A Eulogy for the Unconscious (1895 – 2012)
Aphorism of the Day I: It’s not that sexists are more stupid, only that they aim their stupidity in a less intelligent direction.
Aphorism of the Day II: Feminists are primates too.
So I’ve been reading Guy Claxton’s The Wayward Mind, an interesting (but curiously out-of-date–but then everything strikes me that way since reading Boyer and Attran) historical account of the Unconscious. At the same time I’ve been thinking about the debate we’ve been having the past few weeks, and all the times the unconscious/subconscious has been referenced as an accusation or argumentative tool. And I realized that I had, quite ‘unconsciously,’ stopped believing in the Unconscious.
I no longer think there’s any such thing.
Just as a reminder, lest people read too much into my claims, for me, ‘no longer thinking there’s any such thing,’ simply means, ‘I think I’ve found a better cartoon.’
Claxton is a fantastic writer, and for this reason I heartily recommend the opening chapters of The Wayward Mind to anyone interested in secondary world-building: he does a great job evoking the ancient mindset, the way our ancestors, lacking our sophisticated nomenclature for interiority, had no choice but to turn to the external world. Post Boyer’s Religion Explained, his accounts seem inadequate and even romantic (he actually relies quite heavily on Julian Jaynes), but the vividness of his writing makes these worlds come alive. And his master narrative could very well be true: that the Unconscious finds its historical origins beyond the horizon of the outer, objective world, then gradually migrates to its present locus beyond the horizon of our inner, subjective world.
The Unconscious, in other words, is of a piece with gods and underworlds, a way of comprehending What We Are Not in terms of What We Are. It’s literally what happens when we rebuild Mount Olympus into our skull. This explains why it’s such a curious double gesture, why, in the course of disempowering us, it allows us to own our abjection. My skull, after all, remains my skull, and if What We Are Not resides inside my skull, then ‘I own it.’ We bitch about our Unconscious to be sure, but we cluck and joke about it as well, the same way we do when our children are obstinate or wilful. ‘A Freudian Slip’ is almost always an occasion for smiles, if not laughter.
And now I want to argue there probably isn’t any such thing. Why?
Well, as critics in the past have noted (most famously, Descartes), it seems incoherent to talk about ‘having’ experiences, memories, beliefs, desires, and so on that you don’t have. The rejoinder, of course, is that we simply have to have these things if we’re to make any sense of the fact that we can make implicit things explicit. Humans act out all the time: short of the Unconscious, how are we going to make sense of that?
One way to redescribe this dilemma is to say that we have this powerful intuition of sufficiency, that consciousness is something whole. But we find ourselves continually confronted with indirect evidence of insufficiency, ways that compel us to conclude that consciousness is incomplete.
The ‘Unconscious,’ I now think, is simply another way for us to have our cake and eat it to, to acknowledge insufficiency while endorsing a kind of orthogonal, crypto-sufficiency.
One of the things I find the most embarrassing about my old post-structuralism turns on precisely this point: I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve referred to the ‘post-modern subject,’ decentred, fragmented, and so on and so forth. I now see that this was little more than dogmatic window-dressing: surrendering the Cartesian subject is pretty damn cheap. You acknowledge that the sufficiency of the Self is illusory, and yet you blithely assume that all its constituents are quite sufficient, or at least sufficient enough to keep all the traditional discourses afloat–which is what you have to do to rationalize the institutions that make them possible (so much of the discourse you find in the humanities, if you think about it, is given over to justifying the institutional importance of the humanities).
It strikes me as laughable that I literally thought I was radical, that I had defected from the traditional game of giving and asking for reasons in any meaningful way. It seems little more than fashion, now, a product of an old ingroup self-identification. There is certainly nothing ‘radical’ about it, and even less that is courageous. If you buy into the ‘decentred post-modern subject’ you’re cringing in the trenches with everyone else, bragging because at least you fired your rifle into the air. But you’re as much an intellectual coward as those you critique–or at least far from the hero you think you are (but then, we’re pretty much all cowards here in the post-industrial West, or any place where sales and the consensus of ingroup peers worry you more than the Mob or the Censors.)
Why? Because the Question of Sufficiency pertains to everything. Why should we suppose, for instance, that norms are sufficient? Or purpose or even intentionality more generally? What does it mean to yield the house when you leave the walls, floor, and roof intact?–except that you think you’re cooler because your interior designer decorates in French.
The Unconscious is yet another concession to sufficiency. The prospect of Radical Insufficiency, the possibility that we’re wrong not only about the subject, but everything subjective as well, suggests that very little might separate the projection of psychologies (gods, demons, spirits) beyond the rim of the world and the projection of intentionalities (beliefs, desires, memories) beyond the rim of consciousness. In other words, it suggests there’s just no such thing as the Unconscious.
So what is there? I mean, there has to be something that explains all our neuroses…
And there is: the mad, biomechanical complexities that comprise the brain.
Note how dramatically this transforms the old landscape. Gone is the bipartite geography of consciousness and Unconscious, the strangely reassuring sense of some Cold War stand-off between antithetical rivals. If we see ‘the mad, biomechanical complexities that comprise the brain’ as a substitute for the Unconscious, then in a sense you would have to say that everything is ‘unconscious,’ insofar as those mad, biomechanical complexities exhaust the brain.
But if everything is ‘unconscious,’ what does it mean to be conscious?
This absurdity suggests that what we’re actually talking about are different levels of description, one psychological, the other neural. The fact is, once we concede the possibility that the projection of the traditional/intuitive categories of consciousness to explain the insufficiencies of consciousness (the ways our actions exceed our awareness) is not quite coherent insofar as we’re assuming the sufficiency of intentionality to explain its insufficiency, then the whole game changes. We can take what Dennett calls the ‘intentional stance’–a psychological perspective–to get a grip on causal complexities that would boggle us otherwise, certainly, but as with taking the ‘design stance’ with reference to evolution, we always have to be ready to retreat, to acknowledge the gross, cartoonish nature of this heuristic way of speaking, and be ready to concede the biomechanical where necessary. In a sense, we would be talking about an ‘As-if-unconscious,’ one that, paradoxically, is completely coextensive with consciousness–leaving us with the suggestion that consciousness is itself, somehow, unconscious.
And this just goes to show that consciousness itself is every bit as much up for grabs as the Unconscious here–that perhaps we need to reserve a family plot.
But that’s another fucking twisted story.
I’ve been reading Focault’s History of Madness. So, since I am holding a hammer I’m going to pretend this post is a nail.
It seems to me that after centuries of struggle with the project of the Enlightenment, we are (in at least some senses) thrown back on the Medieval conception of the Human.
Replace the tyrrany of a diety with the tyrrany of cause and effect. Madness, rather than the bubbling up of the Unconscious, reverts instead to the true nature of man and a critical analysis of human beings becomes not so much impossible as pointless. Madness and human nature recede from the intentional, the conscious, to the inevitable; from the province of reason to the province of Fate. God. Call it what you will.
There can be no justice in this new/old world, justice means nothing. There is only the inevitable consequences of Sin: death, pain and suffering. Only, in place of Heaven we have substituted either oblivion or the fantasy of scientific immortality, so the possibility of justice retreats beyond even the mythical.
Check out Derrida’s essay “Descartes’ Cogito and the History of Madness” (it’s in his collection Writing and Difference) if you haven’t already – it contains Derrida’s devastating attack on Foucault’s approach in “Madness and Civilization” and I always make my introductory students read it after reading the first chapter of M&C (Stultifera Navis).
Derrida’s critiques of Foucault caused Foucault to change his philosophical approach in all later works; Foucault also died angry with Derrida, which should tell you who won (also, incidentally, historians tend to hate M&C because, well, a lot of the history didn’t actually happen). I think it might have some interesting applications to the theory you’re starting to formulate above!
Oh, I am terribly out of my depth, as always. =)
I thank you for your excellent reading suggestion. This essay was the very next thing on my reading list, in fact.
If by “interesting applications” you mean it undermines it completely, I cannot disagree. Relying on Focault, or an historical interpretation of the “Medieval” concept of humanity is probably a mistake. As usual, my best bet is “I suspend judgment” a la Sextus Empiricus.
I think this is a wonderful analogy – Derrida be damned. The difference of course is that in this case we’re talking about a tyranny that we are – it’s not simply tyranny all the way down as the later Foucault would have it, but tyranny all the way in. The problem for this kind of reading, as with all philosophical speculation, arise when you begin asking that most honest of second-order questions, ‘How do you know?” I think this is where things really become ‘tyrannical’: when you understand just how ineffectual intentional philosophy has become.
I think where I object with the above is the idea that there was ever a medieval conception of the human, or whether any such totalizing statements are possible. If I think about the present day, it doesn’t seem reasonable to say that we have consensus opinions about anything: do all Americans believe in small governement (etc.)?
So I always get suspicious, as a historian, whenever we start dealing with appeals to past totalizing things like that because it stifles dissent or assumes homogeneity where there was, in fact, none.
As best as I can tell, the only universals we’ve got in the present are logic and math – and the contention that people have a diversity of opinions (some of which are good, some of which are bad, many of which are illogical). I suspect that the same was true in the past. But the past is always going to be a foreign country to us, you know?
Scott: My understanding of the later Foucault is that he’s sympathetic with what you’re saying. Although power is, essentially, a transcendent universalizing structure, its productive capacity of the human condition suggests that tyranny is a part of us in addition to something we do and are subjected to. That being said, Foucault isn’t really my thing so I could be mistaken: I’m a Deleuze/Derrida fan!
I’m a former Branch Derridean myself – so my understanding of Foucault is likely far more superficial than yours, and definitely more decayed for disuse! The Order of Things is the only text I go back to anymore.
As for the philosophers of difference, I sincerely hope you recover soon. It’s the empty can, as they say, that rattles the loudest. I’m reading Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow right now, and so far I think it’s the best compendium of the research that, for me, undermined the kind of faith in theoretical cognition you need to make exclusive philosophical commitments. Sperber’s paper “The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning” (which you can find on his site, linked on the main page) has another great overview. My “Rhapsophy” piece gives an example of ‘parastruction,’ the way you can game ambiguities to underscore the arbitrariness of various inferential moves at high levels of abstraction, using Laruelle’s nonphilosophy as an example, but it can be applied to deconstruction in a similar way.
