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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2012, volume 30, pages 369 ^ 380


Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences

Michel Serres

mie Franc Acade aise, 23 quai de Conti, 75270 Paris cedex 06, CS 90618, France Translated by Taylor Adkins 3047 Hollywood Drive, Decatur, GA 30033, USA

Abstract. In this paper from the book Les origines de la ge ome trie (The origins of geometry), subtitled tiers livre des fondations (third book of foundations) (Serres, 1993, Flammarion, Paris), I argue that the history of the sciences and, in particular, the history of mathematics cannot be written using the tools and models of traditional historiography. Rather, I claim that there is a need for a science of history that takes seriously what I see as a radical contemporaneity or copresence of the archaic and the contemporary. The model of history that I propose attempts to seek a degree of congruence between a model of time that is not chronological but rather percolating and filtering the ways that the mathematical tradition is reinvented. There existsor seems to exist a structural similitude between mathematics itself and the form or model of historiography required to write its history.

Several sciences, several histories The history of the mathematical sciences transforms as soon as their invention is investigated, and so profoundly sometimes that it seems to change nature more than allure. In fact, it sometimes seems to follow regular lines of expansion or growth, spirals of resumptions or circles of invariance, sometimes undergoing abrupt declines, reversals, or gaps through forgetting, stabilities, or ongoing preservation ... . Ten different models of stagnation, regression, or progress, either discrete or continuous, could be composed in such a way as to lose the orientation of their development the moment the complex variety of these different fluxes, networks, or spectra is observed. We therefore doubt the meaning of the history of science: in order to begin, should we search for a science of history? Yes, and this is precisely what has slowed me down for thirty-five years. Moreover, we can neither conceive the origin without some sort of preliminary philosophy of time, nor ultimately conceive the origins of the first geometry without clarifying those of the space that it constructed. This text primarily responds to these three questions. It has taken its author his entire life to attempt to shed light on the respective answers.

Let us begin with the history of geometry: can we decide what this science designates? Do we begin with the ancient and modern measure of the arable or constructible earth, namely that of farmers or masons? The archaic figures of Pythagorean arithmetic? Those of the school of Chios? Platonic forms or ideas? Euclid's Elements ? That which remains of Archimedes or Apollonius? Cartesian representation? The descriptive blueprints of the 19th century? Non-Euclidean reconstructions? Leibniz's ``analysis ? Hilbert's formal demonstrations? situs'', the topology of Euler, Riemann, and Poincare Contemporary algebraic geometry? The plans of computer programmers developing robotic movement ... ? Seen from afar, the universal almost transforms into a jungle of


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sciences so different that it overwhelms the number of histories to relate them to, all divergent and enrooted in forgotten pasts. Are they thus convergent? For example, the diagonal and the squarethe triangle and its elementsreturn in each of the aforementioned domains, no doubt inherited from the most primitive geometries. And the universal guides us through this jungle of differences in this strange and familiar theorem that demonstrates the existence of a model of all geometry within that of Euclid, which is precisely the origin I am seeking. Although invariants, it seems these elements never refer to the same system of thought, such that it is neither a question of a stable figure nor, perhaps, of the same language. It most often happens that an expert judges that one of the geometries she no longer uses preceding her own is nonscientific or prescientific: it is not included in her history. And thus each geometry in turn projects its own history. From whence do we set off in order to rediscover the first? From rigorous demonstration? There is thus a principle of indeterminism quite difficult to reduce: either I know, within the interior of a well-defined geometry, the position of an element, figure, or theorem and lose the speed of its own expansive movement on the basis of its first emergence towards its current truth, or I locate the latter and lose its position in a science where it will take on its meaning. This indetermination finds its limit in error, which the scientist forgets but which the historian must restore as the truth of an age: the latter is interested in the leftovers, while the former is instead engaged with inspired intuitions without any impact upon their age. Historical truth can go to waste, but the latter, on the contrary, can be reactivated in truths: if I say true in Anaximander's sense, I can eventually say false; if I say true, I can say false in Anaximander's sense. This indeterminism defines the history of the sciences not as a continuous tradition but as a fragmented and discontinuous trauma. Would this tradition be contrary to the sciences of which it speaks? Does it take on its exceptional situation in relation to the sciences themselves as a site of contact for both historical time and abstraction? Could we perhaps explore this tangency from the point of view of science, whose inventions by themselves form a history? Here is another indetermination: at a given moment, let us consider a mathematics such that each notion expresses itself at all times. For example, dating from the 1940s, foliated, chaotic, compact, sparse, fibered space; categories from the 1950s; sets from the 19th century; functions from the 18th century; integration from the 17th century; the diagonal from five centuries before Jesus Christ; addition from 1000 BC, and so on. The system's temporality seems homogeneous while that of its undetermined, fragmented, and chaotic elements seems random from outside. Whereas the traditional history of the sciences projects the constantly renewed overturnings of previous orders onto an irreversible linenamely through new combinations of reversible sequencesthe site of contact for the historicity proper to the sciences and history in the usual sense still remains undetermined or subject to contradiction: tradition does not account for this paradoxical and exceptional situation. In sum, an element has neither the same situation, nor the same bearing, nor the same orientation in any system punctuating this complex flux which we naively call history. This leads to such a redistribution that this element, here in principle, becomes any link whatsoever there, and even elsewhere becomes an abandoned fragment dating from a forgotten world; still elsewhere, it precisely becomes a recovered forgetting
Indeterminism, indetermination, chaos Differences and the universal

Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences


reintegrated by generalization and again becomes active. Is it then a question of the same form or always of another? Is the history of science generally continuous or discontinuous? In both cases, what is its orientation? How do we go back towards an origin from there? This evolution's complication borders on the chaotic. In spite of the unforeseeable, which every invention justifiably boasts of, can we understand this chaos and find some sort of law behind it? The diversity of the possible conceptions of the history of the sciences and, perhaps, of history in general will soon force us to return to the question of time and to consider all preceding indeterminations as bound by a systematic space restoring all possible chronic varieties.
The Greek traces of these problems

Has Plato (2005) already put forth these questions? The Meno has a slave child reconstruct a demonstrative sequence concerning the diagonal of the square through an act of remembrance. Communication is reestablished with a forgotten world on the basis of a chain of geometric reasons. Outside the signification of the anecdote in the strict sense of Platonism, can we seriously consider it within the context of history? It sets in play several times: first, a fragmentation in the tradition, and then a continuity reestablished in such a way that the teacher and child live together in a new circular time, indefinitely repeatable. Would a more contemporary demonstration of the same theorem rediscover the existence of a subjacent, archaic mathematics forgotten by Greek measure, and, via a new priority, would it exhume a recovered origin by considering Platonic geometry as a trivial metric model? We in fact know this today after deciphering cuneiform tablets whose sexagesimal counting system surprisingly resembles the algorithmic processes used by our computers. We thus remind ourselves of Babylon and its abstraction, buried, lost, or misunderstood by the Greeks.

The situation of the Meno would be reversed: the traditionalist, who knows Pythagoras, ignores the practice of algorithms because he has forgotten it. But the contemporary scientist, who knows these processes, precisely forgets Pythagorean metrics and its demonstration to the ancients and could prefer to ignore it so as to more quickly access the theorems of the tradition, the world in the past through which it was necessary to remember oneself: Fragment, she says, the continuity of the tradition and this forgetting will bring you towards a more distant, more profoundly hidden origin, towards a simultaneously new and old world through which you will therefore remember yourself. Inventive discontinuity plunges deeper than the tradition's continuity: the idea of the algorithm long ago preceded but today follows the metric theorem. For example, Hilbert will enter into communication with Euclid directly, but contemporary mathematics presents the Euclid ^ Hilbert interval as outdated by rupturing this connection again. Thus several types of temporality deploy themselves. Another example: the dawn of the first Greek geometry will consider the triangle as the simplest form of space after the point, segment, and angle. Hence the traditional richness of its analysis through ultra-elementary triangulations via bisections, heights, medians, midsections ... the Timaeus (Plato, 1960) triangulates the elements of the Earth in this waythis is the new meaning of the word geometry, when the earth passes from the plot of land to the world.
Historical or mathematical origins? Vectors


