An Essay With Thomas Jockin Featured In (Re)constructing “A is A” by O.G. Rose
A Common and Consequential Mistake
Imagine an empty cup: is there “nothing” inside? In a sense, but there’s also no such thing as nothing: it’s more like there is air, maybe some dust molecules — stuff like that. This can seem like a silly and nitpicky point, but though with this example it doesn’t seem to matter to say, “There is nothing in the cup,” versus “There is space in the cup,” there can be consequential implications.
To say there is “space in the cup” is to say there is “a lack in the cup,” and in this case what is lacking is liquid. Now, let’s try looking at the cup itself: are the atoms that make up the cup “nothing” relative to the cup? Or are the atoms instead “lacking” from (our experience of) the cup? In a sense, it seems like the atoms are nothing (an irrelevant abstraction), but really the atoms are instead lacking from our experience of the object. No, the atoms are not lacking from the composition of the cup itself, but relative to us they seem like they are “not there.” But while something that’s “not there” can seem to be “nothing,” in the case of the atoms that make up the cup, what is “not there” isn’t “nothing” but “lacking.”¹
To use the language of Kurt Gödel, the cup is in a sense “incomplete” without a beverage (relative to the purpose for which the cup was made), as my experience of the cup is “incomplete” because I do not perceive the atoms in its composition. Where there is a “lack,” there is “incompleteness,” hinting at why it’s critical not to conflate “nothing” with “lack” (as will be expanded on). Where things are “without nothing,” then things are “complete” (“there’s nothing else to see”), but where things are instead “lacking,” things are “incomplete” (“there’s more to the story”). When things are lacking, they “point beyond themselves”; when what lies beyond things is nothing though, things either don’t “point” at all or only to “point back” at themselves. If there is more beyond the things we see, this would mean that things conceal us from a bigger story and set us up to miss out.
This reflection resulted from a conversation with the brilliant Thomas Jockin, whose grasp of Aristotle is hard to rival. If there is any insight of value to be found in this work, it is thanks to him. Also, as a technical note that will be elaborated on, please keep in mind that though “lacks” might be associated with “absences,” I don’t mean to suggest that “lacks” are totally “not present” (though I may fail to always maintain a consistent language). “Lacks” are very present: we feel the IRS in the room with us as we work on our taxes, and yet the IRS is “nowhere to be seen.” “Lacks” are “present absences,” per se (which arguably is the only kind of “absence” if “absence” is distinct from “nothing”), which means “lacks” aren’t “presences” like bookcases and chairs, but they’re still “with us.” “Lacks” are in a “space between” “presences” and “nothings”: they are “absences” in our “presence.”
In the world of fiction writing especially, a good sentence “lacks” more than it presents. Generally, I think the advice “show, don’t tell” is trying to get at this, suggesting that instead of saying “Sarah was sad,” we should write instead “Sarah looked down at her feet, sniffled, and swiped a finger across her cheek.” The first sentence tries to make too much present; it tries to put everything “up front,” in the foreground (and is additionally a bad sentence because we don’t easily “see Sarah,” but instead we “just receive information about Sarah”). The second sentence, however, “lacks” the fact “Sarah is sad,” and yet within the description the writer makes present, we understand that this lack is in fact lacking. Sarah’s sadness is not “nothing” (a double negative); Sarah’s sadness is present in its absence, thanks to the skillfully chosen image. This hints at the great challenge of great writing, the art of figuring out what to write and “make present” that “points to” what is “lacking.” At the same time, great writers are always trying to avoid “pointing to nothing,” because that means the sentence makes too much present: a great dance must commence between foreground and background.