I actually see Deleuze and Derrida (the second D&D) more symptomatically now – but still interesting all the same. Have you had a chance to check out Haglund’s book yet?
And where does language fit in with all this? Is people communicating and failing to communicated just reflective of the biological origins of our minds, or do you think the use of language allows us to behave a little – just a little – less unconsciously than all the other animals on this planet?
I’d argue that we are very successful tool users. From a very early developmental age humans attempt to manipulate their environment in various ways – via tactile manipulation, movement, emotion and fairly quickly language. It doesn’t take long for humans (and really all primates) to figure out that if they make this set of sounds or this set of gestures they get rewarded or something happens.
Language is just another tool.
And like most tools, when we have that tool we tend to think about problems as a function of how they can be manipulated by the tool we have.
Miscommunication arises in the same way that different tool use happens. Not everyone uses their hammer the same way. Not everyone holds a nail the same way when hammering. It also arises from not wanting to be manipulated in the way others want. Mostly, I think it comes from people having a very specific, personal understanding on how language can manipulate based on their environment and the way their personal brain took in and processed that information, and then that coming into conflict with someone else’s notion of words. Connotations are important, and no one can separate out what a word’s definition is with what it means to them or what it means to the social group.
If we grew hoes or hammers or swords out of our body, maybe. But then ‘prehensile appendage’ isn’t very apt either.
No. Human language is something very peculiar, very special. ‘Tool’ doesn’t come close to tapping its characteristics.
It certainly doesn’t, I agree. But it’s an interesting way of framing the statements. Heck, ‘tool use’ itself is far more profound a concept than you might think; it implies learned behavior, environmental cues, syllogistic reasoning, predictive behavior and neurological memory. There are interesting hints that things like tool use can be passed down genetically to offspring as well, which is profound.
Ultimately comparing language to tool use is useful primarily for its predictive qualities; it’s useful to inform new experiments.
I never said it wasn’t an interesting way – and I’d be amazed if overlapping structures weren’t actually engaged. But you stated something like “just another tool,” if memory serves right.
Language as a tool might work.
Just not as our tool.
Scott–the mind is nothing special, the unconscious is nothing special, but language is? That seems like a curious stance to take. I’m still trying to flesh out my idea of what language is, but when it’s finished it will be heavily doused in memetic terminology and sound more like a symbiotic conceptual organism, that evolved not precisely as a tool for human use, but as an uber-meme that, to date, has had the survival fitness of its constituent words and concepts tied to the extent to which they serve various and disparate human ends. It’s very similar to g2-randomstringofblah’s position, except the direction of fit is tweaked, to where language’s predominant use as (mostly) a communication tool is how it has thus far managed to propogate itself in our intellectual environment.
And if someone could point me toward some strong challenges to the whole memetics project, I’d love to have my thinking tweaked, if not radically altered. I get off on restructuring my worldview. I think that’s what people don’t like about us philosophers, by the way, Scott; we make them uncomfortable with our expectation that worldviews should be malleable in the face of insurmountable inconsistencies.
I’m just saying none of these things are what they seem, is all.
The ‘problem’ with memetics is that there really is no way to say what a meme is in natural terms with anything approaching the kind of rigour with which we can say what a ‘gene’ is. So as a result, it’s hard not to see ‘memetics’ as a speculative discourse examining the social nature of linguistic ideation through the metaphoric lense of genetics. Personally, I think this is a very interesting thing to do – so long as it’s speculative nature is recognized.
I’m with you, Scott, and would go even further to say that it is part speculation and part tautology. Speculation in the lack of hard empirical correlates, and tautology in it being indisputable that incremental changes occur in the way words and concepts are used and applied, and that those changes are to a recognizable degree analogous to genetic mutations.
That’s the firmest stance I’ve been able to take thus far, and in fact this post was the first time I ever shared with anyone how I would like to find a line or argument that made it compelling to believe language is its own creature, living some non-empirical correlate to life that’s just as real as the carbon-based variety, and that survives based on evolutionary principles that have naught to do with some teleological drive to best serve humans.
It’s cut from the same cloth as ideas that cropped up in my childhood mind when speculating about non-carbon-based alien life no longer blew my mind enough.
I think that’s what people don’t like about us philosophers, by the way, Scott; we make them uncomfortable with our expectation that worldviews should be malleable in the face of insurmountable inconsistencies.
Our worldview that worldviews should be mallable?
I think it’s to a large degree just because were yet another worldview coming along, preening superiority along with the rest.
It’s worth remembering, I think, that Dawkins regrets coining the concept of the meme, for precisely the reasons Scott specifies.
If I could answer this, I would have a million dollars. The real question is one of who or – even worse – what is communicating? Once the unconscious yields to neurology, then the scales and disproportions involve become literally cosmic. Everything depends on what consciousness turns out to be, and how it’s related to the literally unimaginable complexities that make it possible.
So i guess that when you’re talking about these ‘scales and disproportions’ you mean all the ways in which we, (apparently) consciously or otherwise, do things like confirmation bias, in-group identification etc etc, or am I wrong? But assuming I’m right there, how mechanical do you think this process of consciousness is? I’ve started a course in psychology recently and had to read ‘How the Mind Works’ by Steven Pinker; coming from studying history before, I was shaking with rage in parts! But one thing that really got me about that book was his pretty much complete dismissal of any real role for experience, beyond allowing biological processes to play themselves out. In your model of consciousness, does it in some way just do the same thing, just plough through experiences and use them for raw material, without really being affected by those experiences?
It’s not a complete dismissal of the experience’s role as it is an exhaustive reappraisal of its apparent role. The fact is, psychology and cognitive neuroscience are discovering some really, really unsettling things. Once you appreciate how bad humans are at theory, as a simple matter of empirical fact, then the time-honoured, humanities habit of dismissing scientific findings on the basis of speculative grounds goes from itchy and embarrassing to fatal and irresponsible. It’s back to square one – which should be more exciting than infuriating.
What do you mean by experience, Al?
Experience? I guess the stimuli that some part of our mind takes note of and processes, though feel free to tell me all the problems with that definition!
stimuli that some part of our mind takes note of and processes
Would biological processes cover that?
Callan – regarding whether a model of biological processing would cover how our brain / mind takes in experience, I guess I would say something about different levels of explanation, whether we’re incorrectly trying to explain how the ‘software’ works in terms of the ‘hardware’ it’s running on etc etc, but as Delavagus and Kalbear said all that below far more knowledgeably than I ever could I don’t think I’ll bother!
Scott – I can see where you’re coming from, and it does make a lot of sense. The problem I have is the moral consequences of all this argumentation. I guess that the ultimate aim of raising awareness of our neuropsychological limitations is that it might allow us to in some way make allowance for them. That seems fair, but it doesn’t seem fair to me to dismiss all the criticisms that people in the humanities make of science.
So, going to specifics, saying that humans are extremely bad at theory might be scientifically accurate, but even if you do succeed in raising awareness of this I don’t really see how it will directly lead to the world becoming a better place. Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me that the implication of a focus on awareness raising, in political terms, is that experts in the field of neuropsychology should play a much greater role in politics, public policy/life etc etc. I don’t know about you, but after the mass f***-up of the so-called experts in the years leading up to the current financial crisis a new rule of the experts doesn’t fill me with much joy!
Looking at theoretical criticisms of this kind of idea, the person I keep coming back to is Rowan Williams (current Archbishop of Canterbury, I’m not sure how much exposure he’s had outside the UK). One of his main themes is about the danger of imposing any particular (rational) interpretation over and above all others, and that does seem to me be one of the main risks of the scientific model. He’s much cleverer than me, so rather than trying to spell out his argument I’ll just quote him (this is from his book on Dostoyevsky): ‘the attempt to approach human affairs as if they belonged to the world of evidence and determined outcome is bound to end in violence’. If we accept that he might have a point there, then it does raise the question of whether all this rational argumentation is really taking us where we want to go. I’m not saying scientific progress shouldn’t be made, but I am asking whether we think that this is the way to make moral progress.
Can this post be reduced to:
“What is it to think?”
Because when we talk about unconscious or conscious processes, we’re talking about cognition, or the epiphenomenal waste-product of cognition. And as best as I can figure, thinking is ‘pushing signals around for a purpose’. That last word is so dirty though.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could stick the ghosts of Ludwig Boltzmann, Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, and James Maxwell in a room and have them debate this for a while?
Freud’s coke-fueled nonsense is barred from the seance though.
Why is purpose a dirty word?
Winning arguments appears to actually have biological fitness functions built into it. Manipulation of others – getting more people to like you, to trust you, to value you – all have obvious purpose, even at a second order of value. We see how language can manipulate others to get things that we want. Why would it be odd to try and game that system?
For a similar set of reasons intelligent design isn’t taught in biology classes.
This makes zero sense to me, Scott. To me that sounds like you’ve just slammed communication, marketing and debate disciplines.
I’m not sure why. Just take a moment and check out linguistic, semantics, and philosophy of language on Wikipedia. “Just another tool” language is not.
Actually, strike that; it sounds like you’re slamming the general notion of defining what things are for, even if it’s known. Are you upset that biologists tell you what the purpose of a heart is? What mitochondria are for?
Figuring out and experimenting on how linguistics evolved is a pretty big deal, and while I despise the evo-psych explanation most of the time (usually because of its use more than its informative value) doing things like anthropological and primate biological experimentation is very useful – especially when doing experiments we could not reasonably do on humans.
If you tossed in a bottle of whiskey, there would be at least two fist fights and at least one make out session.
Probably not too funny, given Turing’s tragic end though. There’s an argument for atheism for you.
“we’re pretty much all cowards here in the post-industrial West.” This was an interesting comment. Perhaps say more about this? In what ways do you feel you’re being “cowardly”?
Other than for the simple reason I sit my well-fed ass every day in environmentally irresponsible comfort passing well-fed judgements on the nature truth, society, and consciousness?
Spiders scare the fuck out me!
Oh, me too. I don’t think they evolved on this planet. That’s not cowardice, that’s an instinctive reaction to the presence of something extraterrestial and possibly evil.
