March 28, 2008
i’ve been reading duns scotus. the trigger for this is his influence on charles sanders peirce, and it’s possible to see, in scotus, peirce’s jumping off points. but what strikes me, as it often does when reading philosophical writers from several hundred years ago, is the god stuff. it is everywhere. one asks oneself how any of it can be taken seriously when there is a constant reaching out to a cosmic being. this is a great example, in the middle of, what would be, a sound essay:
Therefore, if substance immediately moved the intellect naturally to know the substance itself, it would follow that when a substance was absent, the intellect could know that it was not present. Hence, it could know naturally that the substance of bread does not exist in the Consecrated Victim of the Altar, which is clearly false.
Sometimes, like with Spinoza, you get the feeling that the god stuff is placed in the correct places so that the writer doesn’t get lynched. Spinoza does away with the big cheese neatly but mentions his devotion in passing, thereby enabling him to get on with the job. admittedly this didn’t make him popular. It’s often difficult to tell what is a truly held religious belief from a pragmatic wish not to be persecuted as a heretic.
of course we shouldn’t forget that god, or monotheism, was an important step in the evolution of science. where once there were many gods (explanations for individual experiences), there emerged one (a general explanation). a general catch-all explanation allows individual processes that can be analysed. it’s all about how, not who.
August 12, 2005
I like wikipedia, it has a very Peircian taste. Surely, he would piss his pants at such a thing.
Jimmy Wales co-founder of wikipedia, gave a talk at the Open Source Applications Foundation, blogged by ross mayfield, socialtext entrepreneur. it’s well worth a read, though it’s blogged live and the english is a mess. a few excerpts:
Mitch recalls that at one point there were more articles on Tolkien’s Middle Earth than Africa. Jimmy recalls that there were more words about the war on Deep Space 9 than the Congo war and how old time Wikipedians saw that africa was a red link, then someone wrote that africa is a continent.
The English Wikipedia said the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, French said otherwise. Now there is a wonderful and detailed article on definitions and a discussion of the issue. Korean and Japanese Wikipedias differ on disputed islands. In the Japanese Wikipedia, incidentally, they use the discussion page for a long time before they make the article.
More rules are necessary over time, but they encourage not making rules until they are absolutely necessary. Small languages haven’t made the same rules as large ones. The 3 revert law (in one day) in English version was created to prevent revert wars. But in small languages it’s okay to do 10. What I do varies in many languages, I can’t work on the Chinese Wikipedia in the same way as English, so they vote a lot. Dutch Wikipedia had a civil war, 500 users quit.
But in the end, there is no such thing as competition for Wikipedia.
Tag: wikipedia, peirce
May 31, 2005
Just back from the Hay-on-Wye literature festival. Well, it was great. We camped out at the Hollybush Inn which, we discover, has changed somewhat since last year. At first we struggled to understand the bunch of insanely smiley helpers that guided newcomers along the dirt roads, helped out in the shop, or slopped out the, frankly gross, toilet block. Only later did we find out that the whole place has been taken over by a cult. Apparently the cult grades its members. One woman has attained grade 8, which infers invisibility. This woman wanders naked down to the river under the impression that no one can see her. Any wolf-whistles she hears are, she believes, purely coincidental. We met some good people whilst camping. There can’t be many places where you can sit around earwigging and every conversation you can hear is a literary one.
The wheather was fantastic, hot sunny. The location, as always, beautiful. The place was crawling with literary types. The ’stars’ mingles with the crowd in cafes, bookshops, at the events, and wandering the few streets of Hay. Before seeing Malcolm Gladwell talk, I’d already bumped into him three times. It amazes me that he turns out not to have heard of CS Peirce. It’s not surprising that he hadn’t prior to publishing “Blink”, but you’d have thought that someone would have mentioned him since.
The highlight for me was Chritopher Hitchens. He’s good VFM. He’s funny, he knows everyone, and seems to have memorised every word he has ever read or written. He tells a story, presumably true, of being asked by the vatican to be the devil’s advocate in the beatification process for mother theresa. He launched into religion early on, continuing a trend that I’ve noticed recently. In the last year or so many more media gurus have begun to weigh in against religion. Hitchens says you’ve got to do this all the way down. Fundamentalists are a bunch of people that really believe the crap written in the holy books. It is odd that this bunch, more than those that merely purport to believe, are villified. But Hitchens wants to take them all down, even the “sinister” Dalai Llama.
tags:gladwell, hitchens, tags:hay
April 21, 2005
Ahh the web. well, there are a couple of good pieces i read recently. first an excerpt from The Wisdom of Crowds (Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business,Economies, Societies and Nations) by james surowiecki. i haven’t read the book yet but it looks worth a read, rather in the style of malcolm gladwell. incidentally, gladwell currently has a NYT No.1 in both hardback (Blink) and paperback (tipping point). surowiecki shows how groups make good choices, better choices than any one individual over time, than most individuals any time, and often better choices than the best individual.
i could go on (again) about charles sanders peirce’s ideas on community, but i’ve blooged about that stuff before. suffice to say that community is the ultimate interpretant.
