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Printer Friendly Version 1000 Days of Theory: td054
Date Published: 5/31/2007
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors


Engine Nearing Perfection? and Steorn-Power, UnLtd.

John Freeman

Such a [perpetual motion] machine Peter Peregrinus feigned many centuries before...

O that the gods would at length bring to a miserable end such fictitious, crazy, deformed labours, with which the minds of the studious are blinded!

-- William Gilbert, De Magnete (1600)[1]

All great truths begin as blasphemies.

-- Bernard Shaw (motto for Steorn's first website)[2]

I bet some smart engineering type with double breasted pocket protectors can think that up in a fortnight.

-- Granthodges (Steorn forum member)

Nearly five centuries separate Thomas More, saint and author of Utopia, from Sean McCarthy, engineer and genial CEO of Steorn, Ltd., an Irish technology development company. Both men have laid claim to utopian discoveries. More's discovery -- related through the voyager Raphael Hythloday -- involves a 1760-year-old society that provides a model of social and economic perfection. McCarthy offers a no less extraordinary claim. His company, so it goes, has stumbled upon a configuration of magnets producing the equivalent output of a perpetual motion machine. Its applications will solve the world's most pressing concerns: energy production, fresh water supplies, even Global Warming. Instant Utopia. Both men's claims have been met, each in its own day, with responses ranging from fawning discipleship to scornful disbelief. After Utopia was published, one theologian asked for directions there so he might convert its inhabitants. In a later edition, More had to drop hints the island was not real, although he still enjoyed pointing "the long nose of scorn" at those naïve enough to take his account of this New World island seriously.

Steorn has had to deal with "the long nose of scorn" pointed in its own direction. Scientists from several universities, McCarthy claims, already have independently validated Steorn's technology, but "always behind closed doors, always off the record, and always proven to work." Perhaps plagued by the memory of Pons and Fleischmann, the largely discredited "discoverers" of cold fusion, not one of these scientists will go on record as having validated Steorn's claim. Publishing a £75,000, one-page ad in The Economist in August of 2006, the company challenged scientists to come forward either to confirm or invalidate its claim.[3] Steorn has selected a twelve-person jury of "the most qualified and the most skeptical" scientists from a pool of 492 applicants to take on the task.

Skeptics thus far outnumber believers. When some members of the Steorn-sponsored, on-line Fhóram expressed doubt the company even existed as a brick-and-mortar concern, Steorn allowed a representative selected by its members -- crank -- to inspect its facility and report on its operations. It does indeed exist, as Steorn, Ltd., Docklands Innovation Park, East Wall Road, Dublin 3, Ireland. Others doubt Steorn's claim of "stealth" verification; as one forum member puts it, why would not a single scientist come forward to validate the greatest discovery in human history since fire? Some believe Steorn is well meaning but misguided, yet one more of a legion of passionate "discoverers" of perpetual motion whose unbridled enthusiasm measured more output than their devices. Others, less kind, have accused the company of a shell-game or outright fraud. They accuse Steorn of being an advertising front for a new high-tech toy or some other "revolutionary" invention introduced with puffery and élan but turning out far less amazing than its build-up (such as Dean Kamen's widely publicized, self-heralded "revolution" in personal transportation: the Segway). Worse yet, the most cynical accuse Steorn of phishing for new investors. After all, as a result of its Economist ad, 84,992 people (and metering) have signed on to the company's email-alert list to be notified of the jury's verdict.

Those on the other side of the fence have turned speculators, examining metals exchange markets for an up-tick in magnetic materials prices, trying to guess which manufacturer Steorn has engaged to produce its product. (Philips, by the way, is a leading candidate.) As Steorn has scrupulously refrained from soliciting investors for money, they are content to trust in its integrity, and wait.

More and company studiously avoided having to back up their claim at all. According to Peter Giles, "an unlucky accident" prevented him from hearing the whereabouts of the island. One of the company on shipboard "coughed so loudly that I lost some phrases of what Raphael said."[4] Giles promises to reveal "not only the location of the island but also the longitude and latitude" if he can find Raphael again. This disappearing act recalls an incident in which a soon-to-be-tested perpetual motion machine suddenly was dismantled by its inventor to stop its noisome running and "restore the peace of mind of his landlord."[5]

With no real "product" to display, More faced a public relations disaster shortly after his book's release. As David Wootton points out, the packaging of the text led more than a few to a wrong conclusion about this island paradise:

But the prefatory materials were disastrous. They all treated Utopia as if it were a real place, and a significant proportion of the first readers seem to have failed to grasp that they were dealing with a fiction, for the simple reason that knowledge of Greek was extremely rare and so very few of them can have grasped the significance of Utopia's place names.[6]

Whether or not McCarthy will have to face his own public relations disaster -- the long nose of Steorn -- remains to be seen.[7] Cataloguing the checkered history of "perpetual motionists" in his Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession, Arthur Ord-Hume mentions a few respectable scientists who failed at this project and sums up the rest in these terms: "Of the others, more or less nondescript, one was reputed to have gone mad, others committed suicide and many underwent changes of character as a result of their unfulfilled dreams."[8] Raphael Hythloday ("the Divine Speaker of Nonsense") evidences a similar wobble in his eccentric character. Eccentricity and boundless hope (inevitably dashed) characterize the utopian impulse, as witnessed by the case of one Mr. Gilbert. Ord-Hume sums up his exuberant claim to have invented a machine that "'goes by itself'" thus: "Cams, springs and his knife-edge flywheel provided the notion, but not the motion."[9]

Will McCarthy & Company be sainted or pilloried for their audacious claim? Or, as one forum member wonders, Will the Irish once more save civilization? The jury is still out.

1. Fabricating "an union of the mechanic and philosophic principles"

It is a mechanical and philosophic time-piece... and although the metals of steel and brass, of which it is constructed, must in time decay (a fate to which even the great globe itself, yea all that it inherit, are exposed), still the primary cause of its motion being constant, and the friction upon every part extremely insignificant, it will continue its action for a longer duration than any mechanical performance has ever been known to do."
-- James Cox[10]

[The Utopians] have adopted such institutions of life as have laid the foundations of the commonwealth not only most happily, but also to last forever [aeternum durata], as far as human prescience can forecast.

-- Thomas More[11]

Whether one is engineering a perpetual motion device or social engineering a society, the goal is to create a self-contained, self-sustaining entity that requires no outside force to keep it in motion. As Thomas S. Kuhn informs us, the system of checks and balances built into America's Constitution was based upon Isaac Newton's concept of the solar system as a mechanism that, once set going, would maintain its stability "in the presence of disruptive forces."[12] James Cox, inventor of a barometric-powered, constantly self-winding grandfather clock, speaks for both utopians and perpetual motionists in describing his device as "'an union of the mechanic and philosophic principles.'"[13] Fredric Jameson finds the philosophic underpinnings of the utopian concept machine-tooled to overly precise specs, arguing that "the Utopian text does not tell a story at all... it describes a mechanism or even a kind of machine." [14] Reversing Jameson's metaphor, Ken Alder describes the perpetual motion device itself as a social microcosm, "a kind of localized Utopia, a complete, self-sufficient, closed system that generates more energy than it consumes."[15] Jameson and Alder's formulations suggest a convertibility of values between the physical and social sciences. Indeed, Karl Marx recognized several connections between thermodynamic principles and those governing the science of economics. As C. George Caffentzis relates, "labour-power is clearly seen by Marx to be integrated (or correlated) with the wide range of forces that were being studied by the energeticists of the mid nineteenth century."[16] The new discipline of econophysics reflects this overlapping of the two domains.

