Monday, December 26, 2011

updated twice

Clark Glymour at Choice and Inference
I am sometimes credited with the remark, due to Nelson Goodman, that “there are two kinds of people in the world: the logical positivists and the god-damned English professors.” While it’s a cute summary, I don’t agree. Departments of English provide sinecures for good authors who lack a mass audience and would otherwise go hungry or not write; they contain people who know a lot about the history of literature, and someone ought to know that. Similar plaudits apply to some faculty in history and in modern languages. Humanities departments also house faculty whose principal work is a great deal of foolishness, garbed in neolexia, who spread it to undergraduates. Nothing would be lost and something would be gained if these people were pruned from universities and offered work with brooms.
Two comments. The first was accepted after a period in moderation, then removed, then returned. The second was accepted (again, after first showing up on my screen as "awaiting moderation") then removed. It was badly written so I rewrote it and resubmitted it. It hasn't appeared.
Glymour first conflates philosophers of a certain type with literature professors and then literature professors with writers. He attacks the moral cowardice of those associated with literary philosophical academy, but few writers are academic. Proust was not a college professor; neither was Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell or Beckett. It should concern all academics perhaps that so few linger to describe the aftermath of war, and if I'm going to choose among analogists of science I'll choose Primo Levi over Carnap. In formal logic out of M.C. Escher Glymour manages to attack the foundations of feminism and then accuse feminists of having no concern for rape victims. There's nothing else to say to that. It's too confused even to be offensive.

To stay within his limits: who's more responsible for the machineries of mass destruction in the 20th century, literary philosophers or Glymour's preferred, physicists and engineers? Levi after all isn't famous for his day job, except for how it served him as a writer. And if you like NASA, you can thank Werner von Braun. Ford invented Fordism; Gramsci only bought in.

The strength and weakness of science is in its amorality. The urge to unify science and morals is one of the moral disasters of the age. It calls us back to the 12th century, to pre-Renaissance anti-humanism. It would help us greatly if logicians stopped calling themselves philosophers. Democracy is a formal process but relativist as to truth. There are all sorts of philosophical and moral reasons for government to be designed this way, but logicians have never been happy about it. They should be honest enough with themselves and the rest of us to admit that it's democracy that bothers them.

Mathematics, computer science and logic are not philosophy, because engineering is not architecture.

Engineering is not architecture. Try disagreeing and arguing the point. See where it gets you.
The second comment was posted in response to another, on philosophy as offering advances in scientific methodology.
I should have added this below, or at least been more explicit, but it fits here. Aside from the moral failures of formalism in use (failures under a socially defined sense of morality that most of us accept) there are strictly intellectual ones. There’s no need to read specialist publications to witness the spectacular failure of mathematical modeling in economics, any newspaper will do. See also my reference to feminism, feminism as exemplary of knowledge resulting from experience, specifically the experience of a subset, albeit about half, of the total population. Abstractions begin as generalizations. Mathematical models are beautiful structures of assumption.

Questions of formalism qua epistemology are double: regarding whether a given model succeeds in doing what’s claimed for it, and regarding appropriate use. Both questions engage philosophy and neither are formal.
update- I really have to be careful reading this stuff. Previously I'd quoted an opinion as Glymour's when it's one he claims to oppose. My confusion arose from the fact that they're not that different.

The range of Alex Rosenberg's arguments could be combined and simplified to say, "physicalism and determinism for thee, dualism and free will for me". The Churchlands are like Puritan believers in predestination who nonetheless dress simply and with the utmost [predetermined?] false modesty to demonstrate that they're among the elect. Glymour's, "When is a Brain Like a Planet?" (available here), concerns questions of when our gods or godlike properties appear, not whether they do. The last sentence reads: "When it thinks, the brain is like a planet." I have to admit I'm not sure where to place it on this scale.

Android epistemology. Sad.
Again and again and again: Consciousness is not the product of unified complexity. It's the manifestation of a divide, between physical processes of calculation and conditioned response.

If you want an intelligent android, build a confused android.

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