Attention as a Moral Act

Progress on Priorities

A strangely productive week since my previous “Resolution” post – I’m obviously focussed on the right priorities at last.

Namely getting my “technical content” better organised for review. Started using free versions of and – posting some of my key (older and/or half-drafted pages and pdf’s – mostly just testing it out so far). Not a matter of being at no cost, but free from any required prior-association with an academic journal or academic institution (yet) – see Resolution above.

Already on the next step of targeting sets of key posts to be turned into more formal papers, properly referenced and referenceable. Onward and upward.

Nevertheless, Productive Distractions

Despite the above, also some admin & distractions, although they’re all grist to my mill. Dialogues with fellow travellers are always welcome for clarifying trains of thought, mine and hopefully theirs. I already mentioned Anatoly Levenchuk recently – in that Resolution post in fact – but also:

Bruce McNaughton of ISSS on distinctions between my meta-language / architectural-abstraction view of a “systems thinking ecosystem” and his deeply researched ontology for a generic systems thinking model. We have similar but different histories and have read similar but different sources and at different times / in a different order in our thought journeys. My focus is to abstract the essence as an intellectual model, his is to define the best working model. Fascinating on so many dimensions. Not least that even where we’ve not read the same people on a topic – say Antonio Damasio and Fritjof Capra vs Iain McGilchrist and Mark Solms – they / we have so many of the same underlying sources both proximal and original. Same stuff different words. (See “language”!)

We both have a strong focus on “information interfaces” at system boundaries, but Bruce’s ontology has an interesting take on communication as “social coordination” – more than one-way transmission of data – commune (verb and noun) and community (abstract and concrete noun) about the interaction and “coordination”. That intersubjective process is pretty much the root of process-based metaphysics. (Two-way like a “handshake” establishing both syntactic and semantic shared understanding of the – quality – communication event.)

And, for example – Bertalanffy’s seminal (1986) “General Systems Theory” (GST) I’d not previously noticed that Chapter 10 refers extensively to Benjamin Whorf (1925-1940) “Language, Thought and Reality” – someone I have referred to positively before. And in that same context, in the post by Ted Lumley, Ernst Mach recurred – his “principle” that is. He understood the “Habitat-Dynamic” – the two-way causal processes between organism and ecosystem – co-evolving. And despite our common association of Mach with physical engineering “mechanics”, he wasn’t talking about just mechanical systems, he meant the psychical (thinking) habitat too – so I’m now reading “The Analysis of Sensations – and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical” (Ernst Mach, originally 1885, 5th Ed translated and extended by Williams and Waterlow, 1914). Mindblowing. Gotta stop reading!

Whorf and Mach, like Pirsig and McGilchrist since, understood the relationship between language and our experience of the world. Those “aboriginal” societies who paid direct attention to the world they experienced not only had quite different languages (architectural form as well as content-wise) they had, and because they had, quite different world-views in mind. Such shared world-views form our thinking and communicating ecosystems. Quite different to our “western” intellectual symbolic models. [Note my title “Attention as a Moral Act” comes from the McGilchrist stable, and Morals / Values are fundamental to Pirsig’s Quality Metaphysics.]

And so many other connections / associations. “Strangely” in the title of Damasio’s latest, doesn’t include Doug Hofstadter – what’s that about? Habitat (English) = Cynefin (Welsh). Lila (published) = “Them Pesky Redskins” (non-PC working title).

Mach’s references (in just the first few prefatory and introductory pages) =  Alfred Binet, W K Clifford, Wolfgang Pauli, David Hume, Rudolf Willy,  Immanuel Kant, Baruch Spinoza, Johann Goethe and many more. Mach was no slouch! Ernst Mach Society = Vienna Circle, would have had Mach turning in his grave at their (orthodox, objective, determinist) “scientism”, like Wittgenstein, only he wasn’t dead yet. Ask Hofstadter!

Nothing new under the sun, yet again.
Dysmemics has been around long before electronic comms.
Attention as a moral act.