Whether defining a discrete region of magnetism, serving to locate an internet address by a common suffix, or encompassing the set of possible variables of a function, the pedigrees of all domains hearken to the late medieval notion of heritable or landed property (derived from dominus or lord). In his More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics, Philip Mirowski argues the CoE principle links the domains of physics and economics.[17] Arjo Klamer notes Mirowski's text is about "the belief of economists that the Social is identical, or isomorphic with, the Natural, and about the quest for the invariant deep structure in economic processes such a belief inspires." [18] Metaphorically, if not isomorphically, More's "social machine" and McCarthy's "localized Utopia" display similar carryover functions. In both cases, the mechanism involved must not only overcome mechanical and social frictions but also create a surplus: in Utopia's case, a surplus of goods equitably distributed among all members of society; in Steorn's case, a surplus of energy freeing consumers from the power-gridlock of monopolizing corporations.

Equivalences between other domains will enter into our discussion as well. Thus, while principles governing intellectual property rights might seem far removed from those governing the more earthbound ones of agrarian landholding rights, Eric S. Raymond draws a close correlation between them: "As students of legal history and political philosophy may recognize, the theory of property they imply is virtually identical to the Anglo-American common-law theory of land tenure!"[19] Moreover, the functions defining communal landholding rights of the open field system and the privatization fostered by enclosure are played out in other domains. For example, in Public Spaces, Private Lives, Henry A. Giroux critiques neoliberalism's assault on civic space, the public commons. [20] On a related front, biologist and social activist Vandana Shiva strives against "the enclosure of the genetic commons" by neoliberal-minded corporations intent upon mining and patenting human resources, particularly the DNA of indigenous peoples, transforming them into a class of "bioserfs."[21]

Both More and McCarthy wish to promote communal over individual rights in eras when communal rights have been threatened by privatization. More defines this conflict between the private and public in Raphael's diatribe against the expropriation of enclosers and in his advocacy of the open field commons. Citing Plato's refusal to make laws for those who would not allow an equal sharing of goods, Raphael doubts "the maintenance of equality in all respects... could ever be preserved where the individual's possessions are his private property"; moreover, an equitable distribution of goods never can be achieved "unless private property is utterly abolished."[22] Easier said than done. How does one transcend such fundamental laws governing human nature as pride, selfishness, and what C. B. McPherson labels the "possessive individualism" fostered by ownership of property?

As a private corporation, Steorn hopes to earn its current investors a modest return by marketing a first- and final-run product of 100,000 units before gifting its invention to the world community. The nature of this continuously running device has spurred intense guesswork among the members of the forum, McCarthy only indicating that the "Orbo" is about the size of a breadbox (with pumpernickel the loaf of choice). For now, the company seems in a state of "patent suspending": the disclosure of the workings of this device opens it to public scrutiny at the very moment such disclosure privatizes it. [23] How does a communally disposed, privately held small company fulfill its obligation to turn a profit for its shareholders and also honor its promise to benefit the world community? This paradox itself begs the question of the patentability of a discovery involving a clever manipulation of magnetic fields and an as-yet-unproven challenge to the Conservation of Energy Law. (Lest readers entirely discount the genuineness of Steorn's dilemma, we are dealing with a company several of whose members -- including McCarthy -- recently had their heads shaved in a fundraiser to benefit children still suffering the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster.)

At times, Steorn finds privacy concerns militate against the public interest, and caution trumps even an apparent honest impulse to disclosure. For example, around December of 2006, with McCarthy's guidance, one forum thread of engineers and physicists was making progress figuring out the principles of this mechanism. Abruptly, the thread was pulled. In a more sinister vein, some conspiracy-minded members of the forum have warned any move toward full disclosure may expose Steorn to the machinations of Big Oil operatives or, worse yet, a visit from Men in Black. One forum member even warns Sean to be careful of what planes he boards in the future!

Paranoid conspiracy theories aside, should Steorn's claim prove true, it will shake the old world order to its very foundation in heralding a new post-capitalist world in which abundance supplants scarcity, and generosity elbows out exploitation. Those moved by the profit-motive of old will be swept aside by a band of utopian idealists driven by the prophet-motive of a New Millennium. Defying the unremitting logic of neoliberalism, Steorn promises to grant its technology free of charge to Third World nations and at modest licensing fees to others. Of course, the credibility of such offers depends on validation. Are the mechanisms More and McCarthy propose capable of functioning as described? Can they overcome the limitations of the Conservation of Energy Law, in both its physical and social expressions? Finally, is their desire to propagate communalism merely utopian fantasy or can they avoid Jameson's critique of utopianism: that "a radical movement toward something else is also part and parcel of the system it seeks to evade or outsmart"? [24] We will now consider how problems of credibility and language often undermine efforts to bring the mechanic and philosophic principles into harmony.

2. Staking a Claim to Utopia: On What Grounds? and In What Terms?

There never was... indeed there never is, a convenient examination for such devices. This is almost another law of physics.
-- Clifford B. Hicks, former editor of Popular Mechanics Magazine[25]

We forgot to ask, and he forgot to say, in what part of the new world Utopia lies.

-- Thomas More[26]

As early as 1911, the U.S. Patent Office was so besieged by applications for patents on perpetual motion devices that, in spite of turning a tidy profit on them, its representatives met each applicant at the door with the following advisory:

The views of the Patent Office are in accord with those of the scientists who have investigated this subject and are to the effect that such devices are physical impossibilities. The position of the Office can be rebutted only by the exhibition of a working model.[27]

This requirement no doubt slowed the pace of applications. Forces of attraction and repulsion may eventually be mastered in winding up the "mechanical and philosophic time-piece" that is perpetual motion. Thus far, however, instead of arriving on time, all such utopian schemes have only served to mark time (recalling Alexander R. Galloway's depiction of Marxist utopias as promises "made but deferred").[28] Such fantastic devices find their corollary in utopian schemes. As Vincent Geoghegan informs us, Marx and Engels rejected such schemes as "not grounded in existing tendencies." Even the English Owenites, who actually pitched some earth in founding their ultimately failed community, are faulted for skirting the principles of dialectical materialism:

They acknowledge no historic development and wish to place the nation in a state of Communism at once, overnight, without pursuing the political struggle to the end, at which [point] it dissolves itself.[29]

G. K. Chesterton objects to Wells and other Utopists who place their utopias in a vacuum, a morally frictionless test chamber, and then fudge the results to implement their technological fix:

The weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man (i.e. original sin) and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor car or balloon.[30]

Other critics of utopia object to its overall abstraction of the real world. In "How to Play Utopia," Michael Holquist likens the utopian enterprise to the game of chess, claiming both constitute "a simplification, a radical stylization of something which in experience is of enormous complexity, often lacking any apparent symmetry. Chess substitutes for war, utopia for society."[31] Maintaining the "projected artifacts from English reality become subordinated to the rules of More's utopia," he finds complex social, economic, and religious factors reduced to mere counters in the game that is Utopia.[32]

In Galloway, we find Holquist's game metaphor and Cox's "mechanic and philosophic principles" digitized. He argues the "pure fantasy or pre-modern" worlds of utopias can only thinly cloak the "machinic core" of the regulatory, algorithmic, and clockwork functioning found in such utopic enterprises as World of Warcraft:

... the functionality of the game is pure software culture, suggesting that perhaps the more one tries to strip utopia of its machinic core, by cloaking it in any manner of pure fantasy or pre-modern worlds ("dungeons and dragons," "swords and sorcery," etc.), the more informatic and algorithmic it becomes, reverting to the software equivalent of twenty-sided dice. Indeed dice are repurposed in World of Warcraft: into the various logics of software code; random number generation; action statistics; and particularly in terms of how identity is defined as a set of mathematical variables such as stamina, agility, health, and so on.