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Supposing that Euclid and his predecessors had considered the triangle as the half of a square or even parallelogram, they would have immediately been led to the structure of vector space. We are thus here again at the origin where we find another beneficial culmination of history: the point, segment, and angle, then the open triangle, three segments with a common summit, which are part of the parallelogram and not the closed trilateral we improperly call the triangle. Vectorial addition is derived in this way through components and result, which in turn makes the principal notion of the vector and the null vector rebound upon the segment and the point, and so on: the structure of vectorial space reveals itself little by little in a primary simplicity. Can we travel there to a spiraled time passing over and over again through an origin? Coming after these elements, questions of the scalar norm and product again push the Pythagorean theorem further down the chain as a trivial application. Whence this historical judgment: to proceed in this way, we will have economized more than twenty centuries of the superficial analysis of space. Everything happens as if we forget the ordinary tradition so as to situate ourselves downstream from the Greek origin. The metric diagonal was historically lived as the drama of the irrational and the certain death of pure thought: we can think it as what would have been able to be the first step towards a rationality higher than that of Euclid, so much more profound than the pure ancients by becoming mixed, impure, and poorly analyzed. The drama then changes scenery, for the Greek miracle becomes bad luck or logical deficiency; the notion of vectorial space forces me to completely forget a history which is seen, from then on, as a blindness of lucid thought. Does the history of geometry then relate to modalities of nonknowledge? An inversion becomes visible: a suicide and shipwreck, the diagonal should have led to a renaissance or resurgence, giving birth to a higher and more profound geometry, whose origin itself would be deciphered in the preliminary splitting of the metric and the vectorial. This is just another example of the history of geometry as a living and inventive movement. Let us begin again, for we are no longer addressing vectorial space but topological structures. We are led back to the origins: not a logical or historical point of origin but the fundamental conditions of the constitution of forms of space. Through this retroactive analysis, geometry discovers a new purity which must not be measured by anything prior to itand again suspends twenty centuries of equivocal tradition, perceiving them as confused and impure, technological and applied, and in short nonmathematical, vacuous, and deficient. It inverts our conception of the origin again by making a scandal of a miracle. How has the tradition been able to take root in the middle of the tree trunk, a place that is miraculous because it is arbitrary? By chance and happenstance, the Greeks have jumped on the bandwagon the moment when everything was already played out, when the concepts were overdetermined a thousandfold, and have miraculously passed off a complex and mixed mineral as pure. Topology imposes the forgetting of tradition and the remembrance of a spatial constitution recovered by the equivocality of the Greek miracle, suspends traditional language as ambiguous, and practices the preliminary dissociation of nonmetric purity from measure. Again, every history of this geometry comes back to the conservation of an impurity, that is, a certain type of nonmathematicity.

Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences


Old historian, young geometry

Every invention thus reacts upon the origins: that Pascal had rediscovered Euclid, as the story goes, matters less because of his untimely and linear remembrance than because of his reinvention of geometry on the basis of deeper priorities, which were Apollonian and ought to have been Arguesian. Just as the young child remembers, the imaginative mathematician dialogs, in the sense of the Meno, with an old ignorant scholar, a traditionalist historian of his own science, towards the forgetting of the inheritance of the norm and the remembrance of a preliminary nonknowing. Thus every ground gained obscures and sheds light upon the history of the sciences in random waves: the contemporary invention discovers its precursors by forgetting the ancient origins destined to become scrapped. Often in crisis, mathematics is always on the verge of resolution. These connections are bound together and these adhesions entrench themselves in the brilliant point of invention, the living hearth of mathematical historicity. Here the mathematician never stops suspending the tradition and returning to the logical and constitutive origin or recovering the latter and reactivating tradition by severing or connecting overlapping durations. Does the inventor master time and history, does he invent both the time of his science as well as that of the history we seek to recover after him? He deciphers the obscured past, active present, and the possible pasts and presents in any given form and applies an unpredictable future upon an incessantly mobile past in the focal point of novel intuition. In a network system whose elements all tie together anachronistic diachronies, he severs or rebinds freely. Yes, invention divinely makes history: what matters are my ancestors, for they descend from me! But which of these mes or these discoverers should I follow today? When I seek the origins of the first geometry, what should I recall and what should I forget between my historical and mathematical knowledges? The living becoming of mathematical purity implies an original, exceptionally free -vis its own history. and productive attitude vis-a Every promotion of a form not only reforms its temporality, but above all the anhistorical nature of the pure form ensures that it evolves in an unpredictable, unforeseeable, determined, overdetermined, reversible and irreversible, recurrent or finalized, connected or always fragmented time referring to one, two, or ten origins dead, forgotten, resumed, and accelerated in a fulminating way ... . Can the history of these anhistorical idealities be understood if we conceive a complex, densely fibered, or foliated temporality? It will therefore be necessary to return to the question of time.
Models Invention and tradition

