PDA

View Full Version : "History is Philosophy teaching by examples"



ColoradoGuy
01-02-2009, 11:10 PM
It being the New Year and all, I've been pondering that epigram, attributed to Thucydides (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thucydides). It does bring to mind what exactly we think history is -- just one damn thing after another or something with a measure of underlying structure and meaning? Here's how he elaborated on the notion:

". . . he who desires to have before his eyes a true picture of the events which have happened, and of the like events which may be expected to happen hereafter in the order of human things shall pronounce what I have written to be useful, then I shall be satisfied. My history is an everlasting possession, not a prize composition which is heard and forgotten."

One presumes that Thucydides believed we could learn from all that historical teaching and thereby become better. But perhaps he only meant we will only understand things better, powerless to improve. After all, Hobbes (http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/hobbes.htm) really liked Thucydides, being his first translator into English.

The Western tradition views history as linear; events unfold in the fullness of time and are moving toward a predictable end. Christianity has a lot to do with this viewpoint. Hegel (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/) gave us more of the same, although not so explicitly Christian. What we call "Whiggish (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whiggish)" historical interpretations have a long tradition, and they also maintain history advances from a less-better place to a better place.

How does this fundamentally optimistic view of history play these days? Things look pretty grim on CNN and such, but at least we don't burn witches and we have banned slavery and public flogging. Are we getting anywhere? Or is the human mind essentially still that of Paleolithic hunter-gathers squabbling over a dead mastodon?

Higgins
01-03-2009, 12:46 AM
It does bring to mind what exactly we think history is -- just one damn thing after another or something with a measure of underlying structure and meaning?

Are we getting anywhere? Or is the human mind essentially still that of Paleolithic hunter-gathers squabbling over a dead mastodon?

We certainly no longer have triremes or mastodons. Here's what Herodotus has to say (and note that he assumes we know that triremes are the ships he means and that one doesn't always need to count penteconters)

The Greeks engaged in the sea-service were the following. The Athenians furnished a hundred and twenty-seven vessels to the fleet, which were manned in part by the Plataeans, who, though unskilled in such matters, were led by their active and daring spirit to undertake this duty; the Corinthians furnished a contingent of forty vessels; the Megarians sent twenty; the Chalcideans also manned twenty, which had been furnished to them by the Athenians; the Eginetans came with eighteen; the Sicyonians with twelve; the Lacedaemonians with ten; the Epidaurians with eight; the Eretrians with seven; the Troezenians with five; the Styreans with two; and the Ceans with two triremes and two penteconters. Last of all, the Locrians of Opus came in aid with a squadron of seven penteconters.

Such were the nations which furnished vessels to the fleet now at Artemisium; and in mentioning them I have given the number of ships furnished by each. The total number of the ships thus brought together, without counting the penteconters, was two hundred and seventy-one; and the captain, who had the chief command over the whole fleet, was Eurybiades the son of Eurycleides. He was furnished by Sparta, since the allies had said that "if a Lacedaemonian did not take the command, they would break up the fleet, for never would they serve under the Athenians."

From the first, even earlier than the time when the embassy went to Sicily to solicit alliance, there had been a talk of intrusting the Athenians with the command at sea; but the allies were averse to the plan, wherefore the Athenians did not press it; for there was nothing they had so much at heart as the salvation of Greece, and they knew that, if they quarrelled among themselves about the command, Greece would be brought to ruin. Herein they judged rightly; for internal strife is a thing as much worse than war carried on by a united people, as war itself is worse than peace. The Athenians therefore, being so persuaded, did not push their claims, but waived them, so long as they were in such great need of aid from the other Greeks. And they afterwards showed their motive; for at the time when the Persians had been driven from Greece, and were now threatened by the Greeks in their own country, they took occasion of the insolence of Pausanias to deprive the Lacedaemonians of their leadership. This, however, happened afterwards.

At the present time the Greeks, on their arrival at Artemisium, when they saw the number of the ships which lay at anchor near Aphetae, and the abundance of troops everywhere, feeling disappointed that matters had gone with the barbarians so far otherwise than they had expected, and full of alarm at what they saw, began to speak of drawing back from Artemisium towards the inner parts of their country. So when the Euboeans heard what was in debate, they went to Eurybiades, and besought him to wait a few days, while they removed their children and their slaves to a place of safety. But, as they found that they prevailed nothing, they left him and went to Themistocles, the Athenian commander, to whom they gave a bribe of thirty talents, on his promise that the fleet should remain and risk a battle in defence of Euboea.

And Themistocles succeeded in detaining the fleet in the way which I will now relate. He made over to Eurybiades five talents out of the thirty paid him, which he gave as if they came from himself; and having in this way gained over the admiral, he addressed himself to Adeimantus, the son of Ocytus, the Corinthian leader, who was the only remonstrant now, and who still threatened to sail away from Artemisium and not wait for the other captains. Addressing himself to this man, Themistocles said with an oath- "Thou forsake us? By no means! I will pay thee better for remaining than the Mede would for leaving thy friends"- and straightway he sent on board the ship of Adeimantus a present of three talents of silver. So these two captains were won by gifts, and came over to the views of Themistocles, who was thereby enabled to gratify the wishes of the Euboeans. He likewise made his own gain on the occasion; for he kept the rest of the money, and no one knew of it. The commanders who took the gifts thought that the sums were furnished by Athens, and had been sent to be used in this way.

Thus it came to pass that the Greeks stayed at Euboea and there gave battle to the enemy.

(from: http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.8.viii.html )

Now one might think that philosophically or narratologically one could learn a lot from this:
1) the difficulty of assembling an alliance and keeping it together
2) the importance of bribery if properly done
3) the Plateaens could sort of do anything (some where also at Thermopylae)
4) this chapter is the one in which the Spartan stand at Thermopylae gets about 2 paragraphs versus 40 for the delaying actions of the combined fleet

Anyway, there is a great deal of structure and meaning in historical documents and in the arrival and disappearance of social orders. One might even say that for the last 5000 years state-backed ideologies and religions have grown into overblown burdens on language and consciousness and that it will take the next 5000 years to dismantle them and restore that purity of discourse that must have graced Paleolithic squabbles over mastodons.

robeiae
01-03-2009, 03:58 AM
Well, if we're gonna go all quote-happy, I'll give you these two, as I have on other occasions:

The Roman People had a saying (Most Honoured Lord) which came from the mouth of Marcus Cato, the Censor, and expressed the prejudice against Kings which they had conceived from the memory of the Tarquins and the principles of their commonwealth; the saying was that Kings should be classed as predatory animals. But what sort of animal was the Roman People? By the agency of citizens who took the names Africanus, Asiaticus, Macedonicus, Achaicus and so on from the nations they had robbed, that people plundered nearly all the world. So the words of Pontius Telesinus are no less wise than Cato's. As he reviewed the ranks of his army in the battle against Sulla at the Colline Gate, he cried that Rome itself must be demolished and destroyed, remarking that there would never be an end to Wolves preying upon the liberty of Italy, unless the forest in which they took refuge was cut down. There are two maxims which are surely both true: Man is a God to Man, and Man is a Wolf to Man. The former is true of the relations of citizens with each other, the latter of relations between commonwealths. In justice and charity, the virtues of peace, citizens show some likeness to God. But between commonwealths, the wickedness of bad men compels the good too to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud, i.e. to the predatory nature of beasts.--Thomas Hobbes, from "On the Citizen"

You do not know the unfathomable cowardice of humanity...servile in the face of force, pitiless in the face of weakness, implacable before blunders, indulgent before crimes...and patient to the point of martyrdom before all the violence of bold despotism--Niccolo Machiavelli, attributed

In other words, we're not really getting anywhere.

As to philosphy and history, I prefer Whitehead's words:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

And also, from the same:

Philosophy is the product of wonder.

I would say history is the consequence of action.

Wonder can lead to action, or it can lead to nothing. History can be driven by wonder, but it can just as easily be driven by need. Or hate.

ColoradoGuy
01-03-2009, 04:06 AM
. . .
As to philosphy and history, I prefer Whitehead's words:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
I know Whitehead said that, and I know Whitehead was a great thinker and all, but that quip of his never made sense to me. Why does it to you? It always seemed to me that Plato didn't care squat about history, what with the perceived world being nothing but shadows on the cave wall and all.

robeiae
01-03-2009, 04:14 AM
I know Whitehead said that, and I know Whitehead was a great thinker and all, but that quip of his never made sense to me. Why does it to you? It always seemed to me that Plato didn't care squat about history, what with the perceived world being nothing but shadows on the cave wall and all.
What I get from it is that much of philosophy is merely wrestling with the same issues for thousands of years that were a concern to ancient thinkers: the human condition. That's its history. So, what driving power could philosophy really have, with regard to history, in general? And when I say "philosophy," I mean the academic pursuit, the investigations into being, time, etc. Not ideas, in general. The history of philosophy is not identical with the history of ideas, despite some overlap.

ETA: And btw, the proof--as it were--of Whitehead's quote was given by Arendt...

Nietzsche reversed Plato, forgetting that a reversed Plato is still Plato...Marx turned Hegel upside down, producing a very Hegelian system of History on the process.