We witness a similar abstraction through the publication history of Utopia's two books. Written first as a stand-alone text and initially entitled Nowhere, Book 2 of Utopia lacks any referential function. It is the pure theory that Marx and Engels critique, a plan that would be rejected by any building authority, much less the U. S. Patent Office. In its non-referential state, Book 2 presents us with a society as "machinic" and difficult to process as the object code of the computer, the assembly language Lawrence Lessig describes as only "machine-understandable."[33] Indeed, it operates by verbal equivalents of this code: the oppositional elements encoded in its indeterminate prefix, with "Eu-topia" (a positive place) equivalent to 1 and "Ou-topia" (no place) to 0. The numerous litotic structures in the text's language reinforce a binary encoding function here.[34] Readers trying to decipher this code struggle with "geographic" place-names such as Anydrus ("Nowater River"), Ademus ("No People Land"), and "Nusquama" itself, concepts defying all referentiality. Its people have what Roland Barthes describes as "the vitrified look of myth."[35] Its cities are uniformly laid out. Amaurotus, its capital, translates into Shadowy or Fading City. Stripped bare of even the colorful trappings and characters found in World of Warcraft, Utopia has only one named character, the eponymous Utopus ("Man from No Place"). The island of Book 2 evidences Warcraft's "diegetic narrative," projecting "a space of pure formal representation, cleansed of unnecessary symbolic or linguistic ornamentation."

Researching utopian claims, we realize history repeats itself, perpetually, and in a language often difficult to decipher. Thus, in the nineteenth century, John W. Keely claimed he had invented a commercial engine whose fuel source was so technically advanced that "all present sources of power would be superseded by the 'etheric force' evolved from a thimbleful of water."[36] Shades of cold fusion! Described as "fond of using words outside their accepted normal meaning," Keely dazzled investigators, extolling his "Liberator" engine in

Pseudo-technical language[that] impressed those who heard him tell of his "hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacu-engine", "sympathetic equilibrium" and "etheric disintegration", even "quadruple negative harmonics" and "atomic triplets.[37]

If claims like Steorn's sound like the stuff of fiction, they sometimes are. For example, in Yesterday's Tomorrows, W. H. G. Armytage describes a Fred Hoyle science fiction story in which "a young Cambridge mathematician of 1970 investigates the activities of an industrial group in Southern Ireland, I.C.E. (Industrial Corporation of Eire), based on a new prime mover which enables industrial material to be obtained from water, air, and fairly common rocks."[38] They turn out to be aliens.

For the engineering-challenged, McCarthy's explanation of the Steorn-effect has a definite extraterrestrial feel to it. In a thread entitled Energy Issues, and inappropriately subtitled "An Approach for Novices to Steorn Magnetic Fields," McCarthy explains himself in terms that cause the non-technical person to trip on step functions, wander in and out of random domains, and almost swear s/he hears Steorn's device humming along in quadruple negative harmonics:

Ok the first thing to understand is that nothing is accelerating, we are measuring the force in static mode (no motion). Hence if there was no viscose effect the force reaction would be a step function and would be separated on the time axis from the current step only by the delay in the measurement sensor. Hence the viscose reaction time is in fact the time taken from the start of the rise of the force until the force hits its steady state position.

The alignment of the domains is an increase in the negative entropy, a more ordered state than the random state, a "colder" state. The application of the outside field had "cooled" the domains. Therefore one should not think of the domains as "falling back to their random state" but as rising back to their random state.

Signaling an awareness he may be losing some of his readership, McCarthy signs off thus: "There is an awful lot of engineering and materials science that needs to be understood beyond the basic effects."

Steorn has faced communication difficulties from the very outset. Working on a micro-engine to power an ATM fraud-detection device, a Steorn engineer detected an anomaly: the device's power output was greater than the input. Steorn still cannot explain the source of this anomalous output, this alleged overunity effect. Unfortunately, what Kuhn labels "normal science" is a tough taskmaster; it "does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none."[39] Steorn's inability to gain validation through the auspices of normal science already has forestalled by more than three years its plan to market its device and subsequently allow others to develop further applications. The company also faces what Tessa Morris-Suzuki portrays as an increasing "commodification of information" in the twenty-first century's knowledge economy. "Formatting" or packaging science in "standardized ways" is required to make it a "salable commodity."[40] Steorn's recourse to a self-selected jury is hardly standard procedure.

Normal science also has a huge stake in the failure of perpetual motion schemes. Reviewing scientists' attitudes toward perpetual motion prior to 1850, Mirowski notes their objections invariably followed "the format of bald assertions, with their 'proofs' mostly consisting either of metaphors or direct appeals to metaphysics."[41] Mirowski argues further that the impossibility of perpetual motion, snuck in on a petitio principii, comprised -- and may still comprise -- a questionable prop for the conservation of energy law. Even those few scientists who tried to disprove perpetual motion restricted themselves "to rational mechanics, primarily because there were no widely held principles that insured some baroque sequence of energetic phenomena (including some transformations that were not yet understood) might not result in a net gain of work."[42] Both More and McCarthy offer just such "baroque sequences" of asymmetrically arranged field systems, one agrarian and the other magnetic. Applying an econophysics' model to More's system, we can compare Steorn's approach to Utopia's in determining what measure of success is achieved by each.

3. Asymmetrically Arranged Field Systems: An Econophysics Model

Under a communal right system each person has the private right to the use of a resource once it is captured or taken, but only a communal right to the same resource before it is taken. This incongruity between ownership opportunities prompts men to convert their rights into the most valuable form... .There is a basic instability in an arrangement which provides for communal rights over a resource when that resource takes one form and private rights when it takes another form. The private right will displace the communal right form.
-- Ross D. Eckert[43]
Now an idea of what Steorn is about: They seem to be using magnetic fields to move around, economising on energy, indeed producing surplus energy, as they do so, through an understanding of how to manipulate magnetism to create lag in alignment of domains and then to capitalise on the tensions of forces, such as current, voltage, force, thereby effected... .

So, so much for skating around using such magnetic field principles. Now, how to develop surplus energy?

-- eff (forum member)

On paper at least, More creates an autonomous, self-sustaining system in his Utopia (as depicted in Book 2), social engineering a society to exact specifications. He does not have to look far to establish an internal mechanism for this society: the feudal open field system. Carl J. Dahlman identifies this agrarian system as a "mechanism for social control of individual behavior."[44] A resource-management scheme, this system's tunable protocols coordinated the changing conditions of season and task, its "multiplicity of small strips, distributed evenly... to give each one his due proportion of the good and the less good soil, of the near and of the more remote part of the fields."[45] After harvest, all could graze their animals in the commons. Its parceling out of near and far apart strips is carried over to the Utopians' exchange of homes by lot every ten years. Rotated like crops, all Utopians must also serve stints as farmers. These reallocations break down individuality and foster communality.

