The Violence of Representation
There are no representations, only recapitulations of environmental structure adapted to various functions. On BBT, ‘representation’ is an artifact of medial neglect, the fact that the brain, as a part of the environment, cannot include itself in its environmental models. All the medial complexities responsible for cognition are occluded, and therefore must be metacognized in low-dimensional effective as opposed to high-dimensional accurate terms. Recapitulations thus seem to hang in a noncausal void yet nevertheless remain systematically related to external environments. ‘Aboutness’ heuristically captures the relation, and ‘truth’ the systematicity. Mechanical recapitulations of structure are thus transformed into ‘representations,’ which are then taken to be universal, so generating all the difficulties that arise when heuristics find themselves deployed outside the appropriate problem ecology.
We are all systems embedded in systems, worms in the wool. We are all components. And this, as it so happens, is precisely the way science views us. The so-called ‘violence of representation,’ as the continental tradition has it, primarily consists in the occlusion of the mechanical (as opposed to practical) systematicity that binds all cognition to what is cognized. The ‘violence,’ in effect, is a product of medial neglect and the resulting metacognitive illusions that lead to the presumption of representation in the first place.
To lay it out visually, consider the following:
To the left we have the brain as a worm in the wool, as an environmental component that is causally sensitive, either actually or potentially, to a great number of other environmental components. These causal relations (represented by the light grey lines) are medial insofar as they enable the neural recapitulation of other causal relations (represented by the dark grey lines) extant in the environment.
To the right we have that brain’s ‘component perspective,’ what it can cognize (or metacognize of that cognition) of the environment as a component within that environment. All medial causal relations are occluded, given that the brain possesses no ‘meta medial’ means of recapitulating them. With the occlusion of medial causal relations comes the occlusion of componency: the brain cannot accurately recapitulate its functions, either relative to itself, or relative to the greater mechanism of its environment. Thus the asymptotic margin, the fact that recapitulations simply ‘hang in oblivion,’ as it were. What is not recapitulated in a given brain simply does not exist that for that brain. Since only a finite amount can be recapitulated (and integrated into conscious cognition and experience), what is recapitulated cannot be embedded within a greater network of recapitulations, and so ‘hangs,’ paradoxically finite and yet unbounded.
The brain is a component that cannot accurately cognize itself as such. Conscious cognition and experience recapitulate lateral structure and function while neglecting medial structure and function. Reflection (deliberative theoretical metacognition) thus seems to reveal acomponential entities, asymptotic recapitulations of lateral structure and function absent any of the medial intricacies responsible–or what are commonly called ‘mental representations,’ entities possessing intentional and logical relations to the greater environment.
Here we see the power of the third-person, or the ‘view from nowhere.’ Medial machinery can recapitulate the causal continuity of lateral environments, but only at the cost of neglecting the continuities that make that recapitulation possible. The neural problem of ‘understanding’ a given environmental system is simply the problem of occupying the most adaptive mechanical position relative to that system within the causal totality of the greater environment. A position counts as ‘most adaptive’ when information accumulation becomes maladaptive–a waste of resources, in effect. But this relational ‘sweet spot,’ which is entirely due to the occupation of a determinate relational position within the causal totality, cannot be (readily) cognized as such given medial neglect. The brain can learn (via trial and error) that a particular recapitulation is optimally effective even though the how remains perpetually occluded. Deemed reliable, such recapitulations are inventoried as specialized cogs for specific mechanistic circumstance. Given medial neglect, however, metacognition is utterly blind to this dimension. Circumstance and what metacognition has misconstrued as mental representation hang together as if by magic. The informatic constraints pertaining to a given ‘view’ or ‘perspective’ no longer apply. This ‘anywhereness’ dovetails with the apparent ‘from nowhereness’ pertaining to asymptosis.
We presume truth. Since the whole system is tuned to mechanically maximize mechanical reliability, truth naturally seems to be the primary function of mental representations. What is perhaps the greatest dead end in the history of human inquiry is born of apparent intuitive verities stemming from medial neglect.
I am starting to think this is all some sort of elaborate joke. Otherwise the way this post is written is very hard to explain. I mean, it must mean something vitally important, because italics.
Is it intended as a send-up of literary “theory” and postmodernism? Has a commercial author ever Sokal-hoaxed his fans for shits and giggles before? Maybe the “diagram” is the tip off.
Otherwise, it’s like trying to teach a kid to ride a bike by explaining the “causal essentiality of the instantiation and mechanical transduction of force” instead of “pedaling”.