Corpus Thomisticum
01-03-2009, 09:23 AM
I would hope that in some 2,500 years, we could cough up more than one philosopher to lay the groundwork for the Western or European historical tradition. Plato is important, but the European (re-)discovery of Aristotle in the Renaissance eclipsed a lot of the shine from Plato, and so have many since. Generalizations are a bit dangerous, but they are admittedly fun. I liked Edith Hamilton's statement that Western man lives in a Jewish house furnished with Greco-Roman furniture, or Anthony Pagden's statement that "An abducted Asian woman (i.e., the Phoenician Europa) gave Europe her name, a vagrant Asian exile (i.e., Aeneas, founder of Rome, from Troy, modern Turkey) gave Europe its political and finally its cultural identity, and an Asian prophet (i.e., Jesus) gave Europe its religion." (Talbott, 2008: pg.67)

The Western tradition of history is based on the concept of progress, though I would look more towards modern philosophers like DesCartes and Rousseau for this notion. Our measure of History (as a study) is indeed linear; we see a logical story of events that line up in procession and which lead towards conclusions. There are low periods, stagnation, and even the occasional dramatic civilizational collapse, but we see those times as mere bumps in the road of a larger human (civilizational) progress. Some extremists have taken this progressive view of history to, well, extremes -- I guess extremists do that -- so both Marx and Hitler came to view History as mechanical and therefore, like all machines, goal-oriented. We have our fruitcakes too.

Contrast this History-as-progress view with the traditional Buddhist view, which essentially sees every day as merely a repitition of the day before, with any differences being merely time-bound illusions. Progress is itself an illusion; this world is not real, and not to be strived for. As pointed out, one side-effect of our (Western) view is social activism, and the belief that positive change in this world is a form of progress. While there is much wisdom in the religions of the sub-continent, both Hinduism and Buddhism have been criticized by Westerners for their lack of interest in alleviating the plight of the poor or under-privilaged in their societies, charities notwithstanding. This, by some observations, is why India today is still so rigidly divided by the caste system which imposes poverty on the vast majority of Indians. However, this is obviously a Western way of seeing things.

I would argue that:

1. We have indeed progressed, that today's civilizations, while not having achieved any ideal yet (which is to say, we still have lots of faults), have nonetheless improved the lot of a larger proportion of humanity than any before. More people today live better than ever before in History, not just in material terms but in legal and social terms as well. Now again, this is not to imply perfection or that there isn't still plenty to strive for, but being an average person in the 21st century world is a hell of a lot better than the same position in the 19th, 17th, 12th, 9th and etc. worlds.

2. That History (as a study) has contributed to this modern reality by creating measures for context, and providing important apples-to-apples comparisons for maximum contrast. Furthermore, History has matured as a discipline, so that, for instance, Thucydides may have thought that he would be the last word on many of the subjects he wrote on, but lo! the modern historian has a much wider -- a global! -- array of texts and historical references to research than Thucydides could have imagined, and add in the fruits of other disciplines like archaeology, linguistics, geology, (forensic) chemistry, dendrochronology, etc. etc. etc., and it turns out that Thucydides isn't our sole source anymore for at least some of the subjects he covers.

Ruv Draba
01-03-2009, 11:28 PM
How does this fundamentally optimistic view of history play these days? Things look pretty grim on CNN and such, but at least we don't burn witches and we have banned slavery and public flogging. Are we getting anywhere? Or is the human mind essentially still that of Paleolithic hunter-gathers squabbling over a dead mastodon?
Everyone writes histories, but empires decide which histories get published -- or used to. Supremacism is just history mythologised by self-interest. It's bigotry more than optimism and it's not only the round-eyes who indulge in it. I don't know of a colonial power that didn't rub its own belly when recounting history. But things are changing: victims now have camcorders too. It's not just the victors who get to publish nowadays, and morally, that can only be a good thing.

The architecture of mind is changing too, as the economy does. Where once accountants worked for farmers, farmers now work for accountants. Our kids are certainly getting smarter.

Our moral architecture though, is shaped by economy and mythology together. If you want to see moral facade crumble to reveal its rotting lathes of supremacism, you need only dig into a culture's action and adventure stories. For example, in 1990 I watched the screening of The Hunt for Red October, and saw Sean Connery single-handledly recast Russians from a US bugaboo to honourable foes. Three generations of moral outrage evaporated overnight. But if the outrage evaporated, then what happened to the moral arguments underpinning forty-five years of Cold War? The toppling of governments, war in third party lands, corruption of social justice, assassinations, pogroms, witch-hunts, torture and political imprisonments. If Russians aren't evil then those would be... wrong, wouldn't they? Nope -- move on folks, nothing to see here. We're progressing, doncha know.

If you want to gague the moral depth of a culture's soul, take a sounding on its supremacist myths. Study who always gets to win, who always loses. Tally who's asked to sacrifice, who has sacrifice forced on them and who skates. Check out who goes to heaven, who's consigned to hell and who's forgotten in limbo.

Life is certainly one damn thing after another: births, meals, squabbles over mastodons, wars, climate change, supervolcanoes and interments. Mythology is the meaning we give to it. Philosophy is our understanding of cause, consequence and capability. History seems a bit of each to me: mythology drives the questions; philosophy finds the answers. As for moral and social development -- I'd say that's about learning not to sit too comfortably anywhere for long.

ColoradoGuy
01-04-2009, 04:38 AM
. . .

ETA: And btw, the proof--as it were--of Whitehead's quote was given by Arendt...

Nietzsche reversed Plato, forgetting that a reversed Plato is still Plato...Marx turned Hegel upside down, producing a very Hegelian system of History on the process.
I'm confused over what you mean. Why is this proof of anything? What I read here is that Arendt makes a gnomic comment about Nietzche, and of course Marx built upon Hegal, even if he got the Zeitgeist wrong. Perhaps I'm dense, but why is this a proof of Whitehead's statement about all of philosophy being a footnote to Plato? I don't think all, of even most of philosophy is that. My philosophical knowledge consists mostly of the leftovers from a liberal education 35 years ago, but what about Hume? What about Bentham and the utilitarian tradition? Come to think of it, what about Aristotle?

Anyway, I'm not talking about Philosophy as a formal subject. I'm interested in the term as Thucydides meant it: can history, the examples of human behavior we see acted out in it, represent philosophical principles in action? If it is, have we learned anything from it that makes us better. Thus, on the grand scale of the centuries, is a Whiggish view of History the correct one?

robeiae
01-04-2009, 05:50 AM
I'm confused over what you mean. Why is this proof of anything? What I read here is that Arendt makes a gnomic comment about Nietzche, and of course Marx built upon Hegal, even if he got the Zeitgeist wrong. Perhaps I'm dense, but why is this a proof of Whitehead's statement about all of philosophy being a footnote to Plato? I don't think all, of even most of philosophy is that. My philosophical knowledge consists mostly of the leftovers from a liberal education 35 years ago, but what about Hume? What about Bentham and the utilitarian tradition? Come to think of it, what about Aristotle?
You're being too literal. The point is that the same things are being gone over, again and again and again. It's not that Plato was just so special, so brilliant; it's just that he was the starting point for the Western philosophical tradition--which is not all of philosophy, by any means. Still, I think any tradition--East, West, whatever--can be so characterized, as can all of it, as a whole.

This is not to say their are no insights and the like after Plato. There are, of course. But what we see in the Arendt quote is the recognition that there are no novel attempts at the application of these philosophies. It's all been done. To death.

Anyway, I'm not talking about Philosophy as a formal subject. I'm interested in the term as Thucydides meant it: can history, the examples of human behavior we see acted out in it, represent philosophical principles in action? If it is, have we learned anything from it that makes us better. Thus, on the grand scale of the centuries, is a Whiggish view of History the correct one?We seem to be quite capable--as is so often demonstrated--of any and all behaviors of those in the distant past. I see nothing that makes us "better." Nothing at all.

LaceWing
01-05-2009, 05:33 AM
[snip][C]an history, the examples of human behavior we see acted out in it, represent philosophical principles in action? (bolding mine)

I think this question needs reworking, because it can too easily, to my mind, be pushed to an empty extreme: "Can anything represent anything?" And the answer to that might set very loose boundaries. Are you wondering if the spread of principles influenced action? If observation of behavior led to principles? Can you be more specific? Is "represent" the best word for what you're trying to get at?

~

I remember (my reading of) Plato for three things: the idea of perfection, the parable of the cave, and his knack for dissecting questions. And Aristotle for his penchant for extrapolation from observation, despite his failure to count real teeth. (Do I remember that right? He posited a certain standard number of human teeth but didn't actually count any?)

Meanwhile, here's the way I like to play with the idea of history: Imagine a tree with future branches above and historical roots below. Draw a bazillion of each, and put a big X at ground level, marked "You Are Here." All those roots can represent every verbal act ever committed, every stone thrown and invention tested. Etc., ad infinitum. All those branches and leaves have the same complexity as the roots, but of possibility rather than actuality. Just as the future is provably indeterminate, the current outcome of the past I think is therefore provably coincidental. At least, we cannot ever prove otherwise simply because of computational limits.

So, I see any linear view as questionable. And I expect that as complexity science leaks into various disciplines, including history, the linear view will fade in importance.

The question this discussion brings up for me is, How does one effectively live within the particular historical moment, with limited views backwards and forwards in time? And yes, the fuzzy meaning of "effectively" is an invitation to ruminate.

ColoradoGuy
01-05-2009, 05:52 AM
.. .Are you wondering if the spread of principles influenced action?
Yes

[or] If observation of behavior led to principles?
That's what Thucydides thought he was doing.

I remember (my reading of) Plato for three things: the idea of perfection, the parable of the cave, and his knack for dissecting questions. And Aristotle for his penchant for extrapolation from observation, despite his failure to count real teeth. (Do I remember that right? He posited a certain standard number of human teeth but didn't actually count any?)
I once read Aristotole's Animalia, the whole thing, and you're right -- his use of actual observation was spotty. He seemed more interested in what ought to be, rather than what was.