The theologian Karl Barth has always helped me understand this dilemma by making me think of Christian theology as tracing out the outline of a crater. In this way, the person of Jesus Christ is understood not directly, but by examining and outlining his life and the impact he had on the world. The same logic applies to God: we cannot experience God directly (without dying), and so our understanding of God must always ultimately “lack” the full picture of God. This doesn’t mean God is nothing, but that God is always more than whatever is “present” of Him. The fact theology cannot directly “capture” and articulate its subject does not mean that “theology is about nothing”; rather, it means theology is ultimately “about a lack.” This in mind, especially after Kurt Gödel, I would argue that all good thinking is like theology and orbits around “a lack.” Thinking that is about nothing is problematic, but thinking that entails no “lack,” that suggests everything outside of it is “nothing” (and that hence the thinking is “complete”), is equally problematic.
Derrida makes a strong case in On Grammatology that philosophers have used writing to hide the lack of completeness in their philosophical systems. Derrida argues that philosophers have often attempted writing out systems that “point to nothing” as opposed to writing that “points to something (and hence is lacking).” In other words, philosophers have used writing to suggest their philosophical systems are complete (even while ironically claiming writing always fails). Personally, I have always wished that Derrida made a better distinction between “nonfiction writing” and “fiction writing.” Why? Well, I think Derrida is correct that nonfiction writing (especially when philosophical or theological) tends to conceal incompleteness, which results in certain ways of thinking being “privileged” over others (mainly those that can “get away with” seeming complete by concealing their incompleteness best), and as a result writing becomes an act that helps create hierarchy and oppression. But I don’t think Derrida made clear distinctions between “writing that acknowledges incompleteness” like good fiction and “writing that claims completeness.” Perhaps Derrida did grasp this difference and I missed it, but I would still like to highlight that not all writing is equally prone to “deny lack.”
For Derrida, philosophy often hides incompleteness through writing: if everything cannot be explained perfectly in speech, the philosopher points to books, and then the books hide the fact that they themselves cannot complete the philosopher’s system (the “ultimate justification” is always deferred, just out of reach). It is arguably the very virtue of philosophy to try to “make everything upfront,” to leave nothing out that isn’t explained, but Derrida understood this was impossible (no system could complete itself, as confirmed by Gödel). Derrida wanted to end philosophy that denied incompleteness, as he wanted an end to “systems/theories of everything” (or what I call “monotheories”), and I highly sympathize with that aspiration. However, I still wish Derrida would have made distinctions between “fiction writing” and “nonfiction writing,” though I can understand that for his purposes on critiquing philosophy, there was no need for the distinction. That said, I do think he made a mistake in not making distinctions between “metaphysics that acknowledge lack” and “metaphysics that deny nothing,” between Aristotelian and Platonic metaphysics, but that is an argument I will elaborate on in “(Re)construction” by O.G. Rose.
All writing creates a lack, for when I write words on paper, the words “lack” their definitions (those definitions are in our heads, not on the paper or “in” the words, as Derrida understood with his “différance”), the words are “lacking” other words, and the surrounding blankness on the piece of paper suddenly feels like it is missing words (words seem to transform a nothing into a lack, or perhaps unveil that the nothing was always a lack, just an “apparent nothing”). The question we should ask of any writing we encounter is if it tries to “hide” what is not written down in front of us, or if the writing “points to” what is missing. There is writing that suggests “there is nothing else missing” and writing that says, “what you see here isn’t the whole story.” Writing that suggests there is “nothing else” beyond it should be deconstructed, but writing that acknowledges “lack” should be praised.
For me, though I am no expert on his work, Derrida’s mistake is suggesting that all writing must equally be writing that suggests “there is nothing else” (even as it endlessly defers itself), that it is not possible for a form of writing that “points to” someone more. Additionally, as we will explore, there are models and theories which suggest “there is nothing else missing” and modeling that implies “what is modeled here isn’t the whole story” — Derrida suggests all modeling is wrong, which though true, Derrida goes too far if he suggests all modeling is therefore “useless” (to allude to George Box). The same logic applies to writing: it is always “lacking,” but that doesn’t mean writing must “mean nothing.” Furthermore, writing that “points” and/or “defers” doesn’t necessarily “point at nothing.” It may, but what defers may defer for the sake of suggesting a “lack” versus to hide the fact it means nothing.