The connection between watched and eight eyes watching, that was the source of everything sorcerous or otherwise.
I like this post quite a lot, mainly because it pushes the most narcissistic thing I ever read down one post. I’m not sure if your previous blog post was meant to be an apology or not, but it was easily the most self-congratulatory thing I’ve ever read, surpassing Orson Scott Card in hyperbole, paranoia, and preening in the glorious light of one’s own intelligence as one snidely dismisses the critiques of others as unworthy to be heard. You were seriously channeling the Other Scott in that last post, it’s good to see this Scott back, and that you’ve no longer been possessed by the spirt of the great Mormon demon of scifi/fantasy. 😉
Can’t a guy spoof himself anymore? But then, context is everything, I guess. For my part, after ten years of being accused of e-stink, I think I’m allowed a little stupid fun.
The Dude really got a lot of people on edge, I can tell. I’ve received several emails from people freaked from vicious online encounters about me, but I tell you, it’s mostly all ODE stuff. Go back and check it out in a few months time, and I guarantee you it won’t seem half so charged with whatever it is… Cardishness, I guess.
Which is especially funny as folks were basically done talking about it until you brought it up 6 months later.
This really does own you, doesn’t it?
ODE != Ordinary Differential Equations?
Actually, Scott, I’d say it owns you. I had dropped it for a very long time. I had made my peace with it, and I’m pretty close to making my peace with it now that I think I understand some of how you’re choosing to problematize gender.
I’ll make this my last comment on the genderfail, at least here. You are right in that it’s certainly not particularly productive for me any more. I’ll just leave you with a couple questions that you might consider. Or not. Up to you I suppose. No need to answer them.
Why is it, do you think, that no female feminists have stuck around to talk to you here? Even after being asked to come?
Why have you not chosen to go to other blogs and post there and answer questions there?
Do you understand the concept of a safe space on the internet? Or why they are important to have?
How do you feel about some of the obvious misogynistic slurs that have happened at places like Peter Watts’ blog?
What would it take to reconsider your stake in sexism?
Heh. What owns me is this board, which eats my comments as soon as I post more than 4 of ’em in a given time period from a specific computer.
Guess it depends a lot on what ‘this’ is, Scott. I’d certainly say that accusations of misogyny certainly own you – or at least your reactions to them. In any case, I’m done talking about genderfail here until you bring it up again; I didn’t realize you didn’t want to talk about it any more no matter what.
Some questions though. They might be leading, though I’m actually interested in your answers to them regardless of what my conceptions of them are.
Why do you think that no female feminists have come to discuss with you things here? They have been asked by others to come by.
Why do you think that if they do engage you in any way, they do so on their own blog?
Why have you refused to engage others on other people’s blogs?
What do you mean by the phrase ‘everyone is welcome here’ when referring to your blog? And (if different) what do you think it actually does mean in practice?
Do you know what is meant by the term ‘a safe space’?
And finally: how much harm do you believe that depictions of misogyny in common media cause? Do you think that the harm there is greater or worse or about the same as the harm in labelling someone a misogynist?
I have no idea what the problem is. At least you’re not coming up like a credit card number anymore!
I actually talk about many, many other things far more than I do gender – and it’s MY reputation on the line. What’s your excuse?
1) Actually, several have. Two this last time. Several more stemming from the previous kerfuffle. I answer questions as best I am able, and ask a question, and they don’t come back. You have to ask them why. I certainly don’t adopt moons tactics.
2) You have to ask them.
3) I don’t engage them on their blogs, quite frankly, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be treated with any civility. ‘Shiteater,’ ‘roach,’ and other monikers like that, whether used directly or endorsed, suggest to me that my appearance would simply be an occasion for name-calling, shaming, what have you.
4) By everyone I mean everyone. If a safe space means, ‘A space where you can make claims without being called on to justify them,’ then this is definitely not a safe place – least of all for me, given that I’m continuously being called to justify my claims by many, many people. If a safe place means, ‘A space where civility begets civility,’ then, yes, this is a safe place.
5) A great deal of harm. And given that things seem to be getting worse as opposed to better, I think it’s time that old strategies are reassessed, hard questions be asked, and new strategies be explored. Do you think otherwise?
The thing that kills me Kalbear is that people ask me why I put up with you the way I do! Would Moon? That’s right. It’s open and reasonable in a ‘different way.’
Seriously, this board…what the fuck.
My excuse? I talk about a whole lot of stuff on many other places. When I’m here, I tend to talk about misogyny because your book is a great example of it and you’re a great example of an author who justifies depictions of it. Are you seriously chiding me for coming to your blog and staying on topic? Sorry that I don’t find much of the other stuff you write all that interesting. Write more about football or other authors or reviews of neuroscience books (instead of how the book validates your views) or video games or preschool teaching methods.
Though this is the second time you’ve implied that this is the only thing I talk about and use as evidence the posts I make on your blog. Interesting, that.
I’ve asked quite a few people why they don’t post on your blog. One person told me that they don’t hate themselves that much. Another told me that being the only female feminist posting would be too much stress. Another told me that they didn’t want to be the representation of feminism and speak for all feminists here, which was what they’d feel like. Many were bothered by your inability to answer questions or discuss things and only respond with more questions about that specific person instead of what was being discussed. More were bothered by the fanboys sweeping in to your defense, or the likelihood of being insulted based on personal characteristics or being threatened with sexual violence.
My interpretation is that they do not see civility here. They do not see reasoned discussion. And for many of the same reasons you will not post elsewhere, they won’t post here. Now, if that is true – does that change your view that this place is a place of civility and where everyone is welcome? Probably not, and more’s the pity. It’s just funny to see the distinction between what you think this places is and what many others think this place is.
As to safe space, I figured as much. Here’s a good simple explanation.. Sady has a really good set of examples of why places like these are important. At the very least a safe space is a place where if you’re a feminist you aren’t threatened by misogynistic slurs and attacks, and where you can discuss feminist issues without male presences. Some places are more strict about things like this than others, mind you, especially on the internet.
As to you ‘tolerating’ me, whatever floats your boat. You’re welcome to ban me as you like. I’d be amused by it and the discussions about you would continue without your input, but whatever. Just keep in mind that I suspect that there are as many people who ask me why I put up with your antics and keep trying to engage as those who ask you why you do the same. What kills me is the thought that I’m enabling you; instead of creating a place where things get discussed, we get conversations like this where my personal credentials get dragged into conversations instead of answering the questions. And every time I ask more questions that allow you to turn it around on me and then ask personal questions without, ya know, just leaving, it makes you think that it’s somehow a positive thing to do. Same thing with Sajaan – that perhaps this method of engagement makes you think that somehow you’re being charitable and fair, when all it means is that you’ve found a couple people with a hell of a lot more patience or willingness to keep gnawing at that bone than most.
Huh. I think I’ve convinced myself. At the very least, hopefully if I shut up some actual feminists will come by to talk to you. And hopefully you’ll listen.
Which questions have I refused to answer?
If I chide you for your persistence Kalbear, it’s because it feels like you keep recycling the same questions over and over. I think it would be fair to say that I’ve spent more time answering and replying to you than any other ten people put together over the past few years! So you can appreciate how from an author’s standpoint that might seem a little extreme, little obsessive. And it always seems to home in on the same point: my books ARE misogynistic and I REFUSE to acknowledge as much. So at want point should an author regard an online interlocutor acting obsessively?
But I’m glad we’ve cleared that up: for years now I’ve been saying that you believed your reading was canonical, and that’s why you can’t relent – which you had always denied.
As for making this a ‘safe place,’ what do you think I need to change?
Oops, forgot to reply to everything.
” I think it’s time that old strategies are reassessed, hard questions be asked, and new strategies be explored. Do you think otherwise?”
I think that’s an interesting concept. I don’t know if I agree with you that things are getting worse or if we’re just becoming a lot more aware of them.
I also think that if you’re going to reassess strategies and ask hard questions, it’s probably a lot better to do so without the baggage of problematic behavior. I think something significantly more overt will end up being successful at change compared to any subtle subversions of genre that use all the trappings of said genre or even overemphasize them. I don’t think the way to change porn is to make porn even more porny. Being honest is an important thing to do – but so is being very direct. Subversion of tropes is almost never effective. Activism has been significantly better as a way to affect real change.
And ultimately I think that this is something that shouldn’t be done by you or I. Certainly not to start.
Since I’m here…
“Which questions have I refused to answer?” ah, we’ll play word games now. Stating ‘why don’t you ask them’ as an answer isn’t refusing to answer, I admit – it’s just not engaging the question. I could go through and list all the questions I’ve asked or other people have asked that you’ve avoided or ducked, but we both know that’s not fruitful. I’m done playing that game with you; you can simply take it as my opinion that you avoid answering a lot of questions and that many others have that opinion of you as well.
“But I’m glad we’ve cleared that up: for years now I’ve been saying that you believed your reading was canonical, and that’s why you can’t relent – which you had always denied.” – wait – are you actually saying that me saying the books depict misogyny is insinuating that I think my reading is canonical? Really? Okay. I guess that’s actually reasonable given how many people actually argued against that at Westeros. I would have thought Earwa as a depiction of misogyny was pretty well agreed on, but perhaps not.
I’ve been very plain about why I’ve been coming back here, Scott. I guess my view of it is not as important as yours to you; so be it. Maybe this time will be the time you understand…sure, why not. I keep trying to indicate you via various ways that the methods that you’re using to engage with your readers is harmful – to you, to discussion, to women in general. That if your goal is to make everyone welcome and have everyone talking your actions are anathema to that goal. If your goal is to get people to think Hard Thoughts about feminism or modernity, to engage in discussion about it – you’re one of the biggest obstacles in that, in my view. When feminists or women are actively avoiding this place – and these are people who have engaged you in other places in a fairly positive way, mind you – then I think you’ve caused more harm than good.
As to what you could make this a safe place? Well, nothing is going to make it a safe space, if that’s what you’re talking about; as long as you’re writing about rape and misogyny there’s no way you can avoid the triggers. As to what would make it more welcoming? Stopping interrogation of every person who comes in would be a good start. Listening instead of explaining. Addressing questions instead of asking another question about the person or their questioning technique. Look at blogs like Abercrombie’s or the Newton blog that Sci linked as an example of how to engage fans or other people. Ultimately I don’t think you’re interested in that sort of dialog – you like the flame wars and the heated debate, I think. You certainly brag about being in them enough, about the wounds that you’ve had and the discussions you’ve had. That’s disappointing to me, but that does appear to be what you want.