Meanwhile, here's the way I like to play with the idea of history: Imagine a tree with future branches above and historical roots below. Draw a bazillion of each, and put a big X at ground level, marked "You Are Here." All those roots can represent every verbal act ever committed, every stone thrown and invention tested. Etc., ad infinitum. All those branches and leaves have the same complexity as the roots, but of possibility rather than actuality. Just as the future is provably indeterminate, the current outcome of the past I think is therefore provably coincidental. At least, we cannot ever prove otherwise simply because of computational limits.

So, I see any linear view as questionable. And I expect that as complexity science leaks into various disciplines, including history, the linear view will fade in importance.
What you say is perceptive, but why is it that we no longer flog people, burn witches, or enslave people? Were those random or considered events?

The question this discussion brings up for me is, How does one effectively live within the particular historical moment, with limited views backwards and forwards in time? And yes, the fuzzy meaning of "effectively" is an invitation to ruminate.
I'd amend that to say limited views backwards and no views forward. But you're correct, that is the question, and does what history we know help us do that? I think it does.

LaceWing
01-05-2009, 07:17 AM
Okay, I think I'm on track, sort of.

Short supposition: the principles (1) survive in lieu of the uncountable historical details and (2) act as a lens when viewing the present. We still have the social impulse to flog, burn and enslave; we just sublimate those physical acts with more "civilized" alternatives. Flogging = public berating? burning witches = ostracism? enslavement = employment and citizenship?

I'm thinking of those principles in the role of ritual, song, creed, motto. I'm thinking meme.

I'm little schooled in history's details. All I've got are a smattering of memes from current day western civ to compare with things going on in the Congo, for instance.


why is it that we no longer flog people, burn witches, or enslave people? Were those random or considered events?

Were flogging, burning and enslavement random or considered -- how about a little of each, or something in between? (Three-valued logic: yes, no, maybe; this or that, and/or something else.)

Of all the personal lessons learned by the billions of people who have lived and died, only some have been passed down. I tend to think the lessons most useful to the greatest number are those that survived. Then, I consider how no one of us has time in our own lives to consider every possible question, much less every possible answer. Civilization's "progress" is forwarded by providing Cliff Notes (principles) for the next generation, so that they can go on to newer, bigger questions in the limited time they have.

(put scare quotes all over civilization, progress, forward and the like. I only mean something like an attempt that we have made and continue to make, the success of which may never be known.)

Higgins
01-05-2009, 07:32 PM
I know Whitehead said that, and I know Whitehead was a great thinker and all, but that quip of his never made sense to me. Why does it to you? It always seemed to me that Plato didn't care squat about history, what with the perceived world being nothing but shadows on the cave wall and all.

It may be that all answers to the question of whether we have learned ("philosophically") anything from history as events and/or narrative explanations of events (ie "scientifically") are equally appropriate and/or rational.
One could take the Heideggerian-Freudian no learning position (ie "Aren't we there where we are?" da and da again over and over: dasein to the fort-da game) or the inevitable progress idea concealed in the Derridaean-Gertrude Steinian not-there: "there is no there there"...ie one has to progress because there is no way to get back to an original locus of non-progression.
There is an impossible Lacanian middle road: "Sometimes you are there (in the non-progressive primordial oozy there) and sometimes you are not (I can be exiled to nostalgia for an impossible otherness of the there of all beginnings)"....

GirlWithPoisonPen
01-05-2009, 07:51 PM
I think it's dangerous to reduce history to a series of lessons or to shove it into a template like progress. Doing so doesn't allow for complexity or for things being messy.

Ideas about how people should be treated have evolved over time in keeping with a society's priorities and values. We don't burn people for being witches any more because witchcraft is no longer a rational explanation for why things happen. Instead, there are now scientific and medical explanations for natural phenomenon and disease.

Higgins
01-05-2009, 09:01 PM
I think it's dangerous to reduce history to a series of lessons or to shove it into a template like progress. Doing so doesn't allow for complexity or for things being messy.

Ideas about how people should be treated have evolved over time in keeping with a society's priorities and values. We don't burn people for being witches any more because witchcraft is no longer a rational explanation for why things happen. Instead, there are now scientific and medical explanations for natural phenomenon and disease.

There's no doubt things are messy. Many an explanation comes under the heading of "things are messy"...But:

Are they really messy if they are explicable?
Why is it dangerous to propose a non-messy mechanism such as "progress"?
How have we learned the value of reserving the messiness as a reservoir of potentially valuable things and explanations? Is that the same as not knowing or learning the limitations of some forms of narrative/knowledge? Is messy a useful epistemological evaluation? Is that something we have learned after all?

AMCrenshaw
01-05-2009, 10:01 PM
If Russians aren't evil then those would be... wrong, wouldn't they? Nope -- move on folks, nothing to see here. We're progressing, doncha know.

If you want to gague the moral depth of a culture's soul, take a sounding on its supremacist myths. Study who always gets to win, who always loses. Tally who's asked to sacrifice, who has sacrifice forced on them and who skates. Check out who goes to heaven, who's consigned to hell and who's forgotten in limbo.

Yeah, it just changes. It doesn't need to be Russians (which it's starting again to be Russians, btw). It will be some group.




Why is it dangerous to propose a non-messy mechanism such as "progress"?


To impose "progress" would be dangerous. To propose is a fundamental part of safe science, if I recall correctly.

I'm not convinced there is progress. It would take one hell of a comprehensive historical argument to do so. I am quite skeptical of people who claim moral progress. I don't see it, especially anywhere a system of power is in place.

For example, someone asks: "But why is it that we no longer flog people, burn witches, or enslave people?"


Physical acts with more "civilized" alternatives.

How true! Instead we tap target people's phone lines, set up hidden cameras on thier every street corner and in every "convenience" store, and check their luggage more thoroughly at the airport.

How many people in the American prison system are black? A high percentage, I'd be willing to bet. I'm sure we are all aware, also, about certain work release programs: Dress up in bright orange clothing, shackled, and clean up the highway for twenty-five cents an hour. I call that a new, more devious form of enslavement. And I think, then, I can be easily skeptical of moral progress.

One thing I have to admit is that I am hopeful of it. I like to think on the individual level, people can learn to explain the past and, if they are not happy (to say the least) with it, find ways of making the present and future different-- they hope better.

Why not on a collective level?

AMC

Higgins
01-05-2009, 10:46 PM
To impose "progress" would be dangerous. To propose is a fundamental part of safe science, if I recall correctly.

I'm not convinced there is progress. It would take one hell of a comprehensive historical argument to do so.


You could have dangerous scientific proposals. And if you are so sure there is some "fundamental part of safe science" then you are assuming there is some kind of progress. For example, there are scientific modes of explanation and data collection and these have been a recent development. The assumption of progress is in some ways unavoidable. For example the social orders where people are more or less forced to undertake intensive cultivation can support denser populations of people and the seemingly progressive divisions of labor that come with dense, immobilized populations and the need to enforce the social order that perpetuates those modes of production that allow for greater population densities. Periods where these greater densities occur are assumed to be more "advanced" than periods when populations disperse or decline or (in archaeology) simply become less observable.

ColoradoGuy
01-05-2009, 11:18 PM
I think it's dangerous to reduce history to a series of lessons or to shove it into a template like progress. Doing so doesn't allow for complexity or for things being messy.
I'm not suggesting we shove anything into a template, and history's plenty messy. But that doesn't mean, on balance, humans can't evolve morally as well as physically. And the substrate of moral evolution could be those messy, random historical events, leavened with just enough of a pinch of conscious observation to push the results of the mess along in a good way.

ETA: I'm well aware of efforts, from Suetonius to Santayana, to reduce history to a series of lessons. That's a cartoon. I'm thinking about something with much more nuance.

robeiae
01-05-2009, 11:33 PM
I'm not suggesting we shove anything into a template, and history's plenty messy. But that doesn't mean, on balance, humans can't evolve morally as well as physically.
No, it doesn't.

But think on this: we're 2500 years out from Greek civilization, 3500+ years out from Chinese civilization, 5500+ years out from Sumerian civilization, etc.

Yet, the horrors of WWI and WWII, Pol Pot, and the Russian Revolution occurred in the last one hundred years.

And just yesterday, I saw a news story wherein a man murdered his two-year-old son to avoid child support payments.

Higgins
01-05-2009, 11:59 PM
I'm thinking about something with much more nuance.

Since every person comes into the world equally unversed in lessons of any kind, one area where one can always make some kind of progress is in the area of
socialization. Even in the face of not very functional
early environments and even after a person is an incipient criminal it is possible to functionally socialize a person. The area of socialization is an area where some progress has been made, though again probably the kids who watched a squabble over a mastodon got a better education in how their social world worked and how to fit into it.

ColoradoGuy
01-06-2009, 12:58 AM
No, it doesn't.

But think on this: we're 2500 years out from Greek civilization, 3500+ years out from Chinese civilization, 5500+ years out from Sumerian civilization, etc.

Yet, the horrors of WWI and WWII, Pol Pot, and the Russian Revolution occurred in the last one hundred years.

And just yesterday, I saw a news story wherein a man murdered his two-year-old son to avoid child support payments.
(You left out Rwanda.) Anecdotes, says the optimist. Of course history is really an aggregation of anecdotes, I suppose. Me, I still think we're driving somewhere better and awareness of what happened in the past is a major cog of the engine. What originally intrigued me about the Thucydides quotation is that this is a very old notion -- can evolutionary paradigms be applied to ideas. Maybe historical events can be seen as random mutations with susequent events a test of their fitness.

robeiae
01-06-2009, 01:07 AM
(You left out Rwanda.) Anecdotes, says the optimist. Of course history is really an aggregation of anecdotes, I suppose. Me, I still think we're driving somewhere better and awareness of what happened in the past is a major cog of the engine. What originally intrigued me about the Thucydides quotation is that this is a very old notion -- can evolutionary paradigms be applied to ideas. Maybe historical events can be seen as random mutations with susequent events a test of their fitness.
I think there's no doubt that an evolutionary-type algorithm is at play. Technological, social, economic, and political change alter the course of choices--and affect the range of such choices--everyone makes, and that is played out on a grand scale of historical change.

