# Pythagoras’ revenge: humans didn’t invent mathematics, it’s what the world is made of (The Conversation)

theconversation.com

Sam Baron – November 21, 2021 11.47pm EST

Many people think that mathematics is a human invention. To this way of thinking, mathematics is like a language: it may describe real things in the world, but it doesn’t “exist” outside the minds of the people who use it.

But the Pythagorean school of thought in ancient Greece held a different view. Its proponents believed reality is fundamentally mathematical.

More than 2,000 years later, philosophers and physicists are starting to take this idea seriously.

As I argue in a new paper, mathematics is an essential component of nature that gives structure to the physical world.

## Honeybees and hexagons

Bees in hives produce hexagonal honeycomb. Why?

According to the “honeycomb conjecture” in mathematics, hexagons are the most efficient shape for tiling the plane. If you want to fully cover a surface using tiles of a uniform shape and size, while keeping the total length of the perimeter to a minimum, hexagons are the shape to use.

Charles Darwin reasoned that bees have evolved to use this shape because it produces the largest cells to store honey for the smallest input of energy to produce wax.

The honeycomb conjecture was first proposed in ancient times, but was only proved in 1999 by mathematician Thomas Hales.

Here’s another example. There are two subspecies of North American periodical cicadas that live most of their lives in the ground. Then, every 13 or 17 years (depending on the subspecies), the cicadas emerge in great swarms for a period of around two weeks.

Why is it 13 and 17 years? Why not 12 and 14? Or 16 and 18?

One explanation appeals to the fact that 13 and 17 are prime numbers.

Imagine the cicadas have a range of predators that also spend most of their lives in the ground. The cicadas need to come out of the ground when their predators are lying dormant.

Suppose there are predators with life cycles of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 years. What is the best way to avoid them all?

Well, compare a 13-year life cycle and a 12-year life cycle. When a cicada with a 12-year life cycle comes out of the ground, the 2-year, 3-year and 4-year predators will also be out of the ground, because 2, 3 and 4 all divide evenly into 12.

When a cicada with a 13-year life cycle comes out of the ground, none of its predators will be out of the ground, because none of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 divides evenly into 13. The same is true for 17.

It seems these cicadas have evolved to exploit basic facts about numbers.

## Creation or discovery?

Once we start looking, it is easy to find other examples. From the shape of soap films, to gear design in engines, to the location and size of the gaps in the rings of Saturn, mathematics is everywhere.

If mathematics explains so many things we see around us, then it is unlikely that mathematics is something we’ve created. The alternative is that mathematical facts are discovered: not just by humans, but by insects, soap bubbles, combustion engines and planets.

## What did Plato think?

But if we are discovering something, what is it?

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato had an answer. He thought mathematics describes objects that really exist.

For Plato, these objects included numbers and geometric shapes. Today, we might add more complicated mathematical objects such as groups, categories, functions, fields and rings to the list.

Plato also maintained that mathematical objects exist outside of space and time. But such a view only deepens the mystery of how mathematics explains anything.

Explanation involves showing how one thing in the world depends on another. If mathematical objects exist in a realm apart from the world we live in, they don’t seem capable of relating to anything physical.

## Enter Pythagoreanism

The ancient Pythagoreans agreed with Plato that mathematics describes a world of objects. But, unlike Plato, they didn’t think mathematical objects exist beyond space and time.

Instead, they believed physical reality is made of mathematical objects in the same way matter is made of atoms.

If reality is made of mathematical objects, it’s easy to see how mathematics might play a role in explaining the world around us.

In the past decade, two physicists have mounted significant defences of the Pythagorean position: Swedish-US cosmologist Max Tegmark and Australian physicist-philosopher Jane McDonnell.

Tegmark argues reality just is one big mathematical object. If that seems weird, think about the idea that reality is a simulation. A simulation is a computer program, which is a kind of mathematical object.

McDonnell’s view is more radical. She thinks reality is made of mathematical objects and minds. Mathematics is how the Universe, which is conscious, comes to know itself.

I defend a different view: the world has two parts, mathematics and matter. Mathematics gives matter its form, and matter gives mathematics its substance.

Mathematical objects provide a structural framework for the physical world.

## The future of mathematics

It makes sense that Pythagoreanism is being rediscovered in physics.

In the past century physics has become more and more mathematical, turning to seemingly abstract fields of inquiry such as group theory and differential geometry in an effort to explain the physical world.

As the boundary between physics and mathematics blurs, it becomes harder to say which parts of the world are physical and which are mathematical.

But it is strange that Pythagoreanism has been neglected by philosophers for so long.

I believe that is about to change. The time has arrived for a Pythagorean revolution, one that promises to radically alter our understanding of reality.

theconversation.com

# Is mathematics real? A viral TikTok video raises a legitimate question with exciting answers (The Conversation)

Daniel Mansfield – August 31, 2020 1.41am EDT

While filming herself getting ready for work recently, TikTok user @gracie.ham reached deep into the ancient foundations of mathematics and found an absolute gem of a question:

How could someone come up with a concept like algebra?

She also asked what the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras might have used mathematics for, and other questions that revolve around the age-old conundrum of whether mathematics is “real” or something humans just made up.

Many responded negatively to the post, but others — including mathematicians like me — found the questions quite insightful.

## Is mathematics real?

Philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing over this for centuries. Some believe mathematics is universal; others consider it only as real as anything else humans have invented.

Thanks to @gracie.ham, Twitter users have now vigorously joined the debate.

For me, part of the answer lies in history.

From one perspective, mathematics is a universal language used to describe the world around us. For instance, two apples plus three apples is always five apples, regardless of your point of view.

But mathematics is also a language used by humans, so it is not independent of culture. History shows us that different cultures had their own understanding of mathematics.

Unfortunately, most of this ancient understanding is now lost. In just about every ancient culture, a few scattered texts are all that remain of their scientific knowledge.

