Sunday, March 01, 2015

The super-ego is a supreme narcissist

Below is almost nothing but quotes and links, even if a few are to this blog.
"Show don't tell"

Adam Phillips in the LRB
Like all unforbidden pleasures self-criticism, or self-reproach, is always available and accessible. But why is it unforbidden, and why is it a pleasure? And how has it come about that we are so bewitched by our self-hatred, so impressed and credulous in the face of our self-criticism, unimaginative as it usually is? Self-reproach is rarely an internal trial by jury. A jury, after all, represents some kind of consensus as an alternative to autocracy. Self-criticism, when it isn’t useful in the way any self-correcting approach can be, is self-hypnosis. It is judgment as spell, or curse, not as conversation; it is an order, not a negotiation; it is dogma not over-interpretation. Psychoanalysis sets itself the task of wanting to have a conversation with someone – call it the super-ego – who, because he knows what a conversation is, is definitely never going to have one. The super-ego is a supreme narcissist.
 Leiter posts and recommends, Peter Railton's Dewey Lecture, "Rupture Liberation, and Solidarity"
Like most philosophers, I suspect, I wasn’t a particularly good fit with high school.

...When I reached the sections in Philosophy, something hit home. As before, I’d reach for the most impressive-looking books, thick volumes like Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. And there in black and white were the problems that tormented my teenage soul: Do we have free will? Can we ever have knowledge? Do I even know myself? What is human nature, or a good society, and can morality exist without God?

So here, in these philosophers, was stuff that seemed just as hard as the physics and chemistry that were bringing me to New York. Moreover, philosophers seemed to value a lack of confidence—telling me, not to ignore my doubts and get back to studying, but to push my uncertainty as far as it could go. Sartre explained why this is inescapable—only by self-deception can we hide from ourselves the fact of choice and the depth of our inability to anchor life in external or internal certainties. Like it or not, we were in the end responsible for who we are and what sort of world we inhabit. I wanted to study and understand science, but I wanted to live philosophy. In short, I was in ’way over my head, and my solitary night-time ramblings got longer and darker.

My self-absorbed angst got put in its place, however, by events happening in the world around me. Demonstrators in the South, civilly demanding nothing more than equal rights, were harassed by an angry and contemptuous white populace, set upon with police dogs, splayed against walls and sidewalks by high-pressure hoses, and beaten to the ground before our eyes on the evening news.

...A wave of anger spread across campus and hundreds came to a mass meeting that afternoon in Memorial Church. They decided to initiate the first Harvard strike since students had walked out of class to protest rancid food in the 1700’s. Three days later, 10-12,000 students tramped across the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River to the Harvard Stadium, and debated a whole body of questions that had only been on the agendas of partisan groups a week before: “How must Harvard be changed?

...Why now? As in civil rights struggles and the war in Vietnam, innocent people are being killed— their lives cut short, their promise lost, and their families and friends devastated. It’s just too late in the day for “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. Our children, our students, the young faculty forced to live for years with insecure or term-limited jobs—they are under unprecedented levels of stress, and this is showing itself in rising public health statistics for depression and anxiety. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for post-secondary students, and rising. And its chief cause is untreated depression. Twenty percent of college students say their depression level is higher than it should be, but only 6% say that they would seek help, and still fewer actually do.
From the misery of a suburban high school student in 1965 to the misery of graduate students 50 years later, with references to other things in between. "Rupture Liberation, and Solidarity" Disruption (again). See also Robert Paul Wolff.

Railton is a "moral realist", as Wolff must be as well ["On the basis of a lengthy reflection upon the concept of de jure legitimate authority, I have come to the conclusion that philosophical anarchism is true."] but that leads us back also to Aaronson, and David Enoch.

More from Aaronson.
“The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World with Logic”
No, I’m not talking about me! 
Check out an amazing Nautilus article of that title by Amanda Gefter, a fine science writer of my acquaintance. The article tells the story of Walter Pitts, who [spoiler alert] grew up on the mean streets of Prohibition-era Detroit, discovered Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica in the library at age 12 while hiding from bullies, corresponded with Russell about errors he’d found in the Principia, then ran away from home at age 15, co-invented neural networks with Warren McCulloch in 1943, became the protégé of Norbert Wiener at MIT, was disowned by Wiener because Wiener’s wife concocted a lie that Pitts and others who she hated had seduced Wiener’s daughter, and then became depressed and drank himself to death. Interested yet? It’s not often that I encounter a piece of nerd history that’s important and riveting and that had been totally unknown to me; this is one of the times. 
Update (Feb. 19): Also in Nautilus, you can check out a fun interview with me.
From the article on Pitts
In 1923 [McCulloch] was at Columbia, where he was studying “experimental aesthetics” and was about to earn his medical degree in neurophysiology. But McCulloch was a philosopher at heart. He wanted to know what it means to know. Freud had just published The Ego and the Id, and psychoanalysis was all the rage. McCulloch didn’t buy it—he felt certain that somehow the mysterious workings and failings of the mind were rooted in the purely mechanical firings of neurons in the brain. 
Though they started at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, McCulloch and Pitts were destined to live, work, and die together. Along the way, they would create the first mechanistic theory of the mind, the first computational approach to neuroscience, the logical design of modern computers, and the pillars of artificial intelligence. But this is more than a story about a fruitful research collaboration. It is also about the bonds of friendship, the fragility of the mind, and the limits of logic’s ability to redeem a messy and imperfect world.
I'd read the piece weeks ago, and made my usual comment. There's nothing anti-mechanistic about Freud's arguments. The question is the nature of the mechanism.
"the limits of logic’s ability to redeem a messy and imperfect world." The mind is either mechanical or it's not. You can't have it both ways. 
Consciousness is not calculation it's conflict. Two mechanical processes, calculation and conditioned response, mandate different responses to the same stimuli. The haze that results is what we call sentience.
Of course Freud wanted it both ways too: he wanted to transcend mechanism. Vulgar anti-Freudians -and "geeks" are the most pathological of anti-Freudians- celebrate one aspect of it, as if computational mechanism were freedom.

