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Aristotle the Topologist

Ren Thom

Aristotle did not imagine the word topos. He found it, existing in Greek, with its sense of
place, alias locality. Quote from Bailly's Dictionary: Elldos topoi (from Aeschylus). It is
therefore legitimate to examine the sequence: Greek topos, Latin locus, French
place, so as possible, to specify the direction of the evolution of this root.
If we examine the current uses of the word place in French, we will observe that a place
always requires a resident who makes it his residence: it is practically impossible, in current
French, to use the word place with an inanimate genitive. Examples: the place of a rock, the
place of a tower. In its abstract, philosophical uses, the word place, in French, always has a
strong existential connotation: there is a "place of" to act, "there is no place for" negatively.
From there, the hypothesis that the word topos virtually implies a human being or an animal
that (normally) lives in this place; we will call him here the master (or chief) of the place.
From the human, one will generalize to the animal: every animal is forge a territory, place of
its activities. It is necessary to conceive that every living being is thus the center of a three-
dimensional domain - should we say its topos? - where he practices his breeding, hunting,
etc. Such a domain must be seen as a topos with a central position, emitting nourishing
ramifications, and eventually family. As a result, every topos lives in the brains of its
occupying master. The external incursions of the occupant will be limited by fixed objects
"extreme", not to be exceeded, the eschata.
We can start from the (simplistic) hypothesis that Aristotle, imagining a living being,
endowed him with a territory. Initially, it is only possible to attribute to the living being a
certain freedom of movement within a connected (open) domain of the usual Euclidean space.
But this field will have, in practice, limits that the individual will prefer not to cross. Hence
the notion - so important in Aristotle - of extreme limits, of limits: the eschatas.
The requirement for a place to have eschata thus seems only a local form, weakened, of the
closing requirement which characterizes for Aristotle the ousia: Tode ti kekhrismenon,
which is there, separated. It will be the same for the "absolute" use of the word, "Places
absolute places" according to Mallarm, where, on the contrary, the presence of an individual
acting, limited solid eschata near or far, appears as essential. From now on, this acting
individual will be designated as the master of the place.
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We must now explain the structure of the eschata in a place, which presents a priori a
surprising duplication: the double crown of eschata.
A kind of convex hull (in the terminology of today's geometers) constitutes the eschata zone
of the extremities, which the occupant usually does not cross. This is the notion of "edge" or
"border". It will be explained below how the eschata can serve the chief of the domain to find
his way in his territory.
From the Parmenides appears the first term of the Greek topology, the sunekhes, usually
translated by continuous. This usage is unfortunate because it is rather the connectivity (by
arcs) of the domain that is evoked by sunekhes. The bold navigators of the Aegean Sea could
verify that an island is connected by going around it ...
In my first article devoted to the theory of places in Aristotle, and accepted in the Thomist
Review of the Aristotelians of Toulouse, I had not resisted the pleasure of identifying an
Aristotelian formula with a famous formula of topology - the formula of Stokes (in homology)
- that is, d d = 0. Pierre Aubenque then criticized me for "going faster than music". It is a fact
that in the classical period of Plato and Aristotle, the surveyors seem to have shown a
reluctance to make two of their points coincide, a notion for which they apparently had no
adequate word. There was no verb to signify the coincidence of two points. Later, at the time
of Euclid, we did not hesitate to move whole figures considered as solids, for example by
dragging a square on a ruler (verb ephharmzein). A quick reading of the formula (Physics
211b 12): In taut gar ta eschata tou periekhontos kai tou periekhomenou, made me believe
("the wrapped edge of the body and the edge of the wrapping body are together") that could
be identified geometrically these two edges. I owe it to Pierre Aubenque - who was then
interested in my work - to have convinced me that it was not so. Both edges are "close", but
do not coincide! Even better, it is their very distinction that will produce the "internal binary
identity" structure (in taut) that actually means the adverb "together". had made me believe
("the wrapped edge of the body and the edge of the wrapping body are together") that could
be identified geometrically these two edges. I owe it to Pierre Aubenque - who was then
interested in my work - to have convinced me that it was not so. Both edges are "close", but
do not coincide! Even better, it is their very distinction that will produce the "internal binary
identity" structure (in taut) that actually means the adverb "together". had made me believe
("the wrapped edge of the body and the edge of the wrapping body are together") that could
be identified geometrically these two edges. I owe it to Pierre Aubenque - who was then
interested in my work - to have convinced me that it was not so. Both edges are "close", but
do not coincide! Even better, it is their very distinction that will produce the "internal binary
identity" structure (in taut) that actually means the adverb "together".
This requires a preliminary discussion of the "coincidence" of two points.
We must recall here the mental experience which supports the affirmation the entelechy
separates, Metaphysics Z, 13, 1039a, 6-7: we mark the origin O on the axis x'Ox '', Aristotle
introduces two end points A and B for the half-axes x'A and Bx '' that the entelechy of the O-
shaped cutoff has given rise to (see Fig. 1).
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x '0 x' AB

x'
AB
Fig. 1. - Plotted on the board during the presentation.
x"

