Why 'non'?


I'm uncertain as to where this rabbit hole started. It was probably when we were exploring new virtual worlds together in #oddyssey that I became obsessed with thinking about applications for non-Euclidean geometry in video games. I loved playing video games as a child. Math...not so much. Numbers never seemed to pull me in with the same sort of gravity that words and moving pictures did, though I suppose it's funny looking back now, as an adult, at how childish I was for thinking that all gravities are the same.

As it turns out, following the non-Euclidean path takes you straight to bananaland w/r/t pure maths. What I discovered at the end of the rabbit hole were higher dimensional numbers that don't seem to follow the rules when it comes to basic mathematical operations. You go far enough, you start to get these mystic, quirky, dare I say radical non-numbers that simply don't behave the way that the real numbers do when you add them up or multiply. These numbers are non-associative, non-commutative. They care about the order you put them in. The way that you group them together matters.  The rules of arithmetic that you thought were solid and unassailable simply do not apply to higher dimensional number systems like the quaternions and octonions. And so this got me thinking about why these rules exist in the first place, where they come from, and why we privilege certain branches of mathematical thought as opposed to others.

When you ask questions like that, things get spooky. You start asking curious questions like 'why can't I divide by 0' and 'what even constitutes matter' and 'why is the speed of light constant above everything else in the universe'? Turns out none of these questions have satisfying answers. You end up on Quora with answers that more or less amount to, "Well, because someone said so, and if it didn't, well...everything would break." You think long and hard enough about non-Euclidean geometry, and you start asking PhilosopherAI what non-Newtonian fluids are, and what non-Newtonian physics might be. GPT-3 turned out to be quite the interesting non-human interlocutor for these kinds of questions.

Around the same time, I was getting back into headier Eastern spiritual stuff, namely Nagarjuna who was famous for elucidating the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. He did this through a rather liberal use of the tetralemma, a non-classical logic device that accepts four logical positions (true, false, both true and false, neither true nor false) as opposed to the two of classical, Western, Aristotelian logic. This pushed me further down the path of non-classical logics (the Jains have a 7-valued logic, fyi), which eventually led me to non-classical probability, i.e. Bayesian probability, a previously fringe, esoteric branch of inverted statistical thought which suffered in the shadows until finding meaningful applications in AI and data science.

Then I became curious about the word itself - non. It comes from none, meaning "not one,"  which I also found strange and sort of uncomfortable to think about. It's a spiritually subversive concept if there ever was one, a literal affront to the oft touted (and just as quickly forgotten) supremacy of spiritual "oneness." To be One is held in highest regard in most classical systems: "Be One with the Force," Master says to student. Become One with the Universe, the Singularity, the Cosmos, with Ultimate Reality. Become One with Neo and all the other Ones who came before. The idea of oneness is spiritual pop culture to put things lightly, the epitome of wokeness and mass consciousness clichés.

After spending time poking around all these strange corners of non-thought, it became more and more apparent to me that non-things were exactly what I was looking for in my search for new worlds. Non-worlds, I should say. Who'd have thought that if you stick non- in front of words, it leads you directly to less explored territory? Try it for yourself. Stick non- to anything you can think of and see where it leads you. Do this enough and you are sure to run into words that are becoming more common in the memeplex: non-linear, non-binary, non-fungible, and so on.

'Non' merely suggests a different way of thinking that's valid and coherent despite playing by a different set of rules. A 'non' forces us to question what we blindly accept as truth in our reality. It's not the antithesis, but a non-thesis. What might it mean to be non-racist as opposed to anti-racist? How about non-fragile as opposed to anti-fragile? What sorts of tactics and strategies might comprise a non-modern approach to non-violent conflict resolution? What would happen if we acknowledged a reality that is not one, but many?  These are good Q's for future exploration. For now, we leave you with [non]spiracy.

about zine

Sprung from the cranium of #writingclub, mochi.zine is a collection of writers, artists, architects, and technologists exploring topics together in a decentralized process of collaboration. Over the course of several months, members meet for deep dives related to one central topic; collecting resource materials, critiquing each others’ work, and generating works in dialogue.