Monday, December 31, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Taken in isolation neither conditioned response nor reason are conscious."
The brain is a computer running two contradictory operating systems: a system of conditioned response and one of rational analysis: number crunching. Neither are conscious and both can be described in terms of physicalism. Consciousness is the sense of a unified decision making process but perhaps no more than that: an illusion or chimera, less the author of the act than the side effect of the struggle between mechanisms. At the very least unified consciousness is fictional. No news there for most of us. It amazes me that opponents of behaviorism [should that be of psychology itself, or self-reflection?] refuse to look at history. I suppose they defend their choice by saying the the plural of anecdote is literature. To which I respond: read Hamlet.
I choose to pretend that I have some capacity for free will, but I choose not to pretend that I can guarantee my own rationality. I choose to pretend in other words that I have the free will to make the only ethical and moral choice. And of course that choice, and the resulting development of formal adversarialism, is the basis of our justice system.

Discussions like this one on Rorty and this one on the "laws" of nature annoy me, for the same reason Toulmin does. It is simply not necessary to question Platonist assumptions about the mechanical world when all that matters is whether or not we have access to such clarity in the political one. Chapter 15 in Steven Weinberg's Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries is titled Zionism and Its Adversaries. Its presence in this book is a function of rhetoric not science. It's a bad joke. I won't quibble about Platonism and Mathematics if others will stop bullshitting about Platonism and Politics.
3 men from 3 countries.
The first says: "My country has mountains and valleys and soil perfect for the vine. Our women are the most beautiful in the world and the boys are always willing. No one ever built buildings as beautiful as ours and our craftsmen are the best in the world."

The second says: "We don't wine we drink whiskey. And your women are weaklings good for nothing but chatter. Just like your poets who write about nothing. And who's interested in boys? Anyway your mountains suck more than your boys do. Not enough snow and too many rocks. How can I ski on that?"

The third looks at the others and nods slightly. Then he pulls out a calculator and types a few figures before he speaks: "Logic" he says "shows that mine is the necessary country."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dennett and Determinism, Bill and Buddha Nature: Killers as Heros (and actors as gods) in the Films of Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino's movies are as politically reactionary as Mel Gibson's, but only one of them gets called for it. Honesty in Kill Bill is the following of one's true self. Clark Kent is the sham persona. Bill reminds Beatrix that she's a killer, and that her daughter is one as well, This is neither moral nor immoral but simple determinism, whether genetic or metaphysical is irrelevant. And Beatrix is both the hero and the victor. The best killer wins.
Both Gibson and Tarantino are good filmakers, and I don't really give a shit about the politics of the films as such one way or another. Both men are merely being true to their nature, as filmmakers. Dennett's philosophy is similarly politically reactionary. That's not judgement but simple observation, and by his logic and Tarantino's, everything is reactionary. Compatabilism is a band-aid on a gangrenous limb. The hypocrisy is what's pathetic, not the determinism. I prefer Tarantino's honesty.

It reminds me of judicial conservatives' relation to language and interpretation. You're either a literalist or you aren't. You can't interpret "as" a literalist. It's absurd.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Security Council and Iraq: Should the Council Renew the MNF Mandate for 2008? Memorandum by Global Policy Forum
Conclusion
There are many reasons for the UN Security Council to reject the renewal of the MNF in Iraq. The Council must take into account the violations of international law by the MNF and the opposition to the occupation by the great majority of the Iraqi people. The Council must also take account of the opposition of the Iraqi parliament and its call for MNF withdrawal, the tragic humanitarian crisis, and the great suffering of the people of Iraq. Most Iraqis believe that the MNF worsens their security, their well-being and their hope for a political future. The mandate is also a worldwide embarrassment to the UN and it clearly weakens the organization’s capacity to do effective work in Iraq in the future. Further, the MNF in Iraq has a destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East region. It is time for the Security Council to take these realities into account and to end this regrettable episode in the UN’s history.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Someone dropped by today, through google, looking for some lyrics.
And someone else, for this.
Both apropos for various reasons.
"Kripke is to intellectual life what General George McClellan was to war."
I like that one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Looking for Zizek and Critchley on google, since Critchley asked an old friend to come to his defense [update Jan. 08: now published] I find this by Idiot Holbo.
Who knew? It's serendipity baby.

