“It is not about adding more for the sake of more. Nor is it a minimalist, ‘less is more’ attitude. It is about allowing the end-user to decide how to use a creative work, and providing the opportunity to assimilate it to some extent; to make it one’s own. But assimilation is not the final part of the process. The user is free to make modifications on the proviso that he or she returns the results to the community for further development. So we can say that a creative work becomes better when it serves the community; and it serves the community best when individuals make their own choices about how to use it and how to change it. Importantly, it requires the open and transparent sharing of ideas.”
Full article here.
I think I have finished “Act II” of the Nietzsche book. (So, there is an “Overture,” an “Act I” which covers The Birth of Tragedy and Untimely Meditations, and “Act II” which covers Human, all too Human). Next will come “Act III,” where I’ll try to take on Thus Spake Zarathustra. It intimidates me; there is so much going on in that work, that I really have no idea where I’m going to end up with it. You start out thinking you know what you’re going to say, and then trying to work through the details gradually ends up changing your mind in substantive ways. But with Zarathustra I really don’t know what I’m going to say — so many weird elements at play in it. But I think I know the role it played in Nz’s life. Rejected by friends, and realizing that he was bound to be lonesome his whole life, he needed to transform himself into a soothsaying hermit, and all of his friends would exist in future generations.
I’m pleased with the tone of the chapters so far — I hope it connects with people who have philosophical interests, but aren’t necessarily experts in the subject.
How sad it was that his memory had forgotten him.
Names, errands, phone numbers, items his wife
told him to remember –
all would stick to him for just a moment before being carried away
on the gentlest breeze.
But then one day he read of the memory palace of Matteo Ricci, a priest renown
for his capacious recall. Matteo kept in his mind
an ornate palace, with flourishing rooms delicately appointed.
One room held a swirling tapestry and a bright red vase;
another had crocodiles
and a golden stringed instrument; in a third was found
singing nightingales under a full moon.
Matteo invited everything
he heard or saw
to take up occupancy in his magnificent palace
where he could call on it later in an instant.
He was no priest, and no frequenter of palaces.
But he knew Skanchy’s Market from his childhood, and so he tried
stocking on its busy shelves most everything he was supposed to keep.
Stu Pease was shelved between the beans and the corn;
next Thursday’s supper with Roundys became a meat special;
and the name of her dog,
the pretty young girl with the cherry-red hair,
was found in the middle of the candies.
Then one day in the middle of running errands, he was strolling in his mind
from the fresh produce aisle over to hardware,
when from out of nowhere came
the smell of those old, oiled, wooden floors.
In an instant came the face of old man Skanchy, and how on one sunny day he gave out jawbreakers to the three little boys, and how he wanted the red one but got the green one, and how he and his friends sat on the steps and the sun felt so warm and the street was so quiet and green was okay and they talked about baseball and big brothers and before long it was time to ride the bikes over to the vacant lot for the whole day
and that was all there was to remember.
- Charlie Huenemann
My family and I just had an 8-day vacation in Costa Rica. Great time: stayed in a deluxe treehouse, explored the rainforest, swam in the ocean, crossed the jungle on hanging bridges, floated down a river, saw an erupting volcano, met lovely people and ate great food. Then a “pure life” experience: my daughter was thrown from a runaway horse, and when we caught up with her she was in/out of consciousness. Drive to emergency hospital, life flight to bigger hospital, stitches, concussion, overnight observation. All very difficult, given language barriers and the complications and misfortunes of socialized medicine. But a happy end result: she is fine, things could have been much, much worse, and we are somewhat wiser for the experience.
We followed that trip directly with a trip to Chicago for some sightseeing, visiting with good friends (Bill, Diane, Rick, and cousin Karen), and the Central Division meetings of the APA. By lucky happenstance, we ended up one evening with a stretch limo ride, which may have eclipsed all of my children’s memories of the rainforest.
My paper’s presentation at the APA went well enough — though I still need to work on presentation skills. It could have been much clearer and more gripping. But the APAs generally seem to be going through a transformation: basically fewer and fewer people are attending sessions. My friend Bill suggests that this is due to blogging. By the time the convention comes around, the papers have already circulated and been made largely available through websites, and have become largely “old news” to all interested parties even before they have been presented. I think this is true, and the APA should start rethinking its format. Perhaps there should be fewer “presented papers” and more roundtable discussions.
