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All posts for the month April, 2007

I updated links with David Lavery’s work recently, but I also just noticed a recent post of his summarizing his various web projects.

As well as the “Descartes – Evil Genius” pages, take a look at the commonplace book “The Imaginative Thinker” which as well as being an extensive collection of quotes, actually includes an enormous bibliography of all the sources.

(Was reminded of this whilst following up my own bibliography project, currently looking at “Library Thing“, something which I’ve seen people as diverse as Geo Hancock and Chris Locke using. Still find Chris infuriating in that whilst his interest is in de-bunking pseudo-scientific new-age++ stuff, I never see anything to replace the inevitable babies he keeps throwing out with the no-brainer bathwater – but I’m repeating myself.)

I’ve been communcating with Alan Rayner on and off the Friends of Wisdom e-mail discussion group. I find we have a common understanding on many issues, and Alan is a particularly poetic writer, so a joy to read.

Recently he shared copies of his paper “Inlcusional Science – From Artefact to Natural Creativity” (no link available yet) Here some selected quotes that intersect with my interests here …

My Catch-22 of breaking the “self-fulfilling” objective loop …

Egged on all the more by research funding agencies, assessment exercises and pressures to publish or perish, scientific enquiry becomes ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. We set out to concoct and test ‘falsifiable’ and thereby axiomatic hypotheses, with minds so closed off from indefinable possibilities that we can and do ignore observations that ‘don’t fit’ with our presuppositions. Meanwhile we pay little or no attention to where and how these hypotheses and presuppositions arise in the first place.

My “definition is death” – “careful with that razor, Occam” theme … and my “give excluded middles a chance” mantra …

In my experience, to call for definitions to be relaxed in a culture that is addicted to definition is to come into close encounter with stony ground, if not something like the fury of a toddler threatened with separation from its favourite toy or security blanket ! … principal among objectivity’s objections to inclusionality is that the razed down simplicity that comes from defining things will ‘get lost’. Personally, I rather wish that it would ! But, seriously, this objection illustrates the addictive, all or none quality of false dichotomy: either we have total definition or no definition. Definition is something we must have if we are not to get totally lost in a sea of troubles. We exclude between two stools the dynamic ‘middle ground’ synthesis of ‘neither entirely one nor the other’ …

My views on the divisive distraction of unneccesarily hyper-objective distinctions …

By excluding that which it defines itself not to be, objective science may not only alienate itself from the public whose appreciation, understanding and money it craves, but may also greatly diminish its own opportunities for creative evolution and correspondence with other human endeavours. Such exclusion is evident in the ‘Two Culture’ split between ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ notoriously brought to light by C.P. Snow (1959, 1963; see also Petroski, 2005), and the increasingly cantankerous collision between Darwinian evolutionary science and religious ‘Creationism’ or ‘Intelligent Design’ theory. In a non-linear inclusional perspective, there is no need for this split and the nastiness it engenders: the split is an artefact of definitive logic.

Interesting piece from back in January in Time magazine by Stephen Pinker entitled The Mystery of Consciousness. Thanks to David Chalmers for the link; he’s referred to in the article in connection with the easy / hard problem distinction. Lots of other good articles linked in and alongside the article.

Daniel Wegner’s psychology-based work gets a mention. I side with Dennett in not really seeing the hard problem as a problem, and disagree with this kind of summary by Pinker, thought it is a fair summary of a common view …

Identifying awareness with brain physiology, they say, is a kind of “meat chauvinism” that would dogmatically deny consciousness to Lieut. Commander Data just because he doesn’t have the soft tissue of a human brain. Identifying it with information processing would go too far in the other direction and grant a simple consciousness to thermostats and calculators–a leap that most people find hard to stomach.

For me this is just the simplistic positivist logic – either / or – problem. There is a middle ground interpretation here that says any sufficiently complex computation system (any physical substrate, not just meat) can support the emergence of consciousness, and that simple devices like the thermostat, are simply not sufficiently complex examples of such systems. Bisson’s “Thinking with Meat” essay, illustrates that the chauvinism is just a matter of perspective.

And, the fact that most scientists would support the idea that the explanations for animalian consciousness are already shown to reside in the brain, does not say that science has killed the soul, or anything like it. What it does tell us is something about what the “soul” is, and hopefully reminds many a scientist that simple reductionism is unlikely to yield the best brain / mind explanations.

Anyway, good news, Pinker concludes …

… the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It’s not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings – the core of morality.

That’s my view too. The catch is not to let that get misrepresented as some crass explanatory argument for how morality is “caused” by the physical and biological.

