extensive study of the laws of robotics laws demonstrates that there is no possibility of control.
When one wants to play with hazard one should know what is being gambled and what is the game.
Technicians, extremely focused as they are on pure functionality, always fail to consider these questions.

Quantum Mechanics:

The paradoxes and fallacies of quantum mechanics can be summarized through the life and thoughts of Richard Feynman, who was at the same time, one of the best mathematicians of QM and one of its fiercest critics. Listening to Murray Gell-Man talking about chromatism makes one lose the little trust in scientists that still remains. Quantum mechanics has finally ended in metaphysics, and not of the best class - better go back to Lucretius.

Loops and recursive learning:

It is quite curios that recursive learning, originally created for the military-industrial complex (for the purposes of rocket navigation) was founded on the observation of the fights of animals. N. Wiener writes about some of them, like the well known  fight between the snake (cobra) and the mongoose. This sampling is nothing new. Most martial arts were founded on this kind of observation of nature. Tai-chi is founded on the fight between the crane and the snake, Ba Gua Zhang is founded on ten animal forms, and so on. On these matters, such old fables as the Japanese "the fencer and the cat" provides us with analyses superior to Wiener's.

Finally, this leads us to the crucial point. In your analysis of the Prigogine-type social systems, you include one philosophically-dubious term: identity-preserving. Which identity? human race? life? nature? Isn't it precisely horizontality, the net-work, the idoneus systems which are built for mutations, for the auto-propagation of "micro-changes" into "macro-effects"? The real question is: what does it mean, and what do we understand by the words SURPASSING, OVER-COMING? Oh, divine, immortal Zarathustra! How little did you suspect the form in which your strange prophecies would come to be! Ah, if you would have known....! but the oracle is always ambiguous.

Well, we shall leave the pragmatic lessons to the next letter:-)

I promise our readers some (martial arts) techniques for personal consumption:-)

best regards

PS: Just an aesthetic note. Your intensive use of the word "fuzzier" is revealing for FUZZ is the SOUND OF THE TIMES.
From the sound of bells, the "tic-tac" of mechanical clocks to the hum of atomic clocks and computers. It is the sound of speed, of electrification, intensification, movement, anxiety, desperation... the sound of the last velocity, of metamorphosis. Where did we hear that noise before? Is it, perhaps, the sound of a nest of white ants?

Dear Roberto,

I fully share your view that both the Law and Technology (as I told you, I regard them as two manifestations of one and the same thing) - are concerned with the preservation and propagation of identity.

The Law (religious and secular alike) is chiefly concerned with the protection of what IS, of the prevailing social and economic order, with the maintenance of social structure and of social function (or, at the least, of their appearance). Put differently, the Law - a mechanism of social control - is designed mainly to preserve and conserve an ideal of structural immutability coupled with functional flexibility. As immutability and flexibility are contradictory traits - the Law embodies a great tension between its dynamic aspects and its conservative ones. This tension is resolved by the introduction of the idea of identity. It is an abstraction put to good use by individuals as well as by nations and states. It is the belief that as long as an entity invariably succumbs to the same set of laws which dictate both its structure and its processes (the space of its permitted changes) - it is one and the same over time.

Thus the law is structurally static (aspires to maintain structures) and functionally dynamic (aspires to contain change and assimilate it with minimum alteration of the structure). Despite appearances to the contrary, these are the characteristic of technology and technological innovation. Technology aspires to restrain and tame change within recognizable structures. In other words, it, too, is interested in the dynamic preservation of identity by co-opting and "domesticating" change. This is typical of science as well, in my view. I do not agree with Kuhn's model of "paradigmatic" revolutions. I find Deutsch's model of scientific advance through the substitution of explanations within identity-preserving scientific processes to be much closer to reality.

In this sense, the compact disc, for instance, is the structure maintained (carried over from the long play, vinyl record) as it incorporates changes: the quality of sound, the deciphering mechanism, the material from which the record is made. The internet is a vastly changed network, the likes of which existed before (for instance, the telegraph).

You raise the important issue of incremental changes that somehow (through accumulation or epiphenomenally) accrue to a major change. But this is not the kind of change I am referring to. Few are the changes that disrupt identity to the extent of replacing it by another. One should not mistake the FLUX of identities - emerging, submerging and merging - with a FUNDAMENTAL substitution of an identity by another.

Identities are DEFINITIONS and both the Law and technology are preoccupied by definitions (law) and language (technology).

Allow me to digress a little and talk about cats, chairs and death (isn't this fun? Don't be mad at me - in dialogues there is no LAW that says that we CANNOT or NOT ALLOWED TO digress).

The sentence "all cats are black" is evidently untrue even if only one cat in the whole universe were to be white. Thus, the property "being black" cannot form a part of the definition of a cat. The lesson to be learnt is that definitions must be universal. They must apply to all the members of a defined set (the set of "all cats" in our example).

Let us try to define a chair. In doing so we are trying to capture the essence of being a chair, its "chairness". It is chairness that is defined – not this or that specific chair. We want to be able to identify chairness whenever and wherever we come across it. But chairness cannot be captured without somehow tackling and including the uses of a chair – what is it made for, what does it do or help to do. In other words, a definition must include an operative part, a function. In many cases the function of the Definiendum (the term defined) constitutes its meaning. The function of a vinyl record is its meaning. It has no meaning outside its function. The Definiens (the expression supplying the definition) of a vinyl record both encompasses and consists of its function or use.

Yet, can a vinyl record be defined in vacuum, without incorporating the record player in the definiens? After all, a vinyl record is an object containing audio information decoded by a record player. Without the "record player" bit, the definiens becomes ambiguous. It can fit an audio cassette, or a compact disc. So, the context is essential. A good definition includes a context, which serves to alleviate ambiguity.

Ostensibly, the more details provided in the definition – the less ambiguous it becomes. But this is not true. Actually, the more details provided the more prone is the definition to be ambiguous. A definition must strive to be both minimal and aesthetic. In this sense it is much like a scientific theory. It talks about the match or the correlation between language and reality. Reality is parsimonious and to reflect it, definitions must be as parsimonious as it is.

