Thuistezien 190 — 27.02.2021

Randolph Dible
Laws of Form 2019

Randolph Dible takes an ontological interest in the theoretical book on maths and logics ‘Laws of Form’, written by George Spencer-Brown in 1969. An ontological interest implies that he looks at the fundamental structure to be found in Laws of Form, that serves as the foundation to the structures of the world. In this talk, Dible takes an autobiographical approach to lay out how he developed his interest and gathered crucial insights from Laws of Form. He describes how as a kid he very consciously and vividly experienced memory being formed, by lying in a pool in the sun with a ‘tropical jungle’ behind. He experienced an urge to try to remember such moments, because some of them were ending and could take away from the miracle of existence. Representing a token of childhood happiness, this is a practice many can relate to of treasuring inner states. We often attempt to revive these states through memory with all kinds of procedures, such as keepsakes of nostalgia. Dible mentions the example of keeping a dream journal, where one may find oneself having to start writing after which one remembers more and more of the narrative. This syntax of writing, whether it serves as a medium through the movements made during writing or rather due to the used letters and symbols, enables a ‘falling into time’ through language. Laws of Form can be seen as indicating this activity of conjecturing recollections and associations to the content of profound inner states. It provides the insight into a notion of infinity within continuity and discontinuity – Does a point need to stop in order to change direction? Memory of inner states also works along these lines.

Dible then tries to explain how infinity ‘works’ logically through the necessary existence of a first point, a first distinction, from which 0 becomes 1, and an unmarked state transforms into a marked state. In Laws of Form, Spencer-Brown’s contribution to logics was his ‘mark of distinction’, that as a symbol could substitute all other symbols. The unmarked state, as would be called the void in Buddhist terminology, represents ‘nothing’. Yet, it can’t be a pure radical nothingness, otherwise nothing in the world could exist. Rather, the nothing is a perennial relation that an unmarked state has towards a first distinction. The first distinction is a little marked dot, but without a clear outline or edges on a plane, nor in any two-dimensional space. Moreover, there can only be one first distinction; the first distinction is contingent upon the idea or awareness that there is one. Any next thing that develops from it is its radiation and reference. This makes that the first distinction is the limit to experience and perception, as well as its centre, as has been compared to floating in an isolation tank where the subject becomes pure ego, and the sole observer of all that darkness and silence. It raises many questions on subjectivity – is the ‘I’ the first distinction, and if so, is it necessarily elusive? Is the world around the I actually just self-reference? Is there anything outside of the ‘I’ and if so, does this refer to a pan-psychic notion of God? Or is there a place for other ‘I’s?

Randy Dible is a doctoral student in philosophy at The New School for Social Research, Manhattan, New York. His work is in phenomenology and Ancient Greek philosophy, and George Spencer-Brown was his friend and mentor.

Text: Yael Keijzer