Scale Theory

A Nondisciplinary Inquiry

2021
Author:

Joshua DiCaglio

A pioneering call for a new understanding of scale across the humanities

Joshua DiCaglio takes us on a fascinating journey through six thought experiments that provide clarifying yet provocative definitions for scale and new ways of thinking about classic concepts ranging from unity to identity. The result is a powerful account of the implications and challenges of scale, attuned to the way scale transforms both reality and ourselves.

Scale Theory is an exceptionally astute and lucid remapping of the concept of scale. Working through a lively set of thought experiments, Joshua DiCaglio invents a scalar theory to move beyond conventional—often reductive and parochial—understandings of scale. From the not-so-simple conceptual and material status of objects, to questions of process, relations, and consciousness, to the scalar repercussions for subjects, experience, and the very practices of interpretation, DiCaglio delineates and performs a far-reaching scale theory for the predicaments of the present.

Peter C. van Wyck, Concordia University, Montréal

How is it possible that you are—simultaneously—cells, atoms, a body, quarks, a component in an ecological network, a moment in the thermodynamic dispersal of the sun, and an element in the gravitational whirl of galaxies? In this way, we routinely transform reality into things already outside direct human experience, things we hardly comprehend even as we speak of DNA, climate effects, toxic molecules, and viruses. How do we find ourselves with these disorienting layers of scale? Enter Scale Theory, which provides a foundational theory of scale that explains how scale works, the parameters of scalar thinking, and how scale refigures reality—that teaches us how to think in terms of scale, no matter where our interests may lie.

Joshua DiCaglio takes us on a fascinating journey through six thought experiments that provide clarifying yet provocative definitions for scale and new ways of thinking about classic concepts ranging from unity to identity. Because our worldviews and philosophies are largely built on nonscalar experience, he then takes us slowly through the ways scale challenges and reconfigures objects, subjects, and relations.

Scale Theory is, in a sense, nondisciplinary—weaving together a dizzying array of sciences (from nanoscience to ecology) with discussions from the humanities (from philosophy to rhetoric). In the process, a curious pattern emerges: attempts to face the significance of scale inevitably enter terrain closer to mysticism than science. Rather than dismiss this connection, DiCaglio examines the reasons for it, redefining mysticism in terms of scale and integrating contemplative philosophies into the discussion. The result is a powerful account of the implications and challenges of scale, attuned to the way scale transforms both reality and ourselves.

Joshua DiCaglio is assistant professor of English at Texas A&M University.

Scale Theory is an exceptionally astute and lucid remapping of the concept of scale. Working through a lively set of thought experiments, Joshua DiCaglio invents a scalar theory to move beyond conventional—often reductive and parochial—understandings of scale. From the not-so-simple conceptual and material status of objects, to questions of process, relations, and consciousness, to the scalar repercussions for subjects, experience, and the very practices of interpretation, DiCaglio delineates and performs a far-reaching scale theory for the predicaments of the present.

Peter C. van Wyck, Concordia University, Montréal

There are few more important, and few more difficult topics to study, than the role of scale in society and nature. This is why I’m so damn thankful for Joshua DiCaglio’s, Scale Theory. He assembles a clear and systematic theory of scale and then demonstrates how its practice can transform our understanding of ourselves and our perceptions of the world. It’s really more than a book; it’s a vision, a guide, and a provocation to help us better navigate a world that exceeds our capacity to understand it.

Phillip Thurtle, author of Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life

Contents

Introduction: Learning to Scale

Part I. Algorithms for a Theory of Scale

1. Distance and Resolution: The First Experiential Origin of Scale

2. Measurement and Perspective: The Second Experiential Origin of Scale

3. Scope and Accumulation: The Third Experiential Origin of Scale

4. To the Bottom: The First Thought Experiment in Scale

5. From the Top: The Second Thought Experiment in Scale

6. In the Scalar Simulation: The Third Thought Experiment in Scale

Part II. Configurations for a Theory of Scale

7. In-formations of the Whole: Scalar Configurations of Objects

8. I Am the Transhuman Cosmos: Scalar Configurations of Subjects

9. Cutting and Claiming Everything: Scalar Configurations of Relations

Part III. Rhetorical Technologies for a Theory of Scale

10. Mapping the Vast Unknowing: The Science of Scale, the Scale of Science

11. The Cosmos Seeing Itself: Representations of Scale, Scales of Representation

12. Transformations by Involution: The Contemplative Practices of Scale, Scaling Contemplation

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index