However, there is one ancient culture that left behind an absolute abundance of texts.

## Babylonian algebra

Buried in the deserts of modern Iraq, clay tablets from ancient Babylon have survived intact for about 4,000 years.

These tablets are slowly being translated and what we have learned so far is that the Babylonians were practical people who were highly numerate and knew how to solve sophisticated problems with numbers.

Their arithmetic was different from ours, though. They didn’t use zero or negative numbers. They even mapped out the motion of the planets without using calculus as we do.

Of particular importance for @gracie.ham’s question about the origins of algebra is that they knew that the numbers 3, 4 and 5 correspond to the lengths of the sides and diagonal of a rectangle. They also knew these numbers satisfied the fundamental relation 3² + 4² = 5² that ensures the sides are perpendicular.

The Babylonians did all this without modern algebraic concepts. We would express a more general version of the same idea using Pythagoras’ theorem: any right-angled triangle with sides of length a and b and hypotenuse c satisfies a² + b² = c².

The Babylonian perspective omits algebraic variables, theorems, axioms and proofs not because they were ignorant but because these ideas had not yet developed. In short, these social constructs began more than 1,000 years later, in ancient Greece. The Babylonians happily and productively did mathematics and solved problems without any of these relatively modern notions.

## What was it all for?

@gracie.ham also asks how Pythagoras came up with his theorem. The short answer is: he didn’t.

Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570-495 BC) probably heard about the idea we now associate with his name while he was in Egypt. He may have been the person to introduce it to Greece, but we don’t really know.

Pythagoras didn’t use his theorem for anything practical. He was primarily interested in numerology and the mysticism of numbers, rather than the applications of mathematics.

Without modern tools, how do you make right angles just right? Ancient Hindu religious texts give instructions for making a rectangular fire altar using the 3-4-5 configuration with sides of length 3 and 4, and diagonal length 5. These measurements ensure that the altar has right angles in each corner.

## Big questions

In the 19th century, the German mathematician Leopold Kronecker said “God made the integers, all else is the work of man”. I agree with that sentiment, at least for the positive integers — the whole numbers we count with — because the Babylonians didn’t believe in zero or negative numbers.

Mathematics has been happening for a very, very long time. Long before ancient Greece and Pythagoras.

Is it real? Most cultures agree about some basics, like the positive integers and the 3-4-5 right triangle. Just about everything else in mathematics is determined by the society in which you live.

# Covid Fallout [2] (Synthetic Zero)

Throughout the Covid crisis, the use of the war metaphor, as means of persuasion and matrix of explanation, has become pervasive in politics and the popular media.

Both practices have been able to make use of such rhetoric because the discourse on war, attrition and the destruction of enemies is so deeply embedded in the structure of public discourse, from ubiquitous and seemingly benign tropes valorising competition, to the outright eulogising of violence as the natural mediator between individuals, groups, classes, ethnicities, cultures, and nation-states.

Moreover, it seems entirely plausible to extend the metaphor of war and struggle to our relation with the natural world, enabling a discourse in which natural processes, set in motion by bio-molecular mechanisms, are capable of being mastered by science.

Science just is, from this perspective, a series of feed-back loops in which the accumulation of knowledge and experimental know-how leads to mastery over nature and mastery over nature leads to more knowledge and know how,  ad infinitum.

This is a version of the Baconian trope in which nature is put to the wrack and interrogated for it’s secrets but one in which cybernetics, systems theory and big data allow for an expansion of the field of knowable objects to include the system of the interrogator and his acts of interrogation.

Defeated, abased, nature must yield.

In this war on nature, in which the war on Coronavirus is but one “theatre of operations”, the techno-scientific industrialised exploitation and extermination of non-human and human animals is it’s quintessential modus operandi.

What is good and true for science just is, necessarily, good and true for the human as such.  But human here is an image abstracted from and other than the human-animal and it’s symbiotic connection with the ecology of living entities. It is, rather, an excess of the human animal carried over after an operation in which experience is subsumed under a system of bifurcations. This excess is an illusory mode of transcendence.

The Covid crisis is most probably a dry run for what awaits us down the road as the climate crisis intensifies.

During the unfolding of the pandemic, it was notable that scientists and doctors remained, for the most part, wary of presumption in the face of the unknown, choosing to concentrate instead on the behaviour of the virus in particular human environments before attempting generalised pronouncements.

Grounded in observation, this was good science, a science in which anthropomorphic presumptions played only a small part. It was made possible by wide-scale testing and the correlation and analysis of data on the actual unfolding of the pandemic, which, for all science knew, could have included the annihilation of the species.

Here, for all to see, was an example of the difference between the actual practice of science, always localised contingent and rather anarchic in it’s evolution, and the ideology of mastery, control and expertise; an ideology enabled on a philosophical structure in which the real is bifurcated, producing a thought-complex of human subject-agents and a field of objects and processes subjected to a regime of mastery.

One productive way of looking at the ideology of mastery is as the explicit expression of an implicit or philosophically esoteric sufficiency in which science becomes the arbitrator of what is known and knowable and what is known and knowable just is scientific, in all but name.

Science, taken up into the ideology of mastery, arbitrarily sets it’s compass and draws, godlike, the arc of the world.

As with Covid, the evolution of the climate crisis will most probably unfold unevenly  across geographical regions as a series of local emergencies, each set on its own trajectory by the generation and replication of feedback loops in which human agency is only one strand in a complex of becomings.

As with Covid this “dance of agency” between human and non human entities will unfold inclusive of the decisions, actions and reactions of the presumed primary actors – those who are supposed to exercise control over outcomes by “managing” the crisis on our behalf.

The ideology of management and eventual mastery is a doubling in thought of the always and already immanent unfolding of the real, inclusive of the subject-object dichotomy which enables the illusion of transcendent knowing and techno-mastery.