Agrarian arrangements offer More an algorithmic formulation, with Utopia's nameless, characterless people existing as mathematical variables, randomly generated counters in its operations. Here, More transforms the mathematical function into a social function (although, admittedly, life in Utopia is not much of a party). As Richard Halpern observes, Utopia is not all that utopian: it generates desires that it immediately negates. As all cities are from the same blueprint, why restrict travel at all? For the problem of vagrancy, Utopia substitutes the rotation of the population, a species of "voluntary vagrancy" rendering the Utopian citizen "the perfect juridical subject."[46] Of course, this subject is perfect -- albeit in a dystopic sense -- because even his or her desires are regulated. Citing Colin Gordon, Dion Dennis describes the totalizing effect of such policing as "'a kind of economic pastorate of men and things ... where the population is likened to a herd and flock ... '"[47] Richard Marius employs an animal husbandry metaphor in comparing Utopia to "a vast herd in which all the members move as one over a green and spacious pasture."[48]

Attempting to preserve the open field, More verifies Elizabeth Grosz's contention that "all utopic visions share the desire to freeze time, to convert the movement of time into the arrangements of space, to produce the future on the model of the (limited and usually self-serving) ideals of the present."[49] If the past must be frozen, the future must be forestalled. In this containment and freezing of historical process, Raphael tries to ward off early modern England's transformation into a capitalist state, as reflected in the enclosing of the commons: "'Your sheep,' I [Hythloday] answered, 'which are usually so tame and so cheaply fed, begin now, according to report, to be so greedy and wild that they devour human beings and devastate and depopulate fields, houses, and towns.'"[50] Social engineering Utopian society comes with a steep price, however. Utopus' expropriation of the Abraxians and his transformation of their peninsula into an island are nothing less than an act of large-scale enclosure in forming Utopia:

As the report goes and as the appearance of the ground shows, the island once was not surrounded by sea. But Utopus, who as conqueror gave the island its name (up to then it had been called Abraxa) and who brought the rude and rustic people to such a perfection of culture and humanity as makes them now superior to almost all mortals, gained a victory at his very first landing. He then ordered the excavation of fifteen miles on the side where the land was connected with the continent and caused the sea to flow around the land.[51]

To achieve a self-sustaining system -- perfection aeternum durata -- More has to put into play the operations of two opposing, asymmetrical field systems. As with Steorn's device, we find in More's own mechanism a manipulation or trick, what McCarthy describes as a "wobble" in the device's operations whereby it bypasses the Conservation of Energy Law. Eff locates this wobble as a stop/start moment, a "lag in alignment of domains" that allows Steorn "to capitalise on the tensions of forces." Where McCarthy tries to exceed the limits of physical nature, More seeks to thwart those of human nature by playing these two field systems against each other to maximize the positive operations of the one and to minimize the negative operations of the other. Stopping historical process, he tries to isolate and neutralize enclosure, co-opting its functions to put a "positive spin" on the operations of this fantastic society whose machinery is driven by nothing more than checks and balances drawn against "yesterday's tomorrows."

More takes advantage of what Harold Demsetz labels enclosure's ability to "internalize" spillover benefits the inefficiencies of the open field system had made unrecoverable: "property rights develop to internalize externalities when the gains of internalization become larger than the cost of internalization."[52] In More's day, the rate of enclosure was dictated by a formula that weighed the cost of enclosure (e.g. commutation of the tithe, costs of hedging and ditching) against the expected increase in the value of the enclosed land (e.g., improvement in the yield, freeing from tithe obligations). J. H. Hexter observes, "Utopia is hedged around with a system of political and moral sanctions designed expressly to prevent the reintroduction of private property."[53] In an econophysics mode, Utopia employs a similar convertibility formula in the expectation of creating a surplus of goods as well as reducing inevitable social friction. This hedging has a "gain cycle." Like the operations of the Steornorator, "Part of the cycle takes energy [,] the other part provides enough push to make up for that and more." Utopia "cheats" by co-opting the enclosure process, surreptitiously converting its positive values for its own ends while avoiding historical "costs" associated with such enclosures. Positive values are internalized, negative ones externalized. Potentially disruptive forces are neutralized to keep the system smoothly functioning. For example, the corrosive value of gold, its exchange value, is externalized. Inside Utopia, it is used to make chamber pots; outside, it is used as an instrument of foreign policy in arranging bribes or assassinations.

This gain cycle comes at a price. The recaptured spillover benefits of enclosure cannot be divorced from the expropriation of Abraxians (disguised English peasants) and therefore must be factored into any measurement of the social machine's operations. The enclosing of Utopia literally affirms Jameson's critique of utopists. They fail "to think their way out of the systems that surrounded them."[54] Galloway shows how narrow the window of opportunity is for any such anti-capitalist venture: "As life before capitalism poses just as much of a threat to capital, capitalism tends to foreclose the past as well as the future. It forecloses on both as possible options for utopian practice."[55] More's asymmetrical arrangement cannot get beyond what Jameson calls "the informing power of forces which the text seeks in vain wholly to control or master."[56] Thus, there can be no engineering perfection here, no creation of a surplus that violates the "Social Conservation of Energy Law" in its operations. We must look outside the text proper, to the hors-texte constituted by its accompanying parerga (or "sideworks"), to find an authentic implementation of its principles.

4. From the Open Field to the Open Source Commons

Utopus, my ruler, converted me, formerly not an island, into an island.

Alone of all lands, without the aid of abstract philosophy, I have represented for mortals the philosophical city. Ungrudgingly do I share my benefits with others; undemurringly do I adopt whatever is better from others.

-- "Quatrain in the Utopian Vernacular"[57]
Commons may be rare. They may evoke tragedies. They may be hard to sustain. And at times, they certainly may interfere with the efficient use of important resources.

But commons also produce something of value. They are a resource for decentralized innovation. They create the opportunity for individuals to draw upon resources without connections, permission, or access granted by others.

They are environments that commit themselves to being open.

--Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas [58]

In their attempts to overcome the laws of physical and human nature, McCarthy and More must manage the instability that arises between communal and private rights when invariably history tips the balance toward the latter. In the emerging technologies of their respective periods, they both must exert themselves against restrictions accompanying such paradigm shifts. As we move from More's period to McCarthy's, we find conflicts over agrarian issues played out in new domains, as the principles defining physical property rights carry over to those governing intellectual property rights. Elizabeth Eisenstein shows that the "open field" model gave way to the "enclosure" model in another domain:

Printing forced legal definition of what belonged in the public domain. A literary 'Common' became subject to 'enclosure movements' and possessive individualism began to characterize the attitude of writers to their work. The "terms plagiarism and copyright did not exist for the minstrel. It was only after printing that they began to hold significance for the author."[59]

While More's primary focus lies in preserving communalism in an agrarian/social sense, even he worries over "copyright" issues, concerned that Raphael one day may return from the island and, in Budé's words, "be displeased and vexed at More's unfairness in leaving him but the deflowered glory of this discovery of his." [60]