And that’s why I’m out of here. At this point it appears you thrive on getting those flame wars and big fights going. You actively try to get them going, and if they’re not going enough you’ll go after another target (see: Theo). I’m realizing that I’m not participating in a discussion with you; all I’m doing is enabling this behavior you enjoy while likely chasing off people who could actually discuss things with better credentials and more interesting points. The badger avatar was apt according to my wife, but it’s time I admit my defeat and stop working on this bone. Stop harming things more than I help.
Good luck, Scott. With everything.
Realize I’m a bit late to the party on this one but Kal’s statement of women worrying they’d be “threatened with sexual violence” on this blog really surprised me. I’ll admit to not poring over these exchanges with any huge amount of focus, but I’ve never seen ANYTHING like that posted here. Scott tends to be more confrontational than I would personally, but not in what I would consider an unfair way (and certainly not in a threatening one), and that goes for the rest of the regular posters as well. Given the subject matter being discussed (not considered “polite conversation” by any stretch), I would argue that this blog is pretty civil. If “civility” means never discussing in detail anything deemed unpleasant, it’s impossible to hold a civil conversation about this subject matter and give it any substance. And as for the comment about desiring a place without ANY male presence, that too is troubling. I absolutely agree men can never have the same perspective on rape that women have (just as a Caucasian person in the U.S. can never have the same perspective on racism as an African American would). But I think it’s counterproductive to want to exclude men from the conversation entirely.
I too am a bit late to the party here. Perhaps no one will read this. I suspect kalbear won’t, and it’s several of his claims that I won’t to flag.
First, a caveat: I am not, nor am I likely ever to be, well-versed in the long history of this debate. I understand that kalbear and Scott have gone back and forth on the subject of the supposed misogyny of Scott’s books and/or of Scott himself at great length at other times.
Still, I want to say a few things here.
First of all, it seems to me that kalbear is making a fundamental mistake, though it’s an understandable one. Bear with me here for a minute. First he writes: “I tend to talk about misogyny because your book is a great example of it” (I read this as implying: the book is misogynistic). Then he writes: “I would have thought Earwa as a depiction of misogyny was pretty well agreed on.” Related is this thought of his: “I don’t think the way to change porn is to make porn even more porny.”
It seems to me that this reflects an argumentative strategy that rests on a sort of logical or semantic mistake. What I say here isn’t intended to exonerate Scott from the charges of his critics; it’s intended merely to point out that if _this_ is their argument, then it’s no good. Here’s the problem:
The transition, it seems to me, is from “depicts misogyny” to “therefore, misogynistic.” In many cases this transition is warranted. Some examples: if a book depicts violence, then it is a violent book; if a book depicts comic situations, then it is comedic; and so on. But the transition does not go through in many other cases. For instance: if a book depicts racism, then that book is racist; if a book depicts jingoism, then that book is jingoistic. Similarly: if a film depicts pornography, then it is itself pornography. (This one’s trickier, and I’d prefer not to get sidetracked on it. But — Boogie Nights, anyone?)
Simply put, it is a mistake to move from “this book depicts misogyny” (a fact that, in the case of Scott’s books, is indeed pretty well agreed on, I’d think) to “this book is misognyistic” — let alone the more extreme conclusion that the author holds those views himself. Again, this doesn’t exonerate Scott; but it does show, I think, that kalbear’s argument — or what I can make of it, anyway — is ineffective.
Now, let’s think more about this: “I don’t think the way to change porn is to make porn even more porny.” First of all, I think that, as an analogy to the issues tackled in Scott’s books, this fails. (Though it does have a kind of satisfying rhetorical punch to it, doesn’t it?) But even putting that aside, I think that this sort of thing _can_ indeed happen. From whence came the category of ‘erotica’? I have no sociological data to back this up, but I would think that ‘erotica’ (which is just a kind of pornography) arose in order to distinguish itself from the excesses of mainstream porn. We can view porn, that is, as a sort of engine of self-critique. Porn, taken as a whole, has become so extreme — has made itself “even more porny” — in a way that calls into question, for many people, the entire industry, indeed the entire idea of pornography itself. Hence, ‘erotica’ tries to avoid the taint (so to speak) by inventing a new label.
Think of it this way: would there be the sort of outrage against porn that exists today if all we had, still, was Playboy? I don’t think so.
But again, this is a bad analogy for what Scott’s books deal with and how they deal with them. At the same time, there is something instructive here, I think. It strikes me as entirely plausible to think that following might occur. Take someone who has only a passing familiarity with pornography and who doesn’t find anything wrong with it or the industry that creates it. Then expose that person to extreme forms of pornography. In many cases, I think, the effect is to demonstrate to that person that there’s something wrong with pornography as such, or at least with the mainstream porn industry as it exists today.
Pushing against limits in this way can be quite effective, just as a classic argumentative tool of philosophers is to push to the farthest possible extreme the consequences of a particular view in order to try to convince someone that that view, even when _not_ pushed to its extreme, is inherently problematic.
(For instance, take the view that it is never, under any circumstances, right to kill an innocent person. Sounds right to me! But imagine this: a brutal space-faring race swoops down upon Earth, announces that it will annihilate all life on this planet as well as on every other planet in the universe, unless we get together and kill Joe, a fun-loving fellow who’s never harmed a fly. Assuming there is no wiggle room here, that we’ve done all we can to avoid killing Joe, isn’t it the case that it’s morally permissible — indeed, morally _obligatory_ — that we kill Joe? Therefore, it cannot be the case that it is never, under any circumstances, right to kill an innocent person.)
Oh, I also meant to register my puzzlement and alarm at the following.
“Many were bothered by your [Scott’s] inability to answer questions or discuss things and only respond with more questions about that specific person instead of what was being discussed.”
I understand that it can be frustrating to talk to Scott, because often arguments and rhetorical flourishes that would work with most other people fail to work with him. The thing is, though, they fail to work because they’re bad or irrelevant arguments — or simply rhetorical flourishes. The idea that Scott doesn’t answer questions… it seems to me that there is overwhelming contradictory evidence to be found here on this blog.
Second, out-and-out alarm:
“… the likelihood of being insulted based on personal characteristics or being threatened with sexual violence.”
Really?! I’m horrified at the thought! Show me evidence of this, especially the latter — if there is any — please! I’ve not followed every conversation on this blog — far from it — but I can’t imagine the TPB being home to threats of sexual violence.
I think I’ve been pretty scrupulous about trying to meet people in the middle on alot of these issues. It’s good way to get some alone time, argue with yourself… Wait a tick – that’s the next aphorism!
Excellent points all. And I’m glad someone else besides me pointed out their shock at seeing that “threat of sexual violence” claim.
I’m wondering about the semantics of ‘depiction of misogyny’ in how any party uses those words.
It strikes me that the books are not a 100% depiction of misogyny. Like a comedian apes someone or something in order to satirise it, the comedian does not use a 100% depiction. But they do depict the person or subject to some degree. You can’t make fun of something without depicting it to some degree, otherwise how else would you identify what your making fun of?
Am I wrong thinking the books don’t use 100% depiction? Because if something purely, 100% depicted misogyny, I’d be inclined to think it’s a misoginist text as well.
Which is where Kalbear might be, perhaps? Just seeing a 100% depiction of misogyny?
I absolutely agree men can never have the same perspective on rape that women have
I’m inclined to think one female rape victim will not always have the same perspective on rape as another female rape victim.
I think a false sense of there being a cohesive group (who somehow all think the same way) is ironically getting in the way of us being a somewhat cohesive species.
Fair enough. I agree that it’s generally risky to associate any one set of views or perspectives with any large group. I do think it’s probably _mostly_ accurate to say that IN GENERAL, the average man would not have the same sense of perspective on rape as the average woman, for whom it is a much more (relatively speaking) present threat. But your point is well taken.
I think what he meant is that we all wanna look good around our chosen niche ingroup, (be that Republican Housewives, heroin addicts, highly trained literary scholars, biochemical engineers, or forum trolls) rather than actually engage with other groups that have tough questions.
I sell “R. Scott Bakker is Not A Sexist!” t-shirts by the way. I hear they’re all the rage on Three Pound Brain these days.
I first read this as ‘is not Asexual.’
But then this would actually blunt quite a few spearpoints, wouldn’t it?
So the mind is one comprehensive machine, and what we call our unconscious is just another “god in the gap” so to speak?
Am I understanding this right, that you believe that the very concept was just putting the “divine” on another shelf that we thought biological determinism couldn’t reach?
I guess what makes me pause is I’m not sure how this is a new front for biological determinism, unless you’re saying to consider the individual in any way – as a conscious or unconscious entity – outside of the larger system is a mistake.
“System” being environment.
‘Biological determinism’ ran out of fronts quite some time ago. I actually look at it in second-order explanatory terms, those kinds of theoretical approaches that can command far-reaching consensus (which at our present socio-historical moment in time, means science). ‘Functional explanation’ is what I would use instead of ‘biological determinism.’
Why not confront the implications of that explanation then? That’s the more interesting facet, especially from scientific viewpoints.
What are the implications that are stated by the analogy of sranc to men?
Because I’ve been spending too much time doing this.
Kinda think even biomechanical implies a dualism. As if there’s the natural environment and then there’s machines.
Although in terms of various ideas of responsibility, distinguishing between what was there already and what changes we made is pretty pivotal. Perhaps just missplaced when you try to push it all the way to the biomechanical level – missplaced both in terms of responsibility and in terms of scientific evaluation.
this post strikes me more as autobiographical than informative about The Unconscious.
are you (RSB) simply saying that the notion that there is a singular “unconscious” no longer appeals to you, and that it seems more accurate to view cognition as multiple, semi-autonomous (or reentrant, etc.) neural structures competing for access to consciousness (e.g., is that more or less the biomechanical model to which you allude)?
that is, the problem with “the unconscious” is the “the”, not the “unconscious”. would ‘current nonconsciousnesses’ be better (albeit admittedly ungainly)?
if so, well, doesn’t everyone already think that? oops – i forgot – as i often do – about the ‘Discourse’ of the Humanities (Iz Seerius Biznuss!!)
outside of The Humanities, you get to think about things without the obligatory “logical plot twist” academics favor so much, like: ‘leaving us with the suggestion that consciousness is itself, somehow, unconscious.’