Conditioned response vs. computation (figuring the odds).
Taken in isolation neither conditioned response nor reason are conscious.
It's pretty simple. Both are basic functions, both are perfectly materialist (plug and play), and they're in conflict. Are human beings capable of rational calculation? Yes. Are we subject to conditioned response? Yes. Consciousness is the fog that is produced by and that surrounds, obscures and stabilizes that conflict. Consciousness is the ghostly aftereffect of material, programmed, contradictory processes that we experience as contradictory imperatives. A "self" is a manifestation of an illusory unity and order.
Dualism sucks. It's based on a dream and a lie: a "need," though one shared by many. It's illogical. And yes, compared with Zizek, Chalmers' ideas are vulgar:
Imagine that I am out hunting and am attacked by a lion. The lion claws me, leaving a deep gash in my leg. I want to run away, but the pain slows me down: my body tells me not to. If I run I will increase the injury, but of course, if I stay I'll just be killed. The choice is obvious, yet my body continues to experience a division. Endorphins and adrenaline are designed to get us out of such scrapes, but they are autonomic, very rarely if ever does the pain, or the division, go away completely. And of course machines do not feel pain.

...What separates us from computers is not consciousness, which we have had such a bad time trying to define, but the unconscious. Desire and fear, like pain, stay with us even when they're inappropriate. Yet we follow these responses as often as not even if we know that they are. Our desires/instincts/neuroses may also be contradictory, or even self-destructive. But all of them: anxiety and depression, calm or exuberance are sensory before they're intellectual. Consciousness is the state produced by the body/brain's negotiation of the conflict between conditioned response and reason. That is its beauty and why we find it so difficult to understand. We experience consciousness as one thing, but only can define it as the space between two. We experience it a as a thing ‘being’, but can only define it as the place where it exists.

The first moment of indecision is the first act of consciousness. Any creature capable of indecision is conscious.
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Such a description of consciousness also fits well with Duncan Black's analysis of the behavior of network executives. That is it fits well with what most of the people on the planet take to be aspects of human behavior, aspects to match others exhibited by Hamlet, Alexander Portnoy and Richard Nixon. It never ceases to amaze me how so many supposedly educated and sophisticated people -if still a minority- are willing to dismiss the entire history of literature, if not history itself, to replace it with a fiction worthy of Ayn Rand and the Soviet Writers Union.
I'll add as I always do, that one of the people willing to do that is Noam Chomsky.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tarantino my well be right, though Ittoku Kishibe would give him a run for his money. I don't want to choose.
But there's more to be found in the last hour of Kill Bill Vol. II -more to be mulled over, more to be argued with, more to be learned- than in any book of fiction, non-fiction, or philosophy published in the last 10 years, if not longer.
To top it off, it's the best defense of fundamentalist Darwinism out there. Better than Dawkins and Dennett.
Better, and funnier.
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There's probably some exaggeration in there, but not when it comes to Dennett (or philosophy).
The point of war is to win. The point of torture after a while at least seems more to be the pleasure of revenge or of torture itself. Most often it's counterproductive and irrational. For some liberal grandstanders however the attacks on torture as barbaric are backed by an implicit argument that war is civilized.
He tells us a revealing anecdote about standing in Aden's Crater District in 1967 with the notoriously bloody British "counter-insurgency" specialist Col. Colin ("Mad Mitch") Mitchell, watching as some of the soldiers under Mitchell's command were...
stacking, as in a butcher's shop, the bodies of four Arab militants they had just shot and Mad Mitch said: "It was like shooting grouse, a brace here and a brace there."
I associate such arguments with a rationalist's preference for ignorance.
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Originally a comment on this thread but Henry didn't like it.
I have a hard time understanding how experimental philosophy [and here] does anything other than weaken the philosophy of context free logic. It comes close to a history of the present, to ethnography, or soon will be seen to.

The same question applies to the trolley problem. If you're looking for one answer then you're right it's a real problem. This goes back to the first article I read in contemporary philosophy, when a friend got me a subscription to the Journal of Philosophy in 1984.
The military treats decisions like these as part of an officer's responsibility. Call it military utilitarianism. I thought at the time that the next question would involve a discussion of the differences between military and civilian life. When the article simply refused to deal with the question I was shocked. It seemed so obvious, but at the time I was unaware of the rules. It seems likely more and more people will begin asking such questions.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Myth of the Mad Mullahs
Following Iran rather than the myth this has been pretty clear for a long time. But following the myth allows believers to play simple strategy games (of the sort played by "rational actors")
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Reading Cosmopolis. Toulmin writes less like an historian than a lapsed philosopher trying to explain the importance of history to old friends prone to dismiss it. He's insecure and defensive, and doesn't trust the facts to carry the weight of his argument. He pushes too hard.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Notes. Written and rewritten and...

Performance. From a few years ago:
My mother gives perhaps the worst performance of Bach on the piano that I have ever heard. She plays the notes, unable or unwilling to take the indulgence of adding any variation, any idiosyncratic gesture that might make the playing personal. She refuses to perform as if by performing she would become merely a specific thing in time, a part of the world, unaware, un-intellectual.
If you can’t understand specifics your generalizations will be meaningless. And if you can’t play Bach as if you wrote the music yourself you’ll never understand the music he wrote.
My mother didn't perform Bach she read him.