Anyway, to conclude, also a very brief (Facebook) chat with Mark Hammonds – noticing Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” re-available this year on BBC iPlayer. A hero of mine much referenced here, led me to retrace some of his many links, including those to “Systems Thinking” and shared with fellow traveller David Deutsch. Some pretty good stuff – if I say so myself – I should be writing-up formally, per resolved priorities above, not least by way of example: “An Injection of Optimism“.

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Inevitably some immediate post-notes:

Topical today two social-media items questioning the linguistic science confusion. Science is a language, but linguistics is (maybe) not science.

Anita Leirfall sharing What is the Science of Linguistics a Science of?
by Ermanno Bencivenga in Epoch Magazine – starting from from Thomas G. Bever’s “The Cognitive Basis for Linguistic Structures” and quite independently:

A J Owens sharing this in his latest “oblique review” blog

“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone. . . but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”
Edward Sapir, “The Status of Linguistics as a Science”

So on message that quote! [Countering the (solely) objective world (alone) but therefore overstates the “at the mercy of” on the other side – these things co-evolve with two-way causation – but the basic point holds. As a PoPoMo, the common sense of post-modernism without the extremes. After the comment from AJ below (and my comment on his) I need to follow-up with Tina Lee Forsee at “Diotima’s Ladder” I guess.]


[For any word I use] meaning is amenable to reasonable guesses; and for the most part, these guesses will not be far off the mark.

That we understand one another by making reasonable guesses is a claim at the heart of the book. The main author, Neal Weiner, calls this “the principle of generosity,” extrapolating slightly from the noted philosopher Donald Davidson’s “principle of charity.”

Absolutely – I use that principle of charity (see Rules of Engagement) and yes, like Dennett [and Levenchuk] I say “hold your definitions” – use words like they’re natural language and make progress in your discourse – only worry about definitions when (and if) you need to create some objective record of agreements.

And more on different world-views giving us different ways of thinking, Nigel McGilchrist, brother of Iain, talking on:

The Mind of Pythagoras: A First Bridge Between East and West – How did we come to think the way we do?

And finally for now, not so obviously on topic, but Philip Ball writing “Is AI leading to a reproducibility crisis in science?” in Nature Magazine – Scientists worry that ill-informed use of artificial intelligence is driving a deluge of unreliable or useless research. On topic because these AI’s are merely LLM’s. (No A-Life, no A-Intelligence, I say.)

“As with any powerful new statistical technique, AI systems can make it easy for researchers looking for a particular result to fool themselves…”


And some post-post-notes:

Mentioned some different reads / same sources in the dialogue with Bruce above.

Fritjof Capra – I read “Tao of Physics”, “Turning Point” and “Hidden Connections” – but never read his latest “Systems View of Life”. Basically I saw him as catching up with the rest of us systems-thinking-wise, though obviously he already had a long-standing Zen-Buddhist alternative to orthodox “western” angle. (Turns out Bruce helped Capra with his glossary for training purposes.)

Antonio Damasio – I’ve read and listened to and he’s massively referenced by both Iain McGilchrist and Mark Solms – a well established part of the Austin-to-Zeman “lesion literature”. Big in the “Homeostasis” space too, but until recently resistant to “systems thinking” talk as too mechanical. Sounds like he too has caught up with systems thinkers in his latest “The Strange Order Of Things: Life, Feeling and the Making of Cultures” and like McGilchrist is now joining individual person processes to the cultural level. And like Solms latching on to feeling as the true measure of consciousness, it’s affect all the way down. I have a kindle copy – all the usual sources – so I may review briefly.


2 thoughts on “Attention as a Moral Act”

  1. Thanks for the link! To be clear, the book I was obliquely reviewing (Truth & Generosity: How Truth Makes Language Possible, by Neal Weiner and Tina Lee Forsee) takes issue with Sapir’s claim.

  2. Ha, typical. On the face of it I very much share Sapir’s view, so I shall need to dig into what issue.

    (Edit – added a note under the original quote.)

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