Incentivising Tlön

It’s assessment time in the South African academy. To understand how the hard work of supervision, learning, teaching, writing, reading, research, administration, public service, peer support and review are all combined into an assessment of your net worth, you need two things: a system of logic, and a standardised calculus on which to apply it. The logic is summarised well by Jorge Borges in his discussion of mathematics on Tlön.

The geometry of Tlön comprises two somewhat different disciplines: the visual and the tactile. The latter corresponds to our own geometry and is subordinated to the first. The basis of visual geometry is the surface, not the point. This geometry disregards parallel lines and declares that man in his movement modifies the forms which surround him. The basis of its arithmetic is the notion of indefinite numbers. They emphasize the importance of the concepts of greater and lesser, which our mathematicians symbolize as > and <. They maintain that the operation of counting modifies the quantities and converts them from indefinite into definite sums. The fact that several individuals who count the same quantity would obtain the same result is, for the psychologists, an example of association of ideas or of a good exercise of memory.

This extract, from Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is a philosophical classic, a challenge to all that is sacred in reason, a freedom from the violence of Euclidean thinking, a spear in the side of Baconian science. It’s also precisely the training you need in order to be able to shear from yourself any vestiges of ‘old thinking’, and undergo the conceptual revolution that is the South African Post-Secondary Education assessment process. In addition to the logic of Tlön, you’ll need the following table of definite numbers to really appreciate the beauty of SAPSE mathematics.

CATEGORY NO. OF PRODUCTIVITY UNITS
Refereed Conference Proceedings 4
Journal Editorial 8
Accredited Journal Article 60
Chapter in Book 15
Edited Book 15
Creative Contribution (Local) 15
Creative Contribution (International) 50
Graduating Course Work + Research Masters Student (with ≥ 50% dissertation component NRF approved) 6
Graduating Full Dissertation Masters Student 12
Graduating Doctoral Student 60
Patent 80
Book (entire) 100

So, let’s learn together. Public service, undergraduate lecturing and any other activity not explicitly mentioned are, obviously, ‘null spaces’. In the spaces that matter, we see that supervising a full dissertation masters is worth almost as much as a performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town, which is worth three times less than a Karaoke performance in an armpit bar in Sheffield, which is worth a little less than a peer reviewed journal article. But two journal articles are worth more than a book.

Borges doesn’t write about the kinds of incentive structure that Tlön’s geometry sets up. But I bet it’s not half as fucked up as the South African academy.