Working the Form: George Spencer-Brown and the Mark of Distinction

Mousse Magazine. Supplement Settimana Basileia, June 2015

14 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2015

Date Written: June 14, 2015


At issue here is to advocate for a rare event โ€“ the introduction of a new symbol. We are all familiar with symbols such as " ", "-", "&", "%", "ยง", "ยฉ", "@", "๐„ž", "โˆš", "โ™‚", "โ™€" and even, pinnacle of the mysterious, the sign for equals, "=". We calculate with them, routinely follow their commands and employ them wherever we might use them. Yet only a minute's reflection suffices and we start to hesitate. Where do we know these signs from and for how long have we known what they mean? How often have we witnessed them, following them but without considering, not even for a minute, their meaning or their distinction? And while we're at it, what is the story with other puzzling signs such as "1", "2", "3" or "a", "b", "c"? What do we do when we read "and"? And what is different when we read "or"? Why is it that still today the truth tables of logic have no entry for "yes, but"? And we could pursue this questioning and would not have even left the pertinent circle of a European or even western symbolic universe. In fact, however, I do not want to put our symbolic world into doubt, but instead to supplement it with another symbol, one that I would hope that some day we come to use as routinely and unreflectively as the above-mentioned signs. It is a symbol that British mathematician George Spencer-Brown introduced in the year of 1969, leaving the expert world rather unimpressed, in order to take a further step toward the old dream of reducing mathematical calculus to a single sign. George Boole, in his Laws of Thought, had reduced the entirety of algebra in the year of 1845 to the two numerals of "0" (for Nothing) and "1" (for Universe), so why should this not be taken further. Spencer-Brown introduced the sign, ยฌ, as a mark for the operation of cross, an indication by drawing a distinction.

Keywords: distinction, indication, form, mathematics, Spencer-Brown

Suggested Citation

Baecker, Dirk, Working the Form: George Spencer-Brown and the Mark of Distinction (June 14, 2015). Mousse Magazine. Supplement Settimana Basileia, June 2015, Available at SSRN:

Dirk Baecker (Contact Author)

Witten/Herdecke University ( email )



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