“And thus, it is, you see, A, and yet, somehow, on a deeper level, Not A”!
i see what you did there. but you didn’t have to – of course the conscious ‘half’ of the shitty outdated model of cognition is shitty, too.
the yanomamo aren’t great molecular biologists. we don’t ask them to sequence genes for us.
let the lintpickers pick lint and call it unicornium.
“the yanomamo aren’t great molecular biologists. we don’t ask them to sequence genes for us.
let the lintpickers pick lint and call it unicornium.”
Who are the lintpickers?
Beyond that, I do agree that the humanities has gotten a bad case of the swollen head over the years.
Conceptual autobiography. It’s one of those cases where you suddenly realize that an old concept, handy because of its familiarity, is probably doing no one any good. I’m largely communicating with people on the backside of the neurocurve, remember (which isn’t to say that people on the advance side aren’t any more mystified, just less conceptually encumbered). Just because you don’t care doesn’t mean that many people do. And it’s not as though neuroscience has crawled all that far from the alchemical ooze. All the things Marvin Minsky was say about geneticists a couple of generations back he’s now saying about neuroscientists!
Right, but the neuroscientists are at least utilizing the scientific method, so we can expect progress.
Exactly. The question is whether that ‘progress’ is going to take us places we want to go.
ochlocrat, I think “Who cares” because the neuro science findings, when handed to people educated by current humanties methods or applied to people educated by current humanities methods, is like giving a monkey a machine gun/using a machine gun on a monkey.
It’s like they teach very bad weapons handling methods/weapons mitigation methods – for a weapon which is only just being invented now.
So you’d rather Bakker shut up about it then? Since he wasn’t educated at all in neuroscience and was a product of the humanities.
Kal, you could ask for a description of the paradigm. Or you could randomly shoot into the darkness, picking out whatevers in a process of negative definition, by disqualifying everything else in the universe, one at a time ‘is it THIS!?’ ‘How about THIS!!!?’
Some friendly ribbing between disciplines:
Statistics vs Philosophy. ;-P
You may be right but I haven’t met anyone (except Kelhus, maybe?) who can be cognizant of conscience in its entirety in any given moment. Even if we try to be a nomad, our neromachine would propel us to have a purpose (to survive in the present) and thus define our course as shown in your book. I am not sure if one can ever live with the perpetuality of questions without going mad but I do agree that we at least do try to be open minded with oneself even before we try to define others such as sexist, feminist, etc. After all what we write here doesn’t really define who we are. I call it a momentary pondering. By the way, is Kelhus going somewhere with a purpose to get to somewhere or is his going the purpose? Also, can you say a little bit more abt your comment that you may not be able to write such a book as Neropath now you are a father? I didn’t get it.
A lot of crazy things happen to the kids in Neuropath.
@saajanpatel: Who are the lintpickers?
philosophers (continental and not), critical theorists, freudians, jungians, academics in English departments, psychoanalysts, etc – i.e. intellectual twaddle peddlers of assorted varieties. let’s call ’em ‘Tweeds’.
it’s the internet – i could try to be more discriminate, obviously, but i prefer to just cut loose with the blunderbuss of “shut-the-fuck-uppery” – or i would, if anyone was actually listening.
but they aren’t.
there’s collateral damage to some genuinely smart and insightful people, but hey, they were asking for it by hanging out with the wrong crowd. ‘sniping’ means typing and i can’t be bothered.
i think it’s a good money after bad situation – people spent a lot of time reading difficult texts that science has now obsolesced, and they want to believe that time wasn’t wasted, or that ‘theory’ in the humanities had some role in getting us to where we are today in understanding ‘the unconscious.’
but it didn’t.
or at least that’s my opinion, and i know i’m right because i’m me (and i have to believe that because that’s what the science shows, right?)
Depends I think on what “humanities” circumscribes. Linguistics and Economics, for example, I can see touching on the idea of the mind and people’s further understanding of it.
I figure those are edge cases, given there is applications of mathematics to both to pin them down somewhat.
I tried to, but couldn’t follow most of what you said. Probably reading those books is required…
But I know a little bit of the way myths are considered in certain psychology fields (see again James Hillman that I quoted many times in the past) and I wonder if you missed that aspect. Because gods, demons and spirits ARE dealt as psychology constructs.
Essentially a god, but also “science”, is projected outside. It exists out and before the world, so that they can explain the world’s existence. The god is the “frame” that holds the painting that is the world. Without the frame the painting falls. Science is the same since we are subject to it.
But gods are in truth the projection outside of what’s inside. Greeks myths are about internal states. They represent internal functions. Even if they didn’t know the technicalities of the unconscious as we know it today, they “mapped” it through myths.
This is where you may be wrong: those greek cartoons “worked”. They were cartoons, but sometimes even today they can help you figure out something in a more effective way. They aren’t “real” (because they are merely cartoons), but they do the job quite well.
So the part where you may be wrong is about your lack of faith onto the tools we’re given. Even if they aren’t totally reliable and exactly the truth, they could still work quite well, being just enough of what we need.
In the end it’s really about faith: you think that as human beings we are horribly flawed and lacking the tools to understand the world and ourselves. You keep punching holes in all our assumptions. Yet it could be that we have “just enough and not more”.
This absurdity suggests that what we’re actually talking about are different levels of description, one psychological, the other neural.
But it’s like with science. We know it’s a cartoon, and it works. Psychology is a cartoon, but it works. Map and territory.
Unconscious exists even with the paradigm shift, at least if we intend the activity the brain works that isn’t directly sampled into consciousness. At this level DEFINITIONS are given by consciousness. So unconscious is what consciousness deems it is.
What is consciousness on this level? Observation. Something observes something. You believe that there’s no consciousness, because there’s no “I” and actions happen after they are already decided. So, consciousness is the observation of an external process. A passive observation. (A) that observes something of what (B) does.
What is (B)? Unconscious. Because by its definition it’s the system of all things that fall beyond possible observation.
It is obviously a linguistic definition, because we define “unconscious” ALL that falls *outside* what we observe. So we don’t know what it really is.
But the word itself needs to exist.
So what is there? I mean, there has to be something that explains all our neuroses…
And there is: the mad, biomechanical complexities that comprise the brain.
That’s called the unconscious. The chemicals in the brain aren’t random. If you want to cancel unconscious then you need to explain dreams otherwise. Dreams are symbols, and symbols are mythical constructs. That underworld exists and is revealed to us in the forms we know.
I was a bit frustrated that Steven Rose decided to say, “As a neuroscientist I have doubts about this book”, but then he doesn’t say anything more:
Or, he does say more we just have to buy his book.
Sorry, review of Wayward Mind.
I have my doubts about neuroscience as well: it serves to remember just how young it is, and just how preliminary its findings are given the literally numbing complexities its trying to tease apart. It can’t even say how much information the brain processes: the numbers keep going up and up and up.
It’s just that, compared to all of out prior attempts to tackle these issues…
Oh, heh, I was just annoyed. I thought the “review” was more akin to a summary that cut off right as analysis began.
Sadly, as a plug it worked. I now want Rose’s book.
hilarious, u would discount the subconcious, like it doesn’t matter. right?
Not at all. It’s just not what we think it is. Why should that be ‘hilarious’?
If only because of a gap in my academic background, I’ve never understood what ‘the unconscious’ is supposed to mean (let alone what it’s supposed to be). I understand the concept of ‘that which is conscious’ (or ‘that of which we are conscious’), and I understand the concept of ‘that which is non-conscious’ (or ‘that of which we are not conscious’), but I’ve never understood this mysterious middle-ground.
Just like I can understand dead people, and I can understand non-dead people, but the undead? Makes no sense (except as fantasy).
I’ve always assumed that it breaks down like this: the non-conscious is _not_ able to be made conscious, whereas the unconscious _is_ able to be made conscious. The non-conscious is sharply separated form the conscious, whereas the unconscious — since it can be brought to consciousness — bears on consciousness. Is that about right?
But if we take some sort of scientific-naturalist picture of the world seriously — if we think that human beings are a wholly natural phenomenon — then it seems to follow immediately that ‘we’ (our ‘selves,’ our ‘minds,’ our ‘souls’) are the result of neural processes. The problem, of course (the ‘hard’ problem), is that it is deeply puzzling how to reconcile this picture with the first-personal, phenomenological picture that emerges from our actual worldly activities, our own sense of ourselves. We claim, for instance, to ‘mean’ things by our words (language-use is not the most evocative example, but it’s instructive). How can neural processes explain meaning one thing, as opposed to another thing, by a word or phrase? Meaning, like intentionality and consciousness generally, seems to exceed, on principle, neurobiological explanations.
But why? I study in a philosophy department that is deeply invested in the ‘nonreducibility’ of phenomena such as meaning, intentionality, etc., to naturalistic explanations So I’ve had numerous opportunities to challenge the view. In fact, just a few days ago I had two lengthy conversations, in turn, on this topic with an advanced (eighth-year!) graduate student and a faculty member. My position was this (the graduate student evinced astonishment, perplexity, and dismissal; the faculty member seemed to understand the problem perflectly well — and did not dismiss it):
From a scientific perspective, human beings are fundamentally no different from any other animal. We think that we can fully explain the lives of ‘lesser’ animals in scientific terms alone. (Dolphins might give some people pause. Others might be particularly fond of dogs and be unwilling to accept this when it comes to our canine friends. But if you keep moving down the chain, you’re bond to agree, I think, sooner or later: surely, insect-behavior — that is, insect-lives — can be explained as fully as we could possibly want in scientific terms!)*
* = Only they can’t! More on this below.**
Why, then, should we think that the explanation of human lives requires anything more? Yes, we are clearly unique among earthly species in a great number of ways. But why should we not chalk this up to the fact that we are simply animals of far greater sophistication than most or all other animals on this planet? Humans have complex language. This language allows us to communicate, to affect one another, to impact the world. We explain this ability in terms of ‘meaning’ and ‘understanding’ and such concepts. But what if what we’re _actually_ dealing with is simply one very complex system (a brain) interacting with another complex system of the same type (another brain)? An epiphenomenal view of consciousness — that is, a view that sees consciousness as being like steam rising from a steam engine, whereas other views see it as being the engine itself — would allow us to say that what we are conscious of is nothing more than a byproduct of brain processes. As such, ‘meaning,’ ‘understanding,’ ‘intentionality,’ etc., are just steam; the engine of the whole affair lies deeper, in the brain.
