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All posts for the month July, 2006

Pirsig’s Metaphyisics of Quality – It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid
Wilson’s Consilience – It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid
Rand’s Objectivism – It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid

It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid

I realise I missed the boat, and that evolutionary psychology as philosophy came and went out of fashion some time ago, but all roads, even diametrically opposed ones lead me to the same place, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since the earth we inhabit (maybe even the universe we seem constrained to inhabit) seems close to spherical.

Matt commented in my earlier thread referring to Wilson, that Rorty’s problem with (scientists like) Wilson, is that they are mistaken to somehow suggest joined-up science replaces philosophy of any kind. I keep quoting Max Born, who apparently said “Theoretical Physics is Actual Metaphysics”. OK, so there is always a metaphysical boundary condition in even the most holistic scientific explanation of the whole world, but the boundaries between science and philosophy must be constantly re-drawn by scientific understanding, no ?

(BTW, my favouring science is purely pragmatic and contingent. Somewhere in that metaphysical hole there may be something that ultimately invalidates science in some sense, some sense hard to imagine naturally, but whilst science shrinks the hole and makes ever more consilient, joined-up, consistent explanations of the whole outside the hole, then it has the maximum value / quality of the available “belief systems”.)

Explanations of the “whole” need to include the spiritual and human nature aspects of reality, otherwise we have a humungous hole in our model. Part of Matt’s objection (on Rorty’s behalf) to Wilson was that it was arrogant for a scientist to suggest that (consilient, scientific) explanations of human nature were either necessary or valuable in any predictive causal sense. Pragmatically, Matt and Rorty would be right, given accepted knowledge of the current state of “scientific received wisdom”. But of course causality and predictability, are two hugely problematic issues, being addressed by both philsophers and scientists. Personally, I think philosphers’ progress with predictable causation is best in the areas that point out its illusory nature (see Paul Turner’s Buddhist view), which it is of pragmatic value to at least be aware, whereas scientists are advancing “complex recursive systems evolution” views of at least explaining it, with statistics and emergence as the closest things to predictability and causation.

OK, so …

I already, in my 2005 paper, referred to Pirsig’s MoQ as evolutionary psychology. Wilson’s neo-Darwinian angle on consilience is also easy to characterise as evolutionary psychology in a direct sense and the meta-sense. (ie at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, it is “our” intellect that is evolving, but part of that evolution of intellect is evolving our evolutionary explanations of the physical and biological layers on which it is built – that’s all I mean by “evolutionary psychology”. It’s awesomely consilient.)

You may have noticed, if you’re following MoQ-Discuss, that I’ve been reading Ayn Rand. Well if Atlas shrugged, Ian struggled. (Aside – I’m still only 400 pages through my 1000 page edition, and I have no prior knowledge of the main plot or point of the story.)

In summary – much of the plot (so far) is about big business, self-made men (and women), moral choices and “state” interfence. I said after 200 pages, lousy physics, lousy metallurgy, lousy engineering, lousy politics and nauseating sex, but OK business and OK morality. I didn’t mention the stilted writing (as Alice did below), the idiot-proof plot, and the transparent one-dimensional characters, but hey, I pressed on in hope and with suspended disbelief.

The science actually gets less believable, or at any rate more fictional – something close to a perpetual motion machine that creates dynamic (kinetic) power out of static energy (matter) – but hey, that sure is a business opportunity for the right guy or gal with the right access to the technology, motivation, funding, opportunity, freedom from state red-tape, etc. (A large part of the plot is about market distortions created by “bad” legislation – eg people trading in quotas and stocks making five times the profits of those in the primary industries – no, really ?)

I also said earlier that the Randian morals (expressed by her apparent heros and heroine anyway) were the triumph of the (individual) will kind. Little did I know.

Although the edition I’m reading (Signet Centennial paperback edition), has a deliberately sparse introduction, to leave the reader with only Rand’s text, I discover there is a 2-page summary of “The Essentials of Rand’s Objectivism” at the end. I thought it might be a laugh to read it, put me out of my misery anyway.

To be continued.

I’ve barely blogged or posted anywhere in the last few months, almost none in the last month. Just too busy with the day job, and in a temporary state domestically. We move into a longer term place next weekend.

I have however found some disjointed time to do some reading.

I think the last things I blogged about were;
Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things”, and
Daniel Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will”

I also found time to finish both;
Robert Magliola’s “Derrida on the Mend”, and
Jay Garfield’s translation and commentary on Nagarjuna’s “Mulamadhyamakakarika – The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”.
The former refers to the latter at length. Both excellent recommendations from Paul Turner. I made endless mental and marginal notes, but I think I’ve blogged or posted only incidental passing references anywhere so far. I really must collate some more thoughts on these. Magliola’s language, like the Derrida he is reading, is very tough in places, as are the subtley not-quite-repetitive aphorisms from Nagarjuna translated and interpreted by Garfield. That said there are some excellent gems that draw together the totally “aontic” buddhist view of reality and causation as emergence or “dependent arising”, with some worthwhile nuggets from the totally deconstructive “there is nothing beyond the text” of Derrida’s “On Grammatology”.

