Engineer as Oedipus

This is a continuation of the answer to the last question about Engineers that was not published on the Quora question.

This statement about the essence of the technologist or engineer is true but with a deeper truth than verification and validation and correctness, and even a deeper truth than aleithia, uncovering process truth, but with the kind of truth that exists at the hyper Being level. Each aspect of Being (Presence, Identity, Truth, and Reality) has a different nature at each level of Hyper Being. So Pure Truth, is different from Process Truth, which is again different from Hyper Truth and Wild Truth. Hyper truth which is at stake here is more than just the uncovering of something, like Oedipus uncovering his true ancestry. Rather hyper truth is like the truth of the answer to the riddle that the Sphinx gives Oedipus. When Oedipus gives the answer it kills her. The question was what walked on four then two then three legs in the different parts of the day. The answer was man, which was also Oedipus himself because of his wound to his feet. Very few ask why it was that the Sphinx killed herself when she was given this answer, between the killing of the father and the marrying of the mother by Oedipus, before his entry into the city as the new King. The reason is that the kind of truth that the answer had was of the nature of Hyper Being which is implicated both in creation and destruction, like Shiva, like Dionysus. The sphinx itself was a combination of a woman and a lion and eagle and a snake. Thus it is like the chimera a combination of animals. The original egyptian sphinxes had the heads of Pharaohs and were propitious guardians while for the greeks they were sinister monsters that ate those who could not answer their question. In Oedipus, Philosopher Gaux equates the Sphinx with the young girl or wife to be of the Hero that becomes in the Failed Hero, Oedipus, the Sphinx. But I think this interpretation is wrong in an otherwise very insightful book.