Let us summarize the characteristics of a good definition and then apply them and try to define a few very mundane terms.

First, a definition must reveal the meaning of the term or concept defined. By "meaning" I mean the independent and invariant meaning – not the culturally dependent, narrative derived, type. The invariant meaning has to do with a function, or a use. A term or a concept can have several uses or functions, even conflicting ones. But all of the uses and functions must be universally recognized. Think about Marijuana or tobacco. They have medical uses and recreational uses. These uses are expressly contradictory. But both are universally acknowledged, so both define the meaning of marijuana or tobacco and form a part of their definitions.

Let us try to construct the first, indisputable, functional, part of the definitions of a few terms.

"Chair" – Intended for sitting.

"Game" – Deals with the accomplishment of goals.

"Window" – Allows to look through it, or for the penetration of light or air (when open or not covered).

"Table" – Intended for laying things on its surface.

It is only when we know the function or use of the definiendum that we can begin to look for it. The function/use FILTERS the world and narrows the set of candidates to the definiendum. A definition is a series of superimposed language filters. Only the definendum can penetrate this line-up of filters. It is like a high-specificity membrane: only one term can slip in.

The next parameter to look for is the characteristics of the definiendum. In the case of physical objects, we will be looking for physical characteristics, of course. Otherwise, we will be looking for more ephemeral traits.

"Chair" – Solid structure Intended for sitting.

"Game" – Mental or physical activity of one or more people (the players), which deals with the accomplishment of goals.

"Window" – Planar discontinuity in a solid surface, which allows to look through it, or for the penetration of light or air (when open or not covered).

"Table" – Structure with at least one leg and one flat surface, intended for laying things on its surface.

A contrast begins to emerge between a rigorous "dictionary-language-lexical definition" and a "stipulative definition" (explaining how the term is to be used). The first might not be immediately recognizable, the second may be inaccurate, non-universal or otherwise lacking.

Every definition contrasts the general with the particular. The first part of the definiens is almost always the genus (the wider class to which the term belongs). It is only as we refine the definition that we introduce the differentia (the distinguishing features). A good definition allows for the substitution of the defined by its definition (a bit awkward if we are trying to define God, for instance, or love). This would be impossible without a union of the general and the particular. A case could be made that the genus is more "lexical" while the differentia are more stipulative. But whatever the case, a definition must include a genus and a differentia because, as we said, it is bound to reflect reality and reality is hierarchical and inclusive ("The Matriushka Doll Principle").

"Chair" – Solid structure Intended for sitting (genus). Makes use of at least one bodily axis of the sitter (differentia). Without the differentia – with the genus alone – the definition can well fit a bed or a divan.

"Game" – Mental or physical activity of one or more people (the players), which deals with the accomplishment of goals (genus), in which both the activities and the goals accomplished are reversible (differentia). Without the differentia – with the genus alone – the definition can well fit most other human activities.

"Window" – Planar discontinuity in a solid surface (genus), which allows to look through it, or for the penetration of light or air (when open or not covered) (differentia). Without the differentia – with the genus alone – the definition can well fit a door.

"Table" – Structure with at least one leg and one flat surface (genus), intended for laying things on its surface(s) (differentia). Without the differentia – with the genus alone – the definition can well fit the statue of a one-legged soldier holding a tray.

It was Locke who realized that there are words whose meaning can be precisely explained but which cannot be DEFINED in this sense. This is either because the explanatory equivalent may require more than genus and differentia – or because some words cannot be defined by means of others (because those other words also have to be defined and this leads to infinite regression). If we adopt the broad view that a definition is the explanation of meaning by other words, how can we define "blue"? Only by pointing out examples of blue. Thus, names of elementary ideas (colours, for instance) cannot be defined by words. They require an "ostensive definition" (definition by pointing out examples). This is because elementary concepts apply to our experiences (emotions, sensations, or impressions) and to sensa (sense data). These are usually words in a private language, our private language. How does one communicate (let alone define) the emotions one experiences during an epiphany? On the contrary: dictionary definitions suffer from gross inaccuracies precisely because they are confined to established meanings. They usually include in the definition things that they should have excluded, exclude things that they should have included or get it altogether wrong. Stipulative or ostensive definitions cannot be wrong (by definition). They may conflict with the lexical (dictionary) definition and diverge from established meanings. This may prove to be both confusing and costly (for instance, in legal matters). But this has nothing to do with their accuracy or truthfulness. Additionally, both types of definition may be insufficiently explanatory. They may be circular, or obscure, leaving more than one possibility open (ambiguous or equivocal).

Many of these problems are solved when we introduce context to the definition. Context has four conceptual pillars: time, place, cultural context and mental context (or mental characteristics). A definition, which is able to incorporate all four elements is monovalent, unequivocal, unambiguous, precise, universal, appropriately exclusive and inclusive, aesthetic and parsimonious.

"Chair" – Artificial (context) solid structure Intended for sitting (genus). Makes use of at least one bodily axis of the sitter (differentia). Without the context, the definition can well fit an appropriately shaped rock.

"Game" – Mental or physical activity of one or more people (the players), subject to agreed rules of confrontation, collaboration and scoring (context), which deals with the accomplishment of goals (genus), in which both the activities and the goals accomplished are reversible (differentia). Without the context, the definition can well fit most other non-playing human activities.

"Window" – Planar discontinuity in a solid artificial (context) surface (genus), which allows to look through it, or for the penetration of light or air (when not covered or open) (differentia). Without the context, the definition can well fit a hole in a rock.

It is easy to notice that the distinction between the differentia and the context is rather blurred. Many of the differentia are the result of cultural and historical context. A lot of the context emerges from the critical mass of differentia.