I won’t be checking in at huenemanniac for the next couple weeks. Will resume April 21!
Lately I have been encountering many different expressions of just how different our world today is from anything we have faced in the past. For a review of the geopolitical situation, see Tom Barnett’s short lecture here; for an update on genomics, look here; and for the classic “Shift Happens” presentation, look here. The upshot for me: there is a job that needs to be done, and philosophers may be in a good spot to do it. With this frenetic pace of change, we need to work at putting the change into some kind of perspective, offering both a general overview of it along with some suggestions about what rule sets we’ll need to sustain ourselves and (with any luck) carve out some meaningful lives. It may be a matter of linking up classical thought with modern situations, or a matter of radically rethinking old philosophical presuppositions.
I’ve just started to think along these lines. Here are three observations. (They are vague and programmatic, but I hope somewhat sensible.)
1. We belong to various groups, from local face-to-face encounters to web connections, from economic or political dependencies to epistemic or ideological dependencies. With each group there may be different rule sets, different kinds of obligation. There may be ‘one ring to rule them all’ — but there may not.
2. Physiological evolution cannot hope to keep pace with technological, social, or cultural evolutions. Our rule sets must also be ‘bridge principles’ to carry us through frenetic and unpredictable change until we reach new stability (if we ever reach a new stability; the bridge may well offer our only stability!). Think of Moses and the wandering Jews: they needed a rule set to guide them in a very different world. Our circumstance requires a different analogy, something like hurtling down the Vegas strip, trying to keep it all together.
3. Psychology, biology, anthropology, and philosophy can help us to identify core species needs (food, water, shelter, community, love family, challenge, opposition?). These are the bridge-building constraints. But at the same time we need some general vision of where we want to go – it must be a bridge to somewhere. Presumably we want something like higher baselines – “livable poverty,” economic and political safeguards, basic liberties for all, greater sympathy for others: ultimately, utopia, though a politically decentralized one.
That “Back to Nietzsche” post set off a firefight (a philosophically friendly one, I hope), and one of the issues that came up has to do with the relation between naturalism and metaphysics.
“Naturalism” can mean many things, but one widespread meaning in philosophy is this: naturalism is the view that contemporary science is (roughly) right, leaving room open for future progress and changes, and there isn’t anything more to the world than what contemporary science discloses. (Again, this has to be understood in such a way as to allow for further developments in science that are continuous with it — like another kind of subatomic particle, further laws of nature, etc.) It is often linked up with materialism, though I really think “materialism” is losing its meaning. Naturalism takes as real stuff like matter, energy, forces and lines of force, probability distributions — anything that we can causally interact with, or (as Quine put it) anything that we have to quantify over when we put our understanding in its simplest expressions. (Quine said that “To be is to be the value of a bound variable” — how poetic!)
Now I understand that some philosophers object that there must be more to the world than naturalism claims. “More” could be souls, God, miracles, or final causes, intentionality, moral facts. And then the battle begins to see whether the naturalist can “explain away” the seeming presence of these things with the materials at hand. It is a battle I’ve been known to wage from time to time.
But in the end, my heart really isn’t in the battle, I guess because of the following line of thought. Working scientists chop away at the stuff they are trying to understand, predict, and explain. Never once do they say to themselves something like: “Damn! What we really need here is something from Aquinas!” and rush over to the Summa for some help. They just putter along, in relative philosophical ignorance, mapping the genome and making computers that play chess and creating new life forms and finding ways to get more crop production out of dirt and countless other amazing things.
Philosophers may complain: “There are so many metaphysical matters you scientists are ignoring or taking for granted!” But what does that show? To me it shows that metaphysics — at least as traditionally defined — doesn’t really matter when it comes to understanding the world. (Indeed, you could well argue that Galileo, Newton, and Einstein made progress precisely by ignoring metaphysical questions and sticking to measurement.) I just can’t bring myself to say, “You scientists, you think you understand the world, but you really don’t, unless you work out the metaphysics.” Any philosophical position which implies that philosophers have a better understanding of nature than scientists do seems to me plainly ridiculous. So, I say: so much the worse for traditional metaphysics.