Moving beyond examples, can we attempt to reconstitute the complex and overlapping entanglement of the various temporal modes they present? Here are four ideas: the history proper to mathematics can be continuous or discontinuous and can be understood in the direct or indirect sense. Hence there are four types of models: direct and recurrent connections or direct and recurrent nonconnections. What states of affairs do these models account for? Directly connected models traditionally expressed the temporality of deduction or rigorous concatenation adequately. It is impossible to budge an inch from this linear process without breaks; no matter what, this path cannot be lost. What interests us concerning the form of this temporality here?


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We have almost completely lost our past: do we truly know if the Greeks believed in their gods and how they obeyed their laws or governed their citizens ... ? After many centuries, historians poorly engage with these questions, which are like the jugs of the Danaides, sifters of the past; conversely, through a fulminating short-circuit, we certainly know, without any risk of being wrong, what the Greeks thought when they carried out apagogic demonstrations. There is no equivalent to this in historical knowledge or information. In short, there is no true history except that of geometry, a means of quasi-perfect communication, an exceptional and no doubt paradoxical limit case of history in the ordinary sense. The more a knowledge approaches the pure and the rigorous, the better it conserves itself and more easily transmits its unchanged contents through time. This continuous designated path can thus no longer be lacking, because information remains stable in totality and communication does not become scrambled or broken, lest it fall into nonmathematicity. In other words, mathematics transmits itself completely or not at all. The reminiscence of the Meno is a reconnection or integral grasping by the inheritor, by the educated, of a tradition incapable of misunderstanding, equivocation, or gaps. On the other hand, a contemporary conception of history that would take this connected model as a support is an illusion of pure reason stemming from the exceptional or limit form of the tradition in the mathematical sense. This model ultimately expresses a form of continuous historicity polarized in an irreversible way by a culmination and diverted from its origin forever: the act of birth or constitution on the basis of prehistorical archaisms would be a point of nonreturn there.
Stages or crises

The progressive extension of the mathematical field, the ongoing purification of its concepts, the constantly reinforced strength of its methods, and the movement upstream towards a mathematicity conceived as a horizon give a connected evolving form to thinking, but a thinking punctuated by steps, stages, or crises, global reorganizations of a knowledge transmitted without losses and thus incessantly accumulated. Once again, this new path would no longer be lacking because each stage would reorganize an overly dispersed aggregate and systematize the scattered elements. The path inflects itself because we no longer orient mathematics towards the atoms but towards the distributive totality of disciplines. Each point of inflection is a point of inflation and reconstruction. Thus Euclid, Leibniz, Cauchy, and so on recover the totality of history in a totalizing, consistent, and condensed system, sometimes accompanied by philosophy itself: Plato and the irrationals, Descartes and algebraic geometry, Leibniz and infinitesimal calculus ... Husserl and the crisis of foundations. The model of departure becomes refined: less linear, it recognizes levels and intervals united by moments of system and global reorganization. Any synchronic break whatsoever in the intervals reveals the preceding system, which are precisely more new layers that do not fit in and are not able to be integrated. To be remade indefinitely, the tower of Babel is reconstructed when new promotions no longer use the same language among themselves or with the preceding system. It is thus necessary to unify by means of a system, which is nothing but a dictionary crafted for a new perfect communication. Working on a common systematic basis, Gergonne, Cauchy, Abel, Galois, Cantor, etc surpass it, creating a confusion of languages such that one might think for a moment that mathematics died, and that one is led to reconstitute a new basis that gathers together the mutual etymology of their

Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences


language, thereby making mathematics reborn, and so on, down to the most distant reunification. Plato, Leibniz, and contemporaries have created languages, new universal characteristics. The beginning and middle of the 20th century have witnessed similar situations.
Multiple origins

Thus mathematics has never been and will never be in a situation of origin. The edification of a new language for a new perfect communication, the constitution of new idealities, and the grasping of the totality of the edifice lead the scientist at the moment of grand systematic enterprises to recover the integrality of the path traveled. The question in hindsight, the setting in question of foundations, and the meticulous analysis of primitive elements perceived retroactively as foliated or stratified notions, as particular complex cases of elements more primitive still, are ordinary attitudes of the mathematician and not simply the historian. We would never finish repeating how many times the question focuses on the positive real numbers, on zero, on whole numbers, equality, the diagonal or circle, and how many times the response to the question reconstructed the foundations in a subwork, not simply for the axioms of departure but in the constitution of the idealities in question themselves. Everything happens as if it were necessary to conjugate the direct movement of teleology and the inverse movement of recurrence in a circular or even spiraled diagram, as if the amplification of the theory only took its efficacy from the indefinite repetition of passages through the origin, which is itself reconsidered via methods crafted during the course of the extension and augmentation of amplification through the source and of the source through advancement. A giant with the name of origin, Antaeus only gathers his strength by resting his foot on the Earth, which geometry will always measure. Here we return to the Meno at least three times: through the conjugation of direct progress and anamnesis; through the chosen example of geometry, since mathematics alone supplies the path of a fulminating communication with no ambiguity concerning the origin, for which no other historical experience can provide an idea; and lastly, through the indefinitely possible repetition of the process (a slave of the forgotten world reminds himself, in turn, of a world twice lost and so on). Illuminated at each grand moment of reconstruction, the origin of mathematics incessantly reappears, always different and perhaps the same. No, the turning back does not simply belong to the historian; it does not suffice to say that each bond downstream forces us to rewrite the legendary story of what came before, or to redirect the entire perspective upstream of what should be thought, namely that it be necessary to date the history of mathematics as younger than Parian marble. An ongoing systematic reconstruction, mathematical invention advances and reverts altogether quite often. Another example: Bourbaki's (1969) Elements of History is the portrait of the Elements of Mathematics in a mirror, a projection in a diachrony of what happens with the development of the system, namely the manifestation of systematic deduction in a historical genesis. The discoveries of infinitesimal calculus and the theories of sets, categories, groups ... have a global impact on the entire system, propagating themselves in a fulminating way down to its primitive foundations, as if the constituted ultimate would question the entirety of its constitution. And again, it is not simply a question of logical or axiomatic conditions, but of conditions of constitution: at the dawn of infinitesimal calculus, nothing could evaluate the truth, falsity, or legitimacy of its chain of reasoning, whose acquired successes made it such that one mocked it, not


