This is an answer to Frank’s comment, and an indirect answer to Scott:

Hello Frank, yes pluralism is pluralistic (some pluralism is). One of my favorite examples is when Feyerabend, who had developpped a doctrine of methodological pluralism, attended Weiszacker’s seminar on quantum physics. Like a good believing pluralist he argued that quantum theory was dogmatic as it had failed to consider other alternative theories, but Weiszacker showed by analysing the historical steps in context that each development of the theory was based on a wealth of concrete arguments. Feyerabend realised that it was in fact he that was dogmatic insisting on a universal pluralist method, and that scientists should have complete freedom from methodological strictures. All that could be done was to analyse concrete moves in particual cases and consider the methodological remarks of successful practitioners to arrive at not a doctrine but a set of tips and astuces, handy rules of thumb that sometimes work and that are not prescriptive but optional, requiring us to take into account the context and to use and develop our own intuition and know-how. This was his move from methodological pluralism (dogmatic, apodictic) to a more free-wheeling pluralism (anarchist, heuristic). He expressed this new attitude in AGAINST METHOD.

Another name for such a pluralism is immanence, which means not taking any entity or principle as transcendent to and having supreme authority (ontological, epistemological, or political) over a domain. This is the same as the heuristic pluralist idea that meta-level and object-level are inextricably inter-twined. This way of talking about it all comes from Deleuze, and he describes a similar change (or conversion, if you will). He had elaborated a whole pluralist theory about multplicities, but it was classically expressed, and so, while an improvement on his predecessors, constituted a new dogmatism, a new servitude, as he came to see later). He was approached by a dissenting psychoanalyst who was more used to working with psychotics than with neurotics, who argued that psychoanalysts were afraid of schizophrenics because they were in fact afraid of the unconscious as it was too pluralist for them and they failed to simplify and codify it into conformity with social ideals. Deleuze began a long collaboration with Guattari over many years based on the idea that it was not enough to have a pluralist theory but that they had to have a pluralist attitude (attitude is meta-) to all theory and that to theorise multiplicities meant also to live them out and to produce them. This led to a series of very brilliant books, beginning with ANTI-OEDIPUS.

I discuss Scott’s work because he sometimes says pluralist and immanentist and heuristic things, but then goes on to contradict himself in the way he talks about “science”. So I have a problem here, what Scott says about science and cognition does not correspond to the way he says it. At least not in my eyes. I think he is missing a nuance that may be hard to isolate out; That’s why in my posts a take the long way round and talk about Feyerabend and Deleuze and Spinoza and whatnot, because if I am too direct he tells me he knows and says all that already. But what he says is not what he does when he uses “science”. At this level I think he is just plain wrong. Cognitive science is not just about illusions, it studies our cognition and not just its pathologies. And we do in fact cognize lots of things. Otherwise we could not cognize that we don’t cognize things. Noone claims that our cognition is always accurate or unchanging or universal or even very detailed. Knowing how to thrash your limbs about while trying unsuccessfully to swim is still knowledge, that a newborn baby would not know how to do, and the same applies to calling out for help, and knowing what’s happening to you. Not all cognition is detailed, you’re swimming discomfits are a striking case of coarse cognition. But all cognition is coarse compared the the next lower order of magnitude, all knowledge is approximative – that’s another case for heuristics.

When I talk about intuition I am not, in this discussion, talking about the philosophical sense of intuition as sensation, nor about the psychological notion of perceiving with a sort of “sixth sense” things that I shouldn’t be able to. I am talking about heuristic know-how, skill at coping with things I have gotten familiar with. Scott’s using massive online feedback is one heuristic technique among many, and poses no problem for me. And a computer algorithm that produces even a whole novel does not bother me in principle. But it won’t produce Proust or Joyce, or even Agatha Christie, at least at their inception. Maybe now that there are dozens of Agatha Christie novels you could cook up a programme to generate more, but you can’t get one to invent a new genre of writing. And if you could actually get a programme that does not generate but “cobbles” then it would have know-how like us, who are all cobblers and bricoleurs, and I would welcome it to the club of heuristics, as it would no longer be an algorithm.