These point ends are distinct and yet together (hama). The problem of points which are both
distinct and together therefore arises in classical terms, but, it is true, the special nature of the
end points (A) and (B), produced as endpoints at infinity ( by derogation from the Aristotelian
injunction: M eis Apeiron ienai!) explains the paradox!
The same paradox takes place for the presumed identification of the maxim 211b 12: in taut
gar ta eschata tou periekhontos kai tou periekhomenou (the wrapped edge of the body and
the edge of the enveloping body are "together"). Here again, we have, with taut, the existence
of a duality clinging to the interval that I thought I ought to unite. In fact, only a technique
of orientation, a motivation inspired by bitter sea seems to me conceivable. What is at stake
here is the use of eschata in the identification of its domain that the master user of the place
does.
Basically, the Aristotelian theory of places suffers from an essential ambiguity: is it a theory
of strictly geometrical inspiration in the modern sense of the term or, on the contrary, of a
theory of ethological type related to the use of space by the living being? In a previous article,
I took a biological point of view that I thought was more relevant to Aristotle's own
philosophy. As a result, the theory of places often appears as the horrible locus of
Aristotelianism, and apart from Henri Bergson's Latin thesis, Quid Aristoteles de loco senserit
(1889), it has scarcely been echo. Can we now see in this theory anything other than an
obsolete monolith of primitive Aristotelianism?
In fact, according to the conception proposed here, the place theory would be linked to a
central problem of current ethology: how does an animal (or a human) find itself within its
territory?
The only guiding principle, we hope to show it in what follows, will explain this seemingly
bizarre intellectual construction, which is the theory of places.
We must find the reason for being eschata. Birds have the nest barrier, which plays a big role
in the education of their young. A Latinist could certainly object to my thesis on the place
necessarily lived the example of the title Locus Solus (1914) Raymond Roussel. Certainly,
Locus Solus means uninhabited place. But the use is surrealist: it is a big area in
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suburb of Paris where all kinds of technical and historical activities will take birth and
proliferate in space-time.
A modern ethologist may wonder why eschata? The theory below will attempt to explain the
necessity of eschata. For this purpose, we can introduce a rather classic "literary" document,
a text by Marcel Proust, from The Search for Lost Time. On the side of chez Swann (Paris,
Gallimard, "Library of the Pliade", 1987, pp. 181-182):
"Alone, rising from the level of the plain, and as if lost in the open country, rose up the two
bell-towers of Martinville. Soon we saw three; coming in front of them by a harsh volley, a
belated belfry, that of Vieuxvicq, had joined them. The minutes passed, we went fast and yet
the three steeples were always far ahead of us, like three birds standing on the plain,
motionless and visible in the sun. Then the steeple of Vieuxvicq deviated, distanced himself,
and the steeples of Martinville remained alone, illuminated by the light of the sunset that
even at this distance, on their slopes, I saw play and smile. It took us so long to get close to
them that I thought how long it would take to reach them when, all of a sudden, the car had
turned, she laid us at their feet; and they had thrown themselves so roughly in front of her,
that they had only time to stop not to bump into the porch. We continued our journey; we
had already left Martinville for a little while, and the village, after having accompanied us for
a few seconds, had disappeared, left alone on the horizon to watch us flee, its steeples and
that of Vieuxvicq still waving their farewells. sunny summits. Sometimes one faded so that
the other two could see us for a moment; but the road changed direction, they turned into the
light like three golden pivots and disappeared in my eyes. " We continued our journey; we
had already left Martinville for a little while, and the village, after having accompanied us for
a few seconds, had disappeared, left alone on the horizon to watch us flee, its steeples and
that of Vieuxvicq still waving their farewells. sunny summits. Sometimes one faded so that
the other two could see us for a moment; but the road changed direction, they turned into the
light like three golden pivots and disappeared in my eyes. " We continued our journey; we
had already left Martinville for a little while, and the village, after having accompanied us for
a few seconds, had disappeared, left alone on the horizon to watch us flee, its steeples and
that of Vieuxvicq still waving their farewells. sunny summits. Sometimes one faded so that
the other two could see us for a moment; but the road changed direction, they turned into the
light like three golden pivots and disappeared in my eyes. " Sometimes one faded so that the
other two could see us for a moment; but the road changed direction, they turned into the
light like three golden pivots and disappeared in my eyes. " Sometimes one faded so that the
other two could see us for a moment; but the road changed direction, they turned into the
light like three golden pivots and disappeared in my eyes. "
This passage appeared to Proust as his first contribution of author to his work. Here, we
introduce it as being able to be explained by the example of a technique of marine orientation:
the bitters.
The technique of bitters is a tracking technique used by mariners. That is a vast bay bounded
upward by the ocean, and three oceanic points I, J, K, each with powerful headlights all
identifiable. It is then important to study the system of straight lines, called "bitter", generated
by such a trio of points. There are three: IJ, JK, IK. On the assumed rectilinear coast, we
distinguish each type of point P by the order (left-right) according to which we see the various
radii PI, PJ, PK. Finally, the position of a point M
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on the shore of the continent in relation to the three lighthouses IJK is defined by the
succession of springs received by an observer from the shore, who sweeps the sea horizon
from left to right (see Fig. 2). By moving along the shore, say from east to west, the observer
will see two of the headlights coincide when he is on a bitter line. Much better, if the visibility
on the mainland allows it, he will be able to number the types of order according to which he
sees the three sources, the "permutations" of sources; this allows him to arrive at a qualitative
classification of perceived sets, in algebra: a "permutation" of sources. Some of the areas so
defined on the continent can be very narrow and, therefore, give topographic landmarks
qualitatively accurate.

