Sunday, 24 March 2013

Peace comes dropping slow

The trouble with philosophy is that it’s too easy. A good student can mug up a period or personality in Philosophy in a few hours and know enough to pass an exam. With more extensive study a good degree may be got without any real deep understanding of the issues. After all exams are graded on the basis of information and if a student gets that right he has to get the marks. So it has come to pass that academic Philosophy has been polluted by good students. There is no sure way to tell whether this learned person understands whereof he speaks. I take Wittgenstein as an example of a poor student who entered deeply into the oddities of knowledge and was able to circumnavigate the ‘known’ globe of justified true belief and the islands of orthodoxy.

At a certain point this savant, the idiot good student, will wake up and discover that there is no empirical justification for many of the positions of the great ones and from the dream of enlightenment he will wake up screaming - where’s the beef, even, where’s the sandwich. Calming him with a cup of cocoa a mentor will utter: What has happened here is that you were never puzzled, you were never visited by a genuine aporia even one that seemed foolish and contrary. You thought that all this poring over the legends of the great ones would lead to a question that was finally settled. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, there is no peace. Each new resolution dies and suffers the judgement of the Japanese joiner on the stainless steel square - it does not give me peace.

It may not be too late for the troubled one to go into neuroscience. There it will make no difference whether he thinks that the brain secretes consciousness and memory magically creates its own subject. Just keep sacrificing those chickens chum.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

Addendum 25/3/13:
I’m worried about evening full of the linnet’s wings. Can one linnet with one pair of wings fill an evening? Inishfree is a small island I’ve seen it, no more than a large rock with a lot of scrub on it, and possibly not much room for more than one linnet’s territory. This is like Wordsworth’s ten thousand saw I at a glance . You can’t see ten thousand at a glance, perhaps 200 at most. This should be looked into.

Maybe linnet’s is a misprint that has become canonical. Should it be linnets’?


ktismatics said...

Aren't the philosophy majors the ones who can't do the math? Hopefully your savant doesn't have his hopes set on getting accepted into a neuroscience program.

ombhurbhuva said...

There is to some extent a crossover capacity in the Mathematics/Logic area from Philosophy but getting down all that Biology would be difficult. There seems to be different routes to a specialism in Neuroscience. Just Googling I find that in Sydney Uni. you can get to it via Bachelor of Science, Medical Science, Psychology, Advanced Science, and a Liberal Arts and Science course. As I probably mentioned before Bergson drew some interesting conclusions from lesion studies.

ktismatics said...

About a year ago I read Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife, a speculative novel by neuroscientist David Eagleman. He was an English lit major as an undergrad. It's amusing in parts. Perhaps the book's structures, multiple nodes interconnected by a common theme, is meant to be a simulation of sorts. Scott Bakker's Neuropath might be more of a page-turner; for reasons beyond my grasp the philosophy bloggers seem to love it and find it intellectually airtight in its argument against human intentionality.

I suspect that many students now go into neuroscience not because they are truly puzzled by the mind but because they're hoping to secure a full-time job when they finish their studies. Lots of money is flowing toward the brain these days in federal grants, pharmaceutical R&D, neural marketing, the CIA...

skholiast said...

I have always read linnet's wings the same way one might read it if Yeats had written "the sound of the bee." You'd accept that he meant bees.

As for philosophy being too easy -- you mean philosophy classes, of course.

@ ktismatics: the popularity of Bakker's bad dream among certain philosobloggers is symptomatic of a fixation on a fashionable darkness. Bakker is most compelling when he says he hopes his theory of the way the brain secretes consciousness will be proven false.

ombhurbhuva said...

Yes Yeats previously mentioned the bee loud glade where he proposed to live alone. It’s the wandering apostrophe (or the song of the wandering apostrophe) that is all too common that got me going. Is synecdoche the technical term for a single member representing the whole or a class e.g. the British butler, the Filipina nanny etc. So linnet represents any number of linnets and their characteristic flutter.

Philosophy is fakeable but when you stray past the canonical examples you may expose yourself as a chancer. Certain remarks by Bakker on Kant gave me the impression of hand waving and drowning. The predilection for sf among younger philosophers of the present day may be the result of being reared on T.E.s a sort of mental fast food.

ktismatics said...

