When asked about his favorite wine, Diogenes the Cynic once replied that it was the one that other people paid for*. In this clever little aphorism, Diogenes hints at a distinction that brings up far reaching questions. For instance, it can help us understand a principle difference that exists between human beings and AI. For, in its current state and trajectory, a machine perfectly attuned to the properties of wine, would be utterly unable to tell the difference between Diogenes’ preferred wine, and an identical one that he paid for.
So what is this additional property that Diogenes discerns between two identical wines? Lacan’s answer was Object Petit a.
At first sight, the idea that the wine paid for by another has some additional, non-material property, sounds like an absurd and insignificant one. Something that rests on a simple category mistake. However, very quickly we discover that this question brings us to the heart of philosophical questions that expose deep personal and political problems. Problems that the practice of Pyrotheology aims at freeing us from.
To just name a few of these problems: why is it that impoverishing others for some goal can entrap us in a pleasure that is lacking from attaining the same goal without cost to another? Why is it that we can find ourselves compelled to destroy a good relationship that we presently have to pursue a potentially good relationship that comes with deep cost? Or why is it that a country’s existing standard of living (even if poor) can become something that people will defend to the death as soon as they have an enemy that they believe wants to steal it away?
In this pyroseminar, I’ll be looking at what this strange, non-materialism property actually is, what importance it has in the world and work of Pyrotheology and how we might be able to create communities that harness this Object a for the good.
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*Thanks to my friend Barry Taylor who reminded me of this quote on his instagram page