“Metaphysics is dead! We have killed it!”
But why then am I a philosopher instead of a scientist? Because, in my view, a philosopher’s job is to try to put together a more global view of things than scientists can, in conjunction with philosophical concerns. Smashing atoms (or whatever) is a full-time job, and reading a mix of (more or less popularized) accounts of physics, biology, psychology, whatever, and asking philosophical questions about all the results, is a full-time job, so we need all kinds of people. It shouldn’t be a competition (science vs. philosophy), in my view, but a conjunctive effort. Some people advance knowledge, and other people try to piece it together and see what it means. I’d like to do more of this in the future: so far, I have limited myself mainly to the historical periods when doing philosophy was the primary way of gaining an understanding of the world! (Namely, before science gained its wings.) Philosophy is a handmaiden to science, I would admit.
All that being said, I do not want to insist that everyone should uncritically accept what scientists say. Some philosophers are raising intelligent objections to the stories scientists say, and that battle over science’s adequacy should continue. As I’ve said, my heart’s not in that battle, since no objection I’ve heard is as compelling to me as the prospect of a natural explanation for the phenomena in question; but if others want to argue over it, they should! And keep me posted. Heck, I’ll even join in from time to time!
Here is a “jaw-dropping” short lecture by Craig Venter on what’s going on in contemporary genomics. Fascinating stuff, especially to me, since my wife Jeannine just got a job with a genomics center on campus. (We say she’s working on the “Huenemann Jeanninome” project.)
Looks pretty clear that creating artifical life isn’t too far away.
Provocative passage from Nietzsche, Human, all too Human:
For this reason a higher culture must give to man a double-brain, as it were two brain ventricles, one for the perceptions of science, the other for those of non-science: lying beside one another, not confused together, separable, capable of being shut off; this is the demand of health. In one domain lies the power-source, in the other the regulator: it must be heated with illusions, onesidedness, passions, the evil and perilous consequences of overheating must be obviated with the aid of the knowledge furnished by science. – If this demand of higher culture is not met, then the future course of human evolution can be foretold almost with certainty: interest in truth will cease the less pleasure it gives: because they are associated with pleasure, illusion, error and fantasy will regain step by step the ground they formerly held: the ruination of science, a sinking back into barbarism, will be the immediate consequence; mankind will have to begin again at the weaving of its tapestry, after having, like Penelope, unwoven it at night. (HH1, 251)
Okay, back to Nietzsche for a bit. In response to a post from Mike, I had to rethink the way I was characterizing Nz as a naturalist. Basically, a naturalist is someone who thinks science has basically the right picture of what humans are and what the world is, leaving some room for future insights and developments. I think Nz is partial to this view, but he adds an important qualification: namely, he thinks that all scientists, being human, are subject to all sorts of psychological traps, illusions, and distortions. His favorite example is the belief in the atom, which he thinks comes from our language and our inclination to think of the world as built from a bunch of identical-type things. He thinks that’s purely fiction, and so atomism is a kind of psychological projection on the world.
He’s getting this, I think, from neo-Kantian philosophers of his day (like Lange and Helmholtz). They were very excited by the idea of tying in Kant’s philosophy to what was being discovered about the physiology of perception — the way that the structure of the eyes, nerves, brain, etc. shape our experience of the world. (Basically, human neuro-anatomy replaces the two forms and twelve categories.)
So, I have ended up characterizing Nz as “a skeptical neo-Kantianesque naturalist,” meaning that he broadly accepts the scientific view of the world, once it has been purged (through skeptical examination) of the add-ons coming from human psychology.
A further interesting thing discovered along the way: in HH, when Nz talks about science, he usually has in mind something like sober, stone-cold skepticism. He has in mind a certain kind of approach to experience — the sort of “Skeptical Inquiror,” Michael-Shermer-type attitude, that always tries to explain away the appearance of magic. At one point (HH1, #256) he says that science is more useful for the attitude it encourages than for any nuggets of knowledge it manages to unearth: it teaches us to be more confident and tough-minded.