We can tell much by looking at the secondary myths related to the Sphinx. The alternative question was what are the two sisters that give birth to each other, whose answer is night and day. The alternative death of the Sphinx was self-devouring, rather than jumping off of a height. Now, if we go back to Egypt the model of self creation was the myth of the god Atum who self-procreates. So we have on the Egyptian side self-creation in a Male deity who is identified at the Pharaoh and on the Greek side self-destruction in a female monster. Of course, the Egyptian picture is really much more complicated than this due to the proliferation of names and attributes of this god, into many gods. Even the creator god had another manifestation which was Khepri, symbolized by the scarab but also an image of self-creation. Now if we take all these mythic facts we see an image of Hyper Being arises as that which allows the parts of the Chimera of the Sphinx to be combined, i.e. in ordinate parts are connected just like we connect the very different parts of our systems through the mediation of software. Hyper Being due to its mercurial nature allows transformations to occur within the system, and these transformations can be across time and space. So in the Chimera it is across the space of the body of the monster which though consisting of different parts of animals produces a new whole with its own unity and characteristics with their own emergent logic. For instance, the  Sphinx in egypt are guardians, but in greece they produce questions that the traveler must answer in order to gain right of way. There are two kinds of creatures that are in the questions. Either there is Man, who has different standings during his different ages, or woman who gives rise to her own second sister who gives rise in turn to the first sister. This mutual giving rise to each other is a lot like the Amicable numbers, it is other creation rather than self-creation, but which results in mediated self-creation. Balancing this self-creation is the self-destruction by devouring itself that is the other alternative ending of the myth. Now we need to contrast this scenario with the one in the standard myth where the answer is man and the sphinx jumps off of a height to her destruction. Man transforms his mode of standing throughout his life with 4, 2, 3 legs. Four legs makes him like a mammal, and two legs makes him like a bird. Three legs do not exist in nature normally. Three is the number of instability, for instance Oedipus is cursed to kill his father at a three way fork in the road. When his mother tells him not to look into his own past, he decides to pursue the issue where ever it leads, to his own eventual disgrace. Thus he takes a fork in the road in time in terms of his decision to continue to pursue the source of the plague as he has sworn to do. The father the fork is in space in the road, and in time the fork is in his decision to pursue the truth no matter what. So it is very significant that the last element not like any animal is three legs one of which is artificial. This artificial propping up of man is telling because it is man who props himself up by means of artificial creations that are designed using the laws of nature but are different from natures design. Notice that the Sphinx has the wings of an eagle or bird, and the body of a lion. Thus the first two characteristics related to 4 and 3 feet are embodied in the sphinx. The two other attributes are the head and breast of a woman and a serpent headed tail. So the two ends of the animal represent the phallic male at the hind end and head of the woman at the front end, and so basically there is a fusing of gender in the Sphinx. As I have said elsewhere gender is in category theory terms a modification, rather than a kind of a kind as Smith has said. Thus we have in the sphinx not just a transformation between earth (mammal, 4 legs) and air (bird, two legs) which is a natural transformation of species, but we have fused with that a modification of gender, in representing male and female characteristics symbolically. We can follow Lacan and say that the phallic and the artificial leg of the old man are in fact related in terms of the floating signifier called by him The Name of the Father, which is the sign of the Phallus. And this floating signifier has precisely the nature of Hyper Being as described by Deleuze in the Logic of Sense. So when we mix up the species, the modification, and the floating signifier together then we get a confluences of indicators of the mercurial nature of Hyper Being i.e. the sign of design. In this sense the question of the Sphinx is like the design, she has designs on every traveler. When the unique traveler Oedipus answers her question self-creation turns to self-destruction, its opposite. Now we come to the other issue that has been left out which is that Oedipus is lame from birth because he was exposed as a child by his father attempting to avert the curse from the Delphic oracle. Thus the sign of the Father was the wounding of the son in the foot, causing his foot to be swollen and the name of Oedipus was swollen foot. Thus his name is the sign of what the father did to him, this is what is meant by the Name of the Father. It is a floating signifier if it is a blank space in two series which can move around in the intersection of the two series like a bubble under a carpet. The registers are the literal and the metaphoric. The question of the Sphinx has to be answered metonymically because it was created metaphorically. So the two registers are metaphor and metonymy as we see in Barthes. So we get this strange configuration which is that the one who is lame, i.e. has 1.5 legs talks about the elder who has one artificial leg, i.e. 2.5  legs. This is a difference of deficiency and excess. Thus the artificiality is an excess based on the wound which represents the sign (Name) of the Father as deficiency in Oedipus himself. This excess and deficiency is added to amalgam of gender and essence as another kind of transform which is a mapping which can be either injected , surjected, (both: bijected), neither or partial. So from a categorical perspective what is missing here? It is the functor. A functor is a mapping between categories. The series in mathematical category is arrow (mapping differences), functor, natural transformation (species difference), modification (gender difference), and after that a fluctuation. So this is the gap the whole not represented in the field of difference that we are dealing with that includes both the question and the answer as well as the Sphinx and Oedipus. The functor is the mapping between categories which is missing in the field, so this is the gap that allows the floating signifier to arise structurally in this field. The functor is what allows Oedipus to answer the question because he can create a functor from metaphor to metonymy and based on this ability to understand the element missing from the field of signifiers. He supplies the signifier who is himself, a man who is both more than and less than a man because he is wounded in the foot, but then probably has to carry a staff to compensate. So this man is marked in a way that makes him different from a normal unmarked man, because he is the pharmacon. He is going to be before the end of the story both more than a normal man, a king, and less than a normal man, an outcast. The riddle and its answer is in the place of the design as Hyper Sign. It supplies the missing functor between metaphor and metonymy. It is the transformation between self-production (sisters giving rise to each other) and self-destruction (devouring of herself). All this is just to indicate that in the Oedipus myth is signified Hyper Truth. It also has Wild Truth as well in it. The myth encompasses all the kinds of truth in our worldview including the ultra truth of the Delphic Oracle itself. We use this structural analysis just to indicate that Hyper Truth of Hyper Signs has been around a long time within the worldview even though the tradition lost sight of it after Plato. In the case of Oedipus it appears as the enigma of his fate on the basis of which he knows how to solve riddles posed by the Sphinx. The Sphinx is an imaginary entity with emergent properties, it is the representation of the embodiment of the system, and the riddle and answer are the design, and Oedipus himself, the failed hero as philosopher, is the engineer. The engineer is the failed scientist, who creates artificial designs for cultural artifacts rather than pursuing the discovery of the design of nature. Oedipus uses his hands to commit his crime of killing his father, and his phallus in the crime of incest with his mother, but it is language that he uses to defeat the Sphinx by understanding that the missing element in the field was the functor between the tropes of metaphor and metonymy. The engineer deals with documents which describe the design. The engineer deals in enigmatic technical language. He cannot touch the product. But he does not do his creation as procreation as the Demiurge does which is where Hyper Being is called out in that text, and he does not use his hands. So he has to do his creation in language written in the specifications.