We have confined our discussion hitherto to the structural elements of a definition. But a definition is a dynamic process. It involves the sentence doing the defining, the process of defining and the resulting defining expression (definiens). This interaction between different definitions of definition gives rise to numerous forms of equivalence, all called "definitions". Real definitions, nominal definitions, prescriptive, contextual, recursive, inductive, persuasive, impredicative, extensional and intensional definitions, are stars in a galaxy of alternative modes of explanation.

But it all boils down to the same truth: it is the type of definition chosen and the rigorousness with which we understand the meaning of "definition" that determine which words can and cannot be defined. In my view, there is still a mistaken belief that there are terms which can be defined without going outside a specified realm (=set of terms). People are trying to define life or love by resorting to chemical reactions. This reductionism inevitably and invariably leads to the Locke paradoxes. It is true that a definition must include all the necessary conditions to the definiendum. Chemical reactions are a necessary condition to life. But they are not sufficient conditions. A definition must include all the sufficient conditions as well.

Now we can try to define "definition" itself:

"Definition" – A statement which captures the meaning, the use, the function and the essence (the identity) of a term or a concept.

Let us go one level higher. Let us define ABSENCE rather than PRESENCE, nothing rather than something, inaction rather than action.

In other words, let us try to define death.

A classical point of departure in defining Death, seems to be Life itself. Death is perceived either as a cessation of Life - or as a "transit zone", on the way to a continuation of Life by other means.

While the former presents a disjunction, the latter is a continuum, Death being nothing but a corridor into another plane of existence (the hereafter).

Another, logically more rigorous approach, would be to ask "Who is Dead" when Death occurs.

In other words, an identity of the Dying (=it which "commits" Death) is essential in defining Death. But what are the means to establish an unambiguous, unequivocal identity?

Is an identity established through the use of quantitative parameters?

Is it dependent, for instance, upon the number of discrete units which comprise the functioning whole?

If so, where is the level at which useful distinctions and observations are replaced by useless scholastic mind-warps?

Example: if we study a human identity - should it be defined by the number and organization of its limbs, its cells, its atoms?

The cells in a human body are replaced (with the exception of the cells of the nervous system) every 5 years. Would this imply that we gain a new identity each time this cycle is completed?

Adopting this course of thinking leads to absurd results:

When humans die, the replacement rate of their cells is infinitely reduced. Does this mean that their identity is better and longer preserved once dead? No one would agree with this. Death is tantamount to a loss of identity - not to its preservation.

So, a qualitative yardstick is required.

We can start by asking will the identity change - if we change someone's' brain by another's? "He is not the same" - we say of someone with a brain injury. If a partial alteration of the brain causes such sea change (however partial) in the determinants of identity - it seems safe to assume that a replacement of one's brain by another will result in a total change of identity, to the point of its abolition and replacement by another.

If the brain is the locus of identity, we should be able to assert that when (the cells of) all the other organs of the body are replaced (with the exception of the brain) - the identity will remain the same.

The human hardware (body) and software (the wiring of the brain) are conversely analogous to a computer.

If we change all the software in a computer - it will still remain the same (though more or less capable) computer. This is equivalent to growing up in humans.

However, if we change the computer's processor - it will no longer be identified as the same computer.

This, partly, is the result of the separation between hardware (=the microprocessor) and software (=the programmes that it processes). There is no such separation in the human brain. These 1300 grams of yellowish material in our heads are both hardware and software.

Still, the computer analogy seems to indicate that our identity resides not in our learning, knowledge, or memories. It is an epiphenomenon. It emerges when a certain level of hardware complexity is attained. Yet, it is not so simple. If we were to eliminate someone's entire store of learning and memories (without affecting his brain) - would he still be the same person (=would he still retain the same identity)? Probably not.

Luckily, achieving the above - erasing one's learning and memories without affecting his brain - is impossible. In humans, learning and memories ARE the brain. They change the hardware that processes them in an irreversible manner.

This, naturally, cannot be said of a computer. There, the separation is clear. Change a computer's hardware and you changed its identity. And computers are software - invariant.

We are, therefore, able to confidently conclude that the brain is the sole determinant of identity, its seat and signifier. This is because our brain IS both our processing hardware and our processing software. It is also a repository of processed data. ANY subsystem comprising these functions can be justly equated with the system of which it is a part. This seems to hold true even under the wildest gedanken experiments.

A human brain detached from any body is still assumed to possess identity. And a monkey implanted with a human brain will host the identity of the former owner of the brain.

Around this seemingly faultless test revolved many of the debates which characterized the first decade of the new discipline of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Turing's Test pits invisible (hardware - less) intelligences (=brains) against one another. The answers which they provide (by teleprinter, hidden behind partitions) determine their identity (human or not). When the software (=the answers) is accessible, no direct observation of the hardware (=the brains) is necessary in order to determine identity. But the brain's status as THE privileged identity system is such that even if no answers are forthcoming from it - the identity will reside with it.

For instance, if for some logistical or technological problem, a brain will be prevented from providing output, answers, and interactions - we are likely to assume that it has the potential to do so. Thus, in the case of an inactive brain, an identity will be the derivative of its potential to interact (rather than of its actual interaction).

After all, this, exactly, is what paleoanthropologists are attempting to do. They are trying to delineate the identity of our forefathers by studying their skulls and, by inference, their brains and their mental potentials. True, they invest effort in researching other types of bones. Ultimately, they hope to be able to draw an accurate visual description of our ancestors. But we must not confuse description with identity, phenomenology with aetiology. What dies, therefore, is the brain and only the brain.

Functionally, Death can also be defined (really, observed) from the outside. It is the cessation of the exertion of influence (=power) over physical systems. It is sudden absence of physical effects exerted by the dead object, a singularity, a discontinuity. It is not an inert state of things.

Inertia is a balance of forces - and in Death the absence of any force whatsoever is postulated. Death is, therefore, also not an entropic climax. Entropy is an isotropic, homogeneous distribution of energy. Death is the absence of any and all energies. While, outwardly, the two might seem identical - they are the two poles of a dichotomy.

