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Alexander Wilson: Kill Your Doubles

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

Workshop with Alexander Wilson: Kill Your Doubles

Saturday April 1-- 10 am Pacific Time

Kill Your Doubles 1

Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit: Paradox, Matter, Time

Saturday April 8-- 10 am Pacific Time

Kill Your Doubles 2

Ex Falso Quodlibet: Absurdity, Reason, Evolution


On Something Like an Operational Virtuality

Alexander Wilson

On Something Like an Operational Virtuality Alexander Wilson
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Kill Your Doubles 1

Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit: Paradox, Matter, Time

Two grim news stories recently made similar headlines: in southern Germany, a woman is accused of kidnapping and murdering her Instagram doppelgänger in order to fake her own death; in New York city a woman was recently convicted of attempting to steal her look-alike’s identity by feeding her poisoned cheesecake. In Fassbinder’s Despair (1978) (based on Nabokov’s novel of the same name): a man who wants to escape his boring life murders an actor whom he has deluded himself into believing is his doppelgänger. This same logic finds its way into the recent genre I loosely call materialist short time-loop films—which includes Time Crimes (2007), Primer (2004), Looper (2012), and Triangle (2009), but not Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Groundhog Day (1993), Source Code (2011), Repeaters (2010), or Russian Doll (2019), which are idealist short time-loop films—this scenario is combined with the typical conceit of time travel films like Back to the Future (1985), where someone disrupts the chain of past events that led to their existing in the first place: paradox. In materialist short time-loop films, the denouement of such a paradoxical situation often sees the characters being forced to eliminate the copies of themselves whom they inevitably encounter when they pass through the loop, in order to take their place in a new timeline.

In the first session, such scenarios will help us to illuminate some profound aspects of logic and physics, as well as some long standing ideas in philosophy. As Parmenides already knew, you can’t get something from nothing: ex nihilo nihil fit. This primitive prohibition provides an account of the order and consistency we are continually compelled to reestablish, the unidirectionality of causality, the plausibility of objective reality. You cannot get something for nothing, nor for that matter can you summon the void. Quantum physics now provides the ultimate corollary of this in the no-cloning and no-deleting theorems, which give shape to category theoretical translations of quantum mechanics, and imply matter obeys a logic of resources, rather than a logic of truth. We will see how this logic of resources closely relates to the 20th century history of strategies for taming paradox in logic, mathematics, and computing, from early type theory in Russell and Whitehead´s Principia to Girard’s linear logic, by way of the BHK interpretation and Gentzen and Löf, and articulated on important discoveries such as the Curry-Howard isomorphism, revealing deep connections between the inherently related capacities of matter and computation.

Kill Your Doubles 2

Ex Falso Quodlibet: Absurdity, Reason, Evolution

The idea of the multiverse is another science fiction trope that draws from quantum physics. Like time loop films, multiverse films or parallel time-line films can be divided into the idealist variety (like Mr. Nobody (2009), Run Lola Run (1998), Possible Worlds (2000)), which merely entertain abstract counter-factuality, and the (somewhat-more) materialist variety (Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022), Coherence (2013)) where some account is given of the underlying physical premise. Coherence is of particular interest for our purposes, as it tells the story of some astronomical event that causes parallel worlds to collide such that multiple copies of the protagonists encounter each other in a kind of violent superposition. Thus, to re-establish the “coherence” (never mind that what they are really after is quantum decoherence) of their own causal time-line and rid it of paradox, the characters are forced to kill their doubles, else be killed by their doubles.

In our second session, this scenario will serve as a speculative springboard for scrutinizing an age-old idea, that creativity is allied to the incomputable, the absurd, or the contradictory. Indeed, as the ancient logical dictum goes: ex falso quodlibet; from false premises anything follows. We will see how this idea intersects the history of computing, from its formulation in Turing’s solution to Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem, which demonstrated that some series of instructions which we may feed a computing machine will make it go on crunching symbols forever: the incomputable program expressed as a mechanical paradox. In their subsequent attempts to tame this incomputability, logicians of the last century will have banished the paradox into the depths: the bottom type, or empty type. But indeed it is far from empty: it overflows with creative leaps out of absurdity, into intelligibility. Absurdity reveals itself as the ground from which all structure originates: what category theory will refer to as the “initial object”. We will correlate these ideas to an evolutionary and biological account of reason that intersects Pyrrhonism and Bayesianism, and progressively spin a web that connects art, technology, artificial intelligence and speculations on the human future.

Wilson, Alexander. 2021. "On Something Like an Operational Virtuality" Humanities 10, no. 1: 29.

Wilson, Alexander, 2022. “Stiegler and the Chinese Room: Or What Do We Call Paunching?” The Technical Pharmacy (Bernard Stiegler, the Politics of Spirit and the Aesthetics of Memory), OEI #96–97

Alexander Wilson (Canada, b. 1979) is a philosopher, filmmaker, musician, designer, general tinkerer, and former theater director and media artist. He is author of Aesthesis and Perceptronium: On the Entanglement of Sensation, Cognition, and Matter (University of Minnesota Press 2019). He lives and works off-grid, in the middle of nature, somewhere between the coast and the mountains of southwest Portugal.

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