This is a frightening prospect, of course, for what it says is that _we_ are just steam — our thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes, intentions, actions are all secondary byproducts. _We_ are simply byproducts — disposable! Interacting with people suffering from certain forms, or at certain stages of, dementia is illuminating in this connection. My father, for example: there _seemed_ to be someone ‘behind the wheel’ long after the doctors had determined that, in fact, there wasn’t. His ability to talk, to interact, to ‘enter the space of reasons’ (as Sellars would say) appeared to be fully intact — yet _nobody was home_. The engine kept chugging along even though it had ceased to give off steam. Creepy as shit, I tell you!
What, then, would this make of the unconscious? Well, it seems to me that we’d have to conclude that the unconscious is just a fiction cooked up to explain mounting evidence that consciousness is not all it took itself to be — evidence of the engine underlying it. If we accept the picture sketched above, then there’s _nothing_ for the concept of the ‘unconscious’ to explain; there is no ‘gap’ to be filled. There is just the brain, working — or not — in such complex ways that human beings have devised explanatory schemes to help them navigate the world (Dennett’s ‘intentional stance’). But the worry is that the explanatory schemes are (or will be shown in time to be) explanatorily unnecessary — and, worse still, ontologically illusory.
** = Consider the concept of ‘instinct.’ We explain the complex behavior of other animals — animals to whom we do _not_ want to attribute mental states such as those we devise to explain human behavior — in terms of instinct. But what does this mean? I think that it means precisely _nothing_. It simply papers over our utter ignorance. The more we learn about non-human-animal behavior, the less and less it seems capable of explication in the typical animal-vs-human terms.
Nature documentaries are incredibly enlightening on this subject. Anyone seen the BBC series “Life”? The episode on insects? They have a section on ants somewhere in South America. I won’t explain the whole thing, but suffice it to say that the behavior of these ants — these ants lives — are shockingly sophisticated. It outstrips our ability to explain how they do what they do. And these creatures hardly even have brains! No wonder explaining human behavior has befuddled us for long.
It’s as Nietzsche said: “We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers, we ourselves, to ourselves, and there is a good reason for this. We have never looked for ourselves, — so how are we ever supposed to _find_ ourselves?”
Well, at least we’ve begun looking…
Instinct isn’t actually meaningless; it refers to behaviors that are not taught or based on experiential information. For example, many migratory animals have instincts that bring them unerringly to places they have never, ever been. It’s fairly meaningful and the subject of quite a lot of study. That you’d reduce it to such somewhat shows your ignorance on the subject. Which is fine!
Similarly we have a lot of information on how the brain changes based on experiential behavior; it is not quite so simple as a brain processing inputs and outputs. Experience really matters in very profound ways – ways we don’t fully understand. Language not only allows us to communicate and manipulate our environment, it shapes our brains and manipulates us on a microscopic level.
the more I see us examine animal behavior the more connected I feel humans are compared to them, not less.
You’re right, of course, about a bunch of stuff. But I don’t disagree with anything you said, or feel that I was aware of any of it, so I can only assume that I failed to make my point clearly (or that you failed to get it).
I didn’t mean to suggest that we don’t have a more or less clear _concept_ of what ‘instinct’ is. I mean, sure, I can look the word up in the OED. I can read research papers on the subject. No problem. What I meant to suggest is that the concept doesn’t in fact explain anything: it’s a mere stand-in for ignorance that has been elevated — at least popularly — to the status of a genuinely explanatory concept. “Behaviors that are not taught or based on experiential information.” Okay. What does that mean? Where do the behaviors come from, especially those ‘instinctual’ behaviors that are incredibly complex, behaviors that, were we to observe them in human beings, we would be inclined to say could _only_ be explained in terms of various mental states that we do not attribute to, say, ants.
When I was at Stanford, I learned that some big-wig biologist there (I forget his name) had the same view as I do about instinct: he thought we should stop talking about it, because it doesn’t explain anything. I was, of course, gratified to learn this!
As for the brain not merely processing inputs and outputs, but being changed by experience: sure, I get that. Perhaps ‘processing’ isn’t the right word for these sorts of changes, but if ‘experiential input’ results in such an alteration, then there’s a perfectly good sense, I think, in which we can say that this was a result of the brain ‘processing’ the experiential input.
I’ve never been fond of the computer-y language as applied to neural processes for precisely this sort of reason: our brains, it seems to me, our fundamentally different from computers; our ‘hardware,’ e.g., has a different sort of relationship to our ‘software.’ I mean, computer hardware doesn’t alter its composition on the basis of running certain software — but the brain does… or that’s what you’re saying, right?
It’s all very complicated — what constitutes the ‘hardware’ and what the ‘software’ in brain processes, anyway? — and I don’t know enough about it…
Finally, this point of yours: “the more I see us examine animal behavior the more connected I feel humans are compared to them, not less,” was precisely my point as well. Just as we’re finding that traditional explanations of human behavior seem unsatisfactory given a neurobiological model, so our traditional explanation of non-human-animal behavior is also unsatisfactory (‘instinct,’ again, as a marker of ignorance, not a genuine explanation). Chances are, I think, that explanations of both human and non-human-animal behavior will, in the end, be more alike than not.
Gah! An edit function would be nice.
FIrst paragraph above: “… or feel that I was UNaware of any of it…”
“What I meant to suggest is that the concept doesn’t in fact explain anything: it’s a mere stand-in for ignorance that has been elevated — at least popularly — to the status of a genuinely explanatory concept.”
Right – and that’s where I disagree with you. When a biologist says some behavior is instinctive they’re making a declarative statement that more often than not has roots in experimental observation. Those ant behaviors that are completely baffling, for instance – we understand quite a bit of them and how they’re linked to pheromonal behavior, how to manipulate said behavior, what genes are linked to these behaviors, etc. It’s not perfect – there are a lot of places where we understand that something is instinctive but not the actual mechanism behind it – but we’re getting better all the time.
I do think that non-specialists use the terms with connotations that aren’t precise, but that’s true of everything.
“It’s all very complicated — what constitutes the ‘hardware’ and what the ‘software’ in brain processes, anyway? — and I don’t know enough about it…”
Also not entirely true, though it’s reasonable; some hardware does change depending on what software is running on it both purposely and accidentally. This is usually not the norm though. A better model (or at least one closer to what we’ve observed, which I suppose is not the same thing) is comparing the brain system to the OS model, not the hardware/software model. The OS does change and get customized in many ways based in input, output and user control. There are limits to how much you can do – both in actual processing power and in limitations set by the OS themselves. And there are hacks too, unintended behaviors that also work in malicious or awesome ways.
As to the animal-human thing, I think I’m coming at it another way. You’re saying that we’re more like animals and that we’re not special; I’m starting to come and think that we’re more like animals and thus we’re all pretty fucking awesome. A short news blurb this morning is sort of what I’m going at – humans not quite as nasty as we thought they are. Things like morality, empathy, justice, love, sadness – I think we’re going to see a lot more evidence of these things or their precursors in animals.
It seems clear to me, kalbear, that our disagreement is purely terminological. I say: “Appeals to instinct don’t explain anything.” You say: “Appeals to instinct do explain things.” But how? Because, you say, we often understand even apparently baffling instinctual behaviors, e.g., “how they’re linked to pheromonal behavior, how to manipulate said behavior, what genes are linked to these behaviors, etc.”
What this amounts to, as far as I can see, is a _replacement_ of an appeal to instinct with an appeal to pheromones, genetics, etc. When you plug these sorts of explanations in, what explanatory work is left for ‘instinct’ to do? None that I can see.
You seem to see this point, if only sideways, when you go on to add: “It’s not perfect – there are a lot of places where we understand that something is instinctive but not the actual mechanism behind it – but we’re getting better all the time.” So you agree that there _is_ a difference between ‘instinct’ and ‘the actual mechanisms behind it.’ But that’s precisely my point. Once you explicate the actual mechanisms behind the behavior, there is no longer any need for appeals to ‘instinct.’ Appeals to instinct alone, in cases where we do _not_ understand the underlying mechanisms, merely marks out our ignorance: it does not explain anything.
As for the human/non-human-animal thing: I certainly think that a scientific view of human beings will reveal that we’re not ‘special’ _in the ways we thought we were_. Animals might be “pretty fucking awesome” along a whole number of dimensions; but not along the oldest evaluative dimensions — the enchanted ones.
You gesture at an interesting point about the ethical bidirectionality of placing humans and non-humans on the same level. Many arguments in favor of animal rights go something like this (to put it crudely): “Humans have rights. Non-human animals aren’t fundamentally different from humans. Therefore, non-human animals have rights too.” But the argument could just as easily go like this: “Non-human animals do not have rights. Humans aren’t fundamentally different from non-human animals. Therefore, humans don’t have rights either.” (You can replace ‘rights’ with any number of other concepts.)
In other words, the form of many arguments supporting, say, veganism can just as easily be used to reach the conclusion that there’s nothing morally wrong with eating other humans!
(For the record, I’m pro-animal rights.)
I’d never eat a human. Have you seen what they consume? Bleh.
Otherwise good point, though I think labeling something as instinctive is a call for investigation, not ignorance. It’s also fascinating to know how many complex behaviors are entirely instinctive; things like herding behaviors in dogs who have never seen a cow (or a cat, or a small human) or migration behaviors or social justice or imprintings. It’s instructive to me to label these things as instinctive, non-environmentally caused behaviors if only to illustrate how complicated the non-learned behaviors can be and thus extrapolate on what else might be non-learned.
Anyway, I’m out of here. Nice discussion.