The engineer is crippled as is Oedipus. He does not have a Name that is assigned by the tradition as the scientist does, yet he has status over the technician, who only carries out orders and does not understand the design that the engineer has created, but that status means he cannot touch the product. So he is hampered by his anonymity and the fact that he does not own the rights to his patents of the invention he creates for the corporation, but he is also hampered by the structural opposite of not being able to touch the product during its construction except in special circumstances due to union rules. So the engineer is hemmed in in a way similar to Oedipus by nihilistic opposites.

The engineer creates a monster, i.e. an abomination, an unnatural combination of elements sewn together like a crazy quilt, just like the Sphinx itself. The Sphinx represents the design space that is articulated by the meta-levels of Being with the widest part at the level of Hyper Being. All the N-categories are crossed in a cartesian cross with the metaphysical principles of Peirce and Fuller to produce this design space. And it has the strange structure of a meta-system as represented by the semiotic field that includes the questioner and questioned. The riddle and its interpretation are like the design problem and its solution, it includes all the n-categories but it is the functor that is the key level because the mapping between different categories epitomizes the relations between various species of things that exist within the same design and need to be harmonized within the design to produce the needed performance.

Once we realize that in our culture the engineer is structurally in a similar position of Oedipus to the Sphinx then we can understand how the scientist is in a similar position as Oedipus to the plague. Oedipus is trying as King to discover the source of the plague within the community not realizing until too late that he is that source. The plague is an external phenomena of nature that has descended on and is enveloping the city. Oedipus is out to discover its cause in the nature of his community, which he intends to drive out as a pharmacon not realizing that it will be he himself that he will drive out. The plague is a sign of uncleanness of some kind and the disfavor of the gods that envelops the whole community, and this enveloping nature is a sign that it is related to Wild Being. The community is constricted by the plague, and Oedipus’s answer moves into a new realm by introducing the missing functor between metaphor and metonymy to answer the riddle. Answering the riddle transforms the Sphinx from self-creation of the two sisters of the alternative riddle to self-destruction by self-devouring of her alternative death. On the other hand the falling from a height which is the death in the standard myth is a sign of groundlessness. The whole riddle and secret answer dialectic is itself groundless as is language itself in relation to the physus, because it is emergent rather than supervenient.

Metaphor is a carrying across based on the substance of Being as a substrate. True metaphor only occurs on the basis of Being. Metonymy is rather the substitution of whole for the part. The riddle carries across from one part of the day to another with different standings in each part of the day. Man at his prime as present-at-hand at the height of the arc of his development stands on two feet. But as a child he is like an animal that crawls on one four limbs and does not have language. I his old age he needs artificial support so he has three supports instead of two. Oedipus does a mapping from day to life, and he does a mapping metonymic substitution of himself as foot wounded man for creature with differing numbers of legs. His answer is both metaphor and metonymy at the same time thus it plays with the divide between continuity and discontinuity. But it is also a functor between these two categories of trope because he is a particular marked man who is the answer to the riddle that is signified by the riddle species man, who is unique in gaining language and rising out of the state of most animals as he matures, and also the only one who extends himself artificially expanding his being in the world by artificial props that give him a different standing in his world that other things who do not project a world schema.

Anyway this should give you some idea of how we can see the Myth of Oedipus as telling us about the structure of the worldview in terms of the the meta-levels of Being and how that applies to the sign, interpreted at the hyper being level as design. And how the monstrosity of the Sphinx can be seen as the artificial emergent technical system and Oedipus himself can be seen as standing in the place of the engineer. The technological system has an essence of nihilism and the technologist has an essence of emergence, and these together are nihilistic or artificial extreme duals. Thus we have said the most general statement about the engineer.


Posted May 12, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

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