Deconstruction is useful when it challenges writing, philosophy, modeling, and the like that suggests “there is nothing else,” but deconstruction is problematic when it suggests and assumes that writing, philosophy, modeling, and the like which suggest a “lack” is no better. Again, the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle are different, as the modern mathematical models in economics are different from the models of Hayek and Adam Smith. Not everything that “points” points at nothing, and this is a mistake some deconstructionists make.²
Philosophy tends to hide incompleteness (as if “nothing”), while great fiction makes us aware of incompleteness (“lack”), along with the ironies, paradoxes, and contradictions that become possible within the ontological schema which make “lack” possible (as elaborated on in “Fiction is the Mathematics of the Humanities” by O.G. Rose). Historically at least, the whole virtue of philosophy has been to arguably “make everything upfront” (ultimately impossible due to Gödel’s incompleteness), while fiction makes a point to make us realize that “what is present is not all there is.” But this mistake of “totalizing philosophy” (a mistake which great fiction writers have avoided), is not exclusive to philosophy. Unfortunately, perhaps inspired by science, I fear most fields today now deny “lack,” suggesting that everything outside of their models, discoveries, formulas, etc. is nothing at all. This makes us overconfident, fragile, and susceptible to “black swans,” as admonished by Nassim Taleb.
When we learn something, we never learn everything, and a choice we face is deciding how much more (we feel) is there left to learn. There is always the temptation to believe “there is nothing left” worth learning, that what we learn does not “point to” something else (of note). Certainly, we all know mentally that there is “always more to learn,” but we can practically believe there isn’t more once we reach a point where we don’t believe there is anything left “that is worth the effort.” At this point, we practically ascent to there being “nothing left” and that we aren’t “lacking”; we are practically identical with something who believes “there is nothing else.”
Everything we learn brings with it the temptation to believe there is nothing left to learn: to learn is to be tempted against “lack.” The feeling of learning and “grasping” is precisely the opposite of feeling like something is “lacking,” so we can be phenomenologically “setup” to believe “there is nothing else.” When we experience an object, the object does not say to us in its presence “I am lacking”: the exact opposite seems closer to the truth (objects seem to say, “I am”). Additionally, the very act of focusing on something “brackets out” everything else “as if” everything else isn’t there. Yes, we know that’s not the case, but when I’m focusing on my laptop, everything else in the room practically becomes “invisible” (in a Heideggerian sense), and it’s easier to think that everything which is “invisible” is “nothing” versus understand it’s “lacking” from my experience of the laptop. To believe in nothing contributes to focus; to believe in “lack” means I have to keep my eye on something outside my eye’s range. The latter is unnatural.
There’s something easier about believing in “nothing” versus belief in “lack,” precisely because “nothing demands nothing of us,” whereas “lacks” “point to” more work. Also, if we focus on something and that thing is “lacking,” that means we cannot finish our work “here and now”: we must address what is “pointed out.” But when there is nothing else but the subject of our focus, completion is possible.³ Thus, the desire for completion contributes to the mistake of conflating “nothing” and “lack,” as does our very phenomenological experience of the world. Likewise, our belief in certainty and effort for “complete models” also contributes to our error.
When I present a model explaining why wealth is increasing, I can present it “as if” everything missing from the model is unnecessary, irrelevant, and/or (practically) nothing. Alternatively, I can present the model “as if” it is merely a tool, something that could prove helpful but that cannot be considered the whole story. We may all nod and acknowledge that “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” and yet we may then proceed to practically act as if our models are practically complete.⁴ Yes, we can acknowledge “the map is not the territory,” but it doesn’t matter what we say if we then treat the map “in practice” like it is identical with the terrain. In fact, our beliefs in this circumstance could contribute to self-deception regarding “the truth in our actions” (we have faith in what we do more than in what we say).