So, Death, as opposed to inertia or entropy, is not something that modern physics is fully equipped to deal with. Physics, by definition, deals with forces and measurable effects. It has nothing to say about force-less, energy-devoid physical states. Actually, this would be a stark contradiction in its terms.

Indeed, this definition of Death has reality itself to argue against it.

If Death is the cessation of impacts on physical systems (=the absence of physical effects), we are hard pressed to explain memory away.

Memory is a physical effect (=electrochemical activity of the brain) within a physical system (=the Brain). It can be preserved and shipped across time and space in capsules called books or articles (or art). These containers of triggers of physical effects (in recipient brains) defy Death. The physical system which produced the memory capsule will surely cease to exist - but it will continue to physically impact other physical systems long after its demise, long after it was supposed to have ceased to do so.

Memory divorces Death from the physical world. As long as we (or our products) are remembered - we continue to have a physical effect on future physical systems. And as long as this happens - we are not technically (or, at least, fully) dead. Our Death will be fully accomplished only after our memory will have been wiped out completely, not even having the potential of being reconstructed in the future. Only then will we cease to have any dimension of existence (=effect on other physical systems).

Philosophically, there is no difference between being influenced by a direct discussion with Kant - and being influenced by his words preserved in a time-space capsule (=a book). For the listener/reader Kant is very much alive, more alive than many of his neighbours whom he never met.

This issue can be further radicalized. What is the difference between a two dimensional representation of Kant (portrait), a three dimensional representation of the philosopher (a statute) and yet another three dimensional representation of him (Kant himself as perceived by his contemporaries who chanced to see him)?

As far as a bias-free observer is concerned (a camera linked to a computer) - there is no difference. All these representations are registered and mathematically represented in a processing unit so as to allow for a functional, relatively isomorphic mapping. Still, human observes will endow the three dimensional versions with a privileged status.

Philosophically, there is no rigorous reason to do so.

It is conceivable that, in the future, we will be able to preserve a three-dimensional likeness (a hologram), replete with smells, temperature and tactile effects. Why should the flesh and blood version be judged superior to such a likeness?

Physically, the choice of a different medium does not create a hierarchy of representations, from better to worse. In other words, the futuristic hologram should not be deemed inferior to the classic, organic version as long as they both possess the same information content.

Thus, the hierarchy cannot be derived from describing the state of things.

An hierarchy is established by considering potentials, namely: the future. Non-organic representations (hereinunder referred to as "representations") of intelligent and conscious organic originals (hereinunder referred to as ; "organic originals") are finite. The organic originals are infinite in their possibilities to create and to procreate, to change themselves and their environment, to act and be acted upon within ever more complex feedback loops.

The non-organic versions, the representations, are self contained and final. The organic originals and their representations may contain identical information in a given nano-second. But the amount of information will increase in the organic version and decrease in the non-organic one (due to the second Law of Thermodynamics). This inevitable divergence is what endows the organic original with its privileged status.

This property - of increasing the amount of information (=order) through creation and procreation - characterizes not only the organic originals but also anything that emanates from them. It characterizes human works of art and science, for instance, or the very memory of humans. All these tend to increase information (indeed, they are, in themselves, information packets).

So, could we happily sum and say that the propagation and the continuation of physical effects (through memory) is the continuation of Life after Death? Life and Memory share an important trait. They both have a negentropic (=order and information increasing) impact on their surroundings. Does that make them synonymous? Is Death only a transitory phase from one form of Life (organic) to another (informational, spiritual)?

However tempting this equation is - in most likelihood, it is also false.

The reason is that there are two sources of the increase in information and what sets them apart is not trivial. As long as the organic original lives, all creation depends upon it. After it dies, the works that it has created and the memories that are associated with it, continue to affect physical systems.

However, their ability to foster new creative work, new memories, in short: their capacity to increase order through increased information is totally dependent upon other, living, organic originals. In the absence of all other organic originals, they will stagnate and go through an entropic decrease of information and order.

So, this is the crux of the distinction between Life and Death:

LIFE is the potential, possessed by organic originals, to create (=to fight entropy by increasing information and order), using their own software. Such software can be coded into hardware - e.g., the DNA - and then the creative act involves the replication of the organic original or parts thereof.

Upon the original's DEATH, the potential to create is propagated through Memory. Creative acts, works of art and science, other creations can be carried out only within the software (=the brains) of other, living, organic originals.

Both forms of creation can co-exist during the original's life. Death, however, is proclaimed only with the incapacitation of the first form of creation (by an organic original independent of others), only when the surrogate form of creation becomes exclusive.

Memories created by one organic original resonate through the brains of others. This generates information and provokes the creative potential in recipient brains. Some of them do react by creating and, thus, play host to the parasitic, invading memory, infecting other members of the memory-space (=the cultural space).

Death is, therefore, the assimilation of the products of an organic original in a Collective. It is, indeed, the continuation of Life but in a collective, rather than in an individualistic mode.

Alternatively, Death could be defined as a terminal change in the state of the hardware with designated pieces of the software injected to the brains of the Collective. This, of course, is reminiscent of certain viral mechanisms. The comparison may be superficial and misleading - or may open a new vista: the individual as a cell in the large organism of humanity. Memory has a role in this new form of socio-political evolution which superseded Biological Evolution, as an instrument of adaptation.

Certain human reactions - e.g., opposition to change and religious and ideological wars - can perhaps be viewed as immunological reactions in this context.

I hope I made my point clear and that you can see the forest from the (too many) woods. Both the Law and Technology deal with identities and definitions - in other words, both are manipulations of language.

We have come a full circle. I opened by saying that technology is the embodiment of valid statements - such as protocols (language) in the physical realm. The Law is a series of such valid statements and, in many respects, Technology feeds the Law and embodies Laws in its hardware and software.