Such a real never enters into the realm of the scientific or philosophical subject and it’s field of knowable objects and systems of objects.

Recent climate discourse has taken on board talk of the “Anthropocene” as evidence for the emergence of an epoch of human dominance over nature in which the human “footprint” is literally inscribed on geological strata.

The inscription of the human onto planetary geology is often accompanied by speculations about an acceleration in human technological prowess leading to a “singularity” at some time in the near future; at which point technological civilization will make a qualitative leap, establishing the dominance of the human over the planetary system and it’s myriad life forms as an accomplished fact.

Thus, a positivist rhetoric of acceleration, mastery and control sees the human take charge of the contingent, variable and complex earth-system to impose a consciously interested anthropomorphic regime on what is perceived as a complex of “mechanical” and therefore “manageable” processes.

Such rhetoric almost always includes a naturalization of capitalism in which acceleration is a spontaneous result of the free reign of market forces, an unruly energy domesticated by a corporate or state structure, more often than not presided over by a charismatic individual.

Under such a scenario democracy is optional at best, at worst a hindrance to the generation of what is conceived as the proper management and eventual mastery of the eco/social system.

It is still unclear how such a planetary wide consensus among ruling elites could be achieved, taking into account the resurgence of the ideology of the nation state and the discrediting of the idea of inter-state unions, international bodies and structures of trans-national governance.

The Covid crisis has intensified the contradiction between a strong version of nation-statehood and a neo-liberal valorisation of free markets, deregulation, free flow of labour and capital, international supply chains and minimal state interference.

The axioms of neo-liberal ideological orthodoxy have been, almost universally, unceremoniously abandoned, if only for the present.

More importantly Covid has driven an even bigger wedge between liberal, democratic and rights based ideologies of reform, “new deal” regeneration and green transition and the more authoritarian forms of “new nationalism”.

As we emerge from the first phase of the pandemic, the struggle between these two tendencies will probably intensify. Already, international bodies such as the U.N are aligning themselves with those who see the transition from lock-down as an opportunity to establish the structural changes necessary for a more ecologically sustainable economy.

Capitalism has, of course, always had to negotiate a balance between the model advocating for a strong public sector, fiscal and regulatory intervention, forward planning and a welfare state and the neo-liberal free market, anti-state and anti-regulatory model we have endured for the last thirty years.

In reality this ideological difference masks periodic shifts from one one extreme to the other as cycles of boom and bust override ideological preferences. Both the climate crisis and the Covid pandemic underscore the limitations of all existing capitalist models to adequately account for the real cost of the consumption driven economy.

The real cost has always been borne by the human and non human animal, that is by the ecological community of life forms.

As the pandemic has made clear, even something as unvarying in its constitution as a virus will have varied consequences as it interacts with local economies, social systems and cultures.

This “uneven development” is equally applicable to the spread of capital, which must negotiate local conditions as it expands and contracts, mutates and recalibrates according to the complex of human affordances of which it is a particular expression.

This network of relation extends beyond the economic, the social and the cultural and includes, ultimately, all of the extended complexities of the planetary eco-system. As a species we are dependent on a complex of ecological checks and balances all of which have been progressively undermined by human activity.

At a more fundamental level we are subject to entirely arbitrary events beyond our present understanding and indifferent to our interests.

The ideology of techno-mastery, management and expertise is based on a vision of control over the variable and the contingent. This fallacy is exposed time and again, even within the supposed confines of the social and economic system. Indeed, it is this very act of conceptual enclosure which makes possible the belief in some future state of absolute control over the social/ecological/planetary system.

Paradoxically, this very ideology of control, more often than not, acts as a top-down hindrance to the bottom-up exercise of a plurality of collective and individual responses. It is out of this anarchic mech of knowings and doings that forms of relative control arise as a collective orientation around workable solutions.

In a network of contingencies, in which our own agency forms only one strand in a myriad of becomings, it is this diversity of response which enables the sort of open-ended social, political, administrative and scientific plasticity necessary for our continued existence as a species.

The ideology of mastery, management and control, despite it’s claim to have transcended the particular and the local, is itself enabled on contingent processes and diverse responses. It’s claim is a reworking of the religious impulse on the secular plane, in which knowing has ascended to a level of sufficiency akin to godlike omniscience.

It’s undoing, likewise, will most likely proceed from the ground up, inclusive of the political, ethical and philosophical practices of those who consciously set themselves against the existing state of the situation.

This, of course, excludes the possibility of sheer bad luck and the unfolding of an unexpected disaster, against which our life would be seen to have been bracketed as a moment of contingent grace.

The struggle against Covid could have been our swan song. That possibility is the simple and absolute refutation of the theory and practice (the ideology) of mastery.

I use the term animal, human animal, becoming and the real interchangeably, as free floating placeholders, in the spirit expressed below by Deleuze and Guattari:

“Becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding relations; neither is it producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation. Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, “appearing,” “being,” “equaling,” or “producing.””

This puts the series of terms in some sort of relation with Laruelle’s use of “The Real” or “Man-in-person” and distinguishes it from the forms of empirical knowledge which are taken up into ecological or systems theorising of a strictly scientific nature or into loose scientific/philosophical combinations.

# Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: ‘O que se vê no Brasil hoje é uma ofensiva feroz contra os índios’ (O Globo)

Antropólogo lança livro ‘Metafísicas canibais’ e expõe fotografias na mostra ‘Variações do corpo selvagem’

POR GUILHERME FREITAS

Índio com filmadora de Viveiros de Castro no Alto Xingu, em 1976. – Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

RIO – Certa vez, ao dar uma palestra em Manaus, o antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro deparou-se com uma plateia dividida entre cientistas e índios. Enquanto apresentava suas teses sobre o perspectivismo ameríndio, conceito desenvolvido a partir da cosmologia dos povos com que estudou na Amazônia, notou que a metade branca da plateia ia perdendo o interesse. No fim da palestra, diante do silêncio dos cientistas, uma índia pediu a palavra para alertá-los: “Vocês precisam prestar atenção ao que o professor aí está dizendo. Ele está dizendo o que a gente sempre disse”.

