I’m trying to draft a couple of “considered” posts for here and for MoQ-Discuss.
I’ve just about finished Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”. It’s so good that perversely I’ve made almost no annotations, because it’s all note-worthy and in need of re-reading in future. I’ve blogged a number of points already, but there are some important themes arising … these are just some holding thoughts.
Evolution of Morality – Dennett’s pragmatic story of naturalised ethics and the moral first aid manual, is Pirsig’s MoQ in everything but name. At the MoQ Conference there was one line of argument, from Jorg, Dean and Brent I think, in the discussions ensuing Mati’s presentation, that MoQ needs to be hitched to the philosphical mainstream, needs to have its own (however original) ideas picked-up in other philsophers who have achieved mainstream credibility. Pirsig does not want personal celebrity, or even credit, and he’ll probably always be a deranged hippy in the eyes of any establishment, whatever the quality of his thinking. Those of us who wish to promote quality thinking per se (without Pirsigian labels necessarily) need to be hitching our wagon to Dennett.
[Insert major block-quotes from Dennett here.]
Game Theory, Doubt, Rhetoric and Philosophising Rules of Engagement
Difficult to disentangle and sumarise my thoughts here, but here goes.
[Insert another block-quote from Dennett here.]
I was struck in Hofstadter (GEB) about the game theory nature of evolution, culturally evolving best decision making paradigms for given situations. Dennett makes decision-making (and decision support and justification) a subject in his work, and of course it is precisely the point where I came into epistemology, through (business) information modelling. The mechanism by which nagging doubt is exaggerated to become a crucial decisive issue is well illustrated in the “reverberant doubt” game-theory example Dennett quotes from Hofstadter. If our position in the world is “ballistic”, ie we are always battling falling into a sea of entropy with the negative entropy tools of evolution, but with no metaphysically fundamental foundations, just temporary static latches and layers, doubt is a powerful mechanism to hold onto the certainty of theistic skyhooks. It’s a very subtle variation on the “religion is for wimps” meme, and it is actually worse (the nagging doubt more reverberrant) than that, the doubt is greater the more intellectual thought one can put into it. (Wow, it’s surely also my Catch-22 isn’t it !!)
Rhetoric, and other forms of “impure rationality” are absloutely essential in this zone of ballistic trajectories without firm foundations. I knew it.
Philosophising Rules of Engagement – This isn’t new, but Dennett describes this very clearly. In my words, philsophy is the archetypal domain for analysis paralysis – it’s what philosphers do. Doubt can be cast on just about any argument, by undermining some premise or other (hence why I can’t disentangle it from the doubt topic itself). If you’re going to make (pragmatic) progress in producing useful philosophic output, as philosophers you have to set up some premises that you are going to treat as fixed (for now) even if your open mind says the might not be absolutely. These are the layers and latches of MoQ – they’re all debatable in the long run, but not in the short run. We need to keep debate isolated from meta-debate, or it may has well just be tortoises all the way down.
Meta – I used the word meta in this context somewhere recently myself. Dennett makes the meta-distinction frequently. I recall a sense of relief in my data modelling history, when I’d been working with what turned out to be meta-models almost meta-languages, and I noticed a headline, a front-page story in some illustrious journal like The Economist or Harvard Business Review as I recall, proclaiming in some end of year review at the height of the dot-com boom – the the word for next year is “Meta”. Something in this I believe.
Sorry – a bit incoherent, and incomplete but important enough for a “hold that thought” post.