“Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old — generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the moon.”
“Since a three-dimensional object casts a two-dimensional shadow, we should be able to imagine the unknown four-dimensional object whose shadow we are.”
The process of scaling up poses many problems. Large-scale technologies usually grow out of laboratory experiments, but the process of translation is tricky because laboratory experiments are simplificatory devices: they seek to tame the many erratically changing variables that exist in the wild world, keeping some stable and simply excluding others from the argument. This often works well in the laboratory: if one does an experiment in a test tube, it is not unreasonable to assume that the air in the lab will absorb any heat that is produced. Calculation is greatly simplified by choosing to neglect a variable such as “heat.” However, it works less well when what was confined to a test tube is scaled up to become a power plant. What happens now to all that excess heat? where does it go? And where do radioactive waste products go?
So there is scaling, and there are unpredictabilities, erratic forms of behavior. These do not fit the schemes of most sciences very well either because the latter prefer to treat with only a few variables, not too many. The problem is that what was not predictable tends to occur anyway. So how should this be handled?
The answer–one answer– is that such chaotic events are tamed by theories of chance. In being reduced to a probability and framed as a risk they are turned into something that however erratic, is also calculable. The risk of an explosion in the factory on the edge of your town (an explosion that will take your town with it) is, say, 0.000000003 percent per annum. Now go calculate whether this is a good enough reason to be anxious!
— John Law and Annemarie Mol: Complexities
“Silicon Valley is not a place where one is invited to show frailty or despondence. It is, as Nick puts it, “the place where everybody is killing it all the time.” This might seem peculiar, given that the lot of the small-business founder has always been a fragile one. But in recent years the Valley has successfully elaborated the fantasy that entrepreneurship—and, more broadly, creativity—can be systematized. This is the basic promise of accelerators (Y Combinator et al.), that success in the startup game can be not only taught but rationalized, made predictable. Starting a company was once an urge felt only by the blindly ambitious and slightly unsound, but in the Valley it’s been ostensibly transformed into a scheduled path one can simply elect and apply for, rather as one might choose law school or Wall Street. And the promise of professionalized entrepreneurship has had a particular allure in recent years, since finance has been tarnished and a career in law made increasingly uncertain. Starting a company has become the way for ambitious young people to do something that seems simultaneously careerist and heroic.”
“The universe is wider than our views of it.”