Economics can help illustrate the difference between taking “lacks” into account versus “nothing,” seeing as there is such a radical difference between modern economics and classical economics. Personally, I believe classical economics was much more centered around “lacks” and willing to accept incompleteness, while modern economics is much more on the side of “complete models” (that leave “nothing” out). By this, I don’t mean to say that everything classical economics thought was right and that modern economics hasn’t made any useful contributions, but I do think modern economics would benefit from being more accepting of philosophy again. Deirdre McCloskey and Thomas Sowell still represent the classic approach to economics, but I fear they are few and far between.
Classic economics, as found in Adam Smith and Karl Marx, is full of philosophy and elaborations on why humans do what they do, how they relate to one another, how they garner dignity, and the like. All of these are deeply philosophical questions, and though we can find charts and math in Marx, Marx is not read for his mathematics. Now, arguably, the lack of mathematics in classical economic caused problems and lead to false conclusions, and I don’t disagree with that at all. Indeed, there are advantageous evolutions to be found in modern economics. However, today I fear modern economists has gone too far and views philosophical ponderings with disdain: economists today want to be mathematicians, and any talk of “big questions” threatens their identity. Economists in this way have become like scientists, and the virtue of science is precisely that it limits thinking in favor of observation, a topic expounded on in “Science Observes” by O.G. Rose. And certainly, limits on thinking can increase the reliability of results by limiting the influence of subjectivity. But if it is the case that something is always “lacking” which cannot be “completely modeled,” then subjectivity and “thinking (outside the model)” will prove unavoidable. If that thinking though is avoided, the models will treat themselves as “complete” and everything outside of them “as nothing.” And once this occurs, “black swans” overconfidence, and the conditions that gave us the 2008 Financial Crisis will reemerge (as Nassim Taleb discusses). It does us no good to say “all models are wrong” if we treat our model as basically infallible (as always “happening” to be right).⁵
Mathematical economics can treat what falls outside of it as nothing, while philosophical economics can better sense that fully modeling individual motivation, for example, is impossible: economics must always “lack” (some) explanation (and it can, at best according to thinkers like Smith, suggest the need for society to “make space” for individual to pursue their own ends).⁶ That said, philosophical economics can lack tools for determining optimal interest rates, levels of liquidity, etc., so what is needed is a blend of modern and classical economics. This way, we will not become overly confident in our models, but we also won’t discard useful models. Models are tools, not perfect maps of territories. Basically, the mistake to me seems to be treating models as “representatives of reality” versus “tools by which to figure reality out.” “Models as representatives” is a view that seems prone to make the mistake of believing there is “nothing outside of the models,” while “models as tools” seems to better understand that models are always “lacking.”
Though no one when asked directly claims they think this way, it is easy today to “practically believe” that what cannot be modeled cannot be true. It’s also natural: as discussed in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose, the brain prefers “low order complexity” to “high order complexity,” which basically means the brain wants to see the world in terms of simple causality versus emergence, “lacks,” and unobservable causality (and the brain will happily and subtly misinterpret the world to get what it wants). We are naturally orientated to treat “models as representatives,” for that means all we have to do is learn the model to understand reality, and then we’ll be good to go — plain and simple. If “models are tools” though, that means the models are “lacking,” and we cannot fully grasp the world by grasping the models — complexity abounds. Similarly, it is natural for us to “privilege what we can quantify” (measure, grade, etc.), and metrics can only apply where a model is present. If our models are lacking, what we can measure may only be a small part of the whole story, which means the majority of the story escapes our capacity to understand and control. Naturally, our brains would prefer to think the opposite is the case.
Models imply in the experience of them that there is “nothing outside of them”; we must bring to models the thought that what is outside of them is instead “lacking.” Models do not “wear on their face” the message that they are “lacking”; in fact, models almost seem to “wear on their face” the opposite message. We must bring the truth to our models, but this is a truth that our brains will want to shrug off. We will have to fight ourselves, and we will not want to fight.
The distinction between “nothing” and “lack” is also critical for governance and politics, for it is not simply the case that if the government is doing “nothing to us” we are therefore not affected by it (the same can be said about law, taxes, and so on). Imagine that I am sitting in a restaurant talking with my wife and the space is empty. Now, imagine that there is a female police officer standing against the wall. In what situation are we freer?