I used to think I was just missing something. Now I just think something’s missing. I’m not sure it’s worth picking through all the rhetorical fluff to find it.
Emphasis is fun. Are you against fun?
Scott likes to emphasize things a lot. You can see it in his books too. Although it probably has something to do with how much I like him as a writer and hence pay closer attention to his stuff, I can still honestly say he’s one of the most italics prone people I’ve ever read. If there is a grand hoodwink joke in there, then that at least isn’t a part of it.
Hilarious! After posting this and reading it I had a feeling I’d get a response like this. Kudos for having the balls to sound off, ochlo! I’m sure you’re far from alone. That said, I can only wish it were rhetorical fluff. Between your ignorance and my insanity I fear I have to go with the former (while always entertaining the possibility of the latter).
Fact is, I’ve just been too damn busy to work up anything specifically for the blog.
Well, until it gets down to flow charts or circuit diagrams, it’s a, ahem, representation. Sure, flow charts and diagrams are representations as well, but they hit the emperical level – if a line is 10cm, it stays 10cm. With words, traditionally there’s leeway in what a speaker means – keep pushing any lack of grasp as an ignorance and its simply a demand to ‘think exactly as I do/repeat me’ as if the subject is so important all understandings/uses of particular words must all align (planet wide, perhaps?). Always gunnin’ for a singularity? I think you’ve mentioned works being written from a particular gestalt before. Really it’s still at the conversation level and I’d suspect Ochlo is feeling the only way forward is if one party snatches up all the word toys as their own. Which does seem like a joke.
Good luck with the work load!
“Has a commercial author ever Sokal-hoaxed his fans for shits and giggles before? ”
I wouldn’t put it past him.
Either way, you should point out the specific passages that you think are overwrought with technical claptrap and see if we can’t simplify them into something more understandable.
“I used to think I was just missing something. Now I just think something’s missing. I’m not sure it’s worth picking through all the rhetorical fluff to find it.”
What do you think this post is saying, and what do you think it is missing? Without that information, your post is also rather fluffy.
Is medial neglect necessarily total? Is it possible some medial complexities are occluded, but not others? Or occluded by degrees rather than completely?
If it is impossible to intuitively recapitulate medial structures, might it not be possible to use other methods?
It seems to me that once you are aware of the limitations medial neglect places on cognition and metacognition, it should be theoretically possible to draw a few of those lines back in.
Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe that’s what you mean by low-dimensional effective rather than high-dimensional accurate.
Exactly. Only you’ve managed to express it much more succinctly than me! Metacognition is overmatched by the dimensionality of the problem the brain poses to itself, and so has to make due plucking threads of information effective to solve specific problem ecologies.
So, you somewhat diss philosophy, but encourage “thinking about thinking” type of metacognition?
It sounds like some kind of contradiction. Either you think it’s all bullshit, or you give it credit somewhat. If BBT exists it’s thanks to metacognition, which is still in part philosophy.
It would also be a rather big approval of the typical information theory. Blind spots are virtually conquerable, given enough complexity. Second order types of observation win over first order types of blind spot. So the more the thought loops, the more complexity, the more you gain escape velocity from the original blind spot.
In this case the “blind spot” is what I think you call “medial causation”.
Ideally. But medial neglect means that there’s something like an informatic second law of thermodynamics at work, so that the system has to sequester complexity that it is insensitive to render itself sensitive to any complexity, exogenous or endogenous. I used to call this ‘process asymmetry,’ but it’s definitely something I need to research further and work through. The idea is that you have to grow more brain to track the brain you have, thus actually increasing the amount of brain untracked. For years now, I’ve had the nagging feeling that there has to be a mathematics that can model this somewhere out there. But there’s nothing I’ve been able to find in control theory or information theory that covers this medial neglect versus lateral sensitivity relation.
BBT does, at least, have the virtue of explaining, to some extent, why humans required science to get theoretical cognition off the ground.
Well, ideally the relationship observation-blind spot preserves what you say, since every observation has its own blind spot. So second order observations can solve the original blind spot but create a new one. Same as saying that you need “more brain” to track what we got already, but without that new brain being tracked.
The difference is that you imply “more brain” as a material thing. While the theory I’m using here is only about complexity within the same system. It’s simply more “thinking about thinking”.
But to be explained, it has to be natural, otherwise you’re talking about something… supernatural or ‘formal.’ Since positing something over and above the natural is a radical complication of nature as we presently understand it, it goes without saying that natural explanations (such as BBT) should trump supernatural explanations. Formal (or ‘functional’) models, on the other hand, don’t explain what is actually going on (and some philosophers of neuroscience would say they don’t therefore explain) though they are often useful ways to get to such explanations.