A cena, relembrada por Viveiros de Castro em entrevista ao GLOBO, remete a uma das teses centrais de seu novo livro, “Metafísicas canibais” (Cosac Naify e n-1 Edições). O autor descreve-o como a “resenha” ou “sinopse” de uma obra que nunca conseguirá concluir e que se chamaria “O Anti-Narciso”. Nela, aproximaria filosofia e antropologia, Deleuze e Lévi-Strauss, para investigar a pergunta: “o que deve conceitualmente a antropologia aos povos que estuda?”. As culturas e sociedades pesquisadas pelos antropólogos, escreve, “influenciam, ou, para dizer de modo mais claro, coproduzem” as teses formuladas a partir dessas pesquisas.

Um dos mais influentes antropólogos hoje, autor de “A inconstância da alma selvagem” (Cosac Naify, 2002) e professor do Museu Nacional da UFRJ, Viveiros de Castro desenvolve em “Metafísicas canibais” suas ideias sobre o perspectivismo, formadas a partir de ideias presentes em sociedades amazônicas sobre como humanos, animais e espíritos veem-se a si mesmos e aos outros. Ele descreve a antropologia como uma forma de “tradução cultural” e pleiteia que seu ideal é ser “a teoria-prática da descolonização permanente do pensamento”. O que implica reconhecer a diferença e a autonomia do pensamento indígena: “não podemos pensar como os índios; podemos, no máximo, pensar com eles”.Os primeiros contatos de Viveiros de Castro com esse universo estão registrados nas fotografias que fez durante o trabalho de campo com os índios Araweté, Yanomami, Yawalapiti e Kulina, entre meados dos anos 1970 e início dos 1990. Parte dessas fotos será exibida pela primeira vez na exposição “Variações do corpo selvagem”, no Sesc Ipiranga, em São Paulo, a partir do dia 29 de agosto. Com curadoria da escritora e crítica de arte Veronica Stigger e do poeta e crítico literário Eduardo Sterzi, a mostra reúne ainda fotos feitas pelo antropólogo nos anos 1970, quando trabalhava com o cineasta Ivan Cardoso, mestre do gênero “terrir” e diretor de filmes como “O segredo da múmia” (1982) e “As sete vampiras” (1986).

Em entrevista por e-mail, Viveiros de Castro, de 64 anos, fala sobre o livro e a exposição e discute outros temas de sua obra e sua atuação pública, como a crise climática, abordada em “Há mundo por vir?” (Cultura e Barbárie, 2014), que escreveu com a filósofa Déborah Danowski, com quem é casado. Fala também sobre a resistência dos índios contra o “dispositivo etnocida” armado contra eles no Brasil, que mira “suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia e sua autonomia política interna”.

Numa nota em “Metafísicas canibais”, você comenta que, sempre que expôs a ouvintes ameríndios suas teses sobre o perspectivismo, eles perceberam as implicações que elas poderiam ter para “as relações de força em vigor entre as ‘culturas’ indígenas e as ‘ciências’ ocidentais que as circunscrevem e administram”. Quais seriam essas implicações? O que interlocutores ameríndios costumam lhe dizer sobre o perspectivismo?

“Sempre que” é um pouco exagerado; dá impressão que eu faço tours de seminários sobre o pensamento indígena para ouvintes indígenas… Eu tinha em mente, naquela nota, uma ocasião em particular. Em 2006, a convite do Instituto Socioambiental, fiz uma palestra para uma plateia de cientistas do INPA, em Manaus, sobre as cosmologias amazônicas e as concepções indígenas da natureza da natureza, por assim dizer. Ao entrar na sala, descobri, com não pouca ansiedade, que apenas metade da plateia era composta de cientistas (biólogos, botânicos, pedólogos etc.) — e que a outra metade da sala estava cheia de índios do Rio Negro. Falar do que pensam os índios diante de uma plateia de índios não é exatamente uma situação confortável. Decidi então apresentar uma versão esquemática do que eu sabia a respeito do modo como o que chamei de “perspectivismo ameríndio” se manifestava nas culturas rionegrinas (povos Tukano e Aruaque, principalmente). No meio da palestra fui percebendo os cientistas cada vez menos interessados naquilo, e os índios cada vez mais agitados. Na hora das perguntas, nenhum cientista falou nada. Os índios, com sua cortesia habitual, esperaram os brancos presentes pararem de não dizer nada até que eles começassem a falar. Uma senhora então se levantou e, dirigindo-se à metade branca e científica da plateia, disse: “vocês precisam prestar atenção ao que o professor aí está dizendo. Ele está dizendo o que a gente sempre disse: que vocês não veem as coisas direito; que, por exemplo, os peixes, quando fazem a piracema (a desova) estão na verdade, lá no fundo do rio, transformados em gente como nós, fazendo um grande dabucuri (cerimônia indígena típica da região)”. E outro índio perguntou: “aquilo que o professor disse, sobre os morros da região serem habitados por espíritos protetores da caça, é verdade. Mas isso quer dizer então que destruir esses morros com garimpo e mineração é perigoso, não é mesmo? E não quereria dizer também que índio não pode ser capitalista?” Percebi, naquele confronto entre cientistas que estudam a Amazônia e os índios que vivem lá, que os primeiros estão interessados apenas no saber indígena que interessa ao que eles, cientistas, já sabem, isto é, àquilo que se encaixa na moldura do conhecimento científico normalizado. Os índios são “úteis” aos cientistas na medida em que podem servir de informantes sobre novas espécies, novas associações ecológicas etc. Mas a estrutura metafísica que sustenta esse conhecimento indígena não lhes dizia absolutamente nada, ou era apenas um ornamento pitoresco para os fenômenos reais. E os índios, ao contrário, se interessaram precisamente pelo interesse de um branco (eu) sobre isso. O que me deu muita coisa a pensar.