While the era of print guaranteed mass production and distribution of texts, in Jonathan Sawday's estimation, the fixity and closed-off nature of "the printed book had already begun to fail the Renaissance natural philosopher."[61] Composing his Adages, Erasmus "decided to subvert the medium through which his work would be ushered into the world" by continuing the composing process during printing. Written for an audience of eclectic readers and writers desirous of extending and deepening their range of reference, their "databanks," Erasmus' adages each provided a "hypertextual" link to the newly translated wisdom of Greek or Latin works. One can only imagine how far a Wikipedia version of the Adages would extend today. Through Erasmus' lifelong labors on a constantly evolving text, knowledge proliferated as a resource base available to all. Evidenced by such devices as the spinning reading wheel featured in Agostino Ramelli's The Various Ingenious Machines, early modern readers had an insatiable desire both to create and "bookmark" an endlessly accumulating store of knowledge.[62]

Such strategies of keeping texts perpetually in motion as idea-generating machines lead Sawday and Neil Rhodes, editors of The Renaissance Computer, to observe "how many of the functions and effects of the modern computer were imagined, anticipated, or even sought after long before the invention of modern digital computer technology."[63] While "" might seem an anachronistic domain name for a text published in 1516, David R. Koepsell maintains books and computers are "hard-wired" for the same tasks:

Failing to recognize that books are themselves a type of machine is due to the mistake of conflating the medium with the message. A book is a machine which serves as a vehicle for information storage and retrieval, acting on the environment by displaying information... .The machine we call a book, and the machine called a computer, differ from each other only in their degree of complexity. Each is a medium for information storage, retrieval, and transmission.[64]

Utopia comes programmed to operate through protocols not unlike those defined by the software of computer systems. What constitutes its "software" lies in the parerga, the large body of interpretive letters and commendatory endorsements from leading humanists. William T. Cotton finds therein "A license for extrapolation beyond any of the circumstances and events of the Utopia [which] is granted by the humanists' own practice in the epistles and commendatory verses -- e.g. Giles's creation of the Utopian language and samples of verse in the Utopian language."[65] Packaged with its own RFC's (Requests for Comments), as gathered by its editor Erasmus, Utopia constitutes a system open to new applications. For example, the parerga accompanying subsequent editions changed, as interpretive "how-to-read-the-text" commentaries were replaced by new ones. This rewriting of Utopia's software evidenced such "decentralized innovation" Erasmus even replaced More's own letter explaining the text with one written by Budé. Wootton speculates Erasmus preferred Budé's explication because "Budé's reference to Pythagoras makes clear that he had traced Utopia to its source in Erasmus's discussion of the Pythagorean adages on friendship," particularly the adage "Between friends is all common."[66]

Erasmus' role in coordinating changes to the text constitutes "forking," a situation in which "a project led in one direction splits and develops in two or more directions." [67] History's first "hacker," Erasmus changed Utopia's code, in Lessig's terms enabling "the program to do something it wasn't originally intended or enabled to do."[68] Hackers, unlike their evil alter egos, crackers, work to debug and thus improve a program's functions. While Erasmus probably had More's permission to make this substitution, apparently he made another, unauthorized, forking in changing the title from Nusquama to Utopia.[69] As "the patron saint of networkers," a conduit for a "networked tribe" operating like an early modern ARPAnet, Erasmus presided over an enterprise so communal even the author-function was distributed among its members.[70]

We find in these parerga the communal authorship and gamesmanship Galloway identifies as the redeeming features of games like World of Warcraft:

Groups, guilds, raids, and other in-game collaborations both ad hoc and otherwise, what philosophers of action call "shared cooperative activity," are often required for game-play. These social groups gesture toward a distinctly utopian possibility for social interaction, a shift analogous to Marx's theory of primitive accumulation and the institution of more collaborative labor practices, which themselves were the conditions of possibility for collective action.

Although the text proper of Utopia is compromised by its capitulation to the mode of production it sought to surpass, its extrapolation of open field principles to the parerga's version of open source architecture redeems it. Historically, Utopia has served to make a resource (a knowledge base) proliferate endlessly both in its own author and contributors' lifetimes and later. Witness the many utopic and dystopic texts run from its reprogramming. Nowhere is recoded into Erehwon. Wolves and sheep morph into Morlocks and Eloi. The utopian ur-text forks again as feminist authors re-theorize its utopic and dystopic potentials. And so it goes. For Galloway, Utopia represents "a site in which possible non-capitalist scenarios are worked out, worked through, or otherwise proven not to work at all."[71] Even those working to rejuvenate the capitalist model, proposing the "market Utopia" of Franz Oppenheimer's "exploitation-free economy of free competition," find some operating room in the utopian concept.[72] Krishan Kumar is led to ask, "Cannot the information technology revolution, the driving force of this new global capitalism, be put at the service of utopia? If there is ecotopia, why not computopia?"[73] Why not, indeed.

Following suit, Galloway notes the reoccurrence recently of the "theme of 'imagining life after capitalism'" as a response to "certain messianic or predictive claims about the transformation of the mode of production." He emphasizes the "central role" of computers and the information economy in this debate over modes of production. A product of the first information age, More's text anticipates the concepts and operations of the second. Thus, Eisenstein describes texts such as Utopia as printed under the auspices of a "Republic of Letters," a "place" whose location has "remained, from the beginning, a somewhat elusive, often deliberately mysterious, domain."[74] For the domain name, fill in "" Seeking anonymity, "Its inhabitants rarely used their proper names -- preferring more elegant Latinate or Greek versions."[75] Here, writers on Steorn's forum enjoy the privacy and fantasy of screen-names. The invented accommodation addresses of the publications of this Republic, "Products issued from 'Utopia' and 'Cosmopolis,'" caused a "sense of unreality and impracticality[to be] associated with the circulation of ideas."[76] Recall suspicions about Steorn being a mere web-front of a band of hoaxsters. Utopia also fits Eisenstein's characterization of the products of these presses as both "fan[ning] the flames of religious controversy[but] also creat[ing] a new vested interest in ecumenical concord and toleration."[77] We have only to consult Steorn's forum threads to witness various "flamings" as well as utopian dreams of creating a New Jerusalem. Eisenstein describes these printing houses as "'polyglot' households" that functioned during times of religious conflict as "international houses" providing scholars with "a meeting place, message center, sanctuary."[78] Here, we find the modern day, world wide web equivalents of forums, chat rooms, and message boards. As the latest stage in the evolution from the agrarian open field to the electronic open source, opens up a new front in the continuing battle to encourage the unrestricted dissemination of ideas beyond institutional controls.