Another virtue of BBT is that it actually explains the basis of the intentionality implicit in concepts such as ‘observation’ and ‘second order’ and so on, allowing the theorist to simply sidestep the numerous conundrums that thwart thinkers (like Hofstadter, for instance) who believe the dynamics of reflexivity are the key to understanding consciousness. By doing so, BBT turns the problem on its head, showing how the dynamics of reflexity (or what appears to such) actually explain why consciousness seems inexplicable.
btw, I was just now looking around by simply searching on google; “observation blind spot second order observation” and you get the bunch of theories I was hinting at.
Basically these are the actual theoretical foundation that makes BBT possible:
“we do not see that we do not see”
“what is important for us here is that the missing perception is not perceived”
“We can thus say that every apparatus of observation is characterized by a constitutive finitude. There is no view from nowhere, nor way of observing that observes everything. Second, every observation suffers from a sort of “transcendental illusion”. The distinctions or forms we use to indicate things in the world become invisible while we use them.”
This all falls in the basis of BBT.
In regards to “truth”:
“As a consequence, our tendency is to treat the world that we indicate (the empirical) as identical to the world itself, ignoring the manner in which our experience (the empirical) is transcendentally constituted by a distinction we have drawn.”
” “Observing the observer” doesn’t consist in looking at a person, animal, computer, or rock and observing them; but rather consists in looking at the forms or distinctions that a system uses to make indications. At a very abstract level, we can say that “observing the observer” or second-order observation is the formal schema for all critique.”
“Critique uncovers the historical a priori– to use Foucault’s term in The Archeology of Knowledge –or historical transcendental upon which a particular mode of observing the world is based.”
Here they aren’t talking about the brain, mind you. But you can read this EXACTLY in that sense, which makes it even more effective.
The “historical a priori” is exactly the consciousness intuition.
“In particular, critique aims to draw attention to the unmarked state upon which observations are based (what is excluded?), and the manner in which the distinctions or forms used to make observations withdraw from the observer, creating a “reality effect” that make the world experienced by observers seem identical to how one observes in the marked space. In observing the distinctions that an observer uses to make their indications along with the blind spots that inhabit their distinctions, we open the possibility of broaching new areas of inquiry and investigation, as well as recuperating the excluded. In other words, second-order observation is primarily about observing the blind spots, the unmarked space, and how they systematically function with respect to the marked space.”
And here about needing “more brain” ending up being not tracked:
“we must also always remember that our observation of observers in our critical capacity does not violate the general structure that applies to all observations: to observe is to draw a distinction that produces a form that necessarily produces an unmarked space and where the distinctions we use withdraw from our own awareness. All too often, second-order observers treat themselves as being omniscient, failing to recognize that their own observations contain two blind-spots: the unmarked state of their own distinction and the withdrawal of their own distinction from view such that the world comes to seem as identical to how they observe the world. This is as true of the critic as of the observer whose transcendental the critic discloses.”
Cool. But the situation is the reverse: BBT is what explains these and very many other observations regarding cognitive intransigence. It’s clearly the foundation in the order of explanation. This is why I’ve been able to use BBT, which is a theory about brain function, to tackle as many traditional philosophical outlooks as I have. It gets to the mechanical root of a great number of what seem to be profound semantic mysteries. It naturalizes them, in effect, and since naturalization has all along been the holy grail, it’s the reason I keep harping on the potential significance of BBT. If it is scientifically confirmed, a good deal of traditional transcendental philosophy can be explained away as the product of various kinds of metacognitive illusion.
So things like the ‘only-game-in-town effect’ or the ‘out-of-play illusion’ that I reference as (empirically testable) explanatory dividends are ubiquitous throughout numerous discourses. When Plato writes of the prisoners of the cave, “How could they see anything else if they have been prevented from moving their heads their entire lives?” we all intuitively understand this, we all somehow know that our informatic frame of reference constrains our cognitive abilities. But for whatever reason, no one has systematically delved into the potential neural explanation for this. BBT explains why this is so, why for instance, our ancestors intuitively presumed the earth’s stationary centrality (out-of-play illusion), why Kant could presume transcendental subjectivity (out-of-play illusion and the only-game-in-town effect) and so on… even why Plato believed in an eternal realm of forms!
What you’re beginning to see is the explanatory parsimony and reach of the theory… it’s elegance, in effect, and the big reason why I fear more and more that it will be confirmed as fact.