Mais geralmente, porém, tenho tido notícia da difusão lenta e episódica, mas real, de meus escritos (e os de meus colegas) sobre isso que chamei de “perspectivismo” junto a pensadores indígenas, ou muito próximos politicamente a eles, em outros países da América Latina (o livro foi traduzido para o espanhol, assim como diversos artigos de mesmo teor). Isso me alegra e, por que não dizer, envaidece muito. Mil vezes poder servir, com esses meus escritos aparentemente tão abstratos, à luta indígena pela autonomia política e filosófica que ser lido e comentado nos círculos acadêmicos — o que também não faz mal nenhum, bem entendido.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro na Flip 2014 – Arquivo/André Teixeira/2-8-2014

No livro, você pergunta: “O que acontece quando se leva o pensamento nativo a sério?”. E continua: “Levar a sério é, para começar, não neutralizar”. Partindo destes termos, quais são as maiores ameaças de “neutralização” do pensamento indígena no Brasil hoje?

‘O que se pretende é transformar o índio em pobre, tirando dele o que tem — suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia, sua autonomia política interna — para obrigá-lo a desejar consumir o que não tem.’

– EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Antropólogo

Neutralizar este pensamento significa reduzi-lo ao efeito de um complexo de causas ou condições cuja posse conceitual não lhes pertence. Significa, como escrevi no livro, pôr entre parênteses a questão de saber se e como tal pensamento ilustra universais cognitivos da espécie humana, explica-se por certos modos de transmissão socialmente determinada do conhecimento, exprime uma visão de mundo culturalmente particular, valida funcionalmente a distribuição do poder político, e outras tantas formas de neutralização do pensamento alheio. Trata-se de suspender tais explicações-padrão, típicas das ciências humanas, ou, pelo menos, evitar encerrar a antropologia nela. Trata-se de decidir, em suma, pensar o outro pensamento como uma atualização de virtualidades insuspeitas do pensamento em geral, o “nosso” inclusive. Tratá-lo como tratamos qualquer sistema intelectual ocidental: como algo que diz algo que deve ser tratado em seus próprios termos, se quisermos respeitá-lo e incorporá-lo como uma contribuição singular e valiosa à nossa própria e orgulhosa tradição intelectual. Só depois disso poderemos, se tal for nossa veleidade, anatomizá-lo e dissecá-lo segundo os instrumentos usuais da redução científica das práticas de sentido humano.

Mas sua pergunta acrescentava “no Brasil hoje”. No Brasil hoje o que se vê é muito mais que uma “neutralização do pensamento nativo”. O que se vê é uma ofensiva feroz para acabar com os nativos, para varrer suas formas de vida (e portanto de pensamento) da face do território nacional. O que se pretende hoje — o que sempre se pretendeu, mas hoje os métodos são ao mesmo tempo cada vez mais sutis e eficazes sem deixarem de ser brutais como sempre foram — é silenciar os índios, desindianizar todo pensamento nativo, de modo a transformar aquela caboclada atrasada toda que continua a “rexistir” (este é o modo de existência dos índios no Brasil hoje: a “rexistência”) em pobre, isto é, em “bom brasileiro”, mal assistencializado, mal alfabetizado, convertido ao cristianismo evangélico por um exército de missionários fanáticos, transformado em consumidor dócil do estoque infinito de porcarias produzidas pela economia mundial. Em suma: fazer do índio (os que não tiverem sido exterminados antes) um “cidadão”. Cidadão pobre, é claro. Índio rico seria uma ofensa praticamente teológica, uma heresia, à ideologia nacional. Para fazê-lo passar de índio a pobre, é preciso primeiro tirar dele o que ele tem — suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia, sua autonomia política interna —‚ para obrigá-lo a desejar consumir o que ele não tem — o que é produzido na terra dos outros (no país do agronegócio, por exemplo, ou nas fábricas chinesas).

Como avalia o estado atual das mobilizações indígenas contra intervenções do Estado em seus modos de vida, como na região do Xingu, com a construção da usina de Belo Monte?

Os índios fazem o que podem. Estão lutando contra uma máquina tecnológica, econômica, politica e militar infinitamente mais poderosa do que eles. No caso de Belo Monte, já perderam. Mas não sem dar um bocado de trabalho ao “programa” que esse governo, cujo ódio estúpido aos índios só é comparável ao que se via nos sombrios tempos da ditadura, vai implantando a ferro e a fogo na Amazônia inteira, inclusive fora do Brasil. Mas a luta continua, e ainda tem muito índio disposto a resistir (a “rexistir”) ao dispositivo etnocida armado contra eles, no Mato Grosso do Sul, no Tapajós, no Xingu, no Rio Negro e por aí afora.

Você tem trabalhado com o conceito de Antropoceno (que já definiu como o momento em que “o capitalismo passa a ser um episódio da paleontologia”) para alertar sobre os efeitos destrutivos da ação humana sobre o planeta. O que precisa mudar no debate público sobre a crise climática?