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mathematics entirely but its foundation on a world; everyone spoke of the Earth that of Geometry?and the unmoving stars, as well as the comparative scale of their greatness. These retroactive movements, vertically propagated in the system on the basis of these advances, demonstrate that there exists a contemporary archaeology of decisive progresses, or, better yet, that a progress is only decisive when it sheds light on primitive archaisms the moment it is put forth. Being original, mathematical time orients itself towards its own unforeseeable horizon and commencement. It practically follows that if I want to study the historical, logical, gnoseological, or transcendental question of the origin of mathematics, I can both interrogate Thales or Pythagoras in the ancient legends and Desargues or Descartes in recent history, as well as the contemporary mathematician in the living present. Any origin whatsoever is the same origin. Present in the entire crossroads of this history, one could call it percurrent. Returning to the originary conditions is historical, logical, or axiomatic, transcendental or constitutive. The preceding thoughts do not account for an essential phenomenon. By progressing, mathematics increases its rigor and purity: each moment is therefore more mathematical than the preceding; at the limit, the successors will judge the latter as veritably nonmathematical, impure, confused, indistinct, and poorly rigorous. Recurrent judgment thus becomes a judgment of application. For us, Thales's geometry reduces itself to a metrics of the master mason. Desargues seems like nothing but an expert sculptor of stones, pendentives, and stairways; Descartes, an engineer; Monge, an architect or expert civil engineer of cuts and fills; and non-Euclidean geometries become the metrics of the physicist. For laughs, mathematicians sometimes call them geographies, a term where the philosopher takes joy in rediscovering the Earth and the world. Here is a singular example: builders or architects never start constructing without setting in place ``chairs'' whose form grids and measures the little piece of Earth to be organized. Here and there, in the normal corners of the edifice to be developed, they lay out at least three little posts bound together by straight planks, all horizontal and equal in size. Before the foundation is even hollowed out, this apparatus on the ground is called the chair [la chaise]: triple base or reference in length, width, and height, this old French word, refined through use, reproduces, by concealing it, the scholarly word cathedra, which must be understood here in the sense that geometry still gives to the words polyhedron or dihedral. The axes of the Cartesian coordinate system thus reproduce chairs, concerning which no historian would be wrong if she called them cathedras. Master of space, Descartes the builder transposes the acts of the masons onto the plane. He prepares himself to construct a cathedral. No, the chair or cathedra designates here not the bishop's throne but the reference for any measure of the edifice; but the bishop's throne also evoked this function. In Descartes axes of reference fulfill the same conditions. In both cases, are they the fundamental and the origin? Is it this movement of purification that reduces mathematical remembrance to technology? Is it a question of artifacts that are more artificial the older the sedimentation is? In this sense, everyone forgets them: who remembers this chair today? Thus the Meno would instead relate a rupture and discontinuity in mathematical time. Continuity would therefore prevent us from seeing the stratification of the layers of different ages, the exasperated relief of forgotten worlds.

Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences


It would then be better to try to conceive this history as a complex surface, conveying wormholes of sheer acceleration, bottlenecks of stoppage or equilibrium, zones of stationary values, several fragmentations ... . At a given moment the constructed system does not recover all the remainders of ancient time: on the contrary, the system makes a choice, a selection in its recurrent movement. There are disconnections or definitively severed adherences: the system functions as a filter progress towards purity or rigor eliminates fossils. The flow passes and runs in the stream that becomes more transparent the more it ejects finer and finer sediment and the more it crosses the threshold of percolation. The moment Euclidean space is foliated in topological, metric, and vectorial space, which is a whole group of displacements, ... nothing remains of it but the trihedral the chair?of the walls and ceiling that protect me in my house. What an admirable and brilliant technique of archaeological research this filtration of purity realized through the movement proper to advanced mathematics! Every point of its course discovers evidences of the origin carried that far but left behind by contemporary filtering, which are precisely notable testaments of prehistory: as in astronomy, we can gather information from worlds that no longer exist. Here are two distinct archaeologies: proper to the mathematical movement as such. The first, which never stops reactivating its origins and deepening its foundations, extracts from the primitive what was not mathematical but then becomes so thus topology invests the upstream of metrics. The second consists in understanding prehistory through abandoned concepts that were mathematical but are no longer so. The old problem of the origin of geometry finds its solution, indefinitely decipherable, within the mathematical process: through this I understand that a cultural formation is only accessible as premathematical in and through the autochthonous process of science. Here is a new example. When the topology of graphs has mathematized paths, nodes, and labyrinths, then and only then do I understand the weaver as a premathematical technician older than the surveyor, and the vertically taught thread as a metric modality of the same cord tied or bound in a hundred ways, which is precisely what is recounted concerning Gordium or Minos as prescientific schemata more profoundly concealed than the myths of architects. No other archaeological technique would have been able to lead me towards traditional surveying. Yes, the wavy square sketched in the sand the unstable and anexact graph Plato refused to see is both sensible and purely mathematical. Hence the reason Plato himself forgot the world of the wavy graph prior to intelligible metrics, and through which, twenty-five centuries after him, we end by remembering ourselves. Moreover, this mathematization of the anexact reveals that any graphism in general is a premathematical manipulation of topological varieties. Mathematical invention still leads me to the origin. By studying the dynamics of flowing water, I recognize the process of sedimentation and the existence of forgotten meanderings. I go directly from the bad trace of the square on the sand to the topological variety by foregoing the Euclidean meandering: short-circuit fulminating with the origin. Once again, the situation resembles that of astrophysics where I wait upon the advent of information emanating from worlds long dead.
Portraits of Penelope, Ariadne, and Alexander



