[NetBehaviour] Theory

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon May 17 02:37:03 CEST 2021



"Theories don't give meaning, but they limit the kinds of
meanings we can give."

- from Judith Roitman, Introduction to Modern Set Theory, 3rd
edition, 2013, p. 29

I've been having a really difficult time with this book; at this
point I don't have the background to read it, but I'm trying in
any case. But this sentence seems remarkable to me, and what it
might imply in general. Theory becomes, not explanatory, but
descriptive of the limits of meaning. Bear with me. Think of a
theory has describing the underlying, scaffolding of a domain or
domains which are always both leaky and circumscribed. (For
example, particle theory, cosmology, quantum theory, and so
forth.) The theory elucidates the scaffolding within limits. What
is the phenomenology of meaning in this regard - for example
Einstein's "The Meaning of Relativity"? I'm talking I fear, on
the level of high-school philosophy here. If one construes
meaning within a particular domain - energy for example - one
might say "The meaning of energy is E = Mc^2." It's a translation
from one language, perhaps to another. It explains. The meaning
lies in the explanation. But suppose theory does the opposite -
limits explanation, not by offering a (provable?) equivalence,
but by indicating the limits of the meaningful. This idea (and
I'm sure I'm misreading all over the place) might indicate that
theory is a form of paring-away at one ontological domain, by
re-producing something more or less true within the epistemo-
logical. To continue on my high-school (or earlier) level, for
example, if God is ontology, and gravity epistemology, then one
way of looking at this might be to consider that God and "God"
are weakened by the structural "leaking" of gravitational theory.
In terms of my own thinking re: somatic ghosting, the "leaking"
from analog to digital apparently empties the body of its
gristle, at least on a popular level; the resulting dubious
ontology of the body slides into, and is subsumed by, the fabric
of over-arching digital epistemologies, which appear as the
horizon of fundamental praxis itself. I'm aware that nothing can
be said sensibly within such a paragraph as this; on the other
hand, there is something in the quote which resonate, as if some
other and perhaps more skeletal appearance were present,
disturbances in the current and past order of things.

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