But I think it's a mistake to view it as "progress" in the realm of morality. It could be that the nature of a moment is such that many immoralities are less likely, but it doesn't make people--in general--any less capable of such immoralities.

And as we have seen, things can do an about face in nothing, flat.

ColoradoGuy
01-06-2009, 02:32 AM
What we've really got here, then, is a smack-down between Cotton Mather and George Fox.

gorgias of leontini
01-06-2009, 05:33 AM
In the words of my father,

There is movement backwards, forwards, sideways; there is change, evolution, revolution. These are the movements of human-generated systems. If morality is one such system (and we must admit at some point that it is), it too must move, especially if moral progress, for example, is dependent on other systems -- our discoveries in the physical, economic, sociological fields, to name a few. We must admit that moral progress is dependent upon the progress of these systems. That is, moral judgments are really rooted in our understanding of these systems and carried through by our empathetic links to the rest of the universe.

The movements my father would describe are necessary movements of individuated consciousness; as historians or philosophers it is necessary to evaluate the reasoning of the past, to recognize its triumphs and its flaws and shortcomings; it is necessary to recognize how the past flows and emerges into the present; to see the past clearly is a progression in its own right. Thus to see history more clearly is a progress we, beyond the year 2000, have unique rights to. Who can really argue that we do not see history more clearly than those one thousand years ago? As individuals, we cannot see our history clearly let alone see the history of an entire people, but we must admit that the histories are more available now than they ever have been, and that is a moral progress so long as they are written or recorded by a multiplicity of voices from differing ideologies.

* * *

It is folly (to my simple mind) to say that our discoveries in philosophy and in science are reduced to insignificance by the imprecision of language and by the arbitrariness of meaning. Rather that this narratological discovery should enlighten us about how to create histories that reflect a wider range of truths, so that, indeed, the many culminate into a blurry totality. That is, it is more truthful that each of us live as records and testaments to our own lives; we cannot rely on another to speak for us, or to leave behind traces of who we are. That is, perhaps, our sole individual responsibility.

* * *

Human beings will commit atrocities another ten thousand years from now. What they should consider atrocity is beyond my imagination.

* * *


Nothing written is irrevocable.

Ruv Draba
01-06-2009, 06:02 AM
(Of course history is really an aggregation of anecdotes, I suppose.By itself, more historical documentation wouldn't make us a lick wiser. We need to do work to turn records into benefit. What we learn from them derives either from philosophy (i.e. what else we know), or mythology (i.e. what such stuff means to us).


Me, I still think we're driving somewhere better and awareness of what happened in the past is a major cog of the engine.We certainly can't get better without knowing where we've been. But morality is some sort of compromise between empathy and economics, moderated by our cleverness (philosophy) and mythology. Combustion engines gave us a more latitude to tut-tut about slavery, for instance; there's less infanticide in countries with birth-control.

Our empathy grows only slowly, (and it's questionable whether our innate capacity for empathy has grown much at all). But our economics have grown abundantly, and so our morality has been able to develop too.

gorgias of leontini
01-06-2009, 09:40 AM
By itself, more historical documentation wouldn't make us a lick wiser.

Except that we record history for a purpose...don't we? And what is this purpose? If history is simply, merely to "know what happened" then we may as well put down our pens, shut off the daily news cameras, and close the laptops. If history is what I think it is (mythology itself), we learn from it the way we learn from any story. Otherwise, I ask: Why bother?

Ruv Draba
01-06-2009, 02:51 PM
Except that we record history for a purpose...don't we?We don't make records for just one purpose but many: to share news and entertain; for accountability and ceremony; to analyse, predict and plan. We make records of our activities and our environments -- sometimes for specific purposes; sometimes for idle curiosity; sometimes from fear or nostalgia; sometimes because it makes us feel purposeful even if we're not sure what the use will be. We also make unintentional records -- e.g. in what we throw away as garbage, or what we give one another as gifts. And nature itself makes records -- our teeth and bones are records, for instance, and so are sections of trees and ice-cores.

History is comprised of records of many sorts: rigorous or not; complete or not; comprehensive or limited; factual or fictional or some mix; biased or not; created by humans and created by nature; deliberate or unintentional. There's certainly myth in it, but I think it oversimplifies matters to call it all myth -- it's a postmodern fallacy that has traded utilitarian 'what' for an aesthetic 'how'.

Higgins
01-06-2009, 06:15 PM
We don't make records for just one purpose but many: to share news and entertain; for accountability and ceremony; to analyse, predict and plan. We make records of our activities and our environments -- sometimes for specific purposes; sometimes for idle curiosity; sometimes from fear or nostalgia; sometimes because it makes us feel purposeful even if we're not sure what the use will be. We also make unintentional records -- e.g. in what we throw away as garbage, or what we give one another as gifts. And nature itself makes records -- our teeth and bones are records, for instance, and so are sections of trees and ice-cores.

History is comprised of records of many sorts: rigorous or not; complete or not; comprehensive or limited; factual or fictional or some mix; biased or not; created by humans and created by nature; deliberate or unintentional. There's certainly myth in it, but I think it oversimplifies matters to call it all myth -- it's a postmodern fallacy that has traded utilitarian 'what' for an aesthetic 'how'.

I agree that saying history is a myth is not very helpful, but I don't think current work in cultural studies (which is a good sample of what might be considered pomo thinking) is particularly concerned with that. Even if one took myth-making as a central aspect of historical narrative there is still the history of that myth-making and is that a myth? Nope. It is something else.
I've been reading Walter Benjamin's Arcades project ( review at http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/106.5/ah0501001721.html)
which shows how "myths" (eg varieties of commodity display and exchange and the desires they invent or satisfy) make history (aspects of the 19th century economy) and how the historian or mythographer is then pulled in and ends up constructing myths and histories to make sense of it all.

gorgias of leontini
01-06-2009, 09:35 PM
When I said mythology, it was of course my fault for not specifying that I meant that mythology is sense-making; likewise with history. Not synonymous, no. A strong common thread, yes. Walter Benjamin is in fact my source.

AMCrenshaw
01-07-2009, 12:22 AM
"What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it."

Including at the moment Hegel wrote it, too, I suppose.

AMC

Higgins
01-07-2009, 01:36 AM
"What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it."

Including at the moment Hegel wrote it, too, I suppose.

AMC

Hegel had evidently not read his Herodotus. In the passage I quoted you can see the Athenians steadily outmanoeuvering everybody -- as (at that point) they had been for 30 years -- running wild over the Aegean and turning the wrath of the Persian Empire against them. And -- of course -- in its own way the Persian Empire was even more full of well-learned lessons than any Empire before or since because 2500 years of ethnocentric slaughter in the Near East had convinced the elites that ran things for the Persians that a pluralistic system that allowed people to get back to their homelands and worship their old gods worked better than the Assyrian system of mass deportations and terror. Herodotus grew up in Halicarnasus in the Persian Empire and one of the heroines of his narrative is Artemisia of Halicarnasus:

http://www.livius.org/arl-arz/artemisia/artemisia.html

Ruv Draba
01-07-2009, 01:47 AM
I meant that mythology is sense-making; likewise with history.In fairness, I used it that way too earlier.

But we could only call mythology subjective sense-making -- your myths and mine may differ; philosophy then (I really mean science) is objective sense-making. We've always had myths about the weather, but the weather's a lot more sensible since scientists got interested in it.

But not all philosophy is scientific -- some is myth-making too.. Political philosophy say, as opposed to political science.


I don't think current work in cultural studies (which is a good sample of what might be considered pomo thinking) is particularly concerned with that.I don't know how far you'd like to extend your definition of cultural studies Higgins, but postmodern artistic critique for instance, unshamedly decontextualises and repurposes records to prop up the critic's own mythology. The justification for doing this? Why, it's all subjective of course, therefore there need be no rigor. I thought that the review of Paris Arcades had a bit of that quality, actually. I distrust reviews that spend more time breathing mystique into a work than demystifying it, and I like any biographical facts to connect to a central thesis -- else why include them? I haven't read Paris Arcades but feel not much wiser for having read the review.

Even if one took myth-making as a central aspect of historical narrative there is still the history of that myth-making and is that a myth? Nope. It is something else.Since myths of an event often endure long after the direct effects are forgotten, it's very useful to know how myths arise, and what sustains them. Writers, marketers and historians would all kill to know the answer to this. Do myths create new behaviours or do new behaviours cause myths to form? Whichever it is, myths are very powerful once they form.

But I agree that the answers to such questions can't be subjective; they must be objective and fact-based. Making subjective sense out of changing subjectivity isn't Ouroboros swallowing its tail -- it's putting its head up its own butt. [And if only that were true literally as well as figuratively then the self-serving pseudocritique of some pomo mofos might be the better muffled for it. :)]

LaceWing
01-07-2009, 02:14 AM
Since it doesn't surprise me when myth and ritual are mentioned together, I'll throw this into the discussion ring. In a TED Talk video* on traditional rice growing, the presenter described ritual as a way to synchronize emotions in an almost musical way so that group members could coordinate efforts to share water with the least amount of discord. Similarly, I'm thinking of myth as useful for synchronizing world view so that group members can prioritize moral and social values. Roughly, it seems to me, western myths stress the stand-out hero, while eastern myths stress the supporting character. Western = short view? Eastern = long view?