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On the excess of information

We periodically tend to have the fear that the accumulation of knowledge leads to barbarism as unwaveringly as its absence itself: science should collapse under its own productive proliferation. This pushes us to believe that the advancement of knowledges [connaissances] recovers the totality of previous knowledge [savoir]: through an accumulative process, the encyclopedia creates a snowball effect. Things do not happen this way with mathematics at least, for the latter filters its heritage rather than simply assuming it in its integrality; better yet, mathematics assumes it by filtering it. In short, it condenses itself by adding to itself and reabsorbs itself by accumulating. Just as a theorem about the arithmetical triangle renders three volumes of calculation on R P Mersenne's harmony useless, and just as three theorems of De Arte Combinatoria (Leibniz, 1666) suppress a thousand techniques of the Lulle type, such a structure resumes a gallery of models. After the dispersion, the synthesis annuls an aspect of its plumage. This is a word we do not know how to say and that, when it is said, halts its slow and needless repetition. In the name of the divine speed of intelligence, Galois required us to jump feet-first over calculations. A great invention completely nullifies or suppresses one field of knowledge by promoting another: it willfully closes off a domain that is only poorly understood afterwards, like the inferno where the daughters of Danaus strive to fill their baths through their sifters, or Sisyphus who unendingly rolls his boulder back up the hill; it short-circuits a body of work that remains in history as a forgotten thread. Through the series of these abbreviations, the history of the sciences can go straightforward; it communicates with the origin in a fulminating way. Hence there are also ruptures: emanating from worlds foreign to the tradition or worlds that vanished from it, new information appears via the shortest path. Archaeology through the greatest incline, geometry incessantly abandons its meanderings.

This situation defines the extreme limits of the filter: what the present uncovers and leaves behind and what archaeology recovers and abandons are one and the same movement of birth or rebirth and death without return. That being said, it is necessary to examine the filter within these limits. There are thus two breaks: mathematical language A is prior to language B in terms of ordinary diachrony. It is almost always possible to translate A into B, but we cannot go from B to A. Euclidean space can be translated into topological, metric, or vectorial language; nevertheless, in the Euclidean repertoire no term corresponds to any `topological variety' ... . A semiconductor, this path is most often broken because the intersection of the two repertoires can be empty. And since this path is punctuated by points of nonreturn, we acknowledge the inanity of a regressive archaeology that endeavors to invert history and not account for the original movement of science. On the contrary, designating deeper levels, it retroactively reinterprets outmoded idealities, or, better yet, defines a system of translations. Each synchronic break brings its conditions of translatability with it. The judgment of recurrence does not go from topological space to Euclidean space: it goes from the topological presuppositions of Euclidean space to the global reinterpretation of Euclid's body of work. Simultaneously anterior and posterior to the preceding, the new language makes it explode, extracts it, filters it, eliminates the impure from it, and keeps nothing but the gold of mathematicity. Each restructuration is a sort of earthquake that can abruptly discover archaic levels and conceal recent sedimentations, all while revealing the slow movement of the lower layers.

