Quentin Meillassoux: Hyper-Chaos and the Real


This morning I was rereading a few of the passages I’d gleaned from Quentin Meillassoux’s essays gathered in Time without Becoming. What struck me is this almost – shall I call it, Chinese quality about his sentences: the simplicity and elegance of statement that brings with it this sense of mastery and logic that is so merciless that it makes one tremble, and yet – at the same time, it awakens in one’s mind this state of meditative awareness that what one is reading is in accord with the truth.

His concept of Hyper-Chaos seems to be one of these facets or figures, a trope that acts as an attractor gathering into itself the causal nexus of ideas from which all things arise.

…the notion of Hyper-Chaos is the idea of a time so completely liberated from metaphysical necessity that nothing constrains it: neither becoming, nor the substratum. This hyper-chaotic time is able to create and destroy even becoming, producing without reason fixity or movement, repetition or creation.1

He explains how he came to such a notion through the logic of time: temporality itself demanded it. In most conceptions time there is both fixity and becoming, synchronic and diachronic, Chronos and Aeon. Kant would internalize time and space as categories in the mind. Meillassoux needed an absolute concept that would treat reality on its own terms, a concept that would transform our understanding of time itself as both underpinning our conceptions of Being and Becoming as well as instigating a conception of time that was not-All; a non-totalistic time before time: an absolute time of pure supercontingency. As he states it chaos as a concept entails disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. Such a concept could not explain contingency, or even what he now terms “supercontingency”. No, “these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity” (ibid. KL 288). He came upon this concept in trying to define what he implied by his other concept “facticity”: What is facticity once it is considered as an absolute rather than as a limit? The answer is time. Facticity as absolute must be considered as time, but a very special time: “hyper-chaos”. (ibid. 284)

So hyper-chaos is a special type of time, a time that includes both fixity and change, being and becoming; yet, it does not meld these into some formless soup, instead it allows them to oscillate within a void of pure negativity. As I was thinking about this and trying to visualize such a notion I remembered the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, of the male and female rotation of light folded in darkness, and darkness folded in light. In explaining facticity Meillassoux will tell us:

If the facticity of the correlation can be conceived of, if it is a notion that we can effectively conceive of … then it is a notion that we can think as an absolute: the absolute absence of reason for any reality, in other words, the effective ability for every determined entity, whether it is an event, a thing, or a law, to appear and disappear with no reason for its being or non-being. Unreason becomes the attribute of an absolute time capable of destroying or creating any determinate entity without any reason for its creation or destruction. (ibid. KL 258)

This notion of an absolute Time that is capable of destruction and creation without any grounding or foundation in reason, a groundless ground of unreason almost seems a throwback to certain notions in F.W.J. Schelling. In his 1809 essay on human freedom Schelling will state:

…following the eternal act of self-revelation, the world as we now behold it, is all rule, order and form; but the unruly lies ever in the depths as though it might again break through, and order and form nowhere appear to have been original, but it seems as though what had initially been unruly had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason by the greatest exertion but always remains in the depths. Out of this which is unreasonable, reason in the true sense is born. Without this preceding gloom, creation would have no reality; darkness is its necessary heritage. (Schelling 1936, 34)

What stood out in this passage was this notion that the most fundamental basis of reality, the “irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason by the greatest exertion but always remains in the depths” is the very figure of Meillassoux’s hyper-chaos, of a special time before time as we know it; or linear, subjective time. And, secondly, the idea that reason arises our of this unreasonable foretime of the abyss: this irreducible remainder. Lao Tzu’s short book would hint at such a notion as well:

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.2

The whole point of this exercise for Meillassoux was to refute the anti-realist tradition of Kant and his progeny up to and including the phenomenologists. What he discovered in this tradition of anti-realism was a “performative contradiction”: the absolutization of facticity. As he states:

Everything can be conceived of as contingent, depending on human tropism, everything except contingency itself. Contingency, and only contingency, is absolutely necessary: facticity, and only facticity, is not factual, but eternal. Facticity is not a fact, it is not one more fact in the world. And this is based upon a precise argument: I can’t be skeptical towards the operator for every skepticism. (ibid. KL 272)

Within all forms of correlationism, weak and strong, he found their reliance on this absolutization of facticity. So that through his principle of factuality (“Factiality is not facticity, but the necessity of facticity, the essence of facticity.”) he thinks it possible to enable a speculative materialism that can clearly and without doubt refute correlationism. At the heart of correlationism is this notion that there are no objects, no events, no laws, no beings which are not always already correlated with a point of view, with a subjective access. This “philosophy of access” (Harman) is what many term the anti-realist tradition. And it is against this that Meillassoux seeks to overcome through his use of mathematics:

Now, my project is to solve a problem that I did not resolve in After Finitude, it is a very difficult problem, one that I can’t rigorously set out here, but that I can sum up in this simple question: would it be possible to derive, to draw from the principle of factiality, the ability of the natural sciences to know, by way of mathematical discourse, reality in itself, by which I mean our world, the factual world as it is actually produced by Hyper-chaos, and which exists independently of our subjectivity? To answer this very difficult problem is a condition for a real resolution of the problem of ancestrality, and this constitutes the theoretical finality of my present work. (ibid. KL 354-359)

The point of this is to think X independent of any thinking, and Meillassoux realized that within the very conceptual tools of his enemy – the anti-realist correlationists, and their fight against the absolute – he found a path forward, a way out of the circle. The principle of factiality unveils the ontological truth hidden beneath the radical skepticism of modern philosophy, to be is not to be a correlate, but to be a fact, to be is to be factual, and this is not a fact. (ibid. KL 278-282) So this strange logic of unreason at the core of reason breaks us out of the circle of correlationism that has bound us to the tradition of finitude and the limits of reason since Kant. His proposal to use mathematics as a tool independent of the observer and the empirical reach of consciousness or intentionality is the quest he undertakes to demonstrate his thesis.  We await his demonstration.

1. Meillassoux, Quentin (2014-12-10). Time without Becoming (Kindle Locations 312-314). Mimesis International. Kindle Edition.
2. Mitchell, Stephen (2009-10-13). Tao Te Ching (Perennial Classics) (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

1 thought on “Quentin Meillassoux: Hyper-Chaos and the Real

  1. This brought to mind a line from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

    Heaven-Earth indifferent, regards all living things as straw dogs


    Su Zhe’s commentary on this verse explains: “Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them.”[1]

    Liked by 1 person

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