The police officer isn’t doing anything, and we’re not doing anything wrong, so arguably we have nothing to worry about. “Nothing” is happening, and yet that doesn’t seem true. Does the officer somehow impact my freedom just by being there? Well, the fact I must think about the officer being there — wondering if she’s watching us, which will make me think about what I’m doing, etc. — will impact my mental state. Furthermore, I might act differently knowing the officer is there than I would if the officer wasn’t there. In this way, even when “nothing is happening,” the mere presence of the officer impedes my freedom.
But some may argue that I should feel freer with the officer around. Why? Because the presence of the officer means I’m safer: I don’t have to worry about someone breaking into the restaurant, attacking me, etc. If the officer wasn’t there, I might worry about being vulnerable. Hence, it’s unfair to say the officer impedes my freedom; she easily might increase it.
Who’s right? Well, the answer seems “situation dependent,” and I’m not interested here in exploring specific policies.⁷ The main point I want to make is that an officer standing in a restaurant is not an example where nothing is going on: a “lack” is present, for my meal with my wife is influenced and shaped by the nearby police officer who isn’t part of “us” and yet still influences who we are and what we experience in that moment. The officer is “a-part” from us and yet “a part” of our being (in that experience).⁸
Intentionally or unintentionally, a way that governing, State, and/or totalitarian forces can lower our quality of life is by not appreciating the distinction between “nothing” and “lacking” (and we the people can support and vote for these forces if we don’t appreciate this distinction ourselves). Conservatives often say we have nothing to fear from the police “unless we are doing something wrong,” but Conservatives do not appreciate how our relationship to the police can never be nothing: it must always be a relation of “lack.” Similarly, Liberals may fail to appreciate that the very threat of the IRS auditing a business or the government changing corporate tax laws can hurt the willingness of businesses to operate: businesses experience the State as a “lack” even when the State is doing “nothing” (to them).
The State through protection, infrastructure, and the like increases freedom, but the mechanisms of this protection and investment must be done in such a way that isn’t predominately experienced as “a lack.” To put it simply, the State must attempt to be experienced “as nothing” even though this is utterly impossible unless the State doesn’t exist at all. What this balance looks like is hard to determine, but it certainly won’t be determined if no one realizes that the balance needs to be struck at all, that “nothing” and “lack” aren’t similes.
Am I suggesting that we need a world without police? No, that could be anarchy: to focus on a specific topic which can be applied more generally, what we need is a debate on the precise way policing occurs so that they are experienced less as a “lack” and more “like nothing,” which the police can never totally be because nothing doesn’t exist — the question here is a phenomenological and experiential one (which is not pressing regarding the problem of models discussed above). At the same time, we need it to be the case that the police can readily become “present” on the scene of a situation when so needed; if the police cannot, they will prove ineffective. Ultimately, it could be argued that a critical question of government in general is how it can be effective and “present” when so needed without being experienced more as “a lack” versus “nothing” (please note this means that it’s not always better for a thing to be (experienced as) a “lack” versus a “nothing”). This is a deeply complex and serious question: a government that feels “lacking” will existentially destabilize us, but a government that cannot easily be “present” will be ineffective. To err on the side of “presence” is to risk being experienced as “a lacking”; to err on the side of “not being present” is to risk practically being “nothing” at all.
It would seem the State must find the balance of the fiction writer. As discussed above, the writer must pen sentences that suggest “a great mind behind them”; similarly, the State must feel behind our daily lives, supporting it but not in it. Writers cannot make their ideas “too present,” and likewise we must sense ideas and meaning behind the sentences but not see those ideas in the sentences; otherwise, the work fails. Likewise, the State cannot make itself “too present,” or the citizenship may feel oppressed and oppose it. Good fiction writers know it’s not enough to simply write down their ideas (even if those ideas are extraordinary and good): writers must artfully find a way to make readers “sense” the ideas behind what is present in the sentences. A fiction writer who fails to do this will be viewed as a bad writer; similarly, if the State doesn’t artfully find a way to make the citizens “sense” a force watching over and supporting them behind the “present” society, then the State will feel like a “bad State” (oppressive) to the citizens. Leaders in general are more in the business of maintaining a story with us than they are in the business of just telling us what we need to know: leaders need artistic institutions.
