World Program
Ingo Niermann

Why is something and not nothing? Theorists of information argue that an absolute nothing is more complex to describe than an absolute everything. Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Library of Babel”is often cited as an example: A collection of all possible books has zero information value. With nothingness, on the other hand, you first of all have to define what kind of nothing you mean. Not only an eternal vacuum, but even the absence of space and time? Even the absence of a logical system that would define this nothing in the first place?

An accumulation of all possible books, insofar as there is a limit on the number of available characters as well as the number of possible pages, is immense, but finite. This is not the case with the set that comprises all-possible-things. But how can the infinite not only be described using set theory, but actually be?

The bottom line is that all-possible-things has not been in existence forever, but is still in a state of becoming. Thus, what exists in the present moment remains finite. What is infinite and remains so is only that which has yet to come to pass. Nothing and everything move towards each other on the axis of time and intermingle. If everything then comes from a distant, never attainable future, would nothing, conversely, come from an equally distant past, which would mean: one that has never begun? Or why did everything once begin exactly in this way and not differently? When it comes to the question about the beginning of becoming, this model also becomes paradoxical.

Unless it were the case that the world began not only once but in all possible ways at the same time. Then there would not be only one course of world history working through the books in its library. Would there instead be as infinitely many courses of world history as there are books?

Theorists of information strive to describe the world as similar to a computer program solely on the basis of discrete states: yes/no, one/zero. The very beginning of all-possible-things could be a binary opposition – one that branches out in the following course of world history into more and more worlds. A wave function collapse in quantum mechanics does not result in a resolution in favor of one of two possible states, but in the splitting of a world into two worlds, each corresponding to one state. The number of existing worlds would be immeasurably larger than the number of elementary particles in our world, but finite.

The problem of this theory is only us. Us, in the sense of: the consciously perceiving somethings. Our sensory perceptions, our feelings and even our thoughts about logic and mathematics – our qualia – do not reveal discrete states. Our consciousness does not pixelate.

Is such ignorance about what is happening not immediately in front of our eyes, but immediately behind them, another instance of white-male errantry? In fact, so far only White male theorists of information have interpreted the world as a self-actualising computer program. Even those who critique their theories tend to be White men. Most of humankind doesn’t even bother trying to understand them. Instead, in response to the question of the origin of everything that is the case, whenever and wherever it may be, they turn to this or that pre-technological metaphor. This is not what humility about our unknowing looks like.

In ancient Greek theatre it was the satyrs’ job to make fun of people and their stupid words of wisdom. Forest spirits, half man, half animal, permanently aroused and talking smut. Also, again, male, and, in everything that is human about them, also, again, White. As soon as a satyr looks in the mirror Nietzsche’s Übermensch appears to him. And from there it’s not far to Marvel’s superheroes, who have a swagger instead of sexual potency, and vigilante justice, cleaning up the world as a one-man army, instead of crude jokes that cut through the bullshit.

In the analogous realm of the here and now, men only connect with themselves by becoming even more idiotic, even more damaged. Man and beast combined add up to less rather than more than the sum of their parts. Too cerebral and too instinct-driven at the same time. No matter how little space men occupy, they have thieved it. Even if they were to castigate or destroy themselves, their self-righteousness would stink to high heaven.

While women and other non-men are assigned the role of perfecting themselves more and more, in a humanist and in a post-humanist sense, the discourse of identity politics leaves men with the grey area of being neither human nor animal. Herethey can think about and insist that they still exist as whatever it may be. From here they can write endless screeds in chat rooms and blogs, troll social media, scribble Post-Its, spray-paint walls, and brawl in pedestrian zones. So long as they stay beastly and raucous enough that you don’t start to pity them. No matter how damaged, they want to remain dangerous – or at least annoying. They want to be pushed aside, resisting, as a bad example. And they want, in a rare moment, despite everything and precisely because of it, to be irresistible. Because they are something and not nothing.