I posted a comment on Aaronson's page for him to read, since I knew he wouldn't post it. It's cruel, but useful in the face of stupid arguments over science and anti-science, and "agnotology".

Everything below, except for the Von Neumann quote, I've been posted 1, 4, 5 times before.

Some notes on logic and empiricism:

Crooked Timber -Comment 312 by "Magistra"
One of the things that occurs to me from reading Scott Aaronson@213 (and some other posters), is that some people feel far more unhappy with ambiguity than others: they want really strict, precise rules about what is right and what is wrong. And I wonder whether that kind of personality it connected with a strong mathematical/scientific bent

Comment 313 by "hix" -But there is another aspect too. One just starts to despise unclear rules when one notices that whenever there is ambiguity about rules, that ambiguity is sytematically used to favour certain types of people and disadvantage others.

Comment 317 Scott Aaronson-
magistra #312 and hix #313: Yes and yes!

WVO Quine-
Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned.

[Fantasies of a world of language without meaning. For "Evening Star" and "Morning Star" read "Palestine" and "Israel".]

Oskar Morgenstern -“[Gödel] rather excitedly told me that in looking at the Constitution, to his distress, he had found some inner contradictions and that he could show how in a perfectly legal manner it would be possible for somebody to become a dictator and set up a Fascist regime never intended by those who drew up the Constitution."

[See references to Gödel and David Addington (Cheney advisor and theorist of executive power)]
Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin, "Constitutional Crises"

Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, "Engineers of Jihad"

Abstract. "We find that graduates from subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world, though not among the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries more recently. We also find that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms. This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists. We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern. Is the engineers’ prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries? We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings, casting a new light on the sources of Islamic extremism and grounding macro theories of radicalization in a micro-level perspective."

John Von Neumann- "If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"

[The Character of Dr Strangelove was based on Von Neumann]

"Former friends have recounted that [Jared Lee] Loughner had a fixation for grammar and words, saying that he challenged Giffords at a previous public meeting with the impenetrable question: 'What is government if words have no meaning?' "

Wall St. Journal 2009-

Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor's bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile's trajectory back to an "enormous, stupid mistake" made 30 years ago.

"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction.

Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah.

[In 1987 Israel deported Mubarak Awad the Christian founder of The Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence, while allowing Ahmed Yassin to preach.]

Yaakov Peri: “We did not create [Hamas], but we did not hinder its creation.”

[Before the election in 2006 Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings, which it has maintained since, and removed the call for destruction of Israel from its manifesto.]

[Yassin in 2004, shortly before his assassination]

[A good post from 2008 by the wife of a former member of the NSC under Nixon and Carter.]

But as I know– because I was the conduit of one of these threats– threats of lethal violence were sent by the Israelis to any Palestinian “independents” who might be even considering joining a Haniyeh-led government. As a result, none of them did; and the government that Haniyeh ended up forming was 100% Hamas.

...I have written about it before. It was Ziad. The threat was conveyed to me by Ziad’s and my mutual friend Ze’ev Schiff, a decent man who had been extremely close to successive generations of the leaders of Israel’s security establishment for half a century before his death last year.
To be specific, when I spoke with Ze’ev on the phone before I went to Gaza in March 2006– and he did help me to get in– he asked if I was going to see Ziad, who was then widely reported to be considering an offer from Hamas to be Haniyeh’s Foreign Minister (as he subsequently became, during the brief life of the 2007 national unity government.) I said yes. He said– and he repeated this a couple of times to make sure I got the meaning clear– that I should tell Ziad he would face “the worst possible consequences” if he joined the Haniyeh government, and that he said this “on good authority.”
I did pass the message on to Ziad.
Ziad also faced considerable family-based pressure from the Americans since his three children from his first marriage were at college here in the US, and I suppose if he had joined the Haniyeh government and then tried to visit them here he could be arraigned on all kinds of charges of aiding and abetting terrorists. But Ze’ev’s words about “the worst possible consequences” struck me as constituting a more severe and immediate threat.

[On Gaza recently in the London Review of Books. Both pieces include a lot of data.]

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