We must see “none of the ideas” of the writer “present” in the sentence, but we must still feel those ideas “behind” the sentence (“lacking”). Similarly, we must see “none of the work” of the State “present” in our daily lives, but we must feel the State “behind” our society (“lacking”). If the State is too present, it becomes a nonfiction writer instead of a fiction writer; it becomes more direct than indirect; it becomes more totalitarian. A strange dance must occur between “(experiencing) nothing,” “presence,” and “lack,” but that dance won’t even be tried if “nothing” and “lack” are conflated.
The dream for completeness in a system is the dream to escape interpretation, for where “everything is included,” no interpretation is needed, only reading. It is not by chance that in Derrida attacking the dream for completion, he increases the prominence of interpretation. Indeed, we must interpret, and all nonfiction work and modeling needs to accept this reality (as the fiction writer must).⁹ But for the nonfiction writer, this can feel like fictionalizing their work, which can feel like destroying their own efforts. But this is not self-sabotage: this is accepting the inherent limits of system; this is to accept that we cannot escape “lack” into “nothing,” to accept a humble life of “pointing.”
Something similar can be said about economists, sociologists, and the like who create models: the idea of creating “models as tools” versus “models as representatives” can feel like leaving their work unfinished, which can feel like destroying their own efforts. Additionally, tenure, status, and wealth may favor those who present (wrongly) “complete models” versus those who present “models which are lacking.” If it is the case that social pressures incentivize us to create “models which hide (nothing),” then social pressures will incentivize us to continue conflating “nothing” and “lack.” As this paper has argued, the consequences for this mistake can be dire.
After Gödel, we all should realize we need to be more like fiction writers than nonfiction writers (even the nonfiction writers), even if all the pressures of society and status work against us (as perhaps a consequence of the natural tendency of our brains to prefer “low order causality” over “high order causality”). Should we assume all nothings are actually “lacks?” That would be a safe assumption, but are all nothings “lacks?” I’m not ready to go that far, but I do think we should assume that we are dealing with a “lack” before assuming that we are dealing with a “nothing,” that our default should be to assume “lacks” and not see them as “nothings” until the evidence is incredibly strong.¹⁰ Nothing doesn’t exist, and we relate far more to “incompleteness” than to “nonexistence” in our daily lives (nonexistence seems to be more relevant when we stop and daydream or imagine).¹¹ Considering this (and our natural desire to find a “monotheory” and “complete system,” as discussed elsewhere in the work of O.G. Rose), we need an orientation that counters our natural tendency. Favoring “lack,” we can better fight our nature to believe our worldview is a whole view of the world.
¹My laptop right now is sitting on a table near a bookcase. Relative to the laptop, is the bookcase nothing? Of course not: the book is just something the laptop is “without” in the laptop’s composition. The bookcase is something the laptop “lacks” in its structure, as the laptop is “lacking” from the composition of the bookcase, and in a way what helps define the bookcase as itself is partly what it “lacks” versus what it “contains.” Because the bookcase and the laptop are “without” one another, their “beings” solidify independent of one another as themselves, and in a sense what the laptop makes present in my experience of it simultaneously “points to” what the laptop is without. In this way, a phenomenon relative to me emerges out of a “dance” between what it makes “present” (as itself) and what it “lacks.”
A similar point could also be made about the composition of an object itself. The fact that my laptop is “without” atoms in my experience of it, even though it is composed of atoms, “says something” about my dimensionality and the way I perceive the world. I experience a laptop “lacking” atoms, but if I was in a plane right now looking down at my house, I might think of my laptop as “part of my house’ (by saying “That’s my house down there.”). Hence, my perspective and point of view may influence what I consider “present” in my laptop and what I consider “lacking.” From a plane overhead, I can consider my laptop “present in” my house (as a whole of “my home”), while I can consider it “lacking” the rest of my house while sitting in front of it at a table.