Lessig would certainly find common cause with Utopia's boast that "Ungrudgingly do I share my benefits with others; undemurringly do I adopt whatever is better from others." In The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, he defends the "decentralized innovation" fostered by the internet against assault from corporate efforts to limit, privatize, and effectively enclose this cybercommons whose dynamic growth derives from its openness and free access to all. The stakes are even greater today than in More's time, as open source code taps into an inexhaustible resource that should not be restricted. As Lessig points out, "The digital world is closer to the world of ideas than to the world of things."[79] Its output defies the Conservation of Energy Law:

Open code creates a commons; but the problem with this sort of commons is not the problem of overgrazing. (Indeed, as "accidental revolutionary" Eric Raymond puts it, open code creates an "inverse commons." "Grazing" does not reduce the code that is available. Instead, "in this inverse commons, the grass grows taller when it's grazed on)."[80]

In language framed in economic -- if not thermodynamic -- terms, Morris-Suzuki argues "the economy of information production is an open system, into which non-commodities enter as inputs and whose outputs may eventually 'escape' from the cycle of commercial exchange."[81] Following up on Morris-Suzuki's formulation, Lewis Call emphasizes the epoch-inverting implications of this unimpeded circulation of non-commodities in the noosphere:

If this is correct, then the mode of production which Marx described so brilliantly in Capital -- that is, the mode associated mainly with the production and distribution of commodities -- is clearly at an end... .Indeed, as soon as we begin to map out rules appropriate to the emerging information economy, it becomes apparent that these rules frequently involve inversions of classical economic thought.[82]

Raymond points out an evolving relationship between the private programmer's ownership and development of software and the community's rights to own and develop it under changing circumstances. When the programmer is no longer interested in or able to work on the code, it is, like the individual strips of land in the open field system, thrown open for the community at large to develop. This unused "land" of the noosphere, what Raymond describes as "the territory of ideas, the space of all possible thoughts," can now be "homesteaded" by another member of the community of programmers, always in the interest of bettering the welfare of the whole.[83] Today's polite rebellion against efforts to privatize intellectual rights over the electronic commons can be traced back to enclosure riots over the privatization of the commons. Even the Utopians consider it a just cause for war "when a people which does not use its soil but keeps it idle and waste nevertheless forbids the use and possession of it to others who by the rule of nature ought to be maintained by it."[84] Popular ballads reflected the sentiments of commoners:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

The parerga behind the production of Utopia and its successive editions anticipate the cooperative, knowledge-generating innovations of the electronic commons. They supply a program for releasing the generative power only partially realized in the text proper. With the addition of Book 1 and its historically grounded personalities and contexts, the author brings the concept of Utopia more in line with contemporary England's conditions, supplanting the "machine-understandable" object code above with a "human-readable" source code.[85] Indeed, the principles of its smoothly functioning society are now seen as possible applications or protocols for remedying the problems of England set forth in this added book. Book 1 operates like FORTRAN, which Rosenberg reminds us is a short-hand form of FORmula TRANslating System. Grosz sees the addition of Book 1 as an effort on More's part to create a "guaranteed reading," thus providing "a principle for decoding his initial text."[86]

Too late, though. The initial, ambiguous framing of Book 2 rendered the text an open-source, programmable project then, now, and forever after open to new and evolving applications. More became painfully aware of how irretrievable his text would become once in the public domain. Alluding to the Counter-Reformation soon following Utopia's publication and Luther's theses, Cotton notes: "Thus, although in a different, sterner frame of mind (by now Sir) Thomas More may have wished to shut down the debate stirred up by his utopian speculation, he was no longer master of his own book."[87] Years later, More's text came back to haunt him in his efforts as Chancellor to defend the faith. In disputing with More, the Protestant proselytizer John Foxe denies the existence of purgatory, "(unless it be in Master More's Utopia), as Master More's poetical vein doth imagine."[88]

More positively, the text's openness to re-encoding fosters the communality More sought in his island creation, the "distinctly utopian possibility for social interaction" that Galloway finds in groups, guilds, and other "in-game collaboration." In this sense, the parerga constitute what Lawrence M. Sanger labels a form of "shopwork," that is

... any strongly collaborative, open source/open content work. The word is a portmanteau constructed from "shared open work," and it arguably has the advantages of suggesting collaboration in both the original meaning of "shopwork" (which implies something constructed or fixed in a shop, perhaps by several workers together) and, with its parts reversed, "workshop" (which implies participatory learning).[89]

Sanger characterizes shopworks as anonymous, "perpetual; they have no endpoint."[90] Utopia's perpetuity is evidenced both by its own publication record and its ability to inspire new formulations. As Kumar observes, "[the concept of] Utopia has had a continuous history ever since publication of More's Utopia in 1516 (and More's own book, remarkably, has been in print continuously, in one European language or another, since that date"). [91] While successive "re-issues" of the utopian concept have not been anonymous, the utopic genre certainly fits Sanger's description of successful shopworks as being "natural institutions."[92]

While the mechanics behind Steorn's own "localized Utopia" may never prove operational, McCarthy turns to the shopwork possibilities of the electronic commons to resolve problems of intellectual property rights and to ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits of his company's technology. His own open source project, the forum, also revives the communal spirit. Even if Steorn fails in coupling the "notion" to the "motion" of its device, it has already tapped into the paradoxical nature of this cybercommons whose creation of an intellectual surplus, an overunity effect, heralds the advent of a gift culture.

5. "... Just Use It... " (slogan for Steorn device provided by Oil $$$)

Utopia will solve the problem of need easily enough; its challenge is to manage the crisis of surplus.
-- Richard Halpern[93]

Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance... In gift cultures, status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.

-- Eric Raymond[94]

Today, Steorn stands at the intersection where ideas informing the open field and open source meet, a veritable Indeed, the company's audacious claim for a perpetual motion device is itself trumped by a business plan to make "its free energy technology... widely available to the development community immediately after the independent scientific validation process that is currently underway." While some might quibble with the "friction" imposed by Steorn in requiring "a modified general purpose licence and... a nominal fee," these charges amount to chump change given Steorn's promise to release its intellectual property "to all interested parties, from individual enthusiasts to larger research organizations" as a means of "accelerat[ing] the deployment and acceptance of its technology for both humanitarian and commercial products."

Certainly, we find here the decentralized innovation so praised by Lessig. Steorn offers forum members participatory learning opportunities that bear the stamp of shopwork. The less technically skilled will enjoy the benefit of tutorials on magnetism. The pragmatic members will work on product development and implementation (already in existence: a running list of what the top ten innovations should be, from a continuously operating water pump to a cell-phone that never needs recharging). Two hundred of the more technically skilled have signed up to join the Steorn Private Developers Club (SPDC).[95] In the interim between now and validation, they will realize Lessig's dream of participating in an open environment that emulates Utopia's own promise of "the opportunity for individuals to draw upon resources without connections, permission, or access granted by others." Like any publicly traded company, Steorn has patent concerns (as noted above); however, the presumption now is that validation or repudiation of Steorn's claim will come later in 2007. The lag time is sufficiently small that the Developers Club can have at it with Steorn's blessing. Even Jameson, a confirmed skeptic of such undertakings, would find in this thread what he describes as "a kind of Utopian workshop like the inventor's, a garage space in which all kinds of machinery can be tinkered with and rebuilt."[96] Members will play a key role in Steorn's end-run around the science and business establishments by disseminating both news of the device's validation and information about its workings.

Most impressive of all, a Utopian community has developed on Steorn's forum. Alive with energy, the forum threads proliferate, giving proof positive of Steven Johnson's analogy of the web to "an information ecosystem, where data circulate like nutrients in a rain forest."[97] Given the blank cheque of free and endless energy, members tinker with the device's principles and imagine its world-altering possibilities. Steorn plans to set up a pumping station in an unnamed African country to give its people access to clean drinking water. Homes will be supplied with their own power generator, freed from the grid forever. Non-stop desalinization plants will transform the Sahara into a tropical paradise. GM's battery-less Volt will have an on-board power supply, turning it into an ad infinitum Energizer bunny-mobile. Indeed, what can be more utopian than forum members offering slogans to a company whose product has not even been revealed? In one thread, a group of publicity hounds offer the following suggestions:

  • Steorn-powered... batteries not included. (Curious)
  • Steorn: Decreasing Entropy since 2007. (nieseul)
  • Off switch not included. (Thomas Covenant)
  • Tune in, turn on, unplug. (Bluebeard)
  • This product was tried by a jury and found guilty of breaking the First Law of Thermodynamics. Given life. (Fibonacci)

Amid all the enthusiasm, even the dystopic potentials of such a device are considered. Thus, in a thread labeled "Short Term Impact on the World Economy," Qweevox warns:

Major changes in technology can bring about undesirable effects on capitalist economies... While Steorn may have successfully skirted the COE law, their technology if proven may not be able to skirt the "law of unintended consequences"... "Free" or "Almost Free" energy will have a tremendous short term impact on many of the world's economies... Many of the economies of the Middle East will collapse, leading to even more violence in that region... The banking sector will be rocked as the "Great Credit" of energy companies and those that provide them with products and services falls apart leading to trillions of dollars in bad debt... Auto manufacturers will have products that no one wants, and won't be able to turn their massive infrastructure on a dime in order to spit out the "new engines." Many of them will fail altogether.