i also thought of peirce (unlimited semiosis) when i read alchemy, seth goldstein’s posts on the internet, automata, algorithm, api, and alchemy. goldstein was instrumental in raising cash for del.icio.us
del.icio.us gives us Community but no communities. however, expect this to change real soon. the delicious api is out there and usable.
photo from flikr
March 26, 2005
A while ago a friend gave me a copy of Malcolm Gloadwell’s “The Tipping Point”. It was, as he would say, good. It was a NYT bestseller, a look at how ideas spread within the culture. Later, some months ago, I was at another friends who’d just been interviewed by Gladwell. He had an advanced copy of “Blink”. Unwilling to wait for the publishing date, and failing to get the agreement of my friend to borrow it, I purloined the thing. Again it was good. I’ve recently come across many blog posts on Blink. Today one at Deep Green Crystals (entreprenuer / VC blog). The following is a comment I posted to his review:
I read Blink a while ago from an advanced copy I purloined from a friend. I liked it too, though I agree that the actionable content isn’t very high. Charles Sanders Peirce, founder of semiotics, associate of William James, disgraced philosopher, and all-round genius, is altogether different. Blink with more Think. He gives plenty more to go on. His work was lost for decades in the Harvard library and his contribution in many fields has only recently come to light.
He invented the term abduction, being a third form of inference (in addition to Induction and deduction). Induction is inferring the general from the specific; and deduction the specific from the general. Abduction, however, is the spontaneous generation of a hypothesis which is then to be tested by further observation. Like, Karl Popper, whose work may or may not derive from Peirce (the jury is still out), he claimed that this is the true methodology of science. It is abduction that is practised by Sherlock Holmes (there is a good book edited by Umberto Eco, “The sign of three”, that compares Holmes with Peirce). Peirce said “There is a more familiar name for it than abduction, for it is neither more nor less than guessing.”
Of further interest may be Timothy D Wilson’s “Strangers to Ourselves – Discovering the Adaptive Conscious” which rounds up current science on the subject.
Blink is abduction at work.
February 21, 2005
any excuse to give Henry Reed’s great poem an airing. As you may guess this was set in WWII Britain, a new recruit going through training. (Don’t fret, this may go somewhere.)
To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.
I was reminded of Reed’s poem whilst reading Confuscious’ Analects.
The one thing needed first is the rectification of names.
Confuscious maintains that every name contains certain implications which constitute the essence of that class of things to which this name applies. Such things, therefore, should agree with this ideal essence. (Astute readers may hear echoes of Plato here, though Confucious predates him by 150 years or so.)
I was, earlier, tidying away some files on my PC, looking for appropriate places to store them. I had a note which I could have put in several different directories (classes of things), and which probably should have been in all of them in order to make them readily retrievable.
Like traditional bookmarks, directories are poor, outmoded, tools. I could just pile everything into one directory of “My stuff” and use google desktop to find them when required. Or tag them (assign one or more attributes to a file), though I’m not sure how that could currently be done, except on the net. Of course, I could store them anywhere, on the net, and add a tag of “Rustle” to them.
Yes, deli.cio.us tags are the way forward. I am a convert.
In a Perician sense we end up with multi-representamens (forms / signs), single objects (to which the signs refer), and an aggregated interpretant (sense made of the signs). The web does seem a nice example of Peirce’s “unlimited semiosis” (where the object is a sign in itself etc. etc.).
I think there is a more universal (not just applied to writing of texts) element of truth in Barthes’ saying that we should concentrate on the signifiers and let the signifieds take care of themselves.
February 6, 2005
an auto-didact friend once pronounced “Pepys” (as in Samuel Pepys) as “Peppies” rather than “Peeps”. I gave him a hard time and he’ll never do it again in polite company. - truth wins
a man emmigrates from scotland by the name of “galloway”. he ends up in australia. when asked to spell his name he does so incorrectly - “Gallaway”. no one corrects him, they are not familiar with the name. generations later the mispelling continues, is now a name in itself. it is even possible that it could eventually outstrip the original spelling. - truth loses
The COMMUNITY carries with it shared experiences, common understandings. There are Acceptable Interpretations.
In the early hours of the morning a car drives past the cricket club, from the car shots are fired at people in the car park. Some people are hit. This is a “Serious Assault”. This is an interpreatation which is acceptable now, but which would have been deemed far too moderate just a few years ago.
Peirce is good on interpretations. To Saussure we say “Non.”
Peirce sees a triadic structure to signs. We have the representamen, which is the form that the sign takes; the object to which the sign refers; and the interpretant. This is often misunderstood. essentially it is the sense made of the sign. it comes from the first experience.
i took my son to a concert last week. he had been asking me for some time and i wanted to take him to something great. it’s that first experience. Unfortunately I couldn’t make Steve Reich at the Barbican and settled for John Adams. As good as Adams was, I know it was not the best first experience. Peirce argues that every subsequent observation is made through the lens of the first. Signs are built.
Now my daughter wants to go to a football match.