Now, if you still wish to get practical - I am all eyes ...:o))


Hi Sam,

I must say that your "apparent" disgressions on linguistic problems and concerning life-after-death are no disgression at all but very pertinent questions (all my analyses are, in fact, based solely upon life and death). These two are, in my opinion, the only pair of words that remain clear. Indeed, your disgression on linguistics provides us with a beautiful example of the contradictions and tensions implied in the couplet "identity and velocity". It would seem that the Law (as does Art) has its own rules of "tempo" and "weight". Indeed, your digression offers a great example of what I call "the inclined enclosing frame", that is to say, all is in motion, even the frame of mind. This is not yet a revolution, however great, this is a change, a metamorphosis.

Regarding your comments on life-after-death I should say that, in spite of your suggestive presentation, they are nothing new. The First world War marked a red line in history fostering a new figure: the anonymous soldier, the cell in the organism, the wheel in the machine . No other form of life-after-death was wished (and considered) by the old Celtic races: sons (propagation of genetic material). In fact, what other life-after-death more real than a son? Those evolutionary ideas! Does anybody still think  it is a risk that they have appeared recently? As far as I know Nietzsche was the first who cast the problem in real terms. By the way, I must say that it was Nietzsche himself who thought about life-after-death in your terms and even went far beyond by asking himself, with his habitual poetic genius: "Wouldn't Life be just a strange kind of Death?". Anyway, Nietzsche stumbled on spurious Darwinism as most thinkers, even today, do, but he thought (erroneously?) that there was a truth hidden in Darwinism: a drive to continuous perfection and thus, to supermanhood. Ignoring Nietzsche΄s "Rennaisance-like hysteria of power" and, over all his "sins", his titanic deviation, it seems that sometimes, depeneding on his turbulent style and his protean fogs, he brings an investigation to light, a choleric prophecy, a question of destiny: what does it mean to us, the self-appointed pinnacle of nature, its more powerful tool, this "ever-present" drive to perfection?

To put it in your terms, which trait is common, if any, to IDENTITY and SURPASSING? If we translate such ideas to our century (which, by the way, was considered by Nietzsche as his proper home) a question arises: are we tempted, with our technolgical advances (genetics and artificial intelligence) into achieving supermanhood in its more spurious, materialistic, vulgar and titanical ways?

But, in spite of these metaphysicaI depths, I still wish to be practical:-)

As the only real subject of the law of Life and Death, my writing is always focused on the individual. Humanity, society, seems to be only cast in History (of the past). To start with, it must be said that there is no longer the old "in versus out" (internal versus external) problem (the individual against nature, the state, or culture). As I have pointed out, in a certain way, you, too, live on an inclined plane. It is not only the world which, at an ever increasing "molto vivace" tempo, is changing and threatening us - but also it is our conceptions of world which are changing. From a birds' eye view, all these characteristics: fuzziness, extreme movement, ever faster tempo, the hunger for energy, are the signs of metamorphosis. Finally, the individual himself has to put a face to the dilemma, the "to be or not to be"? Is he with man or with superman? Are we transforming ourselves into information (the modern version of what the ancients called the soul, the spirit)? Is the age of information our supermanhood: the Supermind?

Then, how will the techno-future be related to the individual, which poisons and pleasures, which treats and fights are there for him? The individual should know, in the first place, that his position is, more than ever, ad hoc.

The First Premise: THERE IS NO EXIT. The technological organization is total. It covers the Earth completely - the environment is now auxiliary. He should also know that the new selection principle is technological, the arena is in n-dimensional spaces, the weapons are mathematics. The old knowledge of nature (and its possibilities) must be accompanied by technological knowledge (for instance, a full knowledge of techno-pharmacology). Technology admits all the old myths and probably new possibilities: masks, guerrilla warfare, etc... all are there for the individual.  And it poses new dangers: totalitarianism is le must of these dangers. The domination of technology works with sweeping controls. The use of the mask seems almost essential to survival (the mask of mediocrity is the best).  New changes in the selection principle are always possible, the spiritual man must be fully aware of the extension and velocity of the tech-waves. The arena is a magic space, changing abruptly. To survive, the mind of the spiritual man should be like that of a Tai-chi fighter's: open to all the possibilities, just like water (the spirit of Zen), a universal action from a universal point of view. Always ready to fight, always ready to play; extremely relaxed and extremely fixed. Technology feeds on the four elements, only the fifth, Eros, is out of its dominion. Sexual love, friendship and the muses are the only true riches. Whenever we enjoy these pleasures, we are out of the power of the technological Leviathan. There are no morals yet, only models. Stoicism, hedonism and all the other pre-Socratic concepts are always helpful tools (the two ages have some things in common).

A study of other cultures is  essential (a full, real-time adaptation to any place and any time). "Umheilicht" must be overcome with two movements of extreme tension: a deep study in history (natural, universal, human, religious, philosophical, etc.) and the diary observation of the technological breaking point (what the old historians called: the "short time" and the "long time"). To combine these two fields is the mark of the cultivated future man. As Goethe beautifully stated: our feet firmly on earth (reality), our minds always connected to the stars. That is our destiny and also our pleasure.

These are nothing more than incomplete advices. The total field is changing all the time. Fully settled in traditional knowledge, the spiritual man should always be attuned to the last movement, ever changing his mind without changing his heart. The (re-)creation of new myths is the superlative "work" bestowed upon the unique person. "Life is UNCONDITIONAL, death is only the beginning."

Well, thats all for now. In my next letter, I'll talk about the king: the technician and his politics. It is essential for the unique person to know who and how rules. Your turn.

Best regards

Dear Roberto,

Indeed, we are almost in full agreement (does this begin to worry you? ...;o))

I also think that the age of information will see the revolutionizing of the very process of evolution, its speed, its ends, its means, its distribution (all-pervasiveness). I am not sure that we have a choice (between Man and Superman, for instance). I think the phase transition will occur when a new principle of selection is introduced, as you have suggested. It will be a principle of selection between competing models of civilization. In this, its nature will be no different to its predecessors. But it will employ different criteria. For the first time, technology per se, as DISTINCT from humanity - will have a say. From now on - and ever more so in the future - we are TWO equal partners: the Man and the Machine. The increasing complexity of the latter will render it intelligent and the equal of Man himself.