Absolutely. I meant to be clearer on what it means that our disagreement is terminological, namely, that talking about ‘instincts’ in the way you do is perfectly fine, even by my lights. Inasmuch as it picks out just what you say it does — non-learned behavior, roughly — then the word clearly has a use (a useful use, as it were). But not, to repeat myself, an _explanatory_ use. It is only the latter sort of use that I’m objecting to. Humans have a tendency to slap a name on something and think they’ve thereby explained it. But some names are best seen (again, to repeat myself) as stand-ins for genuine explanations, or as calls for investigation, as you put it.
I think our disagreement about whether talking of ‘instinct’ (by itself) is a sign of ignorance is also merely terminological. You say that labeling something ‘instinctive’ is a call for investigation, not a sign of ignorance. But I would say that investigation is needed precisely where we are ignorant. (Why investigate something we already understand?)
I agree — nice discussion! I’ve gotten clearer, in my own mind, on a number of things. Thanks for that!
Completely Unrelated (because I have the attention span of a gnat):
Wheel of Morality Turn Turn Turn
Show us the Lesson that We Should Learn!
Do we call this moral progress? Or just… memetic shuffling? What do you see?
Heh, apparently we’re in the Season of Silly according to World SF.
I’ve cut and pasted this to RoH and Rifter as well, but I was really impressed at Newton’s ability to address the race/sexuality/gender in his works. (Might be the Sanjaya effect given he’s half-Indian but I think my hatred of M Night disproves that!)
There’s a good discussion in the comments of “Avoiding Racefail”:
Things I Got Wrong
If anyone seriously believes any more that any further “discussion” of the topic will lead to anything productive or worthwhile, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
We never had a discussion about anything, or at least anything of merit, with any group beyond TPB when you really get down to it.
Newton’s posts, sadly serving as coda, really should have been the opening.
That’s why discussion was in quotes in my original post.
Actually, looking over Peter Watt’s shoulder, there is some interesting stuff happening over there -> a discussion of rape culture.
We never had a discussion about anything, or at least anything of merit, with any group beyond TPB when you really get down to it.
I’m thinking the other sites involved required a “Yes, and…” responce to engage in discussion. That’s what phrases like “Are you going to listen?” meant.
Do you think that’s incorrect, that they were prepared to have a discussion that didn’t say require yes to everything they had said (then add to it)? It’s incorrect and they were prepared to hear no to atleast part of what they’d said?
Just briefly looked, but the articles seem to hinge around the paradigm of treating a bunch of people (who happen to be watching/reading) as if their notion of what ‘fails’ or is a ‘racefail’ is like some absolute sense of fail. At best a kind of flattery, reinforcing the crowds belief that it’s yardstick is THE yardstick.
If the guy outlined some sort of code he follows by, I’d say fair enough. But as well as seemingly treating the crowd as if they deliver some godlike knowledge on what code to follow, he seems to treat the crowd as stable. As if five years or even a year from now they are going to be saying the same thing is a fail as they are now (not that they even all say the same thing is a fail right now). It’s like he can’t see the pulsating, amorphous, undulating mass – and is treating it as if it’s as rigid and unmoving as a steel ruler.
I guess I’d say, atleast in part, it’s ouija board authorship. The crowd uses the author to write out all the things it already believes, their fingers clearly on the planchette, but telling themselves their fingers are only guided by the voice of the moral spirits. The author pretends to himself he’s meeting some sort of marks of pass or fail, which tickles the crowds sense that their morality is ‘just appearing’ (and not being dictated by them, they aren’t just shifting the planchette around) and is another sign of their particular moral paradigm being da one.
I think its more Newton is biracial and likely has a more nuanced understanding of how depiction matters to varied groups – possibly because of the worlds he himself has straddled.
I think it’s his morality as much as, if not more, than anyone else’s. The things he explores, and challenges himself to explore better, have a good deal of RL relevance.
Given that those interested in and discussing issues of privilege share an awareness of what tropes are troubling, I can’t see this as some meaningless theoretical wanking. TBH, I doubt we’ll see changes so much as refinement in critics exploration of privilege.
If the groups refered to follow some sort of written down code of practice, I’d pay he could know that.
As it is, I’ll contend he doesn’t understand groups, as much as anyone else doesn’t. You can understand individuals you’ve met. You can understand alot of individuals you’ve met. But to pretend to understand a group is to take a single individual understanding and project it onto a bunch of people.
At the very least, rather than having someone who claims to know how depiction matters to whole groups (sounds a tad paternalistic), I think a voting system by individuals voting on their own on what does or doesn’t bother them in terms of depiction, would relay what’s going on amongst a bunch of individual people who happen to all lay claim to membership of a group.
Or atleast a vote from a particular cluster of people to appoint someone they think will speak for them. Or even individuals just declare that he is able to speak for the individual stating that he can.
Oh, people don’t agree on specifics necessarily, but there are broad themes that people recognize as good and bad. There are ongoing debates but the desire to be depicted as human, rather than as ciphers or stereotypes, is a common concern.
What Newton is doing is trying to be more bottom up than top down – He’s pushing himself to not rely on conventional stereotypes, bringing an inclusive voice of diversity to SFF gotten by listening to a wide range of groups.
It’s really the far-end opposite of paternalistic, and probably where the power of narrative shines in giving a voice to those who don’t necessarily get one in SFF.
It sounds kind of snarky to say, but was one of the things he listened for was people actually giving him permission to be their voice?
To me, by my measure, it’s paternalistic. In light of my measure (which is just one I happen to use), I think it doesn’t appear paternalistic to you because you’re being paternalistic too. You’ve decided for these people that this guy speaks for them. Because you know that’s for the best, for them.
That’s a difficult scenario to consider, that I’ve pitched there. I wont argue that! And it rests pretty much on a particular set of values I happen to use – what makes those values so important? No cosmic force that I can see. So that’s my disclaimer.
Depicting someone as realistically as possible, and skipping stereotypes – how is that paternalistic?
To listen to the dialogues people are having seems about as down in the trenches and away from the ivory tower of top-down theories as you can get.
I’m just not following you on this, how you can read what he’s doing as speaking for someone rather than trying to make his fiction humanize different groups. I just don’t see the evidence for that from his statements.
In any case, Daniel Abraham has weighed on rape in fiction as well, with some interesting ideas of his own about using sexual assault in stories:
I’m just not following you on this, how you can read what he’s doing as speaking for someone
Well, that’s how I read what you had said
He’s pushing himself to not rely on conventional stereotypes, bringing an inclusive voice of diversity to SFF gotten by listening to a wide range of groups.
probably where the power of narrative shines in giving a voice to those who don’t necessarily get one in SFF.
Giving a voice to those who don’t get one. Whether they have agreed he can depict their voice for them or not.
My original point was he is basing some sort of pass/fail criteria based on a crowd of onlookers who don’t provide a stable pass/fail criteria. I’m fine if the ‘he knows these groups/speaks for them’ either is retracted or was never said to begin with.
I think semantics is getting in the way here. Probably best to just read his own words instead of mine – just don’t read the first six sentences and conclude he’s a paternalist. ;-P
I just see references to single pass/fail structure as if somehow such a thing just exists somehow, over and over. It actually hurts my mind to read those and, along with other stuff, probably disrupts my sleep at night (seriously).
So yeah, I read briefly. Saajan, what do you think – do you think there is a singular pass/fail structure? Or that if someone has listened to enough people of a group, he or she is privy to some sort of singular pass/fail structure in regards to those groups?
Reading those pages I’m not seeing the single pass/fail structure so I’m kinda confused tbh.
Well, let’s narrow down to one example:
Someone, somewhere, no matter what you write, will always take issue with a writer’s portrayal of race, gender, and so on. All a writer can do is be aware of where they have failed and try to fail better next time.
Fail better by what criteria? It just seems ‘fail better’…singular…because that’s what he wrote?
If it comes down to ‘well, you’d have to ask him’, well that applies equally – we both shouldn’t be so certain of our conclusions on the text, without asking.
Heh, well, Kalbear did ask him and those answers are probably better than whatever words I could put in the man’s mouth.
Well, I’d read Kalbear as pushing paternalism himself, even more so. Really I think I need to figure out some sort of boardgame like structure to describe what I mean in this instead of rely on squishy/semantically sliding english.
And his actual name is Kalon? Really? Ach, my shadowy opposite! Lol! Actually, he’d probably never make a joke about shadowy opposites, so even more so my shadowy opposite! 😉
That, along with Caitlin Sweet from before…it all MUST tie into a conspiracy!
Harking back to the boardgame outline, I guess I’d present this structure:
Player A has a dial they can set their air conditioning to.
But the rule is player B also can turn that dial and if he/she sets it, then player A cannot change their dial themselves.
However if player B declines to adjust the dial, player A can decide their dial position for themselves.
Further, we have a third player, player S, who can grant player B the capacity to decide the dials position/enable B’s overide of A.
Player S might decide player B knows players A’s needs so well that he grants player B the capacity to decide the dials position him/herself.
Then we have player KB, who rolls percentile dice, hoping with each roll to make a passing roll on the attempt, or simply keep attempting until the roll passes. This does not let player KB to set the dial. No, not at all. No, on a air conditioner with 10 settings, passing this roll only allows player KB to designate up to 9 settings which cannot be selected by player B or for that matter, player A.
Player KB might use these to close off those selections that are inappropriate. Clearly as the rule structure is layed out, only player KB controls which are designated as inappropriate. He just needs to pass that roll, or keep attempting the roll until he passes. In game terms it is essentially a player stamina test.
Today’s issue of Nature includes:
– A retrospective on Alan Turing
– Lifespan extension in mice by overexpression of a protein predicted to be a regulator of lifespan in yeast, worms and flies (this is very controversial, I should add).
– An essay on Henry Markram’s desire to model the entire human brain in a computer. Here’s an excerpt:
“Markram’s insight wasn’t original: scientists have been devising mathematical models of neural activity since the early twentieth century, and using computers for the task since the 1950s. But his ambition was vast. Instead of modelling each neuron as, say, a point-like node in a larger neural network, he proposed to model them in all their multi-branching detail — down to their myriad ion channels. And instead of modelling just the neural circuits involved in, say, the sense of smell, he wanted to model everything, “from the genetic level, the molecular level, the neurons and synapses, how microcircuits are formed, macrocircuits, mesocircuits, brain areas — until we get to understand how to link these levels, all the way up to behaviour and cognition”.