All of this is elaborated on in the paper “A is A” by O.G. Rose, where “A is A” is understood anew as “ ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ is ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ (without B).” The B which a thing is “without” is that which a thing “lacks” — B is not nothing (at most, it’s a “relative nothing”).
²Please note that just because a theological model “points at nothing” does not mean to Derrida that therefore God doesn’t exist (he was like Wittgenstein: what we cannot speak about is not necessarily what cannot exist). I do not think Derrida was a nihilist: I think he was critical of models which suggested the possibility of completeness, and for that, he was exactly right. The mistake I believe Derrida made was treating all incompleteness as equal and all models as equally “closed”; to put it vaguely, I do not think Derrida makes enough space in his thinking for “open theory” and “open modeling.”
³Perhaps belief in nothing is hangover of our desire for “autonomous rationality,” as discussed in “Deconstructing Common Life” by O.G. Rose, our desire to achieve “completed systems” versus “incomplete systems.” The “less nothing that exists” — the more often “nothings” are actually “lacks” — the more difficult it will prove that I ever actually “finish anything,” and furthermore if we can’t believe that there is “nothing below my worldview,” then we can’t believe “our worldview is the best we can do” and so obtain reason to think it is practically autonomous. If instead we must understand that “something is lacking below my worldview,” then that means we have to understand there are axioms there that I cannot fully conceptualize, and so even “practical autonomous reasoning” becomes impossible. If below my worldview is a “lack,” I must place limits on myself, whereas if there is “nothing,” then nothing is my limit.
Also, telling the difference between “nothing” and “a lack” might be one of the most difficult tasks in the world, hence our incentive to assume “all lacks are nothing.”
⁴Allusion to George Box.
⁵Additionally, if we only permit other models to critique models, and all these models deny “lack,” then all these models will prove incomplete and prone to generate overconfidence. Belief in “nothing else” will “capture” all the models (in a Deleuzian and Heideggerian sense): critiques between them will only “hide” this “capture.”
⁶Perhaps it could be argued that philosophy is inherently more uncertain than mathematics, helping orientate philosophical models “toward” lacks versus nothings).
⁷This gets into how freedom and the measures to ensure freedom are all relative to what threats I believe are “probable” versus not: if I don’t believe it is likely I will be attacked in the restaurant, then it is likely that the presence of the officer will make me feel more nervous than safe (“what’s best” is context specific). That said, what would be best overall would be an environment where I felt entirely safe without the presence of a police officer (or at least without the officer’s visual presence), but that gets into the relationship between freedom and ethics, which will be explored in “On Kafka, Character, and Law” by O.G. Rose.
⁸Perhaps we could say that “lacks” are “a-part of being” while “nothings” are “apart from being?” We could also say “lacks are (a)part…” — that might be a helpful way to frame it.
⁹With great fiction writing, we sense a great mind behind the work, where in great nonfiction, we see a great mind in the work. The challenge nonfiction writers find themselves with today is having to be like fiction writers, which can be uncomfortable. There is something very uncomfortable about having to put our mind behind our work, for we make ourselves vulnerable to being misunderstood. It’s incredibly painful to the fiction writer when their work is misinterpreted, and to avoid that risk, the fiction writer can be tempted to “leave nothing out.” But then the fiction writer abandons “lack,” and so abandons his or her craft in the same act. Similarly, the best leaders must be behind their work, and if the State feels too much “in the forefront,” our freedom will be impeded. A dance between “nothing,” “lack,” and “presence” must be achieved, and if the dance ever stops, the dancers will fail.
¹⁰We should be weary of all saviors who do not appreciate the difference between “lack” and “nothing.”
¹¹A supreme symbol of “lack” is the empty tomb of Christ.