Waiting for my library to arrive from the UK, and finding it difficult order on-line until we get the longer term address sorted, we wandered into Barnes & Noble on University Drive, Huntsville, and found it amazingly well stocked. So I’ve also been reading …

Henry Frakfurt’s “On Bullshit” – an ironic and very brief treatise on truth and lies. Essentially it’s about rhetorical tricks and the focus is on intent rather than truth values of statements made. Making a false statement knowingly or making a false statement in ignorance being distinct and quite separate from anything said to achieve a higher moral outcome.

Christopher Maurer’s translation and introduction to Baltasar Gracian’s (1647) “Oraculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia” (Pocket Oracle – The Art of Worldy Wisdom”). A series of 300 one paragraph aphorisms on rhetorical and behavioural tricks for getting along in the world successfully. Know your friends but know your enemies better – kind of stuff. Trips up between the cynical Machiavellian (1513) exploitation for personal gain, and the pragmatic game-theoretic scheming towards higher common ends. Highly recommended by both Nietzsche and Shopenhauer.

Meanwhile I received a book re-directed from an order I placed in the UK some months ago …
Michael Talbot’s “The Holographic Universe”. I preferred Talbot to Capra in terms of their earlier (1970’s) independant works linking Taoism / Mysticism to the New Physics, but in this 1991 book Talbot takes the holochoric metaphor into an explicit – the world really is a hologram – territory of Karl Pribram and David Bohm. At some level, maybe I buy the “interconnectedness” – the whole world in a grain of sand concept – but a large proportion of the book uses this premise to explain all things paranormal. Psychokinesis, telepathy, and all varieties of shamanic magic, all backed this up with masses of personal and other documented evidence and anecdotes. Hmmm. I struggled to keep going beyond 2/3 way through with credibility fading fast. I guess the masses of references must have been known to the likes of Sue Blackmore, who actively pursued the paranormal before concluding she could find no repeatable evidence. Another scientist with a similarly open mind, Brian Josephson gets mentioned by Talbot. Must ask Sue and Brian what they make of Talbot.

Anyway, continuing … I read :
Earnest Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea’ by way of brief intoduction. As advertised, it’s a very simply worded, but powerfully descriptive story of man and boy but mainly man and nature as noble beast. Even more reminiscent of Melville than Pirsig. I’ll definitely try some more Hemmingway. B&N have plenty of the beautifully presented Scribner Classics hardback editions.

At last I picked-up and started to read :
Edward O. Wilson’s “Consilience”. What a great intelligent read, both content and almost laconic style. So far I’ve read his potted histories of relevant modern thought, leading to his main subject – consilience – the convergence of all “valid” sciences and ologies towards common fundamental threads (The term coined originally by William Whewell in 1840). He proceeds from the Ionian Enchantment, through the Enlightenment and Modernism and all things post-modern including Derrida and Foucault as well as brain physiology, dreams and mind-altering drug (ayahuasca from the Banisteriopsis vine) amongst Ucayali region Indians, and so on. So far he is staunchly defending the mercilessley objective, analytic, reductionist intent of scientific method, whilst extolling the synthetic art of scientific hypothesis and theory – put me in mind of David Deutsch. I’m not sure I agree with him more than 80% yet, and despite defending science in principle, he explicitly says “science is not a belief system”. I think we’re just playing with words – it’s system that doesn’t tell you “what” to believe, just “how” to believe contingently – a meta-belief-system perhaps, but you have to buy it, believe in it, to make any progress all the same. Anyway he draws from across spectra of opposing extremes in my kinda synthetic way, so I’m hooked. Looking forward to continuing with this one. No danger for the excluded middle here.

Finally, at last, lying beside the bed I have waiting a copy of
Niccolo Machiavelli’s (1513) “The Prince”. See above.

Just lost an hour’s worth of blog post, thanks to not saving as draft, and hitting the wrong “links” button that took me away from the blog-writing page. I thought WordPress have autosave now – obviously not – Grrr.

And whilst on the subject of features … I need some better spam filtering. The blog comment spam is running at 80 a day. Just to verify which are or are not spam is a major exercise. Most of the stuff is obviously spam from content words and multi-links – the main risk is missing valid comments. Time to review available features. The “mark as spam” feature doesn’t seem to learn anything useful. Never enough time for housekeeping, but I’ve barely had time for blogging or posting anywhere the past couple of months. I could do without this.

I came across this link before, but didn’t capture it [Oh yes I did, in the last collection of rivets's links]. John Suler at Rider University (Lawrenceburg, Trenton, NJ).

Some interesting stories, more than koans. Zen philosophy meets narrative method. Worth following the links to John’s other psychoanalysis, and eastern philosophy of mind pages.