Actually, what you are talking about in your letter is a kulturkampf, a clash or battle of cultures. I tend to doubt this specific outcome - I think transition will be smoother and that disparate cultures will COHABITATE - though I fully agree with all your premises. Here is why:

Culture is a hot topic. Scholars (Fukoyama, Huntington, to mention but two) disagree about whether this is the end of history or the beginning of a particularly nasty chapter of it.

What makes cultures tick and why some of them tick discernibly better than others – is the main bone of contention.

We can view cultures through the prism of their attitude towards their constituents: the individuals they are comprised of. More so, we can classify them in accordance with their approach towards "humanness", the experience of being human.

Some cultures are evidently anthropocentric – others are anthropo-transcendental. These two lingual coins need elaboration to be fully comprehended.

A culture which cherishes the human potential and strives to create the conditions needed for its fullest materialization and manifestation is an anthropocentric culture. Such striving is the top priority, the crowning achievement, the measuring rod of such a culture, its attainment - its criterion of success or failure.

On the other pole of the dichotomy we find cultures which look beyond humanity. This "transcendental" look has multiple purposes.

Some cultures want to transcend human limitations, others to derive meaning, yet others to maintain social equilibrium. But what is common to all of them – regardless of purpose – is the subjugation of human endeavour, of human experience, human potential, all things human to this transcendence.

Granted: cultures resemble living organisms. They evolve, they develop, they procreate. None of them was "created" the way it is today. Cultures go through Differential Phases – wherein they re-define and re-invent themselves using varied parameters. Once these phases are over – the results are enshrined during the Inertial Phases. The Differential Phases are period of social dislocation and upheaval, of critical, even revolutionary thinking, of new technologies, new methods of achieving set social goals, identity crises, imitation and differentiation.

They are followed by phases of a diametrically opposed character:

Preservation, even stagnation, ritualism, repetition, rigidity, emphasis on structures rather than contents.

Anthropocentric cultures have differential phases which are longer than the inertial ones.

Anthropotranscendental ones tend to display a reverse pattern.

This still does not solve two basic enigmas:

What causes the transition between differential and inertial phases?

Why is it that anthropocentricity coincides with differentiation and progress / evolution – while other types of cultures with an inertial framework?

A culture can be described by using a few axes:

Distinguishing versus Consuming Cultures

Some cultures give weight and presence (though not necessarily equal) to each of their constituent elements (the individual and social structures). Each such element is idiosyncratic and unique. Such cultures would accentuate attention to details, private enterprise, initiative, innovation, entrepreneurship, inventiveness, youth, status symbols, consumption, money, creativity, art, science and technology.

These are the things that distinguish one individual from another.

Other cultures engulf their constituents, assimilate them to the point of consumption. They are deemed, a priori, to be redundant, their worth a function of their actual contribution to the whole.

Such cultures emphasize generalizations, stereotypes, conformity, consensus, belonging, social structures, procedures, forms, undertakings involving the labour or other input of human masses.

Future versus Past Oriented Cultures

Some cultures look to the past – real or imaginary – for inspiration, motivation, sustenance, hope, guidance and direction. These cultures tend to direct their efforts and resources and invest them in what IS. They are, therefore, bound to be materialistic, figurative, substantive, earthly.

They are likely to prefer old age to youth, old habits to new, old buildings to modern architecture, etc. This preference of the Elders (a term of veneration) over the Youngsters (a denigrating term) typifies them strongly. These cultures are likely to be risk averse.

Other cultures look to the future – always projected – for the same reasons.

These cultures invest their efforts and resources in an ephemeral future (upon the nature or image of which there is no agreement or certainty).

These cultures are, inevitably, more abstract (living in an eternal Gedankenexperiment), more imaginative, more creative (having to design multiple scenarios just to survive). They are also more likely to have a youth cult: to prefer the young, the new, the revolutionary, the fresh – to the old, the habitual, the predictable. They are be risk-centered and risk-assuming cultures.

Static Versus Dynamic (Emergent) Cultures

Consensus versus Conflictual Cultures

Some cultures are more cohesive, coherent, rigid and well-bounded and constrained. As a result, they will maintain an unchanging nature and be static. They discourage anything which could unbalance them or perturb their equilibrium and homeostasis. These cultures encourage consensus-building, teamwork, togetherness and we-ness, mass experiences, social sanctions and social regulation, structured socialization, peer loyalty, belonging, homogeneity, identity formation through allegiance to a group. These cultures employ numerous self-preservation mechanisms and strict hierarchy, obedience, discipline, discrimination (by sex, by race, above all, by age and familial affiliation).

Other cultures seem more "ruffled", "arbitrary", or disturbed. They are pluralistic, heterogeneous and torn. These are the dynamic (or, fashionably, the emergent) cultures. They encourage conflict as the main arbiter in the social and economic spheres ("the invisible hand of the market" or the American "checks and balances"), contractual and transactional relationships, partisanship, utilitarianism, heterogeneity, self fulfilment, fluidity of the social structures, democracy.

Exogenic-Extrinsic Meaning Cultures versus Endogenic-Intrinsic Meaning Cultures

Some cultures derive their sense of meaning, of direction and of the resulting wish-fulfillment by referring to frameworks which are outside them or bigger than them. They derive meaning only through incorporation or reference.

The encompassing framework could be God, History, the Nation, a Calling or a Mission, a larger Social Structure, a Doctrine, an Ideology, or a Value or Belief System, an Enemy, a Friend, the Future – anything qualifies which is bigger and outside the meaning-seeking culture.

Other cultures derive their sense of meaning, of direction and of the resulting wish fulfilment by referring to themselves – and to themselves only. It is not that these cultures ignore the past – they just do not re-live it. It is not that they do not possess a Values or a Belief System or even an ideology – it is that they are open to the possibility of altering it.