*If you you're interested: search the TED Talks site for - rice bali - and I think you'll get a hit.

gorgias of leontini
01-07-2009, 02:16 AM
philosophy then (I really mean science) is objective sense-making. We've always had myths about the weather, but the weather's a lot more sensible since scientists got interested in it.

The intention is "objective sense-making," as you call it; however, at the moment that sense or is given personal significance or meaning by an individual all science and philosophy becomes subjective.

Ruv Draba
01-07-2009, 02:28 AM
The intention is "objective sense-making," as you call it; however, at the moment that sense or is given personal significance or meaning by an individual all science and philosophy becomes subjective.Or rather, some new myth wraps around the science -- the science itself remains untouched, except by further scientific enquiry. For example, Wilhelm Röntgen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_R%C3%B6ntgen) discovered X-rays by accidental exposure of a photographic plate. The Curies went on to find that radioactivity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation#Discovery)was a property of only certain elements. They played with radium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium#History)and other salts to learn more about what we now know was evidence of nuclear decay. Next minute, patent medicine companies were peddling radium solutions (http://fogonazos.blogspot.com/2008/06/radio-activity-makes-you-feel-so.html) 'for health'. The Curies both died of cancer and the myth that nuclear radiation is healthy has subsequently changed, but the science done by the Curies has not -- we still use it today.

Ruv Draba
01-07-2009, 03:00 AM
I'm thinking of myth as useful for synchronizing world view so that group members can prioritize moral and social values.Every culture I can think of propagates its moral and social values in myth -- I'm not clear how else they could be propagated. Numerous organisational change experiments show that shared myth is critical to cultural cohesion. So the history of culture must certainly include its myths, and to the extent that history also helps define culture, history itself supports a mythical view. I've tried to show previously though, that history is far more than just a collection of myths.

Roughly, it seems to me, western myths stress the stand-out hero, while eastern myths stress the supporting character. Western = short view? Eastern = long view?Modernism certainly celebrated individual heroism to the exclusion of nearly everything else, and Western myths are full of heroic individuals. But in fairness there's plenty of that in Eastern myth too. Buddhist tales of Sun Wukong The Monkey King (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Wukong), for instance - or Rama in the Ramayana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana), or Mullah Nasreddin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasreddin) tales all over the Islamic world. I think it's nothing more than the fact that it's easier to tell stories about a single viewpoint character.

LaceWing
01-07-2009, 06:18 AM
I enjoyed the wiki on the Monkey King, Ruv. Thanks. (Haven't read the others yet.) But do you notice how he is a servant to the wishes of Buddha or a priest? That's the eastern Samurai role I was thinking of, as compared to western kings of the realm. But whether such categorizations are true/defensible or not, it just captures my fancy to observe the worlds in which the characters are placed, and what such predicaments assume.

How else could the values be transmitted? Good question. How about with science? For instance, could various fairy tales be replaced with a telling of anthropological, sociological and psychological research? If so, would their form need to adjust a little or a lot to have the same impact as a characterized story-formed telling? Is it worth wondering further whether the forms of story and research might evolve into one generic form?

LaceWing
01-07-2009, 06:40 AM
I think it's nothing more than the fact that it's easier to tell stories about a single viewpoint character.

Wait; there are problems in form and content with this statement, separate from what I think you mean by it. Consider my impression of the statement's weakness as a heads-up, something to look at closely, as you are apparently wont to do.

Nothing is literally, metaphysically or linguistically "nothing more than" anything else. Furthermore, facts are peculiar things. Not sure that asserting this about stories can stand up as a fact. So, "nothing more than" is one of those phrases that may suit polemic, but not philosophy-and-friends, imo.

But the meat of this the most interesting to me, that personal stories are easy, natural, a part of being human. I almost don't want any kind of dry discourse on why or how; there's a magic in it. I'd love to hear reports of other animals telling each other their tales.

(The "magic" in it I think is that eerie gestalt switch from subjective to objective -- which seems related to Why stories? What is history? Or philosophy? And now I'm really rambling. So I'll stop here for a while.)

Ruv Draba
01-07-2009, 07:24 AM
I enjoyed the wiki on the Monkey King, Ruv. Thanks. (Haven't read the others yet.) But do you notice how he is a servant to the wishes of Buddha or a priest?As Percivale is a servant to God, or Launcelot is a servant to Arthur, or Oedipus is a slave of prophecy? In Western and Eastern fiction, viewpoint characters have major characters around them -- some subordinate, some peers and some superiors. Eastern fiction has embraced the Ronin or masterless man just as Western fiction has -- one need only look at Kurasawa's Sanjuro and Yojimbo, for instance. And Monkey himself is about as rebellious and individualistic a servant as one Buddhist priest could ever endure -- indeed that's his charm. ;)

How else could the values be transmitted? Good question. How about with science?Science teaches fact and consequence and I think that adapts badly to values. Historically, attempts by science to decide on worthwhile values, much less teach them, have been quite disastrous.

Philosophy certainly teaches values -- ethics, morality and aesthetics are all philosophical subjects, for example. But my belief is that such philosophy is not science but a special form of mythology -- a variety of fiction that happens to hold strong logical cohesion and verisimilitude to reality, but like other forms of fiction, lives in its own special domain. It's instructive for instance, that early philosophers used fictional devices like dialogue to explore such philosophies.

LaceWing
01-07-2009, 07:54 AM
Oh, good. You stretched my mind tonight. Will go off to adjust for a while.

Higgins
01-07-2009, 06:11 PM
But not all philosophy is scientific -- some is myth-making too.. Political philosophy say, as opposed to political science.

I don't know how far you'd like to extend your definition of cultural studies Higgins, but postmodern artistic critique for instance, unshamedly decontextualises and repurposes records to prop up the critic's own mythology. The justification for doing this? Why, it's all subjective of course, therefore there need be no rigor. I thought that the review of Paris Arcades had a bit of that quality, actually. I distrust reviews that spend more time breathing mystique into a work than demystifying it, and I like any biographical facts to connect to a central thesis -- else why include them? I haven't read Paris Arcades but feel not much wiser for having read the review.


Maybe the Arcades project was a bad example but I'm sure there are much worse examples of pomo excess out there. In defense of pomo excess all I can say is that at least it tries to be involved and guilty (so to speak) and complicit with the things it is talking about and there is a pretty ridiculous array of counter-productive in-jokes built into most pomo discourse that understandibly many people find a horrible waste of time.
Still, in the sphere of such cultural studies as history of science the general pomo project of unpacking narratives of origin and the foundations that go with them, has proven very productive and enlightening. As better examples I would suggest things like

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=402925&sectioncode=26

which work hard to address the progressive side of Lyell's non-progressive geohistory. And note that the reviewer has recently
been working on the history of the idea of the mastodon.

Ruv Draba
01-07-2009, 09:46 PM
Still, in the sphere of such cultural studies as history of science the general pomo project of unpacking narratives of origin and the foundations that go with them, has proven very productive and enlightening.I'll believe you in principle because the word of educated and sincere colleagues should never be lightly dismissed. But in my ignorance I'll reserve the right to scoff indefinitely at egregiously bad postmodernism until I find some exemplarily good postmodernism. :)

Thank you too for this second review, which seemed to be at least pitched toward readers who hadn't already read the book. On then, to the review and some ideas it throws up that may be relevant to this thread:


Historians of science are often accused of triumphalism and Whiggism for documenting a progressive narrative flow towards a greater "truth". But the able historian can decipher a path towards a deeper, testable understanding of phenomena in the material world without falling prey to the arrogance of scientism or denigrating the work of those who, along the way, "got it wrong".Agreed.

Triumphalism, Whiggism and the denigration of those who got it wrong are of course disrespectful and ignorant behaviours. They're also cheap giggles in the history of science because science only ever progresses by failure anyway. Scientific knowledge marches on a trail of broken glass that we cast before ourselves by coupling the temerity to speculate with the courage to test relentlessly. Every professional scientist understands this -- that your best papers earn their own pulping, typically in your lifetime. Scientists either learn to laugh at themselves or the dentist gets rich fitting caps over ground tooth-enamel. Far from being triumphalist and Whiggish, to people who understand how science works the history of science is a fascinating tale of how individual humiliations can enlighten everyone else. :tongue

Mythologists like fiction-writers and certain philosophers don't always get just how unforgiving scientific enquiry is though. Edgar Rice Burroughs might have been racist, but he's still read. Marx might have been a naive idealist, but he's still taught. But get one little detail wrong in science (like saying that the sun whizzes around the earth and not vice-versa -- a matter irrelevant for domestic purposes to everyone on the planet) and you're instantly a footnote. Unlike philosophers or fiction-writers, scientists have no niche market to cower in when the stones come. Everyone's entitled to throw stones at science, and more than that, everyone must throw stones in perpetuity. Author and allies can't defend a proposition like E=mc2 or recontextualise it the way that devotees now do with Marx. The proposition must defend itself against all comers in its original context or be discarded.

We can't possibly deny that each generation of science makes us smarter -- we know that we can do more this year than we could last year. In every objectively-measurable sense, science enriches us (though how we should come by or use that wealth is a values question). Perhaps less recognised though is that science contains nearly the entire corpus of truly pluralist thought in the world today. And so words like truth don't need to be quoted; words like wrong certainly shouldn't be. Yes, scientific understanding changes, but if we take truth to mean 'tested to the best of our present abilities and operationally effective' -- the sort of truths that parents, judges, and emergency workers rely on every day -- then there's no reason to be ashamed of scientific truth and put a syntactic muzzle on the word. If there's a problem, I'd argue that it's not to be found in scientific notions of truth -- it's in how mythologians get sloppy about their ideas of truth. Go muzzle them, say I.