Muito. Isso tudo vai descrito no livro que coautorei com a filósofa Déborah Danowski, “Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins”, onde comparamos, de um lado, os efeitos já instalados e aqueles por vir da catástrofe ecológica desencadeada pela economia movida a combustíveis fósseis, e tudo o que vem com ela (inclusive o capitalismo financeiro e cognitivo), com os modos com que esse tema arquimilenar, o “fim do mundo”, vem sendo tematizado pela imaginação estética, política e mitológica de nossa própria civilização moderna, de outro lado. E por fim, tecemos considerações sobre como a “mudança de Era” (como dizem os camponeses nordestinos para se referir aos efeitos já palpáveis das mudanças climáticas) por que passamos hoje é pensada pelos índios, em suas mitologias e em sua prática ecopolítica concreta. Penso que as ciências humanas têm sido lentas em assumir que esta questão, que a palavra “Antropoceno” resume, é a questão mais grave e urgente da história humana desde o começo da era Neolítica, e que estamos entrando em uma situação inédita para a espécie como um todo. O debate na esfera pública tem sido laboriosamente mitigado, quando não silenciado, por uma poderosíssima máquina de propaganda financiada pelos principais interessados no status quo, a saber, as grandes corporações petroleiras e outras, como a Monsanto, a Nestlé, a Bunge, a Dow, a Vale, a Rio Tinto etc. Sem falarmos nos governos nacionais, meros instrumentos de polícia desses atores econômicos. Mas as coisas começam a mudar, devagar, mas mudando. Infelizmente, “devagar” é péssimo. Porque a aceleração dos processos de desequilíbrio termodinâmico do planeta marcha em ritmo crescente. O tempo e o espaço entraram em crise, escapam-nos por todos os lados. Hoje a luta política fundamental, a ser levada a nível mundial, é a luta pela liberação do espaço e do tempo.

Você afirma que o perspectivismo não é uma forma de relativismo cultural e, ao conceito corrente de “multiculturalismo”, contrapõe a noção de “multinaturalismo”. Quais são os problemas do relativismo cultural e como o multinaturalismo os evita?

‘O problema que se coloca não é o da “tolerância” (só os donos do poder são “tolerantes”), mas o da diplomacia’

– EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTROAntropólogo

O relativismo cultural é, ao menos como costumeiramente divulgado pela vulgata ideológica dominante, meramente a ideia de que existem várias opiniões sobre o mundo, o universo ou a “realidade”, mas que esta “coisa lá fora” (o mundo etc.) é uma só. Entre essas várias opiniões, há uma certa — a nossa, ou melhor, aquela que acreditamos ser a verdade cientifica (e 99,99% dos que acreditam nela não sabem em que estão acreditando). O resto é “cultura”, superstição, visões exóticas de gente que vive “fora da realidade”. Em relação a essa gente, podemos e até devemos mostrar um pouco de tolerância (afinal, são apenas opiniões, “visões de mundo”), devemos ser “multiculturalistas”. Mas a Natureza, com N maiúsculo, é uma só, e independe de nossas opiniões (exceto da minha, isto é, a da “Ciência” que nos serve de religião laica). O que chamei de “multinaturalismo” ou de “perspectivismo multinaturalista”, para caracterizar as metafísicas indígenas, supõe a indissociabilidade radical, ou pressuposição recíproca, entre “mundo” e “visão”. Não existem “visões de mundo” (muitas visões de um só mundo), mas mundos de visão, mundos compostos de uma multiplicidade de visões eles próprios, onde cada ser, cada elemento do mundo é uma visão no mundo, do mundo — é mundo. Para este tipo de ontologia, o problema que se coloca não é o da “tolerância” (só os donos do poder são “tolerantes”), mas o da diplomacia ou negociação intermundos.

Você defende uma concepção de antropologia como “descolonização permanente do pensamento”. Como ela pode fazer isso? Quais são os maiores impasses da disciplina hoje?

Vou responder rapidamente, ou os leitores não precisarão ler o livro… Trata-se de tomar o discurso dos povos que estudamos (os “nativos”, sejam quem forem) como interlocutores horizontalmente situados em relação ao discurso dos “observadores” (os “antropólogos”). O que a antropologia estuda são sempre outras antropologias, as antropologias dos outros, que articulam conceitos radicalmente diversos dos nossos sobre o que é o anthropos, o “humano”, e sobre o que é o logos (o conhecimento). Descolonizar o pensamento é explodir a distinção entre sujeito e objeto de conhecimento, e aceitar que só existe entreconhecimento, conhecimento comparativo, e que a antropologia como “estudo do outro” é sempre uma tradução (e uma tradução sempre equívoca) para nosso vocabulário conceitual do estudo do outro. O maior desafio vivido hoje pela antropologia é o de aceitar isso e tirar daí todas as consequências, inclusive as consequências políticas.

As fotografias reunidas em “Variações do corpo selvagem” remetem ao seu trabalho de campo com os Araweté, Yanomami, Yawalapiti e Kulina. Quais foram suas maiores descobertas nos encontros com esses povos?

Tudo o que eu escrevi sobre eles.

Kuyawmá se pintando com tabatinga para o javari. Aldeia Wauja, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Mapukayaka pinta Sapaim que pinta Ayupu. Aldeia Yawalapíti, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Combatente yawalapíti pinta-se para ritual do Javari, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Os Araweté assistindo a fime sobre eles, no Xingu, em 1992Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Índio com filmadora do antropólogo em aldeia yawalapíti no Alto Xingu, em 1976.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Yuruawï-do no jirau da casa de farinha. Aldeia do médio Ipixuna, 1982.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Foto inédita do filme O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso. Floresta da Tijuca, 1981.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Anselmo Vasconcelos, Ivan Cardoso, Oscar Ramos e a múmia, em O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso,…Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Hélio Oiticica como adepto de Dionísio. Filmagem de O Segredo da MúmiaFoto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Wilson Grey e Felipe Falcão em O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso, 1981.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

###### VEJA TAMBÉM

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# Heidegger and Geology (Public Seminar)

McKenzie Wark

June 26th, 2014

A small, handmade green book mysteriously appeared in my New School mail slot, with the intriguing title: The Anthropocene, or “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world.”

Its author is Woodbine, which turns out to be an address in Brooklyn where the texts in this small book were first presented. (The texts, and information about this interesting project, can also be found here and here). I have never been to Woodbine, but good things seem to be happening there.

I read the book on the way home to Queens from the New School, on the subway. As it turns out this was a fitting place to be reading these very interesting texts, passing through geological strata.

