LARUELLE AND SCIENCE FICTION: open, flexible, heuristic criteria

In recent posts I have been thinking out loud about François Laruelle’s claim in his latest book TETRALOGOS that his proposed replacement activity for philosophy (a replacement that is diversely but not equivalently called non-philosophy, non-standard philosophy, or forced philosophy) is also a General Science Fiction.

Laruelle claims that traditional science fiction

has not yet had its non-standard revolution to get out of its merely imaginary forms (139)

To effect this revolution SF needs to be re-founded on the basis of three criteria:

1) the world-building is based on the most contemporary hard science, quantum physics, as model (material cause)

2) the narrative line is the destiny of humanity from the Earth, through the World, to the Universe (cosmic final cause)

3) the struggle from the « Bad-world » to the « Just-world » (social final cause)

Elsewhere he adds other criteria:

4) the imaginary number and its quarter turn (formal cause)

5) a generic subject = X capable of supporting the other criteria (efficient cause)

I have added the euivalence with Aristotle’s four causes to introduce some order.

I have given some examples of major works that satisfy these in the previous post: DUNE, THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, ANATHEM.

Another good example is Greg Egan, whose works are based on hard physics. They are often based on a quantum model, but sometimes (DICHRONAUTS, ORTHOGONAL trilogy) he uses a re-worked version of relativistic physics as framework, rather than quantum physics (as in QUARANTINE). This argues for an extension of Laruelle’s formula for non-standard SF by using one of his more general criteria, the generic, and schematising it as relativity and construing it as on an equal footing with quantum physics in #1.

More generally, if the laws of physics that rule in a SF universe can differ from the laws that apply in our own universe, then we should give the priority to the generic over the quantum in #1. This is a second argument as to why Laruelle should have included the generic explicitly in his list of criteria for SF.

Another, more classical, example is Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION books, which are great SF, and show that Laruelle’s criteria need to be extended to include thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (psychohistory).

Also, as remarked in the previous post, the novels of Alastair Reynolds rely on relativistic physics, and the quantum effects are present mainly as « furnishings ».

These examples (Egan, Asimov, Reynolds) show that Laruelle will have to be more supple about his criteria. In fact the possibility of deploying a more open, flexible, and expanded set of criteria is already inscribed in his system. In the ascending movement of his Space Opera Laruelle expands the new alliance between science and philosophy to the state of « Reminiscience », a knowing which includes the generic and the quantic. This permits an expanded formula for Laruellean SF.

Otherwise, the danger is thatLaruelle entrenches at the level of his criteria a particular theory (quantum mechanics) that may be replaced one day, thus making it both judge and defendant at the same time.

Another example is Yoon Ha Lee’s THE MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE trilogy. This is based on a technology that can produce non-standard or « exotic » effects, on the condition that everyone conforms to the same « calendar », calculated according to high er mathematics and given force by a series of painful feast days or « remembrances » recalling and making use of torture and human sacrifice.

The first book in the series, NINEFOX GAMBIT, is the best, then the other two explore the innovatory physics less so as to concentrate on the characters. Lee explains that he could have done more with the math, but that he found he had to choose between developing the speculative dimension and making the story accessible. To our loss, he oriented his writing towards accessibility.

Some people questioned its belonging to the genre of SF, seeing it as fantasy decked out as SF. I have argued that it is in fact SF, but that the hard science on which it is based is mathematics rather than the more usual physics.

Another problem with Laruelle’s version of the « quantum » requirement is that whenever he talks about the makers of quantum mechanics he privileges the more classical of the quantum physicists, especially Planck (cf. also Laruelle’s article « Marx with Planck ». And he explicitly excludes Bohr.

However quantum mechanics is not one single univocal thing, it emerged out of a whole range of dialogues and conflicting interpretations. Even today its nature, interpretation and status are dialogically complex. Is there just one « quantum » way of thinking that is common to all these researchers? I think not.

Further, from a methodological point of view, one must not entrench as foundational to science a theory that may be abandoned or radically modified at a later date. Feyerabend remarked how the name of  « von Neumann » was used as a dialogue stopper. His so called « proof » that quantum mechanics is complete cannot be accepted uncritically.

This analysis of Laruelle’s three criteria for science fiction suggests that the first criterion (inclusion of quantum physics into the infrastructure of the world building) is too limited and restrictive, being more much more specific (less generic) than the other two criteria.

Criterion #1 quantum mechanics must not be be treated as a necessary requirement, but as a heuristic recommendation for the inclusion of hard science quantum or relativistic physics, or both) as not just part of the surface hand-waving but as an integral part of the infrastructure (world-building and style).

Olaf Stapledon’s STAR MAKER seems to fit this extended formula. It is a relativistic, space opera going towards a utopian cosmic consciousness. There is also a quantum element in the discovery that the Star Maker has produced multiple worlds. However, this aspect is not fully integrated into the rest of the story.

Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM goes even further in the direction that Laruelle indicates for non-standard science fiction in that the planet on which the action takes place is not Earth, but its Platonic Idea (« Arbre ») in a multiple hierarchy of worlds.

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