(And perhaps that's the one useful that postmodernism has done in my eyes -- steamed the myth out of reproducible knowledge. But having done that, maybe it ought to have stopped rather than trying to impress new myth onto existing knowledge, or making the entire Western middle-class too neurotic to use words like 'truth' and 'good' without quotations.)

Which segues into this paragraph, I guess:

Another popular stick with which to beat the historian of science is to deny the legitimacy of developing a theme of conflict between science and religion because, in the 18th and 19th centuries at least, the scientists were also clerics. This is to miss the blindingly obvious point that the conflict was not between disciplines but within individual minds and souls, as it was for many scholars in the story told here.This is the nub, of course.

We're all mythologians at heart -- even scientists. (E.g. look at Linus Pauling's raves about vitamin C (http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/pauling.html), or historical researches into racial differentiation). Only relentless, impartial testing keeps science honest -- and nothing I've ever seen keeps myth honest -- though postmodernism has certainly had a try.

Whatever our psychological reasons to revere myths, making them sacred is just xenophobia. As products of human thought, myths are contestable and we're rather foolish to try and fortify them against a weight of onrushing fact. Throwing mythological stones at accumulating fact is as productive as fending off a steam-train with a banana. The point at which we abandon cherished myths and embrace reality is a personal point and perhaps says something about the architectures of individual minds. Its certainly within our ability to hide in myth forever, but of course if we do that then history can't teach us a dang thing beyond what we've already decided we know.


And note that the reviewer has recently been working on the history of the idea of the mastodon.Then I'd say that the reviewer is eminently qualified to participate here, even if unknowingly. :)

Higgins
01-07-2009, 10:40 PM
:



We can't possibly deny that each generation of science makes us smarter -- we know that we can do more this year than we could last year. In every objectively-measurable sense, science enriches us (though how we should come by or use that wealth is a values question). Perhaps less recognised though is that science contains nearly the entire corpus of truly pluralist thought in the world today. And so words like truth don't need to be quoted; words like wrong certainly shouldn't be. Yes, scientific understanding changes, but if we take truth to mean 'tested to the best of our present abilities and operationally effective' -- the sort of truths that parents, judges, and emergency workers rely on every day -- then there's no reason to be ashamed of scientific truth and put a syntactic muzzle on the word. If there's a problem, I'd argue that it's not to be found in scientific notions of truth -- it's in how mythologians get sloppy about their ideas of truth. Go muzzle them, say I.

(And perhaps that's the one useful that postmodernism has done in my eyes -- steamed the myth out of reproducible knowledge. But having done that, maybe it ought to have stopped rather than trying to impress new myth onto existing knowledge, or making the entire Western middle-class too neurotic to use words like 'truth' and 'good' without quotations.)



At this point perhaps the answer is to look at little more at mastodons:

http://scienceblogs.com/laelaps/2008/02/a_question_of_diversity.php


Now, having had the benefit of having read Rudwick's book on the period that falls between the early Cuvierian work and Lyell, I can inject a small note that shows how pomo modes of analysis can help with figuring out what we can say about evaluating what Cuvier did. In Bursting the Limits of Time, Rudwick shows that Cuvier invents the very idea of extinction as we know it by naming and describing the first extinct animal (a giant sloth IIRC) and describing it as if it were a living species while noting that it is not. Now Cuvier may have been wrong or even "wrong" about the mechanisms of extinction, but he was right about the possibility of extinction -- something that (as Rudwick points out) does not happen in Lamark's "evolutionary" paradigm where creatures morph their way from one form to the next. What is important in the odd light of Pomo (and Rudwick is color blind) is that Cuvier uses the scholarly methods of living species description to justify his ascription of death to a species. Moreover Rudwick analyzes Cuviers use of media to push his catastrophist/extinctionist agenda. I think Rudwick's sophisticated and/or Pomo attention to media and an inventive trick in inventing extinction lets us see the real dynamic of what Cuvier was doing and why it is a crucial moment in science.

Ruv Draba
01-08-2009, 06:34 AM
What is important in the odd light of Pomo (and Rudwick is color blind) is that Cuvier uses the scholarly methods of living species description to justify his ascription of death to a species. Moreover Rudwick analyzes Cuviers use of media to push his catastrophist/extinctionist agenda.I think we know that myth triggers scientific enquiry -- and however logically constructed, untested scientific speculation is just myth in the same way that untested or untestable philosophy is myth (for Lacewing: by 'just' I mean 'functionally equivalent to', or 'materially indistinguishable from'.) But the propagation of 'interesting myth' is a critical part of scientific development. It can often bring about a critical mass of scientific expertise to explore a potentially interesting problem. Indeed, I'd argue that much scientific planning for the last two centuries has involved reviewing myth and trying to find the contradictions and blind spots.

What I'm not clear on from the blog article or your dissection Higgins, is where the postmodernist historical analysis comes in. Philosophers have understood the difference between myth and fact since the Restoration -- they've just been blind to some of their own myths. But over time (certainly before modernism) some of those myths became exposed. So exposing myths itself isn't evidence of postmodern analysis; neither, I'd argue, is tracing ideas to scientists lobbying for more research in a key area (such discussions date back to the Royal Society at least, and presumably Renaissance philosophers made pitches to the Medicis too). I'm struggling to see what postmodernism has added to the historical understanding of mastodon research, though I can see that it's offered us the view of speculative scientific discussion as inspirational fiction -- but does that make it an historical analysis of science or a literary analysis of marketing?

Higgins
01-08-2009, 05:58 PM
What I'm not clear on from the blog article or your dissection Higgins, is where the postmodernist historical analysis comes in. Philosophers have understood the difference between myth and fact since the Restoration -- they've just been blind to some of their own myths. But over time (certainly before modernism) some of those myths became exposed. So exposing myths itself isn't evidence of postmodern analysis; neither, I'd argue, is tracing ideas to scientists lobbying for more research in a key area (such discussions date back to the Royal Society at least, and presumably Renaissance philosophers made pitches to the Medicis too). I'm struggling to see what postmodernism has added to the historical understanding of mastodon research, though I can see that it's offered us the view of speculative scientific discussion as inspirational fiction -- but does that make it an historical analysis of science or a literary analysis of marketing?

I guess in my mind postmodernism and post-positivism go hand-in-hand. For example see:

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/presssite/metadata.epl?mode=synopsis&bookkey=25840

True, the blurb says the book delivers "quite a blow" to pomo, but I think the blurb sort of misses the point which is that in the structuralist (I don't think there is any post-structuralism), pomo, post-postivist world, the weight of historical enquiry has shifted from lining up the great ideas (or even tracking the evolution of ideas) to looking into practice, which is to say looking at how people get what they want with what they have. We may hear that all of Western Phil is footnotes to Plato...which in terms of "ideas" it might be, at least up to the scholastics or maybe only up to the Stoics...but in terms of practice, the world of Wittgenstein is very different from the world of Plato. This seems blindingly obvious, but what are the implications for working with the blindingly obvious?
One point would be that the supposed self-doubting relativism of the supposed liberal elite has no basis any more in terms of actual historical work -- which it may have had when the big ideas wrestled with themselves, but which is now a matter of barely intelligible fantasy -- another point would be that some kind of progress is unavoidable since the world of practice is constantly incorporating improved methods. Telescopes and computers have been improving steadily despite the ups and downs of various theories.
So what pomo has added is an emphasis on reconstructing the ways scientists and others actually did their day-to-day work, ie reconstructing their practice. In terms of Cuvier, this allows us to see literally day-by-day and etching by etching (Cuvier sometimes did his own etchings) how the various ante-catastrophic fauna were made plausible to a generation of naturalists.

Higgins
01-08-2009, 06:35 PM
Oh, good. You stretched my mind tonight. Will go off to adjust for a while.

More mastodons:



http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/semonin/

Ruv Draba
01-08-2009, 10:17 PM
I guess in my mind postmodernism and post-positivism go hand-in-hand.But isn't that exactly the problem?

Post-positivism has a pragmatic basis in the social sciences: social scientists can't reduce humans to chemical robots and it wouldn't do much good even if they could. Fine. If a natural scientists asks a social scientist 'where's the rigour', the social scientist can say 'we're still building it, just as you guys had to', and point to behavioural psychology and economics, for instance -- both fields transiting from working out their language to producing useful results.

Every science has to challenge its own taxonomy of observation from time to time. Biologists, chemists and physicists all had to do this and may have to again -- but the reasons for switching taxonomy have always been pragmatic. Observation itself tells us when our language needs an overhaul.

Until postmodernists, that is. Now instead of language driven by pragmatics and analysis based on observation, they want language to be dictated by emotion, and analysis to be replaced with interpretative dance. In other words, they're not scientists but clowns in white coats mimicking scientists.

Our postmodernist clowns excel in parody. They parody critique. They parody philosophy. They parody each other parodying someone else. They hem and haw and stare at the ceiling and parody having deep thoughts about elephants. It's hilarious to see such importance attached to so little. It's even funnier to see serious scientists like Alan Sokal start clowning the clowns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Sokal#Sokal_Affair).

Science is a serious discipline -- often too serious. Perhaps some postmodernist clowning is good for us. But there's still real work to be done in all the sciences, and as far as I can tell the clowns aren't actually doing any of it. As for the notion of hospitals, labs and schoolrooms staffed entirely by clowns, to my mind that's not comedy but horror.



So what pomo has added is an emphasis on reconstructing the ways scientists and others actually did their day-to-day work, ie reconstructing their practice.Hang on -- haven't centuries of historians done exactly the same thing? Isn't that why they dig up artefacts and try to reproduce lifestyles? Is this postmodernism or just historians doing their dang jobs?

