There is something about mathematics that is rational and perfectly harmonious. In his powerful new novella, R.F. Georgy argues that we have all become the number four. That is to say, the very idea of progress is based on the rational and quantifiable. In one of his most powerful quotes (this book is full of memorable quotes, Georgy declares, “You believe in progress. You believe in the perfectibility of man. You believe in the rational ordering of human beings. You believe in the crystal palace. You believe in… wait, no you worship the number four.” What Georgy means by worshiping the number four is that we live in an age of science, which has succeeded in stripping us from our irrational nature, He rejects the utopia we have built as an illusion and that our true nature is irrational. Let’s consider the digital age for a minute. According to Georgy, “Information paints, no picture, sings no song, and writes no poem.” In one powerful quote, Georgy uses another mathematical analogy to describe us, “We are the unfortunate zero that exists in the denominator of a fraction. We are undefined, a most unfortunate occurrence, I grant you.”
It is this grand metaphor that is at the heart of both Dostoevsky and Georgy’s argument against the idea of progress. The rational ordering of human beings assumes we can all be shaped in the image of science. There is something both disturbing and unsettling about Georgy’s mathematical analogy. Just as the zero is forever undefined when placed in the denomination of a fraction, our existence is also undefined. We are an ontological mystery and despite our every effort to penetrate this existential wall, we are always met with silence. Here is the tragic irony; we construct the perfect knowledge domain, both harmonious and rational, and yet we are irrational. beings. It is perhaps this absurdity of our existence that compels us perpetually search for answers. Alas, the answers are never forthcoming.
What does Georgy do with our undefined nature? He uses it remind science that the answers to who we are will not come conveniently packaged for our immediate consumption. That is t say, science is not the intellectual authority it wants us to believe. As Shakespeare reminds us:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. “
Notes from the Cafe is a powerful indictment against science, technology, progress, and the foundation of the information age. This book should be assigned reading by everyone who questions the idea of progress that we all hold dear.