Whenever I raise the Anthropocene with humanities-trained people, their first instinct is to critique it as a concept. It’s hard to buck that liberal arts and grad school training, but it’s an impulse to resist. It’s time to rethink the whole project of ‘humanist culture’, to which even us card-carrying anti-humanists still actually belong.

The Woodbine text makes some useful advances in that direction. But for me I think the project now is not to apply the old grad school bag o’tricks to the Anthropocene, but rather to apply the Anthropocene to a root-and-branch rethinking of how we make knowledge outside the sciences and social sciences.

Woodbine: “The naming of the Anthropocene comes not to announce humankind’s triumph but rather its exhaustion.” (3) This disposes with the most idiotic criticism of the Anthropocene, that it is ‘hubris’ to raise up the human to such a power that it could name a geological age. The Anthropocene actually does something very different. Its not the old rhetoric of a Promethean triumph over nature, but rather poses the question: “How are we to live in a ruin?” (4)

The geologist Paul Crutzen has succinctly listed the signs of the Anthropocene: deforestation, urbanization, mass extinctions, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and climate change. He thinks collective human labor is starting to transform the very lithosphere itself. Woodbines modulates this a bit, calling this “the Anthropocene biopolitical epoch.” (15) But that’s where I think the radical import of the Anthropocene gets lost. Those trained in the humanities are besotted with the idea of politics, attributing all sorts of magical agency to it. But really, up against the lithosphere, politics may be as uselessly superstructural as fine art, or as imaginary as the Gods of the religions.

Woodbine engagingly calls Marx ‘Captain Anthropocene.’ He is perhaps one of our great witness-conceptualizers about the moment when the Anthropocene really accelerated: “Proletarianizing us, as Marx called it, didn’t just separate us from our conditions of existence: it literally recreated how we live, setting up walls against any other way of living.” (12) Collective social labor made a second nature, over and against nature, but in part also alienating the human from that which produced it.

As I have argued elsewhere, the historical response to this has been to erect a third nature, over and against second nature, to overcome its alienating effects – but in the process producing new ones. That’s where we are now, with the growing disenchantment with the internet and all that.

Crisis is a tricky concept, as my New School colleague Janet Roitman ably explains in her book Anti-Crisis. If there’s no crisis then how can the critical be made to work? The self interest of the latter requires the perception of the former. As somebody once said, to a critic with a hammer, everything looks like a thumb.

The Anthropocene might subtly modulate the old rhetoric of crisis. Woodbine: “with the Anthropocene, the catastrophe is here in the form of the age itself, meaning our entire civilization, and its requisite way of life, is already a ruin.” (18) Crisis is not a thing or event in the world, it is the world.

This would be the profound shock of Crutzen’s provocation, that crisis is not merely political or even economic, but geological. Woodbine: “It’s crazy, like we’re reading Heidegger in the annals of the geological societies!” (19) Actually, here is where I would want to dissent from the Woodbine text. It is not that one finds Heidegger in the geological annals, but the reverse. Heidegger is only of any interest to the extent that one finds the geological in his thought, unrecognized.

It is striking how much of the grad school canon lets us down when it comes to the Anthropocene. It’s disorienting. Things once safely left unaddressed cannot be depended on. Latour: “to live in the Anthropocene is to live in a declared state of war.” But one has to ask whether Latour’s recent discovery of the Anthropocene is really all that consistent with his past work, which seems to me to concede too much to the vanity of humanists. It was only ever about part- or quasi- objects. It never really made the leap of recognizing the weakness of its own methods. Latour was a half-way house, a holding operation. As Donna Haraway pointed out a long time ago, Latour still has a thing for stories about great men waging great conflicts.

For Woodbine, the Anthropocene is the scene of a “metaphysical war.” (21) But it might be more interesting to think this the other way around. What if metaphysics was nothing more than a displaced echo of the Anthropocene? Metaphysics is not an essential key to it. Metaphysics is rather one of the pollutants. Metaphysics is just the off-gassing of the Anthropocene.

Let’s pause, too, over the war metaphor, so beloved of the cold war decision sciences. We need a new imaginary of the relation.

Still, Woodbine does get some mileage out of the dust of the old concepts. There is surely a crisis of state at the moment. The link between rationality and governance can no longer be finessed, it is finally abandoned. Governments become ad hoc reaction machines. Its what I call the spectacle of disintegration, where the state can (1) no longer orient itself in an historical time, (2) is now deceiving itself, and not just its subjects, and (3) wears out and fragments all of the ideological detritus that once sustained at least the illusion that state and history were one.

This is where Woodbine is right to point to the rhetorical figure of ‘resilience’ as a salient one. It’s a rejection of the old mastery trope. No longer is the state the collective subject of history bending the objects of nature to a collective will. Rather, it’s a rhetoric of connecting what were once objects and subjects together in webs and nets in constant flux. Now it’s all feedback loops and recursive, adaptive systems. At least in theory. For now in actuality, power is just disintegrating. Its new militarization is a sign of its lack of confidence. The game is up.

Woodbine chooses here a local, New York example. MoMA organized a show, just after the housing bubble burst, called Rising Currents. The brief was for architects and planners to show how the city (actually mostly Manhattan and the cool bits of Brooklyn) could be more resilient. One project imagines a restoration of the old oyster beds that used to dot the foreshores, as a kind of eco- econo- climate resilience virtuous circle.

When I heard someone not unconnected to Woodbine present this part of the Woodbine text at the Historical Materialism conference, the oyster bed project was met with hoots of laughter. But to me this just shows how alienated humanities-trained people are from design and urban planning as kinds of practice. It’s so much harder to even imagine what one might build in the Anthropocene than to divine its concept. And particularly hard to even imagine what one could build that would scale, that would work for the seven billion.

“The Anthropocene provides the urgency to draw together previously unrelated knowledges, practices, and technologies into a network of relation….” (26-27) One might struggle for and against certain forms such networks might take, or even as to whether they are really going to be ‘networks’ (that word which in our time is both ideological and yet so real). Maybe we would rather be infuriating swarms or packs than networks.