Qweevox's warning brings to mind Jameson's argument that, as "Utopian fantasists," we are trapped in "our own incapacity to see beyond the epoch and its ideological closures."[98] Yet, in imagining dystopic possibilities, Qweevox does identify the paradigm-shaking effects of Steorn's device. What is more, in this posting, the unadulterated enthusiasm of one group of forum members is put to the test of real world considerations.

While Steorn's device may not prove to couple the motion to the notion, Lessig would no doubt find its forum an endlessly spinning engine powering innovation, hope, and community. Like More's parerga, the established here provides a "nursery of correct and useful institutions." All things considered, any technological fix for the world's problems may prove less important than fostering the "inverse commons," the place of connection that enriches all of our lives in spurring us on to new creative endeavors.[99] This is an enterprise worth pursuing -- perpetually.


I would like to thank my collaborators: the editors, readers and staff of CTheory, particularly Ted Hiebert. I also wish to acknowledge the Irish influence: Marcel O'Gorman, Emily, and John -- our memories of Electronic Critique past. Finally, my wife, Margaret O'Neill, who proves out that love and compassion generate the true overunity we seek.

Oh, yes. Eireann go brach! to Steorn & Company.


[1] William Gilbert, De Magnete, New York: Basic Books, 1958. p. 107.

[2] Steorn's website is the following:

[3] Steorn is making three claims for its technology:

  1. The technology has a coefficient of performance greater than 100%.
  2. The operation of the technology (i.e. the creation of energy) is not derived from the degradation of its component parts.
  3. There is no identifiable environmental source of the energy (as might be witnessed by a cooling of ambient air temperature).

[4] Thomas More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. J. H. Hexter and Edward Surtz, S. J., New Haven, 1965. IV, xv, p. 23.

[5] Arthur Ord-Hume, Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977, p. 215.

[6] David Wootton, "Introduction" in Utopia; with Erasmus's The Sileni of Alcibiades, ed. and trans. David Wootton, Indianapolis, 1999, p. 6.

[7] On his blog, Mark Calladus offers a scathing commentary on Steorn and all others' claims concerning a "perfection model." Citing Dr. Robert Park (University of Maryland at College Park), he finds Steorn meets several "warning signs of bogus science": direct claim to the media; charge that its work is being suppressed; recourse to a need for new knowledge; claim that the alleged effect is difficult to detect. August 16, 2006. Accessed April 23, 2007. For the opposing view, consult Tom Bearden, who believes Steorn has tapped into what Davies describes as the "'throbbing energy'" of the vacuum. Bearden also questions the unassailability of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, citing Maxwell's description of it as "'a statistical, not a mathematical, truth.'" From "Site: LRP: A Proposed Proof of an Overunity Asymmetric System to be Tested." PESWiki. Overunity_Asymmetric_System_to_be_Tested
Accessed April 15, 2007.

[8] Ord-Hume, p. 16.

[9] Ord-Hume, p. 138.

[10] Cited by Ord-Hume, p. 111. Cox's clock still exists, minus the 150 lbs. of mercury required to drive its operations. The association among clocks, perpetual motion, and optimism still reigns today, judging by Peter DaSilva's recent report on Stewart Brand: "Mr. Brand's latest project, undertaken with fellow digerati, is to build the world's slowest computer, a giant clock designed to run for 10,000 years inside a mountain in the Nevada desert, powered by changes in temperature. The clock is an effort to promote long-term thinking -- what Mr. Brand calls the Long Now, a term he borrowed from the musician Brian Eno." Peter DaSilva writing for The New York, "An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New 'Heresies'." Posted on February 27, 2007.

[11] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 24.

[12] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronony in the Development of Western Thought, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957, p. 52.

[13] Cited by Ord-Hume, p. 111.

[14] Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, p. 56. Cited in Alexander R. Galloway, "Warcraft and Utopia<," CTheory, eds. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, published on February 16, 2006. Available at, n. 3.

[15] Ken Alder, "The Perpetual Search for Perpetual Motion," Invention and Technology Magazine, vol. 2.1 (Summer 1986).

[16] C. George Caffentzis, "Why Machines Cannot Create Value; or, Marx's Theory of Machines," Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism, and Social Revolution, New York: Verso, 1997, p. 35. Marx, himself an anti-perpetual motionist, ascribed to the "Economic" Conservation of Energy principle, arguing no machine on its own could create surplus value without the addition of labor. Wisely enough, he sensed in the perpetual motion principle a potential threat to his own theories about the social mechanism. See Caffentzis, p. 40.

[17] Philip Mirowski, More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[18] Arjo Klamer, "Modernism in Economics: Beyond Physics," in Non-Natural Social Science: Reflecting on the Enterprise of More Heat than Light, ed. Neil de Marchi, Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, Vol. 25, p. 225.

[19] Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, Cambridge: O'Reilly, 2001, p. 76.

[20] Henry A. Giroux, Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy beyond 9/11, New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., p. 4.

[21] Cited by Stephen Scharper, "Privatizing our 'genetic commons,'" Toronto Star, March 17, 2007.

[22] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 105.

[23] Gilbert suggests suspense and deferral are hallmarks of the magnetic principle:

Matthiolus repeats the story... and moreover introduces[that of] Mahomet's shrine vaulted with loadstones, and writes that, by the exhibition of this (with the iron coffin hanging in the air) as a divine miracle, the public were imposed upon. But this is known by travelers to be false. Yet Pliny relates that Chinocrates the architect had commenced to roof over the temple of Arsinoe at Alexandria with magnet-stone, that the statue of iron placed therein might appear to hang in space. His own death, however, intervened... (De Magnete, p. 61.)

[24] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1992, p. 209.

[25] Cited by Ord-Hume, p. 181.

[26] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 43.

[27] Cited by Ord-Hume, p. 184.

[28] Galloway, "Warcraft and Utopia."

[29] Cited by Vincent Geoghegan, Utopianism and Marxism, New York: Methuen, 1987, p. 27; K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, 4, 525, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975.

[30] Cited by Armytage, p. 113; W. H. G. Armytage, Yesterday's Tomorrows: A Historical Survey of Future Societies, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968, p. 113; G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1908), p. 79.

[31] Michael Holquist, "How to Play Utopia," Yale French Studies, no. 41 (1968), pp. 106-23, p. 110.

[32] Holquist, p. 119.

[33] Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, New York: Vintage Books, 2002, p. 50.

[34] Elizabeth McCutcheon, "Litotes: Denying the Contrary," Moreana, 31-32 (November 1971), pp. 116-21.