bitter bitter
IK

J
bitter
(JKI)

(IKJ)
(IJK) FIG. 2. - Bitter.
It is conceivable that with such a system, the "master" of a territory can, by carrying out an
analysis of his ordered eschatas according to the view, lead to a correct qualitative evaluation
of the area where he is. Qualitative evaluation, of course, but practically enough in almost all
cases.
It is not my purpose here to support this argument in favor of a qualitative interpretation of
the phenomena observed by Proust in his evening march in Martinville. There should be a
refined local study that may have already been done. It will be remembered from our analysis
of the bitter that, in a certain sense, there is a sort of surjection of the outer eschatas on the
inner eschatas, which determines the usual places of the chief during his movements in his
territory. That stiffening this surjection into a
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(JIK)
fibration, then the structure entaita of the difference eschata external on eschata interior
could take the form required for my interpretation: one would then have a regular collar for
this difference globalisable - which would involve the formula of Stokes, homological: the
edge of the edge is empty ... We will see that this is the case.
If it is easy to understand how the bitter can give the leader means to locate his own position
within a place, we will understand less well the role of the inner eschatas, namely the
minimum limit of the "enveloping body", as prescribed in Physics 211b 11.
In this form, it is difficult to understand the necessity of these two types of eschata. If the
external eschata can be used to build bitter, thanks to which we will locate, so much the
better! On the other hand, it is difficult to see how this distinction concerning the use of the
"first" enveloped organism can be used.
It is certainly necessary to make a bold hypothesis here: what can be the first organ
enveloped? It is necessary to imagine here the master of the place moving according to some
path sketched in his place. In this case, the first organ to be developed is his eye under his
eyelid. It is necessary to imagine the master aiming at an external direction, a distant
eschaton. Then the visual ray of the master will connect the eye of the master and the
reference of the far edge: Aristotle knows that the light ray is like a cane that abuts on the
object, echoing the shock of the distant eschaton to the sensitive nerve under the pupil - the
kor kos- mou - the first eschaton under the eyelid; the variable light beam thus forms a collar
connecting the two edges - eschata (reversibility that is well known in modern physics, but
much more surprising in Aristotle). A fibration in light rays will thus connect the two edges:
external and internal. Thanks to what we can - in modern topology - identify them, as
required by the homological version of the Stokes formula (the edge of the edge is empty).
This formula essentially expresses the closed character of the living being. Because if there is
an edge, there is blood loss, with threat to life1. Hence the role of ontological detector which
is the edge operator (d2 = 0) of the homological algebra and its profound biological
interpretation ...
This algebraization of the theory may seem arbitrary. It reflects the fact that this type of study
was not taken into consideration by ethologists (not enough "scientific"?). However, there
have been considerable studies on the nest barrier in birds. And, moreover, the phenomena
observed during
1 One thinks of Woody Allen's reflection, heard in his film Bananas: having cut his hand
while playing with a knife, he sees a few drops of blood pearling there. He then pushes this
fearful expression: "Ehh, it should be inside ...! "

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the "blind" movement of a hive testifies to a process of foraging bees that relies on external
indices of vegetation. There is little doubt that this problem of the identification of its places
by the animal (and by the man) is still waiting for comprehensive research, but it would be
necessary to give animal ethology a more conceptual status that would make it come out. an
experiment too immediate.
As for me, I would have liked to get Aristotle's theory of places out of its status as the horrible
locus of the Philosopher's work. I am merely hoping that among my readers, some will think
that there are directions that deserve to be explored ...
One may wonder how Aristotle conceived the continuity of the movement "according to the
place," the phora. When the mobile left one place to enter another, was it a continuous
transformation, or, on the contrary, marked by a discontinuity? Our point of view which
makes the master of the place subject to the eschata of the place pleads for an essential
discontinuity in the passage from one place to another. Leaving a place (L1) to enter a place
(L2), the walker must first replace the eschata (outer) of (L1) with those of (L2), which forces
a "catastrophic" discontinuity, if modest as it is by its physiological effects.
Editor's notes
ne0 1996, 4. Aristotle Topologist. Conference held in May 1996, ENS Ulm, seminar Ch. Alunni.
In Review of Synthesis, t. 120, 4th series, No. 1, January-March 1999, Paris, Albin Michel, pp.
39-47.