Differences: chaos in the history of the sciences


Still a break, I cannot directly communicate with the origin through traditional historical channels, but through the effort of the invention and foundation of mathematics itself. My regression does not follow the path of tradition, indefinitely outside the circuit, but the vertical path of the art of inventing the mathematician: I reinterpret the historical tradition on the basis of the latter. It therefore seems indispensible to rectify the connected or continuous models that would remain valid in the exceptional cases where there would always be a common repertoire. It would then be necessary to understand the last projection as a series of geological breaks whose end is always deeper, making the preceding comprehensible, but nevertheless designating their lack of interest, their superficial and problematic aspect, and their prehistorical and premathematical nature. Hence the development of a considerable result: if there is no continuity between mathematical breaks because each break short-circuits the precedinghow much less of a continuity is there between cultural formations as such and formations that differentiate themselves from the first in that they carry truth with them? This incessant ejection outside the circuit fundamentally accounts for the principle of indeterminism mentioned earlier: either one starts over through cultural formations and never encounters science as an original and veridical movement, or one starts over through science itself and incessantly reinterprets cultural formations by always pushing forward the process of hollowing out the cultural as such. By indefinitely directing itself toward mathematicity, an outmoded mathematics guides itself toward the foundation of its prehistory. In sum, science tends to suppress the traditional characteristics of the model of time: its directional, irreversible character, the arrow and fletching of its vector, its continuous nature, its forgetting, and its mnemonic accumulations; through its iterated choice between a fulminating communication and an ejection outside the circuit, science sometimes plays the game of Socrates, sometimes that of the slave child. In other words, it invents or masters a new temporality by constituting it on the basis of the scattered elements of the fragmentation of the ancient model. It is no longer a question of time or eternity nor that of the tangency between thembut a question of the constitution of a historicity that reconstructs its ancient characteristics at its own leisure: it will be necessary to speak of percolation.
Earth Time History of the sciences

The very ancient philosophical tradition is rediscovered here, according to which the most rigorous examples of theoretical thought reside in the contemplation of the Earth and the universe. Everything happens as if the models that philosophy creates of science, and the latter of history, mimicked those that science constructs of the world. First of all, we have brought history into the domain of the ideal or, better yet, the universal model into that of the universe. If the objects of the sky seemed to our precursors as stable and pure as the idealities of theoretical thought, we now know that rigor and purity become, like stars being born, older and die in their nova. Theory is a history, and purity follows a time, just as cosmogony now accompanies cosmology: origin, evolution, disappearance. An astrophysical revolution lends rigor to variance without variation in rigor, as in earlier times the Copernican revolution changed the references of movement and thought. The sky is ultimately observed like the system of knowledge. Here and now, ten types of waves transmit dispersed information in relation to the time of history;


M Serres

one informs us of a recent event, while the other relates to an episode preceding millions of years and having no meaning on the historical level. It is no longer eternity that is discovered here but the scrambling of anachronistic pathways. This sky today, presently constituted under relative eyes, this pure thought through which history never ceases to take itself up again, these two systems, of knowledge and the universe, are simultaneously put into almost immediate communication with circumstances whose date is dispersed in a thousand conceivable ways. It is therefore necessary to recognize the site of contact between the living, flowing present and this theoretical ^ concrete spectacle that fragments, scrambles, and complicates temporal sequences in a quasi-random way, the passage between my time and a sort of distributive pan-chrony. Are there as many models of the history of the sciences as there are of the universe? The Earth used to be the originary ground upon which theoretical thought constituted itself by giving meaning to movement and rest. The totality of the evolving universe henceforth gives its meaning to the multitude of times as well as to the relativity of my own. Anachronistic and panchronic, the universe again becomes the paradigm of philosophy, its real model, eminently concrete and excellently abstract. Kant describes a history of the sciences and finds the Copernican revolution in this history as an event to be repeated for a metaphysics that is henceforth rigorous. Can we now compose a science of history according to intermixed, complicated temporalities and the research of their integration, and toward which can we practice a noneponymous revolution through a return to the world itself?
Living present

And again we live and think in the origin, in a new childhood of the world, in the first hatching of the universe. As with each decisive and conditional moment of history, we must assume an unforeseen knowledge in order to discover an untimeliness whose commencement returns our culture to its prehistory; what must be understood places us closer to the vicinity of forgotten archaisms. Returning under the guise of contemporary mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, or chemists, Thales or Anaximander forces us to revise the knowledge of history.
References ments d'histoire des mathe matiques (Hermann, Paris) le Bourbaki N, 1969 E Bury R G (Ed. and trans.), 1960 Plato: Timaeus, Critias, Cleitophon, Menexenus, Epistles (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA) Euclid, 1956 The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements translation and commentaries by T L Heath (Dover Publications, New York) Leibniz G W, 1923 Dissertatio de arte combinatoria, 1666, Sa mtliche Schriften und Briefe (Akademie Verlag, Berlin) A VI 1, page 163; Philosophische Schriften (Gerhardt) Bd. IV S.30 Plato, 2005 Oxford World Classics: Meno and Other Dialogues (Oxford University Press, Oxford)

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