Reconstructability of Toy Worlds

Reza Negarestani on Toy Philosophy:

Construction vs Representation

“The child’s toy universe does not resemble anything like the represented world of ours. The toy blocks by which the child assiduously constructs a world are not anything like bricks cemented over bricks. They can be replaced or even discarded if the child is not satisfied with the result. And we all know that a child never gives up. Until the toy-made world is in its optimal condition, it will be destroyed again and again. Even when the optimal construct is achieved, nothing guarantees that the child won’t reengineer it the next day to accommodate more adventurous narratives.”

Toys vs Tools

“But toys, adequately understood, are not tools per se. In contrast to the use of tools, toys do not strictly adhere to pieces of practical reasoning (e.g., In order to achieve X, I ought to do Y). The ends of toy-plays are not like the ends of our practical reasons which go away once we attain them. They are more like inexhaustible ends, or ends which do not simply go away once achieved. For as long as, the world can be reconstructed and re-engineered, the infinite prospect of the kingdom of ends is at hand.”


“Think of a Waldorf doll, a faceless uncharacteristic doll made of the cheapest material and stuffed with hay. The child begins to learn that the doll is not the true object, which is to say, the object is always incomplete. The child then goes on to paste a smily face, a big nose and dark brown eyes which it had drawn on a paper on the doll’s face. However, depending on the setup of the child’s toy universe, the doll can take fundamentally new characteristics like a platform on which new qualitative differences can be built, layer after layer.”

“But as if beauty in the eye of a child could be anything other than something in essence synthetic, layered and transitory: faces pasted on faces, vestige upon vestige, characters built on top of one another all within one domain, the toy universe. Within this universe which is a featureless doll, the original beginning and the ideal end are never attainable, only residuation of what has come before and the possibilities of further construction.”

The Coupling of World-Building and Simulation

“Nevertheless, in both cases, we see a coupling between world-building and simulational abilities. The point of toys is as much about world-construction as it is about building up the capacities and techniques of simulation through which understanding is amplified and its scope is expanded.”


“We already know from Kant that what we call today simulation in a loose sense—as in simulating a world in which friction does not exist—is at the bottom the function of productive imagination which in the Kantian parlance is just understanding in a different guise. Behind productive imagination lies one of the key themes of Kantian transcendental method: the argument about schemata.

The Image and the Concept

Schematism addresses one of the most weighty problems in transcendental philosophy, the so-called homogeneity problem i.e. the correspondence or coordination between concepts qua rules and objects or imagistic impression of items in the world. By image, Kant means a singular rudimentary (i.e. intuited) representation of an item / object. One can think of the rudimentary imaging faculty as involving extraction and integration of salient perspectival or local features qua variations of an object. Concepts on the other hand are non-perspectival (the invariant). They are at the most basic level principles of unity through which multiple particular instances can be brought predicatively under one subject, particularly a logical subject. Once we have concepts, we can arrive at critical perceptual judgements so that when we look at a Bic pen immersed in a glass of water, we can assert that this such-and-such pen looks—perspectivally—bent but is in fact straight. This is a piece of critical perceptual judgement or taking i.e. grasping, understanding or conceiving (bringing into conception). In contemporary terms, then we can think of the homogeneity problem as the problem of coordinating local variations and global invariance (the core of sheaf logic) or particularities and universality, eikones and ideai, the temporal capacity aisthesis and the time-insensitive faculty nous (the problem of Plato’s divided line).”


“Now the homogeneity problem engages with the issue of how can this or that particular triangle can be coordinated with triangularity as such. Put differently, how can the concept be supplied with its image. Proclus thinks the solution is in what he calls a mediating universal, a rule that comes between the detached universal (the universal triangularity inexhaustible by any image of a triangle) and particular triangles. Kant calls these mediating rules, schemata. Schematism then describes rules or constructive procedures which unlike the strong sense of the concept are not concerned with what particular image is subsumed by a concept, but how a particular image can be constructed in thus-and-so ways so that it conforms with a certain concept. This howness designates the functional role of the concept qua rule. Functional in the sense that we use the concept of triangularity whenever a particular item—an imagistic shape of a triangle—is implicated in the actual use of the concept of triangularity.”

Infantile Simulation

“This is what I call infantile schematism and by that I mean a child never settles for a particular established image for a concept. This is but the very law of simulation.

You say that the concept of mountain should conform to such putative invariant image-models. ‘Daddy I do love you but you also happen to be so parochial,’ the child opines: ‘Let me set you straight, in my toy universe, the mountain can be anything. It can be a cardboard box covered with brown satin or it can be a pot of old coffee’. The child then continues, ‘you think just because I play with what I call humans, they should conform to what you perceive as a human. But you are sadly mistaken for even a colored pencil wearing a thimble can be a human, an autonomous agent in my world.’ This is what simulation is all about. It does not matter what imagistic impression of an item in the world corresponds to a concept. What matters is the mediating rule of how any imagistic impression—after the sufficient relaxation of representational constraints—can be coordinated with a concept which is applied across the board for all instances brought under it.”

“Accordingly, simulation in the aforementioned sense involves destabilization of a canonical or stable set of images for a concept. But this process of destabilization is followed by a process of restabilization so that the implications of the use of a concept hold for any image that falls under it. The simulational role of toys is exactly like this. The schematic coordination of the image and the concept is there, however, (1) its representational function is partially suspended, (2) the stabilized homogeneity between object and concept is frequently destabilized in favor of new modes of construction and correspondingly, object-constitution, (3) the relaxation of representational constraints amplifies constructivity so much so that we can replace a canonical set of image-models with such-and-such properties with an entirely new set that has different qualities (e.g., substituting humanoid doll-like entities with tiny calculators while abiding by the rules of how these calculators operate).”

” If we are to enrich a simulated world we ought to, first and foremost, attend to the simulated framework rather rather than the source of the analogy i.e. the real world. Only the unreserved enrichment of the former can assure the enrichment of our conception of the latter.”


“Toys are a sub-class of object-models whose primary task is world-building. This task is enabled by how toys suspend the canonical stability between the image and the concept, the correlation between representation and construction as an autonomous domain.”

Toy Solutions

“The idea of toy as an object-model capable of simulating a world or a problem without strictly conforming to the representational constraints of that world or variables and parameters of the original problem has a long history in science and specifically engineering. Confronted with a problem in one domain, the engineer constructs a toy surrogate or mechanical analog of that problem in another domain. The engineer then goes on to investigate this toy construct and how it behaves in its specific domain and in its own terms. Using certain equivalence principles that can coordinate the original problem and the toy surrogate, the engineer is then able to use the solution provided by the machine and translate it into a solution for the original problem.”


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