Yeah, the BBT that comes before 😉
Though BBT IS a theory. You got it by using metacognition, and especially by figuring out what is that we do not see. It’s all about the observation on “how”. The theoretical basis that makes BBT possible is theoretical, or you’d have to explain how you managed to breach the fourth wall, or the limited PoV you’re stuck in (along with all of us).
The only way out of this is that BBT doesn’t actually say much about the “how”. It simply relates about the barriers, without actually affirming what’s past those barriers.
I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. BBT, like all mechanical theories, is all how. The fact that it turns on the very metacognitive resources that it problematizes simply explains why it remains a scientific hypothesis awaiting scientific testing and confirmation. You can go with the transcendental crew, insist that what is occluded (the ‘fourth wall’) is not natural, which is to say, embrace the illusion (as BBT has it) that the frame of experience lies nowhere in this world, but that just strands you with all the myriad perplexities that have bedeviled us for millennia – and without any real justification for doing so other than it just ‘seems’ that way.
In other words, characterizing BBT in these terms simply begs the question against it – in the name of conserving traditional intuitions for their own sake, no less.
With “how” I was actually meaning “what”.
In the sense that BBT may not explain directly what happens in the medial neglect. BBT points to the blind spots, but it doesn’t directly says what’s precisely hidden there, am I wrong?
If BBT (once and if confirmed) is able to reveal everything, then this would be a proof that *you* were able to figure out all this. How? Just through metacognition since that’s how your brain also works (I suppose).
Say that with BBT you actually won the magical belief lottery. This would be the proof that all this was achievable by your conscious complexity, in spite of all its limits. So let’s cheer metacognition.
But I suppose that’s NOT what you mean. BBT merely points a direction.
It’s one or the other. Either metacognition and enough complexity can overcome the limits, or they can’t, and so BBT as a simple product of metacognition has its own limits.
I mean, let’s assume BBT is proved as true. The EXISTENCE of BBT would prove that metacognition is powerful, because it produced BBT, that modeled the brain and consciousness despite all the limits. OR, BBT only shows that area that is hidden, but without being able to shed light on it, and so underlining the fact that we lack the tools to be able to go there.
I understand, I think, the matter of precedence you brought up. The fact that I present you with this abstract formal theory (second order observations, complexity, blind spot) and say it all follows similar patterns to BBT, and you tell me that it’s not that BBT comes from those formal patters, but that BBT explains WHY those formal patterns exists and may have some validity and application, and HOW they are produced. (so I joke about “the BBT that comes before”)
But perpetuating that joke: BBT didn’t come into being spontaneously. It came into being because you thought it. So BBT, in a way, came AFTER. And then through science we’ll figure out if it was right or not.
In the case it was, it’s still an achievement of metacognition.
You can go with the transcendental crew, insist that what is occluded (the ‘fourth wall’) is not natural, which is to say, embrace the illusion (as BBT has it) that the frame of experience lies “nowhere in this world”
“Nowhere in this world” doesn’t need sound religious or metaphysical. Laying outside of human experience can be already defined “nowhere in this world” even if completely natural (in fact the perception of qualia is felt “unnatural”, in the sense that it gives rise to this distinction). I understand that you think there’s only ONE perspective/world (the ambient, and the naturalization of the “system” as consequence), but the conscious perspective is a point of view. A partiality. The fact that the “view from the other side” gives a picture in which there’s no distinction or threshold (so absorbing the hard problem) doesn’t mean that the PoV on this side doesn’t exists as a thing or illusion. We don’t escape the illusion even if we’re aware of it.
It’s like if you’re trying to explain to a character you’re WRITING that his own perspective doesn’t exist, because it’s you writing all he thinks, says and does. But that character is still condemned to his PoV anyway. How would you solve this example?
After Ochlo’s comment and then Iain’s comment, I’m wondering about communication problems – and on a further stretch, whether ‘put it in your own words’ might help communication somehow. But being lazy (and the blog has moved on to new posts), I’ll just put the first paragraph in my own words, for now.
In terms of there being no representations, I assume this is something along the lines that representations don’t exist like a tree or rock exists. Like the way we draw lines between configurations of stars to form pictures, if one were to shift ones viewpoint lightyears around to the side, the stars the pictures depend on would shift and the picture cannot maintain itself and vanishes. That semi ties in with the latter diagram as well, perhaps.
I’m guessing as to what ‘metacognitive’ is used to mean – I presume it’s thinking about thinking. I’m also guessing that low dimensional ‘effective’ is rather like someone fussing around in their bag or handbag without looking – you don’t know where everything is, but ones hand blunders around, bumping into things and estimating the thoroughness of the search. Possibly more than this in that such understanding is understood in fairly raw survival terms – what is effective towards survival (survival including some advancement beyond just subsistance as well).