Whenever my son goes to a concert he measures it in terms of the first. What he, subsequently, understands as a concert changes over time, but is always viewed through, skewed by, this first experience
Peirce founded ’semiotics’ as the study of signs. Saussure founded ’semiology’ for the same purpose. Peirce was unconventional, didn’t fit in a box, and, although respected, his ideas were not given sufficient airing. Saussure’s work became well known and became the establishment. Peirce, if you like, was a betamax to Saussure’s VHS.
Subsequently those that followed Saussure developed his ideas and found that they arrived at Peirce. Now we have only semiotics.
Interpretations have to be sustainable. Like the ‘truth’.
We the jury. . .
Names are great signs. Mr Gallaway, the opportunity is here for you to rectify an untruth. Change thy name back to where it once belonged.
There is a fine black playwright in London, Kwame Kwei-Armah. I recommend “Emina’s Kitchen” and “Fix Up”. Kwame took the name as a result of looking into his family history. The name he was given at birth was anglo-saxon. He reverted to what he regarded as the truth.
This doesn’t always work out, however. A BBC documentary last year showed people following their DNA roots. One man’s genes were traced back to a particular tribe in Niger. He visited with a film-crew. Unfortunately he seemed to want to take more from them than he was prepared to give. He’d be saying how he couldn’t live in these conditions, the tribe would nod and say how terrible it was and look to him, even saying “you do nothing for us?”. The guy didn’t seem to hear it. But he joined in with the rituals and celebrations as they came along, and decided to take a tribal name. One of the village recited a list of names and what they meant. Our guy chose not a common name but one which meant ‘master’.
Subsequently he visits the king. he tells him of his journey, how his ancestors had been taken as slaves to the west indies and had then migrated to england. but that he had come back and taken a tribal name. he gives it. the king looks at him for a moment, then says that the name does not mean “master”, but “slave master”.
January 25, 2005
I was thinking about why I’m blogging, about why anyone blogs. [and making it difficult for myself by pumping out The Chemical Brothers new album “Push the Button” at the same time.] Of course there are a number of obvious answers. Fred Wilson (A VC) pretty much sums up the basics. But what interests me is the blogspace itself and what it represents. C S Peirce in “The Fixation of Belief” argued that there are three (it’s always 3 with Peirce!) characteristics which should be present as a basis for belief.
1 It must control our thinking, our thinking must not control it
2 It must be publicly observable
3 It must lead to a common opinion
Something is real if its nature is independent of how I happen to think it to be. The truth, such as it is, is to be found through a COMMUNITY (Peirce himself capitalises the word) of observers. Ultimately, truth, he imagines, is to be found in an unbounded community in the whole of time. Peirce’s system is self-corrective, subsequent investigators correct the idiosyncrasies of those who have gone before, but knowledge is never absolute. We must accept fallibility, it’s the best we have.
“The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you. Thus, the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of a definite increase in knowledge. And so those two series of cognitions - the real and the unreal - consist of those which, at a time sufficiently future, the community will always continue to reaffirm; and of those which, under the same conditions, will ever be denied. ” - CS Peirce (Questions Concerning Certain Faculties)
I give you the Blogosphere - a community without definite limits and capable of a definite increase in knowledge.
I think this is important because it goes some way to explain why it upsets so many, and is going to upset so many more. A friend once told me that he couldn’t believe that the internet was allowed to happen, since it gave consumers all the power. What he hadn’t understood is that THEY, the corporations in this case, didn’t get it. (We’ll ignore the fact that most consumers don’t get it either) Most still don’t, though there are the beginnings of rumblings. Anyone who’s read Cluetrain, or my favourite blog gapingvoid will know what I’m on about.
What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it?
The 2005 Edge question provided some interesting material. One favourite came from Donald Hoffman, Cognitive Scientist University of California:
I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists. Space-time, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.
The world of our daily experience - the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds - is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm.
Indeed the usefulness of an interface requires, in general, that they do not. For the point of an interface, such as the Windows interface on a computer, is simplification and ease of use. We click icons because this is quicker and less prone to error than editing megabytes of software or toggling voltages in circuits.
Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.
If this is right, if consciousness is fundamental, then we should not be surprised that, despite centuries of effort by the most brilliant of minds, there is as yet no physicalist theory of consciousness, no theory that explains how mindless matter or energy or fields could be, or cause, conscious experience.
The great polymath philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce would be nodding his head, perhaps a little warily, here. It chimes with his philosophy of objective realism. He could see no way for matter to give birth to mind and, therefore, took mind as basic, seeing matter as a form of mind. “Mind hidebound with habit”. And these “habits” are never precise, giving rise always to an element of chance. A doctrine he calls tychism. These habits tend to spread and to connect with one another to make larger networks of habits, which he calls synechism. Thus the universe moves from tychism (chance) to complete synechism (order) through the medium of habit-forming.
For those who don’t know Peirce, he was the founder of semiology, and a philosopher way ahead of his time. He has only relatively recently been rediscovered after his papers, 10,000 handwritten sheets, were found in the Harvard library. Everyone who met him considered him a genius. Of course, he died poor and in obscurity.
I just found a great picture of him I’ve not seen before. I love the framed dog.