All posts for the month December, 2002

[via James (Gerry) Gerard-Wolff] by Marianne Jones
My axioms were so clean-hewn,
The joins of ‘thus’ and ‘therefore’ neat
But, I admit
Life would not fit
Between straight lines
And all the cornflowers said was ‘blue,’
All summer long, so blue.
So when the sea came in and with one wave
Threatened to wash my edifice away –
I let it.
Too true – need to work on this dichotomy between the real-world logic and complexity with all it’s emergent semantics and properties and the human rationalisation towards simple syntax and neat rhetorical “logic”. Rational and Logical are becoming overloaded words !

[I have a long standing reference to Wolff’s pages on “SP” and “Compression” on my resources pages – avoided further direct reference due to the politics, but this remains an interesting resource. What does Wolff make of Lomborg, I wonder ? I see Wolff presented recently at the BCS special interest group on AI at Peterhouse Cambridge (10th/12th Dec 2002) – the plot thickens. Wolff makes references to early Pinker and reacts against Chomsky’s “language is too complicated to simulate” stuff.]

Been reading Pinker, Dennett, Rousseau and Rawls in the break. Forming a view of rationalisation as compression (after simple equals powerful idea). Pinker refers to the entire left side (?) of the brain as the “baloney generator” designed to produce convincing sounding “arguments” in difficult situations. Humans have an innate comfort with the “rational” and dislike of the “irrational”, needing rationale to explain experience. Often the rationale may be a gross simplification, simple near-term logic, basic correlation, even an analogy, with little or no true causal connection with the real situation – almost certainly also a mechanism for recording, recalling and reconstructing knowledge in ways that minimise the mental resources needed to do so (Keep it Simple Stupid). Shared (innate) intuitions of folk physics and folk psychology, mean that this is an important mechanism not only for recording and recalling knowledge, but also for sharing and communicating knowledge (with other humans). However important to communication, such rationale must not be confused with scientific reasoning concerning the truth of underlying cause and effect. True for all (apparent, human) “intents and purposes”, but false in any scientific sense of fact.

Still can’t get out of my head the significance of the fact that the evolution of the human brain – optimisation of physical wiring patterns – is way behind the evolution of knowedge in the last 100’s and 1000’s of years and the explosion in information and communication in the last 10’s and 100’s – exactly as one would expect given timescales of genetic evolution reinforced, against alternate mutations, over many generations. Rationalisation is the best (evolved) strategy our little brains currently have (may ever have) for dealing intuitively with an overload of information and mounting complexity of known, potentially true, relationships.

Behavioral Science is not for Sissies. My review of Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (the above quote from p.121). I believe this will be an important work in my research into understanding knowledge, so much so that I felt the need to post a review even though I’m only half-way through. You get some flavour of the breadth from Pinker’s own quote from Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason [Quote] Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe; the starry heavens above and the moral law within. [Unquote]

Mentioned earlier I’d started reading Dennet. Finished Eco’s Kant and the Platypus – need to review. Also re-started Pinker’s Blank Slate – excellent rail against all or nothing political correctness – just because nurture / culture are big drivers of actual motivations and behaviour why discount innate propensities and capabilities of the human mind (human nature) as setting natural patterns of behaviour, beliefs, preferences, and their evolution. Why does this have to be binary / mutually exclusive argument ? Great stuff on common misunderstandings about proximate and ultimate mechanisms in Darwinian evolution. Reinforcing my view that the apparent ghost in the machine is explainable as a many layered emergent effect of the complex physical brain. Also that competing drivers mean evolutionary progress is a dynamical balance of contractictory effects – found myself extending this same dynamic (and ever changing) balance between “types” in the Jungian / Myers-Briggs sense too. Got me thinking again. [So much so that I’ve barely been able to put the book down – already 200 pages into it – See the next post above.]