I’m not sure about recapitulations seem to hang in a non causal void. Surely either they will just seem to be representations (or the tree), or if you’ve got a sense of things hanging in voids, you’re probably already partly on the choir being preached to.
I don’t know what is refered to in ‘aboutness’ – perhaps it means a sense of in relation to/my relation to it. And I’m not sure about ‘truth’ being the systematicity. I would have thought of ‘truth’ being tied to survival (granted system is geared that way, but surely if were going to savagely treat survival practices and system as one and the same, we could get atleast a note about enacting this practice).
I want to be lazy on the last sentence and because its similar to Ochlo’s over complication of peddling a bike comment. Perhaps it could be said as people with hammers see everything as a nail? Granted saying ‘people with hammers see everything as a nail’ is a kind of hammer itself – and so lends to seeing nails. And this can go recursive a few times (till it gets boring (or subconcious)). But the final line seems to try and say it in such a technical way it perhaps an attempt to get around that?
Nothing lazy about this Callan! The point, however, is that there is no such thing as truth as metacognitively conceived. There’s only systematicity.
I think I understand the idea of that – what I’m saying is it’s like if we lived in the DC universe and you just casually, just as an aside to another discussion, and so casually the link isn’t super explicit, mentioned that superman and some hack at some rag are one and the same. It a bit casually iconoclastic. I’m mostly picking at presentation here (unless I’m just not getting the idea).
When I say ‘truth’ is tied to survival, I don’t mean as a discrete entity – more like how Mr Punch is tied to a puppeteers hand. Or is that notion still missing the point?
Thanks for the reply.
I’ll do the traditional – sans any answer dropping out of the sky to contradict me, I’ll assume my Mr Punch example is a fair understanding.
Am I correct if I say the last part says that we mistake “truth” for what is a selection of recapitulations (through trial and error) that happens without conscious brain being aware of it. So that the feeling of truth is the effect of observing a mysterious correspondence between those recapitulations and certain circumstances?
Basically there are two points, united by a third, but since we don’t see this middle/joining point (due to specific blindness as well as sense of sufficiency) then we naturally imagine a direct connection, which is misleading.
If this is correct it means I can somewhat follow the process, but I still have difficulty grasping it for real. If all this theorycraft could be simplified into a concrete example I think everything would be much clearer…
That graph probably confused me even more. Though the first few lines are probably a great summary of BBT as a whole.
That’s about right. The whole requires a whole lot more explanation, including the graphic, but these are the kinds of notes I generally work with. Makes sense to me!
For me the most intuitive way to grasp the issue is to think about how you ‘just see/experience’ things, and never see/experience them causing you to see/experience. As a matter of empirical fact, you are thoroughly embedded in causal networks, and yet everything experiential seems to just hang in a kind of reflexive lacuna. BBT provides the concepts required to explain why this is so.
[…] first lines of a post over at Bakker’s blog seem almost unreadable, but at the same time offer a very effective summary of his “Blind […]
This brings me back to college philosophy and epistemology. The language used in describing the processes is difficult to follow. Here’s what I gathered from it, let me know how far off I am.
Perception, meaning the basic ability to sense something via the 5 senses is itself simply a method by which a person can understand something to have occurred and the brains ability to process occurrences in time gives us the consequence of causality and learned experiences. For example, I know if I clap, I’ll hear a noise.
Science tells us the underlying reason for things occurring, but the human brain still needs to take in those facts via the same senses that are themselves only able to describe some aspects of an occurrence. Since that layer of abstraction will always exist (recapitulation or summary of occurrence information). We will never know the full ‘truth’ of the occurrence.
What we take for truth is really just our perceptions and learned experiences working to make sense of a world that the human mind will never be able to fully understand due limits in sensory input.
I’ve had this thought floating around in my head for some time. The biggest problem with thinking about how we think is that there is literally nothing we can do about it. It’s nice to realize truth is relative in how we can understand and describe it, but in the course of life this thought process is completely useless. How can you plan anything if everything is relative? Oh, and I still believe there is an actual truth, we just won’t ever know it.
R. Scott, I read this Violence of Perception and I don’t get it. I’ll try it again tomorrow. I read it so as to have a little credibility. This reply is completely off-topic.
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[…] to have the structure they do, even why they have such a grip on the philosophical imagination. (This is just a taste). Representations are poster boys for neglect, little mini-subjectivities, only flattened into […]