[35] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, New York: Hill and Wang, 1972, p. 125.

[36] Ord-Hume, p. 140.

[37] Ord-Hume, p. 140.

[38] Armytage, p. 183.

[39] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, p. 263.

[40] Tessa Morris-Suzuki, "Capitalism in the Computer Age," in Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism, and Social Revolution, New York: Verso, 1997: 57-71, p. 69.

[41] Mirowski.

[42] Mirowski, p. 105.

[43] Ross D. Eckert, The Enclosure of Ocean Resources, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1979, p. 11. See also: Armen A. Alchian and Harold Demsetz, "The Property Rights Paradigm," Journal of Economic History 33(1973), p. 17.

[44] Dahlman, Carl J. The Open Field System and Beyond: A Property Rights Analysis of an Economic Institution, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980, p. 3.

[45] C. S. Orwin, The Open Fields, 3rd. ed. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1954, p. 2.

[46] Richard Halpern, "Rational Kernel, Mystical Shell: Reification and Desire in Thomas More's Utopia," The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital, ed. Richard Halpern, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991, p. 50.

[47] Colin Gordon, "Governmentality Rationality: An Introduction," in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Colin Gordon, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 1-51. This re-assembled excerpt is culled from pp. 10-12. Cited by Dion Dennis, "Policing the Convergence of Virtual and Material Worlds," CTheory, eds. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker 12/5/2006.

[48] Richard Marius, Thomas More, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984, p. 167.

[49] Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, Boston: MIT Press, 2001, p. 140.

[50] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 67.

[51] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 113.

[52] Harold Demsetz, "Toward a Theory of Property Rights," American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 57(1967), p. 350.

[53] J. H. Hexter, "The Composition of Utopia," The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. J. H. Hexter and Edward Surtz, New Haven: S. J., 1965, IV, xxiii.

[54] Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 208.

[55] Far from being a prophetic forerunner of Marx's socialist state, Utopia, established by conquest and expropriation, foreshadows the advent of the English imperialist state. In retrospect, Utopia's efforts to reconfigure the social and economic landscape of early modern England cannot be dissociated from the capital formation, imperialism, and totalitarian nature that will characterize the modern state it foreshadows. By the early nineteenth century, the drive for such conquest was so intense that enclosure serves as a model for all forms of conquest, both foreign and domestic:

It was the wars with France... that brought about an increased awareness of the value of the waste, and the conquest of the waste and conquest of France became synonymous in some minds. Sir John Sinclair, the President of the Board of Agriculture, said in 1803: 'Let us not be satisfied with the liberation of Egypt, or the subjugation of Malta, but let us subdue Finchley Common; let us conquer Hounslow Heath, let us compel Epping Forest to submit to the yoke of improvement.'
Cited by Michael Turner, Enclosures in Britain: 1750-1830, London: Macmillan, 1984, p. 23.

[56] Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 208.

[57] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 19.

[58] Lessig, The Future of Ideas, p. 85.

[59] Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, Vol. 1 of 2, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979, p. 120-21. Last sentence: Kline, "Rabelais and Printing," pp. 54.

[60] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 15.

[61] Jonathan Sawday, "Towards the Renaissancce Computer," The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print, eds. Neil Rhodes and Jonathan Sawday, New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 41.

[62] Agostino Ramelli, The Various Ingenious Machines (1588), p. 317. For a depiction of Ramelli's Reading Wheel, consult:

[63] The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print, ed. Neil Rhodes and Jonathan Sawdaym New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 13.

[64] David R. Koepsell, The Ontology of Cyberspace: Law, Philosophy, and the Future of Intellectual Property, Chicago: Open Court, 2000, p. 93.

[65] William T. Cotton, "Five-Fold Crisis in 'Utopia': A Foreshadow of Major Modern Utopian Narrative Strategies," Utopian Studies 14.2 (2003), p. 56.

[66] Wootton, p. 9; p. 31.

[67] Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, New York: The Penguin Press, 2004, p. 154.

[68] Lessig, The Future of Ideas, p. 67.

[69] "Appendix: The Early Editions and the Choice of Copy-Text," in Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation, ed. George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller, Cambridge, 1994, p. 276.

[70] Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History, New York: Viking Penguin, 2004, p. 94. Raymond employs the phrase "networked tribe," p. 5.

[71] Galloway, "Warcraft and Utopia."

[72] Wolfgang Pircher, "On the Construction of Worlds: Technology and Economy in European Utopias," Thinking Utopia: Steps into Other Worlds, eds. Jörn Rüsen, Michael Fehr and Thomas W. Rieger, New York: Berghahn Books, 2005, pp. 67-86, p. 83.

[73] Krishan Kumar, "Aspects of Western Utopian Tradition," Thinking Utopia: Steps into Other Worlds, eds. Jörn Rüsen, Michael Fehr, and Thomas W. Rieger, New York: Berghahn Books, 2005, p. 28.

[74] Eisenstein, I, 138.

[75] Eisenstein, I, 138.

[76] Ibid, I, 138-9.

[77] Ibid, I, 139.

[78] Ibid, I, 139.

[79] Lessig, The Future of Ideas, p. 116.

[80] Raymond, p. 125. Cited in Lessig, The Future of Ideas, p. 68.

[81] Morris-Suzuki, p. 63. Cited in Lewis Call, Postmodern Anarchism, New York: Lexington Books, 2002, p. 95.

[82] Call, p. 96.

[83] Raymond, p. 76.

[84] More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, p. 137.

[85] Consult Lessig's distinction between object code and source code: Lessig, The Future of Ideas, p. 50.

[86] Grosz, p. 140.

[87] Cotton, p. 60.

[88] John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1837, p. 665.

[89] Lawrence M. Sanger, "Why Collaborative Free Works Should Be Protected by the Law," Information Ethics: Privacy, Property, and Power, ed. Adam D. Moore. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005, p. 193. Sanger describes the appeal of such shopworks: "Many programmers and intellectuals have a strong urge to create and teach, and to a great extent, this desire is independent of a desire for personal gain -- particularly when such people believe their work will reach many others and not go to profit any one person or corporation in particular," p. 199.

[90] Sanger, p. 197.

[91] Kumar, p. 18.

[92] Sanger, p. 197.

[93] Halpern, p. 160.

[94] Raymond, p. 81.

[95] "Private" is somewhat of a misnomer here. Steorn limited open enrollment to two hundred members to respond adequately to their questions. Responding to popular demand, Steorn recently opened up a second branch of this club.

[96] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, New York: Verso, 2005, p. 14.

[97] Steven Johnson, "Why the Web Is Like a Rain Forest," The Best of Technology Writing, ed. Brendan J. Koerner, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006, p. 86.

[98] Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 75.

[99] A final case in point concerning the importance of communality: Permalink's mother happens to live next door to Menno, a member of an Amish community. Permalink asked her to question Menno about the Steorn device on behalf of the forum. We will end with a brief note from Permalink's mother:

Hi honey,

well i finally got the answer to the magnet electricity question. Menno said that "it is too modern" and that "it would make things too easy and take us farther from the church, we believe that we have to work hard to get the things we have". And that's straight from the Amish.




John Freeman is a professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy. Apart from having written several articles on Thomas More, his other research interests include Shakespeare's recusant legacy, the application of complexity theory to Tristram Shandy, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as holographic spectacle.

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