Just collecting links for future follow-up. Roger Anderton over on Friends of Wisdom has a special interest in Boscovich’s relativity work pre-dating Einstein, and in Lancelot Whyte a co-worker of Einstein, who also documented Boscovich work. The Wikipedia introduction is as good a summary as any to start with. (Beware confused nationality and consequent variants on his name when searching / following up links.)

The reason for interest is the “Einsteing was right” brigade and the arguments casting doubt on modern mathematical interpretations fundamental physics generally, and the base of any fundamental philosophies of existence and meaning at the quantum level. The specific interest for me is my understanding of Quantum Information theory which depends on mathematical models, post Dirac.

Must link this with “Island” and his anthropic arguments on “science in crisis“. Also picked up earlier reference to Boscovich on the in our time broadcasts on the Jesuits.

Here is the Lancelot Whyte biographical piece on Boscovich.

Another good source of links are Roger Anderton’s own papers posted on the “General Science Journal” (Look in the author list dropdown.)

Interesting PBS broadcast featuring a discussion on Richard Posner’s “Little Book of Plagiarism” – brought to my attention by Marsha over on MoQ.Discuss.

Not listened thoroughly yet, so captured here for future linking. Picked-up so far, the modern interpretation being closely linked to the business value of the content copied, rather than the morality of the process by which and for which it is “borrowed”. Interesting.

Kat Herder appears to be Chris Locke’s latest nomme de plume on Mystic Bourgeoisie. Crossed paths before with Chris over Abram Maslow, when following up the “Criticisms of Maslow” meme.

Personally, whilst obviously wary of any prescriptive “objectivisation by numbers” of human psychology (see my manifesto), I still find Maslow’s Jungian rules of thumb informative and explanatory. For me the quest is to fit these ideas within a more inclusive world view. Chris (Kat)’s purpose is to warn against the Eugenic connections of these schools of psychology that reduce humans to objects of comparative statistical explanation – a no brainer. The latest post has some good links to the background of the Stanford led scientification of psychology.

How to distill the value from the risks. Similar I guess to the backlash against too primitive Princeton “game-theory” explanation of population behaviours – “mind-blind” theories that ignore the dynamic will and evolution of the individual and collective minds involved in the “games” of life are obviously doomed to failure.

Anyway, the links are useful. No big deal for me to “defend” Maslow, just don’t like to see valuable babies thrown out with no-brainer bathwater.

Excellent opening lecture in the BBC 2007 Reith Lectures series by US economist Jeffrey Sachs. A large part of the opening to “Bursting at the Seams” was a call for a “new enlightenment” based on a speech by JFK following the Cuban missile crisis. The main thrust of Sachs talks, of which this is just the first, is that the major issues of this “Anthropocene” age are characterised by the stress of humanity on the planetary ecosystem, intellectually and culturally, as well as physically.

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions, on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single simple key to this peace, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation, for peace is a process, a way of solving problems. [JFK] 

Inlcusive, dynamic, evolving, process and as Sachs goes on to elaborate a shift from the original “superpowers” not simply to the (temporary) US / North Atlantic powers but a balance in favour of China and India, that we’d better get used to, in our view of what it means to participate. Interestingly Sachs black picture actually paints an optimistic story of how we have the means to address this, an optimism that few of the audience of invited brains seemed to share – except for Geri Halliwell. The focus is education, education at home, specifically education in mothers (in the underdeveloped societies). Education, education education to new enlightnement. Naturally I was impressed, and will be looking out for the subsequent lectures.

Interestingly BBC’s “In Our Time” concerned the British / Chinese “Opium Wars” – a lesson from history in how the size of the Chinese market (trading tea for silver until silver became too scarce and opium became the currency) had global impact and lasting legacies. Enlightened education involves learning the lessons of history, and China’s ongoing importance in that.

Upcoming presentations at Liverpool University’s (IDF) “Inter-Disciplinary Forum” inlcudes one on 6th June by Mark Maxwell on “The Metaphysics of Quality and the Unity of Disciplines

Be interesting to hear how that goes down. A potted summary of Pirsig’s MoQ, a shift from physics to life sciences, and a reference to Frijtof Capra’s “Web of Life”. Intriguing.

For myself, I’m reading David Granger’s “Dewey, Pirsig and the Art of Living” … a truly excellent summary of Pirsig’s Quality and Dewey’s Aesthetic Education – establishing, according to Jim Garrison, that their common ground is total. Hardly suprising I’d say, since each seems equal to reality itself. (Actually a very good read, and a comprehensive analysis of Pirsig so far. Will blog more when finished. Blogged earlier about Granger’s paper which focussed mainly on relating Pirsig’s English rhetoric class teaching stories in relation to Dewey. The book so far covers Pirsig’s metaphysics much more comprehensively – the platypi, the hot stove, everything so far as I can tell.)