Life-changing love: Badiou and the birth of possibility

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

What is love? Poets and philosophers have struggled with this question from time immemorial. Before talking about their findings, it is worth noting that ‘love’ is an abstract noun that can be used in a various ways. As Wittgenstein observed, in most cases, the meaning of a word is its use. I love Nietzsche and I also love a good cherry Danish. I doubt that either of these forms of love is what Wendy James from Transvision Vamp has in mind in the song, ‘I Want Your Love’. You see my point. Let’s start by agreeing, then, that love is an abstract noun that can have different meanings depending on its context.

Love comes in many flavours. Ultimately, though, you (and I) are probably not so much interested in the weird and exotic variants of love as we are with big love – true love – the kind of love that Pierrot and Marianne feel in the shot above (from Godard’s 1965 film, ‘Pierrot le Fou’). Transformational love. Pulse-bursting, sweep-us-off-our-feet, turn-your-life-around love. This is the kind of love I am thinking of when I ask: ‘What is love?’ Not just a feeling. A life-changing event. This kind of love is something that French philosopher Alain Badiou takes as a given.

France - "Vous aurez le dernier mot" - TV SetIn The Meaning of Sarkozy (2010) and his ground-breaking dialogue, In Praise of Love (2012), Badiou claims that ‘love needs reinventing’. We need to rethink love as an existential event in which two (or more) people discover a different perspective on life and the world. Lovers, Badiou claims, see the world ‘from the point of view of two rather than one’. This thesis initially appears to be a gloss on Aristotle’s take on love as ‘two bodies with one soul’. However, Badiou’s theory is more interesting than Aristotle’s rather trite conception. It explains, for a start, why love, when it happens, is a life-changing, and often inconvenient, event. It also lends itself to extrapolation in areas of life beyond the realms of romance. Quality collaborations are infused with an element of love, as Badiou understands it. It should come as no surprise that Badiou is a committed political activist in addition to an incurable romantic. [Read more…]

Nietzsche’s demon: the eternal return

Arc De Triomphe @ FineArtAmerica

Arc De Triomphe @ FineArtAmerica

Alexis was in love with life. Fresh out of art school in Fremantle, Australia, she’d picked up a scholarship to study photography under a famous Parisian photographer. Her mother had urged caution but Alexis persisted – and thank goodness! The course – and Paris itself – was everything that she’d dreamed. Her French sponsor found her an apartment in the Latin Quarter, just a stone’s throw from the Place Saint-Michel. Alexis would stroll along the Seine in the evening, up the Champs Elysées to take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe in the flurry of lights.

After two months documenting daily life on the streets of Paris, she had enough material for an exhibition. Alexis felt like she was at the heart of life. Things could go anywhere from here.

One night Alexis was speaking to a friend in Australia. They were reminiscing about their student days, which her friend dearly missed.

‘Do you remember Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return?’ the friend asked. ‘If I had to choose one time of my life to live out again and again forever, it would be art school’.

Alexis, for her part, was ambivalent about the ‘good old days’. She realized then that if there were a time in her life that she would have again and again, it would be her time in Paris, not Fremantle. The more that she reflected on this, the more her life seemed to come into focus. Looking out the window at the bustling streets, Alexis imagined Nietzsche’s demon coming into her room and making her the offer of Eternal Return. Alexis could hear herself reply, like Nietzsche:

‘Yes. You are a god and I have never heard anything more divine’.

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This post is excerpted from Chapter 3 of Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide

The rise of social reputation systems

Social media is driving a ‘gift shift’ through the cultural fabric of our societies. Social reputation systems are one expression of the shift. They have immense disruptive potential.

If you are new to reputation systems, check out this piece in Wired by Rachel Botsman, who is writing a book on the topic. You might also read this post for the In the Room blog.

Examples of reputation systems:

TrustCloud
ConnectMe
Legit
Scaffold
MiiCard
Briiefly

What do reputation systems measure?

1. Identity — is this person a real person? Are they are who they say they are?
2. Character — consistency of behaviour (for ex. reliability and helpfulness) over time
3. Trustworthiness — essential for the P2P economy

The neurological basis of ‘reputation capital’:

Botsman writes: ‘Norihiro Sadato, a researcher at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Aichi, Japan, along with a team of colleagues, wanted to determine whether we think about reputation and money in the same way, by mapping the neural response to different rewards.

Sadato devised an experiment: participants were told they were playing a simple gambling game, in which one of three cards would result in a cash payout. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers monitored brain activity triggered when the subjects received a monetary reward. When the subjects returned on the second day, they were each shown a picture of their face, with a one-word descriptor underneath that a panel of strangers had supposedly written about them. Some of the descriptions were positive, such as “trustworthy”, others neutral, such as “patient”, and others negative. When participants heard they had a positive reputation, a part of the brain, the striatum, lit up.

The same part would also light up if they had won money. As Sadato puts it: “The implication of our study is that different types of reward are coded by the same currency system.” In other words, our brains neurologically compute personal reputation to be as valuable as money’.

[Read more…]