While in the first type of cultures, Man is meaningless were it not for the outside systems which endow him with meaning – In the latter the outside systems are meaningless were it not for Man who endows them with meaning.

Virtually Revolutionary Cultures versus Structurally-Paradigmatically Revolutionary Cultures

All cultures – no matter how inert and conservative – evolve through the differential phases.

These phases are transitory and, therefore, revolutionary in nature.

Still, there are two types of revolution:

The Virtual Revolution is a change (sometimes, radical) of the structure – while the content is mostly preserved. It is very much like changing the hardware without changing any of the software in a computer.

The other kind of revolution is more profound. It usually involves the transformation or metamorphosis of both structure and content. In other cases, the structures remain intact – but they are hollowed out, their previous content replaced by new one. This is a change of paradigm (superbly described by the late Thomas Kuhn in his masterpiece: "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions").

The Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome Differentiating Factor

As a result of all the above, cultures react with shock either to change or to its absence.

A taxonomy of cultures can be established along these lines:

Those cultures which regard change as a trauma – and those who traumatically react to the absence of change, to paralysis and stagnation.

This is true in every sphere of life: the economic, the social, in the arts, the sciences.

Neurotic Adaptive versus Normally Adaptive Cultures

This is the dividing line:

Some cultures feed off fear and trauma. To adapt, they developed neuroses. Other cultures feed off hope and love – they have adapted normally.


Neurotic Cultures

Normal Cultures



Past Oriented

Future Oriented


Dynamic (Emergent)





Virtual Revolutionary

Structurally-Paradigmatically Revolutionary

PTSS reaction to change

PTSS reaction to stagnation

So, are these types of cultures doomed to clash, as the current fad goes – or can they cohabitate?

It seems that the Neurotic cultures are less adapted to win the battle to survive. The fittest are those cultures flexible enough to respond to an ever changing world – and at an ever increasing pace, at that. The neurotic cultures are slow to respond, rigid and convulsive. Being past-orientated means that they emulate and imitate the normal cultures – but only when they have become part of the past. Alternatively, they assimilate and adopt some of the attributes of the past of normal cultures. This is why a traveller who visits a neurotic culture (and is coming from a normal one) often has the feeling that he has been thrust to the past, that he is experiencing a time travel.

A War of Cultures is, therefore, not very plausible. The neurotic cultures need the normal cultures. The latter are the generators of the former's future. A normal culture's past is a neurotic culture's future.

Deep inside, the neurotic cultures know that something is wrong with them, that they are ill-adapted. That is why members of these cultural spheres entertain overt emotions of envy, hostility even hatred – coupled with explicit sensations of inferiority, inadequacy, disappointment, disillusionment and despair. The eruptive nature (the neurotic rage) of these cultures is exactly the result of these inner turmoils. On the other hand, soliloquy is not action, often it is a substitute to it. Very few neurotic cultures are suicidal – and then for very brief periods of time.

To forgo the benefits of learning from the experience of normal cultures how to survive would be suicidal, indeed. This is why I think that the transition to a different model, replete with different morals, will be completed with success. But it will not eliminate all pervious models - I foresee cohabitation.


Hi Sam,

I am not worried at all about being in full agreement with you - it is you who should be worried indeed:-)

But, I think we are not dealing with the same question. I am presenting this question in absolute terms. Though all those considerations about cultures are interesting indeed, it is not my intention at all to come with  another page of the "futurology of technology" or to try to make a new version of techno-waves, futures shocks and versions of culture wars of Toffler's, Huntington's and all the rest (E. J. said enough in 1931). Concerning this special issue I will elaborate in my next letter, again with pragmatic intentions. I will try to give the reader a brief picture of the king: the technician. It is essential for the individual to know who is the ruler and how he rules.

But I wasn't talking about that when I referred to Nietzsche. My question was not about cultures, nations, techno-waves, races or any other profiles. My interrogation was about the human species as a whole, those strange things we called humans. I don't know what SURPASSING, OVERCOMING, mean de facto. I was just asking the readers (and myself): What does it mean, if we accept the hypothesis (and this is another question) of supermanhood?

Could be a significant change in the human species? I am thinking in "surpassing" humans with genetic engineering, the creation of not only new races but whole new species. That is my central idea in this dialogue: What if technology embodies the Law of Nature, and the Law of nature is an eternal drive to perfection? Doesn't it mean that man must, de facto, be overcome? Does anybody think yet, that a superior species (if this means anything at all) would live with us in pax and harmony? Finally, I will ask you again: can humans be surpassed? What does it mean, philosophically and existentially, OVERCOMING?

Well, I promise to the readers that the next letter will be entirely pragmatic:-)

We will talk a little about the king and his clothes? Or is he naked?

Best regards

Dear RCM,

Sometimes, I am so obsessed with WHAT I have to say - that I forget to explain WHY I say it.

I fully understood your questions the first time around. The confluence of genetic engineering, computer networking (communal neural networks), telecommunications (especially wireless) and mass transport is bound to alter humanity profoundly and irreversibly. One possibility is, indeed, surpassing and overcoming on the way to the emergence of a Superman, in the Nietzschean sense (whatever that is). Whether this is the inevitable result - is debatable. But it is a possibility which merits discussion.

I prefer to be less metaphysical. I think that a new CULTURE will emerge. Cultures are highly structured reactive patterns adopted by human communities in response to shocks (including positive shocks), traumas, or drastic changes in circumstances. Cultures to human communities are very much as personalities are to individuals. I think the new technologies will spawn a host of new cultures (or, more like it, a global new culture).


