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Math is Real

by on February 14, 2013

This is not my first time beginning to read Quentin Meillasoux’s After Finitude, but it is my first time finishing it. Harman’s “quadruple object” framework has allowed my to contextualize Meillasoux’s work in a way that I was unable the first time I picked it up. One of the things that struck me was the relationship between “mathematizable qualities” as Meillasoux describes them and the “Real Qualities” (RQ) from Harman’s schematized philosophy. According to Harman, the real object’s real qualities remain out of reach for the perceiving object (as well as the RO to whom the RQ belong). They are withdrawn from perception, only accessible through “theory,” which is as yet an indefinite process.

Meillasoux’s “mathematizable qualities,” however, add a more concrete perspective to the notion of real qualities. Meillasoux says, “all those aspects of the object that can be formulated in mathematical terms can be meaningfully conceived as properties of the object in itself.” Thus, while we cannot reasonably say that the universe was “hot” during the formation of this planet, we can make mathematical statements about the duration these processes took. Consequently, Meillasoux uses the example of mathematics to suggest the absolute outside of human thought, contra correlationism. He writes of “mathematics’ ability to discourse about the great outdoors; to discourse about a past where both humanity and life are absent.”

Yet, I’m wondering how Harman would characterize mathematics with relation to the sensual. While “humanists” would understand the sensual as qualities that appeal to the senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, sound, Bruce Willis), Harman is clearly redefining the sensual to incorporate nonhuman modes of perception. Since tables et al. do not have sense organs like humans, perception presumably occurs through other channels. Is it unreasonable to consider mathematics just such a channel? And if so, would the “mathematizable qualities” of an object be relegated to the sensual realm, since in our schema the perceptual organ of mathematics is being employed in order to perceive said qualities? Admittedly, I have not taken a mathematics course since AP Calculus in 2006, but I’m skeptical that mathematics works in the way in which Meillasoux argues. We’ve briefly discussed Meillasoux’s suggestion that God could appear, and it seems to me that the kind of access that Meillasoux’s mathematics allows for fulfills this role.

One Comment
  1. 7sshare permalink

    “Is it unreasonable to consider mathematics just such a channel?”

    That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think there is any reason in Harman or Meillasoux to assume it. I think that in Harman, the way objects perceive each other is simply by the way that they affect one another (like fire burning cotton). There’s not any more sophisticated kind of communication or perception going on. As for why mathematical statements are real and not sensual…well, that’s what After Finitude is all about.

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