In school I wrote a paper attacking Borges' writings because they were less stories than essays, so there was no reason not to criticize the politics behind them. Borges' defense of machismo was not the same as Hemingway's description of it; he depicted the Gauchos but not his relation to them, hiding his own insecurity behind a mask, leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy. Hemingway's descriptions of machismo were less concerned with his subjects as such than with his perceptions of them and of himself. His subjectivity, his framing device, was always in plain site. There was no claim, even a rhetorical claim, to objectivity. By this logic Hemingway was a writer first and honest and Borges was a "reporter" first [using the current US definition] and dishonest, closer to the Orientalist painters of the Paris Salon or the political ideologists left and right who were, as illustrators, their philosophical and aesthetic descendants.

Speech is a record not of the world but of our perceptions of it. Our discussion of the past hinges first on the history of frames and lenses and only then the history of objects. The history of art makes this explicit. We understand the works of the Renaissance by comparing them to the forms that bracket them in time: those of the Gothic and Baroque. I may talk to my friends in shorthand about our common likes and dislikes, but people who do not share our interests will not understand them without comparing our interests to their own and those of others. And of course we ourselves don't "understand" our tastes as much as live them. We lack perspective. But perspective is context. Who has a better understanding of the tastes and philosophy of automobile enthusiasts, the automobile enthusiasts themselves or a bicycle riding anthropologist doing his fieldwork in a garage?

The arts in their highest form are acts of self-description in a common language, encouraging contextualization. Esoteric forms in art (as in religious rhetoric) are secondary, and tend to predominate -or even sometimes to appear- only in times of crisis deployed as defensive tactics, in attempts to limit contextualization and reinterpretation. The same is true of course for every other communicative order.

The members of the avant garde in its first and most important representations were not self-consciously forward looking but merely honest in their self-representations. Manet v. Gerome. But still it's a mistake to see either apart from the context of the wider 19th c. culture. Cezanne is a marginal figure next to Giotto; not marginal to us maybe, but that's the point.

Form is primary in all linguistic communication.
All statements in narrative form, even statements of ideology, are provisional. All narrators are unreliable narrators.
Technocracy is the application of predetermined orders and values, oversimplification is a requirement. In this regard technocratic logic is like that of the military. Speakers are narrators not described as such, and therefore not subject to accusations of unreliability (though in fact accusations are the only form left by which to make that argument).

Democracy is the culture of language in use, the government not of ideas but argument, concerned not with preassigned names but with the act of naming. The legal system is a system used for naming/categorizing individual acts. Adversarialism is the logic of formally opposed narrators [not only acknowledged and indeed required to be unreliable] before an audience of judges drawn from the populace, an audience of amateurs.
A functioning democracy is the government of laws, and experts, and amateurs. I'm not against experts, I'm against experts who think of themselves as outside of society and as somehow immune to the problematics of communication and consciousness.
Technocracy is not democracy.
Apropos the post from Nov. 30, I found only one hit for "Analogical Rationalism" on Google: "Concrete Constructs: The Limits of Rationalism in Swiss Architecture"
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My dinner with Slovoj (again):
Zizek described the last section of a holocaust novel: Jews are being loaded on a train, packed in like cattle. The train goes east for 3 days in freezing temperatures. By the time it reaches its destination only a small group of children are left alive, kept warm by the bodies of the adults who had moved them to the center of the car. When the children are discovered the SS men set the dogs on them. Two escape and run off in the snow. Of the two of them the younger one stumbles and the elder reaches back to help. He pulls him up as the dogs find them and attack.

How do justice to the fact of the crime and the inability to do anything but read or watch, how do justice to memory and at the same time to the moral imperative of hope? Zizek says the novel succeeds, but wonders how one could make the film. The easy solution to the ending is to freeze on the image of the clasped hands, but that makes hope too easy, protecting us from the real end. One answer would to freeze the frame but not the sound.
"So idealism in the context of narrative."
"Yes!"
It's not that this scene would work, that would depend on a whole line of specifics in the making of the film (he also brought up the last scene of Thelma and Louise). But how to model the questions, around the making of a film or a work of art or any act of communication. And these are the questions that need to be modeled. Hope, idealism, in the context of narrative. Narrative as actions and descriptions in time, as statements made to be recontextualized in time and history. All propositions in narrative form, even statements of ideology, are provisional.

On a similar note read comment 12 here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Economics as Academic Science
Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts
LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.
But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

From a couple of years ago, found by accident, and apropos questions of philosphy and my dinner with Slavoj.