Woodbine: “In the Anthropocene, the critical gesture is finished. New Land, new horizons. Everything is to be reinvented.” (28) One might not want to put it in too declarative a style, but yes indeed. Perhaps its time to get to work re-inventing what humanities knowledge might be, and with what it connects, and how it connects.

The actual culture may be way ahead of us. On the one hand, the Anthropocene is the cultural unconscious. Every movie and tv show is about it, whether it knows it or not. We are “living in this end without end, an exhausted civilization dreams its apocalypse anew each morning…” (32) But a certain paralysis results from this.

Woodbine has a good analysis of this. The apocalypse means to uncover, reveal. For the messianic sects that arose out of Rome in decline, apocalyptic time was unidirectional and teleological. Things are in a state of incompletion. The meaning of the fragments around about one lies in the anticipation of the revealing of their unit. “As a result of this anticipation of an eschatological event through which things and beings will be saved from their decrepitude, the whole of reality is derealized. The disenchantment of the world has closely followed this strange derealization of the real…” (39) This is the problem: the apocalypse disconnects us from the world. As for that matter does the communist horizon, that partly secularized version of the temporal logic of apocalypse.

In this perspective, empire is that which holds back the purifying apocalypse. But in our time, apocalypse has been desacralized. It no longer promises redemption. Resilience is government under conditions of constant apocalypse. It’s a temporality which disperses apocalypse, but also takes away its redeeming power. It is to be endured. There’s no revelation imminent. “If we can understand Rome as catechon, warding off a single catastrophe in space and time (Armageddon), resilience multiplies and diffuses this structure across the whole globe…” (49) Salvation is unthinkable, resilience is all about survival.

And yet, curiously, resilience “maintains the homogenous time of a government without end.” (50) Empire wants to think it is not that which impedes the apocalypse which reveals meaning in its totality, after time breaks. Empire today wants to think it can be rubbery enough to be ‘sustainable’, to pass through multiple crises, but keep a homogenous, spectacular time ticking over. Power gets it that the old subject as master of the object ontology has to go, but strangely still maintains a universal homogenous time of petty and baseless things and their wondrous ‘networks.’

That, I think, is a wonderfully distilled analysis. I read Woodbine as wanting to reanimate the messianic rather than abandoning this whole conceptual tar pit. Hence: “Inhabiting the messianic means no longer waiting for the end of the world.” (55) The project is one of transforming lived time. The messianic becomes a practice of the here and now, a practice that might restore a shattered world, that restore being: “we must inhabit the desert.” (57)

There’s a Deleuzian note here, from the cinema books, for example, about believing in the world. “To enter messianic time is to believe in the world, in its possibilities of movement and intensities, and to create worlds.” (58) But as Woodbine acknowledges, this is worse than collapse of Rome. If it’s a ‘crisis’ it is not one that happens in time, it is rather a crisis of time.

Perhaps the worn-out old names so endlessly recycled in grad school are not going to be of much help to us. Are we really expecting, that if time appears now in a very new way, that those who survived the old time and became those who marked its tempo are going to talk about a time not their own? What if Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt had nothing to say about the Anthropocene? When did humanists become the arch-conservatives? Insisting on ever occasion that the answers are always in the same old books? And always the same answers, no matter what the question.

On the one hand, it might be more interesting to pay attention to the organic intellectuals emerging out of more or less consciously Anthropocene practices. Woodbine thinks these are in two categories. Firstly, there’s the insurrections and occupations. Secondly, there’s the cultures of hacking, prepping, modding, which are often not ‘political’ in any overt sense, but which tend to have a firm notion that we need new practices of engaging with the world.

Woodbine wants to think insurrection and occupation as having an almost spiritual dimension. But perhaps the driver of the dissolution of legitimate political form really is going to be the food riot, as it was so often in the past as well. Here I want a much more vulgar read on Marx than Woodbine. We’re going to have to get our hands at least conceptually dirty.

Thinking alongside the organic intellectuals who are hacking and modding the interfaces to the old infrastructure strikes me as a necessary project. I agree with Benjamin Bratton that the question of our time is (as I hear him phrase it, at least): can the infrastructure of the old world produce a qualitatively new infrastructure? But thinking that problem would require a much wider collaboration among forms of knowledge and practice than I think Woodbine is prepared to entertain. It is not the case that only the Gods can save us.

The discourse of the humanities revels in the qualitative, and wants to see only the good side of the qualitative and the bad side of quantitative knowledge, viz: “To be able to judge a situation, or a being, you must introduce some standard of measurement, and hence reduce a living, breathing fullness to an abstracted mass of equivalents. A subject or an object is thus the stripped bare life that can be replaced.” (74)

The problem with this is that it doesn’t follow. There’s no necessary link between measuring something and thinking it replaceable. Climate science, as quantitative knowledge, is counter-factual example enough. On the other hand, the qualitative, as that which makes distinctions, is perfectly capable of making distinctions between who or what matters and what doesn’t, and is replaceable. ‘Bare life’, after all, is a Roman legal category, which has nothing to do with quantification.

Hence I am not too convinced that salvation alone lies in reworking a kind of affirmative ontology: “Whatever singularity is simply the inhabiting, really inhabiting, of the being that we already are…” (75) Rather, the problem might be the very notion that a philosophy can have such magical properties, if only one gets the incantation right. If philosophy was ever going to save us, it would have done so by now.

Most of our theories, it seems now in the Anthropocene, are not keys or tools, but rather symptoms. They are more part of the problem than the solution. I see no difference between keeping the Heidegger industry going and keeping the coal-fired power industry going. Except that the former has even more tenacious apologists.

But I like the Woodbine texts. I salute their attention to what matters. Theory has to know what time it is. Its time is the Anthropocene.