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4 commentaires pour THE BLAKE-BAKKER CONTROVERSY: A Nuance Divides Us

  1. Frank dit :


    My exposure to continental philosophy is quite limited, so, as Jeremy Irons would say before destroying the world economy, « explain it to me if I were a small child. Or a golden retriever. » How is immanence not setting itself up to be a supreme authority within the epistemological domain? Insofar as ideas tend to be incomparable with some other set of ideas, how can immanence be immanent if it’s also incomparable with transcendence?

    And why does Scott’s apparent performative self contradictions matter? Maybe you’re right and he doesn’t or even can’t practice what he preaches. Maybe what he’s saying is inherently contradictory to how he’s saying it …and? You just caught in him an egregious philosophical version of self referential hypocrisy, but the philosophical version of « Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers » could still be very much on point. Then again maybe not. I don’t know for sure. But how are the critiques you’re leveling against Scott actually undermining the contents of his theory?

    As for knowledge, I take my arm thrashing knowledge to the pool and I lurch to the end minutes later while half drowned. You take your backstroke know-how to the same pool and you can make your way to the other side after a bit of time and effort. But the collective knowledge of « science, » whatever that is, has lead to the creation of friction reducing speedos, flotation devices, diving tanks, diet and exercise regiments, and a whole slew of device and methods that allow people to swim faster, longer, and deeper than otherwise possible. In the case of boats and submarines, it even lets us « swim » while we’re doing nothing of the sort. To take the products of « science » and say its knowledge and our knowledge are somehow on an equal footing or deserve similar recognition seem egotistical at best and incoherent at worst. We might debate until we’re blue in the face who’s swimming method is better, more authentic, more human, or what have you. Meanwhile other swimmers are lapping us both in artificial shark suits, and city sized ships are crossing the oceans without pause. I don’t see what benefit I would gain if one of these other swimmers affirmed that I also know how to swim in my own way.

    If Feyerabend stuck to his guns and never wrote Against Method, would we still have the tunnel diode? If free energy generators are physically impossible but philosophers don’t critique it in any way, does it become any less impossible? Scott uses his limited and possibly flawed understanding of neuroscience to make predictions on the function of the brain that differ with other theories of cognition. His predictions lie somewhere within the spectrum of spot on and bogus. I don’t see how questioning his delivery or his stance on the utility of philosophy is going to get us any closer to proving or disproving his predictions. It might, but from the nature of your objections I can’t tell how such a thing would follow.

    On a parting note, this program has no understanding of the words and phrases it cobbles together. Still, the first time a friend showed an example of its output I was certainly fooled into thinking it was the introduction to a genuine human composed essay. Is it impossible that a more advanced program in the future could assemble another complete Proust or Joyce while still having no understanding what the words themselves mean?


  2. terenceblake dit :

    The immanence thing is one line of philosophical progression over centuries. Noone is obliged to follow it onto the immanent playground, but for those who do the game (or the work) is to ferret out the last traces of transcendence that spoil the play. So comparison is possible to the extent that one is busy eliminating transcendences, as Scott is with his BBT, and one hits up against one of its throwback pebbles. So I think we are commensurable enough to have a useful discussion. Immanence (or pluralism, or heuristics) goes with being flexible in your vocabulary and democratic in your dialogue. Trying to debate with a creationist would probably involve more transcendence than I’m prepared to take on. So you’re right this « controversy » is a cosy game on the minor playground of immanence. Outside you can say so what? just as looking at chess-players moving wooden or plastic figures around on a checkered board can let you say the same thing for each move, but inside the game avoiding checkmate is of supreme importance; Sure science would go on without philosophy, but philosophy wouldn’t; Science would go on without the letter « c » (but it would have to be spellt differently), but it would be absurd to say « what’s the big deal about the letter c it’s just a mark on paper? ». I’m not trying to undermine Scott’s theory at all, I’m trying to add a nuance.

    I never said that the lousy swimmer’s knowledge and the scientist’s were on an equal footing (great pun there!). I wanted to say that not all cognition is scientific and if you think it is you should re-examine your idea of cognition, which will probably change your idea of science too. Bad swimming is bad cognition, but even bad cognition is not total incompetence and bias and illusion, it embodies lots of good cognition.

