We've previously discussed dead reckoning as a key question for speculative reason. Dead reckoning emerges from what we've termed an Open Engineering Problem – something that's put forward by the concrete forces of human ambition, but which exceeds the reach of rigorous knowledge. Longitude is our paradigmatic OEP: navigators can orient themselves around latitude, and can try to locate themselves through path integration, but onboard instruments fail to take into account the very turbulence of the sea and the winds (and thus men often die at sea). In other words – instrumental reason is useful close to shore (sea-at-close), but loses its grip on reality as one transitions to high seas (sea-at-large).
We have also briefly noted that dead reckoning was effectively obsolesced by the maritime chronometer. Stable time-keeping at the sea-at-large achieves far more than time accounting: it performs an inversion of space and time – longitude itself is obsolesced by a new concept, a machinable concept, time zones. Note well: measurable aspects of the at-largeness, of the inconceivable distance traveled are taken – the drift in the perceived time-of-the-day – to take stock of and conceptually replace the spatial inconceivability of longitude. In this way, future space travelers may take stock of their velocity by measuring relativistic effects.
This makes for an useful circuit or narrative from (1) a concrete problem, with concrete effects (men die) (2) a speculative, nonrigorous concept that takes to heart the sea-at-largeness of the conditions of the problem and (3) its replacement for a rigorous, machinable (reliable, repeatable, amenable to automation) concept that takes stock of the fundamental instabilities generated by the travel into high seas by some inversion of terms. (This is how gyroscopes invert gravity and movement.) This is also a speculative narrative, and yet one that has higher standards for results at its end.
We want to establish speculative reason as the grounds for the generation of concepts. We do this in full recognition (and quasi-religious admirations) of philosophies of the rhizome and the generalized critique of ground-root-and-branch and image-of-thought; and we do this in great agreement with their concept of "concept". But we want also to expand something we call Theory (in divergence from its usage in academia) – the sustained reflection and generation of concepts – past beyond philosophy and its bunkmates. Economics is in sore need of firmer conceptualization, not of assorted insights from the also-poorly-conceptualized social sciences; it can neither absorb further quantitative insight without being able to locate it. We want to touch the generation of ideas in this booming era (from a quarter-century view) of ambitious technological start-ups that reiterate extant models for lack of clearer concepts. We want to touch whatever it is that they're calling "trend-watching" that has started to read interesting lately. We want to touch the fractal scales of "asymmetric conflict" – ants, riots and inteliigence about them.
What does the longitude paradigm imply in all these cases? First, that (in the sense we want to develop them) that concepts have effects. While there is such a thing as idle speculation (which might even be limitedly useful as an idea-generation process) and dead-end speculative theory, even the poorest concepts must imply some action that effects some change. "The moon is made of cheese" is daydreaming, not speculation; "people are wearing bow-ties again, is it because of the weather?" is idle speculation, but potentially generative of a speculative theory. "Street riots should dealt with the same scattered, intensive, unpredictable action that makes wildcat strikes so effective" is a speculative concept of urban policing – liable to be very wrong, but also amenable to decoupage, clarification and even implementation.
Second, that theory happens in the temporary, hopefully self-annihilating space of sea-at-large. That is, theory sees its opportunity in what we term the Open Engineering Problem, the practical question that can't be answered with the machinable concepts of sea-at-close due to turbulent drift over longitude. This implies in a focus on complexity and radical multidisciplinarity – understanding the machines (the rigorous, reliable methods of analysis and production) of every domain before one can move into "thinking beyond" them.
Third, that the principal goal of the theorist is advancing machinability and removing the elements in his concepts that are loose, metaphoric or ungrounded in other ways. Moving towards machinability means, ultimately, losing speculative control of the concept to the non-theoretical concepts that absorb it. Just as time-zones take longitude out of the hands of the navigator and pack it into a mechanical instrument, a machinable concept is meant to be amenable to a potential production process that no longer needs theoretical development.
An open question here, of course, is whether theory, understood in these terms, can be this self-effacing – in other words, whether it can be an open loop. It's very well possible that all useful theory is operational, and the solution of longitude is swift because of the great underlying stability of the problem.