We must always bear in mind that:

  1. Only a small minority of humanity will be thus effected. Only the citizens of the rich, developed world are likely to have access to genetic engineering and computing and telecommunications on a pervasive scale. The "new species" is likely to be an isolated phenomenon, confined to niches of the Earth. The "new culture" will be a Rich Man's culture. This is what I meant by cohabitation. Even today we have technologically advanced cultures cohabiting with stone age cultures (in the Amazon River basin, in Africa, in Asia).
  1. Even if we assume that the idea of historical progress (asymptotically aspiring to perfection) is valid (HIGHLY debatable); and even if we assume that technology will come to embody this idea (of progress); and even if we accept that, in becoming the embodiment of the idea of progress - technology will supplant the Law, it will BECOME THE LAW - even then, it is not certain that it will have any impact on humanity as such. Judging by history, it is more reasonable to assume that people will simply react by generating a new culture. They will respond to these new realities, making use of a series of newly and especially developed formalisms, rituals and behaviours intended to enhance their survivability in a technological universe.
  1. It would not be true to say that history can be no guide to us this time around because the new technologies are so unprecedented. What can history teach us about genetic engineering and its capacity to reconstruct Man and to create whole new species, you can wonder. The answer is: it can teach us a lot. Low-tech genetic engineering (especially in agriculture and breeding) has been going on for millennia now. How can history help us when we try to cope with the Internet? The answer is: is many ways. The Internet is only the latest in a string of networks which spanned the globe (the telegraph, the railway, the radio, television).

So, I went and had a look at history and came up with the conclusion that ALL cultures that I reviewed (by no means a complete survey), present and future, fall into the taxonomic framework that I suggested to you. I believe that the NEW CULTURE, the reaction to the new technologies, will fall into one of the taxonomic rubrics that I suggested and that it will co-exist with other, older, different cultures. That is why I went into this elaborate classification of cultures.

I hope I made myself a lot clearer and I am awaiting your Hans Christian Andersen treatment of the technicians and their clothes.


Hi Sam

Reading your answer, I finally understand why people are not scared by genetic progress: it is that we simply cannot imagine a surpassing of MAN. We, as the self-appointed pinnacle of nature cannot conceive of anything superior to us. You say that even though THIS CHANGE is possible - it is not likely. But, don't you think that is in contradiction with your own system. You affirm that manipulation of information can be incarnated in matter, that is to say, that changes in the quanta of info imply a change in matter. So, dreams could come true.

Can we dream about something higher than man? Are there any more steps between us and the Universe?:-) What I was asking you, my dear Ph. D., is to discuss this matter, from a philosophical point of view. But you elude it, maybe it is because we humans cannot think further than humans do, maybe there is no concept of perfection beyond Man...

Well, let us get off these speculations and take off into the land of the Technicians, these new mandarins of the Empire(R). But, before starting our "graphic adventure" in the techno-jungle of our Play-SuperStation(TM) thou should know the rules of the game and the tools at thou service.

First: This is a game, any resemblance to reality is pure coincidence.

Second: Every instrument has two sides.

Third: To play this game everyone has to pay a price (and you know what it is).

Fourth: The game is not over yet.

"Is it a fact - or have I dreamt it - that by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!"
Nathaniel Hawthorn (1804-1864)

The Technician, (a lullaby)

Believe me or not, beloved public, but the truth is that our king, the king of this tale, was born a poor child, son of the marriage between Science and "homo faber". For some years he served as apprentice in forges and labs, learning all he saw. One day he had a dream and in it he was the king the world. Inebriated by his dreams, in keeping with the way of the old heroes, he went to the battlefields with his new toys and his grey uniform. Its was time for the world to know him.

The birth of a new ruler. So, with his war machines, he drew a red line (hereinafter called the "death zone") in history. 1914, year one of Age of the Technicians (TM). In those days he was young, arrogant and violent. He was not interested in art, the spirit, self-control... but in his death toys. After the "necessary" destruction of the old world, he donned his new clothes: the overall, the uniform of the Worker, to build his own world (that he had a dreamt of). But the old directors were stupid, they did not see the new world, they were blind and weak, he had to liquidate them. Like the Pied Piper he walked all over the world, playing his electrifying symphony of work and vengeance. All, young and old alike, awoke and heard the enchantment. The hammer hit the anvil, the sickle harvested flowers and heads, the propeller triturated meat. Flames twisted in revolt, the earth opened its abyss wherefrom the demons entered, but nothing of this affected our young boy, who looked fascinated by his map and his time-clocks and pushed the buttons of his switchboard. When the tempest ended, he was the director of the factory. But, now he needed money,, so he went with his machines to Eldorado(TM), he invented RiskGames (TM) to win in the roulette of the Casino of the Isle(R). Now he was the the director of Starve, Mooty and Poors(TM) and wore Armani(TM). But his thirst was infinite, he wanted all the prize. He wanted girls: the Romans ravished the Sabines(TM). He became an artist, clad in leather, he started a heavy-metal band called The Garage(TM). It was then that he discovered TV, so he contracted a band from Seattle(TM) and invented the grunge. He was now the director of a EFE(TM) (Entertainment For Ever), the megacorp of communications, and wore Burton(TM) shirts. He has all the channels: sports, porno, music, surgery, religion,  even one of horoscopes, it was called Acuarium(TM) TV and the TV spot went: "we sell future 24 hours a day, only 5$ per hour". Now he had already discovered the most cruel and sublime pleasure: to control other people's minds. So he bought the various parts of AT&T and made the world over a Net of titanium and silicon - satellites were marked with his trademarked name. Then, he created a new company of software games with the best techno-artists he found. He also bought the biggest chemical/genetic corporation: SupremArtis(TM). Finally he merged all them up and created the Ultimate Super-Megacorp, which sold mega-consoles whose games were more real than Reality(TM), and he called it The Dream(TM).

Game Over
Insert Coin

Well, hope you liked it. I think it is enough for now. It is always a pleasure to dialogue with you, hope we will keep our team work - I think our different points of view can offer new perspectives to our readers and that is a very good thing.

And, dear readers, never forget: technology, the machine, is only a scenery, you are both the actor and the author.

"He only earns his freedom and his life
Who takes them everyday by storm."

best regards


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