Hi Skholiast. Though Scott Bakker asserts reliance on empirical neuroscience as the basis for his "Blind Brain Theory," I don't get the sense that he wants to go through the painstaking effort of evaluating BBT against the diverse bits and pieces of accumulated empirical evidence that would call the validity of the theory into question. I think he'd rather the theory be proven false not on empirical grounds but through philosophical counter-argument, which based on what I read on the blogs seems to be the preferred M.O. of philosophers. He did make a concession though in a recent comment on my blog. I had proposed that if BBT is found to be true, humans wouldn't suddenly become hedonistic psychopaths, any more than acceptance that the earth spins on its axis didn't suddenly fling everything off the surface of the planet. Scott replied: "The thing is, you’re entirely right: nothing will change if noocentrism is overthrown, except our understanding of who we are and our place in nature." I understand that he is well regarded among fantasy fiction aficionados.

ombhurbhuva said...

If a theory can be proven false using empirical means then it is probably not a
philosophical theory. Given the nature of philosophy this position is controvertible but if you look at the chapter headings of accepted works of metaphysics, empiricism does not play a role except in the very general sense of experience as such.

On the lectern before me is The Philosophy of Being by Louis De Raeymaeker. Sample Chaps. II: Being, The Problem of Metaphysics,
III: The Analogy and Identity of Being.

Kant has in his Introduction to Critique of Pure Reason:
I: On the Difference between Pure and Empirical Knowledge
II: The Human Intellect even in its unphilosophical state is in possession of certain cognitions ‘a priori’.

I like Bakker’s quip in retort.

ktismatics said...

What was the quip?

"If a theory can be proven false using empirical means then it is probably not a philosophical theory."

Sounds like a convenient dodge. Maybe it's like trying to disprove G. Harman's assertion that the essence of any object withdraws from all interactions. If someone can describe the essence of some object, then by a priori definition it is not really the essence and so the counter-argument fails.

ombhurbhuva said...

"The thing is, you’re entirely right: nothing will change if noocentrism is overthrown, except our understanding of who we are and our place in nature."

That's the quip.
Harman and the OOO are terra incognita to me but I read LB from time to time for the fun of it. He bangs the door of his bedroom a lot.

ktismatics said...

The question is, did he intend this remark as a quip? I didn't read it as one. To me the implications are that a radical change in human self-awareness either: (1) has no appreciable effects on the way people interact with the world (idealism?), or (2) causes changes in human actions without conscious mediation (behaviorism), or (3) stimulates the formulation of different conscious intentions with respect to their actions in the world. I suspect that Scott would opt for door number 2: maybe he'll make his view explicit at some point.

ombhurbhuva said...

The irony of no change but our understanding of who we are and our place in nature. Maybe Bakker doesn’t do irony but that seems to me to qualify
as first run, pure drop, irony.

ktismatics said...

The irony would of course be doubled in Mr. Bakker's case, who according to his own Blind Brain Theory regards self-awareness as indistinguishable from self-deception.

skholiast said...

I wonder about Bakker's desire to have the BBT "disproved"... it sometimes seems to me not unlike a moth's hoping the flame will prove an illusion. In any case, while I'm not ready to say he does or doesn't know his Kant or his Heidegger, he himself stipulates that all philosophers are by definition "wankers", and I assume he includes himself. His reputation among sci-fi fans is mixed (there is a fierce anti-Bakker cadre unified by their preference for Strong Female Characters and their dismay at Bakker's cavalier way of getting his characters raped), but the pro- party is enthusiastic. I haven't read any of his novels but I like his blog and found his meta-remarks on Hagglund on Derrida pretty sharp. I don't agree but I find him helpful to disagree with.

ombhurbhuva said...

That self-delusion notion is a cool Buddhist idea which is strictly senselessv. Imagine:
- Who said that?
- Oh yes, it was me just now and I know that because having examined the memory I discover ‘me’. Not a persuasive picture.

"Kant thinks he has resolved the manifest problems of metaphysics by attributing representational activity to the subject. “(Bakker on Kant)

Doesn’t everyone think that the subject represents reality.( with qualifications, as in Locke and others. ) It’s the a priori aspect of the archetectonic of pure reason that is Kant’s special contribution. For instance Space and Time are not given in intuition but are necessary for it. This is the source of the joke that Kant is an objective idealist.