Barbara Herrnstein Smith

An incomplete review, notes only from this excellent article. Hat tip to Sam Norton in his comment below. And some good links in the piece, eg to Stanley Fish.

Explanation … avoiding reductionism.

Terry Lectures on video – nb Terry Eagleton joke ?

“It was I felt, characteristic of the delightfully informal nature of American society that I should receive a letter from Yale inviting me to deliver the Terry Lectures. I had of course long been accustomed to the instant-first-name culture, but this long-range intimacy nevertheless came as something of a surprise.”
Terry Eagleton “Reason, Faith and Revolution”
The Terry Foundation Lectures, Yale, 2009

Flattening out “important differences” … finding difference is easy, synthesising common value is harder – Mary Parker-Follett.

Determinedly symmetrical. Refusing to take a stand on big issues “of our time”. (see also Zizek’s Empty Wheelbarrow.)

Keep mixed groups (with important differences) talking on common ground – Mary Parker-Follett again and conflict resolution (integration, as opposed to compromise)

James & Nietzsche, Metaphysical Poets and the Poetics, B.F.Skinner (vs Chomsky “impoverished”), Dewey, Hume, Burkert, Gombrich, Meyer, Sokal (“mischief, unrepresentative”, “mutual ignorance and caricature”, “demonizing”.)

Cognitive science of religion … “The New Naturalism” Distinction between New Atheism of Dawkins and New Naturalism of Dennett, though even Dennett limited – a misunderstanding – “correspondingly dubious conception of beliefs—religious and otherwise—as static, discrete items of cerebral furniture” – far from static or discrete, just useful …. misplaced reductionism again.

Excellent piece.

The Scientific Tribe

“The objectives of science may be objective, but science forms a fascinating topic for anthropologist’s case study. Social and political factors driving science are pervasive. Nothing fundamentally different in modes of “problem solving” thought between say engineers and scientists.”

I had found the current Rees Reith lectures (last of 4 today) a little dull so far, and even today. Perhaps it’s just his – male, gray & stale – delivery, nothing too contentious, but some gems in there. The real contention in science is that Rees has religious faith, held to be compatible with his elevated position in science.

Wonderful dig at the religious zeal of Darwin’s modern day “disciples” contrasted with Darwin’s own outlook.

(Scarily dumb question from the representative of The Wellcome Foundation, wishing scientific progress could be more systematic. Give him the benefit of the doubt that it was maybe ironically tongue in cheek ?)

Trust Matters

One of my management adages is

“Agreement in public,
disagreement in private”.

I was reminded of it by this quote collection from Kevin Kelly. (Here’s the permalink to the Scott Delinger quote.)

It’s one of these things that get’s tangled up in open communications, freedom of speech mantras that so many people seem to think applies to all communications. As if not voicing disagreement is somehow dishonest. No such thing as need to know, all management of communication is somehow evil. Also the element that agreeing in public is a kind of “me too” noise, less valuable that disagreement. It also get’s tangled up in “scientism” … as if somehow covering up disagreement, not pointing out errors, is counter to scientific progress, and must be stamped out for some greater good.

No. In my experience most disagreement is initially misunderstanding, and voicing disagreement initially tends to spread misunderstanding, and in a context where trust matters, spreading misunderstanding then spreads uncertainty and mistrust. Much more effective to voice misunderstanding and apparent disagreement with the other party privately, to establish if there really is error or significant disagreement, or simply lack of clarity that will benefit from clarification. Then go public with that. Much more productive of everyone’s time.

Of course if trust doesn’t matter to you, do your worst.

(More good quotes in that Kevin Kelley collection BTW – Tim O’Reilly and E. Digby Baltzell for example.)