Higgins
01-08-2009, 10:52 PM
So what pomo has added is an emphasis on reconstructing the ways scientists and others actually did their day-to-day work, ie reconstructing their practice. In terms of Cuvier, this allows us to see literally day-by-day and etching by etching (Cuvier sometimes did his own etchings) how the various ante-catastrophic fauna were made plausible to a generation of naturalists.


Hang on -- haven't centuries of historians done exactly the same thing? Isn't that why they dig up artefacts and try to reproduce lifestyles? Is this postmodernism or just historians doing their dang jobs?

Well you would think so and the fact that we do think so is the result of pomo. We now think that historians should dig up artefacts and reproduce lifestyles. This was not always the case and in fact the intent of this thread (ie "History is Philosophy teaching by examples") suggests there is still a paradigm for history's showing us the Big Ideas and letting them wrestle with themselves. The clowns have sent the Big Ideas packing and now historians have to work out what actually has been going on for the last few thousand years. As Ronald Syme said to Fergus Millar: "there is work to be done."

http://underbelly-buce.blogspot.com/2008/01/ronald-syme-and-hbos-rome.html

http://www.orinst.ox.ac.uk/html/staff/

http://www.amazon.com/Greek-Roman-Empire-Theodosius-Classical/dp/0520253914/ref=sr_1_4/177-7154276-4441055?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231440722&sr=1-4

Ruv Draba
01-09-2009, 03:50 AM
The clowns have sent the Big Ideas packing and now historians have to work out what actually has been going on for the last few thousand years.Mocking the sacred is indeed what clowns are good at! But once they've done that job, the man with the top-hat hooks them off before they make a shambles of the circus. ;)

I've loved history since childhood, and when I was in 7th grade (so the first year of high school), I had a history teacher who took a shine to me. He once played a game of '20 questions' with the class in which one student had to choose an historical figure and answer 'yes/no' questions about them while the class tried to guess who it was. He picked me to answer the questions. Out of a childish perversity, the historical figure I chose was my mother, which of course they couldn't guess. :ROFL:

I mention this to illustrate that even a child of 13 soaked as I was in modernist comic-books and triumphalist history, with hairy-eared patriarchs in white coats for role-models can realise that history isn't just about Big Ideas and Big People (though perhaps it also demonstrates that clownishness isn't just confined to postmodern philosophers :tongue).

My point here: science regularly challenges itself anyway. One doesn't need a postmodern ideology to justify a regular process that actually predates postmodernism. Moreover, finding out how people lived also predates postmodernism. While some tenets of modernism certainly needed challenging, I can't help but believe that postmodernists are claiming a high-ground that they didn't build, and innovation that they didn't create -- all to justify writing interminable opinion-pieces under the guise of science. I have no problem with opinion as art -- but let it represent itself honestly when it is.

As for learning lessons from history, philosophers will always want to do that -- history is a favourite testbed of otherwise untestable ideas. But whether they test against big events or small ones really comes down to how well those events are understood and promoted -- and perhaps also how grand philosophers like to appear. :)

Thanks for the additional links, Higgins. I'll get to them as soon as I may, but in the meantime I wanted to respond to this one (http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/semonin/) about the mastodon's upside-down tusks:

Rather than dismissing the wrongly mounted tusks as quack science, we need to delve deeper into the hidden meaning of this misbegotten monster.

Scientists have long felt the tension between doing good science and popularising the science that is done. It's an ethical issue so of course we see lapses ranging from the dubiously festive (like Peale's upside-down tusks) through to the sloppy and deluded (like Fleischmann's and Pons' Cold Fusion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion)) and outright fraudulent (like Piltdown Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltdown_Man)). I'd suggest that there isn't a 'hidden meaning' there unless someone is trying to hide something, and if we want to advance that thesis then we need to be rigorous: Which conspirators? With what motives? Why that particular method? On what evidence? Else we're beyond the land of red noses and into the land of foil hats -- toward which land Paul Semonin's blog article dangerously strays, connecting two concurrent observations with a link both speculative and circumstantial. With the dragon of patriarchal triumphalism now slain (and rightly so), is postmodernism inventing more dragons to keep itself in work? Is there a point at which the denunciations stop and the work gets constructive again?

Please, let it be soon. My face is beginning to ache.

Higgins
01-09-2009, 05:56 PM
My point here: science regularly challenges itself anyway. One doesn't need a postmodern ideology to justify a regular process that actually predates postmodernism. Moreover, finding out how people lived also predates postmodernism. While some tenets of modernism certainly needed challenging, I can't help but believe that postmodernists are claiming a high-ground that they didn't build, and innovation that they didn't create --



I agree, most of what people put under the heading of pomo (the gallery of bad stuff essentially) hasn't been very constructive and a lot of what has been constructive (eg, Ronald Syme) has nothing at all to do with pomo. On the other hand, modernism has been such an incoherent mess as a methodological agenda (I guess under modernism you have to put historical materialism and positivism as well as the Great Ideas school of historical inquiry and Whiggish history of science and Karl Popper and Whitehead etc. etc.) that pomo has at least had the benefit of clearing the air.
I also think pomo approaches, irritating as they often are, do open new and worthwhile ways of looking at things, such as:

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5507.html

and (one of my favorites):

http://www.istl.org/97-fall/review3.html

Ruv Draba
01-09-2009, 10:35 PM
Positivistic conventions are still needed in all the sciences, even if occasionally those conventions must be revised. The key benefit of scientific thought is its material progress, and positivistic conventions enable that progress. Science is no longer just 'physics or stamp collecting', but myth-making still isn't science.

But clowns hate fences. Fences incense them. Why is that FENCE there? Why is THAT fence there? Why is that fence THERE? They'll climb on them, jump on them, argue with them, even strangle themselves in them. Silly clowns.

But what postmodernists don't seem to appreciate is that what puts that fence there is pragmatism, not some secret social agenda. The fence expands to encompass any kind of observation that shows itself to be reliable and independently verifiable. It shrinks if anything thought to be reliable proves not to be. Positivism is and should be, pragmatic and dynamic -- not a fortified iron curtain, but not blown around by political winds either.

What has this to do with learning from history? Why, everything. If history is just triumphalist myth-making we won't learn a durn thing. Every empire will look like every one that came before it, with each naively claiming that it's unique. So yes, we need our clowns (whatever they call themselves) to challenge our myths.

But we can't see anything at all through a faceful of cream pie. You can only deconstruct as much myth as you've constructed in the first place. When the clowns start asserting that the direction of a museum mastodon's tusks are of deep social significance, I want to send them off to Lilliput for an egg-fight.

Yes, Higgins, I agree -- we've worked the Big Ideas to death. There are only so many records to analyse there, and perhaps they've been trawled dry. But the little stuff is important too -- not just because that's what's left but because it's every bit as complex, every bit as formative, and far more obscure.

Clowns do sometimes elevate little stuff into art, it's true. But I don't believe that they were actually there first. Rather, I think that what happened is that the clowns were ditch-diggers who ran out of ditch to dig and started throwing clods -- and then decided that such idle amusement was actually a legitimate profession of Great Social Worth. My suggestion: put a shovel in their hands; give them more ditch to dig and they'll stop being clowns.

Higgins
01-09-2009, 11:28 PM
Positivistic conventions are still needed in all the sciences, even if occasionally those conventions must be revised.

For better or worse, positivism is about as defunct as a philosophical approach can be. When it was discovered that positivism was really most completely dead, there was a period of very extreme (and/or clownish) stuff sometimes characterized as "epistemological chicken" which probably climaxed around 1985. In the world of historical methodology, things have gotten more focused and post-positivism is now the norm and there's no more need for epistemological chicken.

http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/positvsm.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology_of_scientific_knowledge

http://folk.uio.no/lrisan/Thesis/epistemological_chicken.html

http://gtiao.blogspot.com/2006/05/epistemological-chicken_01.html

http://www.wtmc.net/Summer%20School%202007.htm

http://etherwave.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/see-qa-1-why-is-this-wave-no-3/

https://wesfiles.wesleyan.edu/home/jrouse/Epistemological%20Derangement.pdf

Ruv Draba
01-11-2009, 11:31 PM
When reading philosophical writings it sometimes comes as a shock to me to recall that philosophers don't actually have authority over anyone. I wonder whether philosophers themselves always realise this.

But bearing that in mind, the philosophical study of knowledge (epistemology) can only ever be descriptive. On the other hand, the disciplines we use to investigate and use knowledge (methodology) are necessarily prescriptive. They're always negotiable, but that doesn't mean we want them to be arbitrary or hare-brained.

The main reason for wanting to prescribe epistemology is to control thought. The political fight over acceptable knowledge began as early as killing off Socrates, and probably began much earlier. It continues today. Postmodernists are neck-deep in it.

Scientists can't let lay society tell them what knowledge is. To do that is to make science simply a mirror for myth. Science therefore needs methodology that is, as much as possible, independent of belief-system and critical of its own assumptions. Here I'll cite from William Trochim's article that you kindly linked:

the critical realist is critical of our ability to know reality with certainty. Where the positivist believed that the goal of science was to uncover the truth, the post-positivist critical realist believes that the goal of science is to hold steadfastly to the goal of getting it right about reality, even though we can never achieve that goalWhich is all true, bar the labelling, definitions and claims.

The methodology of critical realism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_realism) is no different to the methodology of pragmatism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism). It's the same methodology used by Galileo and Newton. These guys didn't perform just one investigation and stop, deciding that they'd found a Platonic Truth. They checked and rechecked and speculated some more, and proposed multiple theories and discarded all but the simplest theory that they couldn't assail any further. Then they got paranoid anyway. Watching white light split into orderly colours and recombine is mind-boggling; so is the realisation that the stars are moving differently to the way you'd expect. It's natural to doubt your senses and your methods with such discoveries. Scientists have dealt with such doubts pragmatically: Can I repeat it under varying conditions? Then let me treat it as fact. One could hardly call Galileo or Newton post-positivists though -- they were dead long before Comte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Comte)was born.