    Feyerabend never said his ideas were useful to scientists, he was trying to cut away the useless crap of much academic philosophy of science. Yet his books have been read by many scientists who found his ideas had heuristic value. Feyerabend would not be surprised as he always said his ideas were not original and that he got them from scientists like Einstein and Bohr and Ernst Mach and fom Galileo ‘s practice too. So if you cut these ideas out from every head in the history of science it would probably be a grat impoverishment.

    One thing I don’t accept in talking about science is giving it some unlimited promissory account. One day we will be able to upload ourselves into robots. Rubbish, nothing confirms it, it’s just bluff and fluff around science, there is nothing scientific or even probable about such a claim, but it sounds good; So with your claim that maybe one day a computer could generate Proust-level texts, maybe so. I even said in my post that i didn’t rule it out, though nothing suggests it’s likely. But I don’t think there is an algorithm for paradigm change, and if one day a computer can do that I would invite it to dinner.


    • Terrence,

      « One day we will be able to upload ourselves into robots. Rubbish, nothing confirms it, it’s just bluff and fluff around science, there is nothing scientific or even probable about such a claim, but it sounds good »

      Is this your actual position or a hypothetical position? If its yours, then why is such a claim rubbish? Are you making a claim about the human mind (i.e. that it is too complex, too special, smells of lilacs, etc.) that therefore prevents its uploading? How can you make such a claim from within the « its heuristics all the way down » perspective? How can we claim that something is non-scientific where that term (i.e. non-scientific) has a normative weight?

      Three people: Person #1, Person #2, Person #3
      – Person #1 is religious which I define for this hypothetical alone means that said individual believes in a thing which has traditionally been called a « soul » and by soul, again only for this hypothetical, I mean an incorporeal thing which represents the essence of any person at all.

      – Person #2 is a theoretically minded individual who would be agnostic (although probably leaning towards atheist) in terms of a soul and who believes that the function of the brain far out strips anything that a human could possibly create themselves, because of both the complexity of the human mind itself and the limitations on said mind.

      -Person #3 is also a theoretically minded individual who is not only atheist towards the soul but could be considered thoroughly anti-theist to its existence. Person #3 also believes that the mind can best be described as a computation machine operating at an incredible rate of speed and complexity. Also, Person #3 also stipulates that the brain’s computational processes function within an architecture that we could label neuronal maps that themselves could be accurately described (in the future) with image technology.

      After introducing my three dramatis personae I also stipulate that there is no reason to believe these three person exist in any reality other than this web page.

      Here is the question: We can generally concede that Person # 1 & Person #2 (along with many others) that there is no future in which a person will ever be uploaded into a robot/computer. Person #3, it would seem, would claim the opposite, although the issue of time must be considered. If we admit that there have been advances in computing and brain imaging and that these advances have increased the complexity of our understanding (increasing the dimensions within which we operate in regards these topics), then why can we not conclude that the aforementioned uploading is a real future possibility? What would make it impossible (i.e. non-scientific)? Is it merely a question of time or is there something metaphysical stopping the ball from rolling? And to take it to the next step, if this uploading is not temporally or metaphysically impossible, why is it not inevitable (based on our current description of the human drive to, use Spinoza’s term, persevere)?


  3. terenceblake dit :

    I am person #4. I am not agnostic, I am thoroughly atheist, including about science. I am just sick of brash claims that « one day we will do x » based on nothing more than credulous allegiance to science; I never said it was unscientific to believe in uploading the brain, no facts I know exclude this idea, I just claim it is non-scientific, part of the credulous waffle about Science. The mind may well be the brain, I don’t exclude that either, as I am a pure materialist. But such a claim is, as things stand, not a scientific claim at all, but a plausible (to some) metaphysical projection. I am more in favour of the extended mind idea, and I would claim that the mind extends at least as far as the whole body including but not restricted to the brain. Brash projective unfounded assertions may shut adversaries up at dinner parties, but are not argumentatively justified. For me all this uploading of consciousness and Proust-level computer algorithm is idealism in the cloak of materialism. Materialism means research (and thus the world) deciding, and not just « materialist » hype. For me, on the empirical level it is not even at the same status as cold fusion or homeopathy – which may, for all I know, be possible, but which present-day tests disconfirm and present-day theory undermines. But at least they can be expressed in testable statements. Science means at least valuing research and testability over self-assured proclamation.


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