The computer power required to run such a grand unified theory of the brain would be roughly an exaflop, or 1018 operations per second — hopeless in the 1990s. But Markram was undaunted: available computer power doubles roughly every 18 months, which meant that exascale computers could be available by the 2020s (see ‘Far to go’). And in the meantime, he argued, neuroscientists ought to be getting ready for them.”
Formatting removed the exponent. ‘1018’ should be 10 to the 18th power.
I’ve been following Markram for some time now, and his ‘neurome’ project – which has already given the most up to date estimate of the brain’s processing power yet (38 petaflops). I actually thought about writing a short story about how the supercomputer they designed to decode it actually becoming the first AI, leading into some predictable Corbin Project type scenario.
Exascale computers boggle the mind. I wonder where he plans on building the four or five nuclear power stations required to run it.
My guess is that the neurome project won’t follow the same happy trajectory as the genome project did.
I haven’t had a chance to read much of anything philosophy related other than what I’m teaching right now. I took General Exams less than a month ago, did my oral defenses five days before the RoH brouhaha started, and have been fighting sinusitis on and off since then!
I have some free time starting in May, though, and plan on checking out all the stuff you recommended above. It’s way far outside my comfort zone, so I’m pretty excited – i’ve been looking for something to assign towards the end of my intro courses other than D&D (second edition), and think some of this stuff might be workable as excerpts!
If nothing else, I might pick up some new research interests inTheatre from them! Also, any texts that you consider foundational would be great, too!
more and more, i think this blog is banging it’s head against a version of the “smart idiot effect”:
information often does not solve putative “education problems”.
i’m growing pessimistic that knowledge of our own cognitive biases and limitations will help us overcome them in day to day life.
on a perhaps related note, i would be very interested in a review of Thinking Fast and Slow, since RSB is reading it (as it happens, so am i).
I think you’re right regarding the the smart-idiot effect.
I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years just how much groundwork has to be laid before any progress can be made by means of (or benefit can be gained from) reasons, argumentation, the presentation of data, etc. Prior to the whole procedure of ‘rationality’ — underwriting it — is some kind of epistemic or doxastic norm that (albeit usually implicitly) determines what a person counts as a good reason, a conclusive argument, relevant data, etc. I think we’re all (or most or us are) committed (again, at least implicitly) to some kind of epistemic norm; but these norms differ. Since the norms provide, in a sense, the _framework_ within which we deploy reasons, arguments, etc., then (a) communicating across epistemic norms is deeply problematic, and (b) there are, at the end of the day, no _reasons_ or _arguments_ one can provide in favor of one’s epistemic norm (or ‘rational framework’), either to justify it for oneself or to convince another to adopt it. We cannot justify that which makes justification possible; we cannot provide arguments in favor of that which makes argumentation possible.
This leads, at Wittgenstein put it, to the conclusion that “where two principles meet that cannot be reconciled, each calls the other a fool and a heretic.” That seems true. But is there nothing more that can be done — or at least attempted?
Ultimately, as Scott likes to say, we’re all idiots. The best we can hope for is to achieve some reflective distance from our own beliefs, our own idiocy. (On one model, this is what the procedures of modern science are designed to facilitate.) This reflective stance, then, would be a second-order attitude _toward_ our first-order beliefs. The big question mark is how to achieve a desirable second-order doxastic attitude, and what effect such an attitude would have on oneself and one’s actions.
I thought this stuff was actually old hat (Dunning talks about it quite abit in Self-Insight (my old warhorse)), but then I recently encountered an article calling for a distinction between rationality and intelligence that used the same ‘hot-off-the-presses’ tone that the Mooney article did (excellent link, btw). Some kind of research/data threshold has been crossed, I’m guessing. In my practical reasoning classes I actually focussed on what I called ‘the minimum condition of rationality’ which was simply the maxim that when it comes to theoretical belief, all things considered, you are likely wrong. I just cooked that up on the basis of my philosophy department, which was horribly dysfunctional – so much so that I decided that most intelligent people simply use their intelligence to rationalize their stupidity – just as Hume had said, all those years ago.
I’ve been very smart about my stupidity ever since.
Dunning’s research on the effectiveness of second-order knowledge of cognitive shortcomings is quite depressing. Which is why I keep pushing the Magical Belief Lottery – the hope being that you can at least slow the process of belief polarization.
As for Kahneman, I will do. I haven’t encountered anything new so far, but my-my is it well written. What are you thinking, ohlo?
I’m sure you’re right. Despite years and years as a student, I still feel as thought I’m largely self-taught. The gaps in my knowledge of various literatures are many and numerous. Much of my thinking, then, comes down to reinventing the wheel… Kind of depressing.
Sounds like I need to read Dunning’s book!
Wherever the hopes lies, it lies at second-order. This is the story I want to tell about ancient skepticism: adoxastos as a second-order suspension of judgment. How to achieve it, what it aims to achieve, and how effective it is are, of course, the standing questions.
Where else could hope lie? One things for sure, education needs to be radically reformed, literally designed to help people find their way past their stone-age selves.
Sheesh. “Many and numerous”! Can’t let that one stand…
I meant: “… large and numerous.”
the notion that we are “all idiots” doesn’t help much, other than as a rhetorical sop to RSB’s critics, few of whom will be convinced that he genuinely considers himself one.
some of us are bigger idiots than others, and it’s critically important to figure out who’s who, no? an important conclusion of the “smart idiots” effect is that not all smart people are “smart idiots”, and that these differences align with ideological preferences and personality types.
it might be useful to argue that while we are all idiots while thinking fast, but “smart idiots” are idiots whether thinking fast OR slow.
It all depends on the scale. We’re all short, too — compared to giraffes. Some are shorter than others, but if the yardstick is giraffes, then we all fall into the ‘short’ category.
With respect to a whole host of cognitive shortcomings (so to speak), all humans beings fall into the same category: the category of those who fall prey to them. Saying that “we’re all idiots” has nothing do with appeasing Scott’s critics. (Frankly, I don’t see what you’re getting at there.) The best we can do, on my view, is (as I said above) attempt to achieve some sort of reflective stance toward our own stupidity — where ‘stupidity’ here is picking out a feature all humans share, rather than, say, a feature of individuals who score low on IQ tests. (‘Stupid’ can be used that way, sure. But it’s obviously not what’s at issue in the case of claims such as “we’re all stupid,” for it’s manifestly not the case that, e.g., we all score low on IQ tests.)
It might be helpful here, I think, to distinguish between what we might call _structural_ and _intrastructural_ stupidity. We can all be stupid at the structural level while allowing that, within those constraints, we have established standards of intelligence such that we can identify people as ‘smart’ or ‘stupid.’
I get what ochlocrat is saying – it’s like with the nazi thing, when someone says ‘We all carry the inclinations somewhere in our heads that drove the nazi campaign’, the other side reads it as just them being called nazi’s. Same with the stupid call – the other side reads it as only them being called stupid. And this is primarily because it’s what they would do – they’d only ever call others stupid or nazi’s, etc. Never themselves. The more nasty we get, the more we can only see the other guy being nasty. Which is somewhat true, if the other guy isn’t trying to break the cycle. But if they aren’t the sort to break cycles…
On the whole rational argument thing – I’m inclined to think really wisdom is needed. In that the basics of life – food, shelter, are irrational. I can’t think of any rational reason those must be had. We just WANT. Until you see them as irrational, to try and engage in rational discussion is to try and rest rational discourse on top of irrational foundations/build a castle on a swamp. Never mind how much the rationalisation of those irrational foundations invents new and colourful irrationalities that are deeply important to hold onto (new taboo’s, in other words), even though the other guy for some reason doesn’t see these, when they are ‘obvious’.
I’d say it involves wisdom, because it’s the act of self management, rather than seeing the base lines of food and shelter as utterly rational and then those supposed rationalities breeding more rational (and obvious) practices, and in turn those breed more. When it’s really madness begetting madness, but with all the serious, somber faces of the supposed utterly logical (I have a strong urge to lump Kalbear into this category – given how his posts seem to reflect some sort of well organised world he sees himself as living in). Wisdom is treating it as a bit bullshitty, but managing it all the same.
How does one distinguish genuine logic from sophistry via appeals to holding the reason card?
I think, if we’re going to murder the unconscious, we should acknowledge that you can’t always – if ever – plumb the depths of your mind for answers. (Possibly barring whatever happened with Meno in Plato’s dialogue, but Scott’s already written about mathematical knowledge elsewhere. Not to mention RL doesn’t readily map into such tidy theorems and proofs, there’s a time limit that I think results in heuristics (as opposed to definitive algorithms) taking precedence.)
You’re limited by the input you’ve taken in so far, and how even another sorting mechanism in your brain has weighted that input in terms of it’s importance to comprehending the world.
Then we know confirmation bias is one of those weighting programs, which likely means even at the best of times our heuristics – even if we had good programs to work with our memories/knowledge the data is likely tainted.
We by nature miscalculate the sample sizes needed to justify conclusions via fundamental attribution error.
The only way to correct for this that I can see is to gather as much input as possible, keeping Type I (false positive) and II (false negative) statistical errors in mind.
Clarification: If there’s no subconscious routines “correlating the contents” of our brains, then what happens we chew on something?
We’re using the same programs we used when made our initial decision. Given this, the likelihood of reaching new conclusions is….improbable at best right?
The only thing it seems we can hope for is if we’ve already conditioned our minds to run the same data through other routines that are triggered by the “chewing it over” callback.
Have you picked up Kahneman’s new book, Sci? One of the things that does distinguish it is the time he spends discussing ways to overcome various biases. A capacity to reason proper probably came about as a means to avoid argumentative solipsism, I’m guessing.
[…] I’m reading right now “The Wayward Mind”, that I ordered as soon as Scott Bakker wrote about it. I see in these pages many, many arguments that I dealt with in the past years, many fancy theories […]
[…] the truth, and the truth can justify and explain all of them. I’m coming to this right from Scott Bakker’s own cynical perspective, so based entirely on the evidence of science and […]