When being bullied into recanting his heliocentric theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo#Church_controversy), Galileo is reported as saying under his breath 'But it does move'. That's not a statement of faith but of observation.

It might be that our understanding of motion will change in time, but within current definitions the statement 'the earth moves' can be confirmed by anyone with a telescope and basic arithmetic. Likewise, with a couple of glass prisms anyone can repeat Newton's experiments with light. So saying 'we can never understand reality' is rhetoric every bit as prescriptive as to say that 'whatever I find is universal truth'; truer is to say that we can't always find out all that we're interested in, and that what we're interested in may change.

Methodology undergoes gradual revision in all sciences. For the natural sciences it's been business as usual since Galileo; I was researching in the 80s and 90s and never felt any impact from post-positivism -- I still don't. For the social sciences what is post-positivism but 'permission' to recommence doing real science while tip-toeing around language? Is post-positivism an epistemological earth-tremor, or just the shamefaced shuffle of clown-shoes sneaking back into the fold?

Back to topic: is history philosophy taught by examples, or is philosophy the brash sophomore who thinks it can school history? ;)

Higgins
01-12-2009, 06:36 PM
Back to topic: is history philosophy taught by examples, or is philosophy the brash sophomore who thinks it can school history? ;)

In methodological terms, Philosophy has been tossed out of many disciplines such as history of science. I think this is because, more than ever before, useful philosophical work is about how language works in very specific ways and that specificity of working is best described by those who do the work. The philosophical clowns asked the important question, "But what is really happening?" so many times that the answers became more interesting (as they should be) than the philosophical pomp and circumstance of asking the question. I've worked with scientists (I'm a programmer/data archivist/reconstructor of old methods and studies) since the 1980s and they have become more and more blunt and confident about what their actual research methods really are and I think this is thanks to the work of the clowns in getting big philosophical ideas tossed out of the rhetoric of methodological justification. I guess that is progress, but it comes with an admission of the complexity and contigency and possible flimsiness of any seeming element of progress. For example, when I was trying to reconstruct a genetic study so that we could organize the data well enough for use by other workers, I encountered some weird stuff and I asked about what the methods were in that context and the answer was that "Back in the Dark ages of genetic research we did XYZ." I said, "The Dark ages? When was that? 1995?"
and the anser was, "No, in 2002."

Ruv Draba
01-13-2009, 03:33 AM
In methodological terms, Philosophy has been tossed out of many disciplines such as history of science.In the fields I've played the philosophy seems to still be there but only at key points. "Where do we think we're going and how might we get there?" are questions I think all sciences ask at times. "But what is really happening now?" is perhaps a subordinate question. I don't believe that it's clownish to ask either of those questions at appropriate junctures, but arguing over them incessantly has a Waiting for Godot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_For_Godot) feel.

The core test of methodology is the pragmatic question "Does it work?" The answer is rarely "Yes, always". More often it's "Yes - sort-of, but not in all cases" and then we have to reflect on why that might be. Is it just a matter of extending the methodology, is our basic understanding broken somehow, is the problem intractable, or have we discovered better avenues along the way and is the whole question now moot?

It's not the postmodern critics who gave us scientific ambiguity first, by the way. That honour goes to high-wattage hard-science theoreticians like Einstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity) (1905), Heisenberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle) (1925) and Gödel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del's_incompleteness_theorems) (1931) who showed us not to expect to be able to solve everything with any methodology, or even be terribly accurate when we do, and revealed both theoretically and eventually experimentally the principle that the condition of the viewer affects perception of the viewed. By the time postmodernist philosophers donned their red noses and joined that circus, the circus had already moved on into areas like nonstandard analysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-standard_analysis) -- which is like a white lab-coat version of deconstruction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction), only more, uh... constructive.

I'm not as up on the history of the social sciences and maybe they lagged some -- almost certainly they lagged some if the antics of places like the Chicago School of Economics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(economics)) are any indication. But I'm not sure if they can be blamed for this. Sometimes it's a matter of maturity, and maturity requires field-specific experiences. I currently work in business consulting, and there's still plenty of naive positivism to be found there. Because they 'can't manage what they don't measure' (http://curiouscat.com/deming/managewhatyoucantmeasure.cfm), a lot of people in business still think that if they're measuring it, they're controlling it. Perhaps the Global Financial Crisis is in part attributable to that fallacy.

robeiae
01-13-2009, 05:42 AM
Perhaps the Global Financial Crisis is in part attributable to that fallacy.
The attempts to "solve" the crisis certainly are. As were most of the dopey policies and programs of the New Deal.

(excuse the tangent)

kdnxdr
01-31-2009, 06:15 AM
I've attempted to read through the bulk of this thread and find it provocative reading, at least for my tiny, uneducated brain.

I don't have any expertise or academic achievement to give me license to make a contribution but I hope you all will allow me to interject my little poem into your lofty dialogue, just for the sake of doing poetry in a public place:

comings and goings

the success of the moment
is the failure of tomorrow
borrowed to build anew,
generations of life and death,
laying the siege mound
to build and conquer,
to be conquered and built
a tower
going

dig through the layers
in retrospect,
trace the path of bones,
discover
your apathy for success,
lay your treasures
down

leave a print, a mark for others,
a fleck
to show your time;
a buried memorial
is all you get,
epitaph in slime.

thank you

kid

Ruv Draba
02-02-2009, 04:27 AM
I don't have any expertise or academic achievement to give me license to make a contributionAs far as I can tell the only qualifications to contribute here are interest in the topic at hand and an enjoyment of abstract discussion. (I'm still digesting contributions about sweaters as predictors of human morality (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=3210400&postcount=8)). A poem is as good a way as any of expressing an abstract idea (and better than most).

Moving onto the ideas of the poem (though not the form, since this isn't a SYW forum)...

If history were philosophy taught by examples then by rights, philosophy ought to tell us how to produce better history. But does it?

Kid thinks our epitaphs are written in slime. So is entropy (or its kissing cousin, idiocy) more powerful than our best knowledge? Or do we have some march of progress that leads us out of the swamp, however meandering?

kdnxdr
02-02-2009, 06:30 AM
Don't people take action based on their "isms"/beliefs?

Humans act on what they think on.

It seems the same questions that were asked "in the beginning" are still being asked today and the answers seem to always come back to the asking of the question.

I haven't met a conclusion I've ever liked, yet.

That kinda leaves humanity hanging.

If, in fact, the supercollider experiment, the replication of the "big bang" takes place as planned, there is still that gnawing uncertainty, by some, that we will unravel ourselves, or be devoured by a black hole, of our own making. How smart would that be? If that were to happen, I think that would be one experiment that proved nothing but how truelly ignorant humankind is in it's intelligence. Oh well. "To be or not to be" seems to ultimately be the question, in my mind. The quarter toss rules.

Ruv Draba
02-02-2009, 05:10 PM
Don't people take action based on their "isms"/beliefs?Yes, but also on what they observe. Beliefs may guide the questions, but observations can inform the beliefs.

There aren't any guarantees that our smartest questions and best answers will ensure humanity an indefinite future, but there's a lot of evidence that not asking questions kills you off quicker.


I haven't met a conclusion I've ever liked, yet.Since questions, observations and beliefs run in a cycle perhaps 'conclusion' is a misnomer.

Sometimes we take action because we think we can; sometimes because we think we must. Conclusions are just those times in our learning when we think action is safe -- or necessary.


If, in fact, the supercollider experiment, the replication of the "big bang" takes place as planned, there is still that gnawing uncertainty, by some, that we will unravel ourselves, or be devoured by a black hole, of our own making. How smart would that be? If that were to happen, I think that would be one experiment that proved nothing but how truelly ignorant humankind is in it's intelligence.The energies humanity plays with are miniscule compared to the chaotic energies playing with themselves in our own sun. We're warmed, illumined and fed by a continuous apocalypse happening a galactic flea-hop away -- an apocalypse dancing its own strange gravitomagnetic dance that nobody really understands.

Black holes aren't much understood at all. We only talk about the really big ones, and they have a nice, scary eschatological name. But it's conceivable that atom-sized black holes are commonplace, even benign -- helping to form planets and heat them from within (http://riofriospacetime.blogspot.com/search/label/black%20holes).

We can't know till we look.

ColoradoGuy
02-03-2009, 12:31 AM
As far as I can tell the only qualifications to contribute here are interest in the topic at hand and an enjoyment of abstract discussion. . .
Definitely -- absolutely. One of the reasons we started this forum was to provide a place for abstract musings. It's ostensibly about language, but since language involves essentially everything human, pretty much all topics are fair game. Although we've got posters with degrees in related fields, absolutely no degrees are required -- just some interest in thinking about things. For myself, I've got a bunch of degrees but none are connected with anything we're usually discussing here.

robeiae
02-03-2009, 01:11 AM
0


_______


PHD
MA
BA








.

Ruv Draba
02-03-2009, 03:18 AM
I've got a bunch of degrees but none are connected with anything we're usually discussing here.I don't use mine in my profession, my fiction-writing or most discussions here either. Degrees are handy because they help teach one how to think, but it seems to happen very quickly that most of what we know isn't what we've been taught, but what we've subsequently learned.

As for philosophy without degrees... I reckon that asking questions and considering answers is a basic human right. My local pub offers hospitality to miners, horse-breakers, musicians, plumbers, and road-workers with a wealth of life-experience. We've had some great fireside chats on all manner of philosophical questions. Degrees don't count for much there either.