Thursday, September 13, 2007

For Jerry Fodor

I tell myself I stopped reading philosophy because I'd been there and done that. This isn't true. I'm just too busy which is, of course, just another word for idle. But in my (imminent) old age I intend to get to grips with Jerry Fodor. I've linked to one of his articles before. It's a gem - witty, charming and profound. I thought of this because I am reading a book which quotes Fodor saying perhaps there are things we can't explain about ourselves - "Perhaps we're just that kind of creature.' He says the same thing in the linked article - 'Why not just say some things are true about the world because that's the kind of world it is; there's nothing more to make of it. That sounds defeatist perhaps but it really isn't since, quite plausibly, it's the sort of thing that we'll have to say sooner or later...' He also says, 'To be sure, we can't prove that we are conscious; but that is hardly surprising since there is no more secure premise from which such a proof could proceed.' That last point is one I have been trying to get into the heads of various bone-headed scientists for fifteen years now - entirely without success. But the deep point - and it is partially concealed by Fodor's Mozartian lightness of touch - is that the explanatory power of science may be logically limited. Of course, the essential metaphysic of science says that this is impossible, that we have the power to think, as it were, superhumanly and to see all things from beyond our own narrow perspective. This is not being rude to science. It simply can't be done without this highly effective metaphysical assumption. (This is, incidentally, the right context in which to read Hawking's famous line about knowing the mind of God - he meant we should know as a god might.) Anyway, all I wanted to say was check out Fodor, as I intend to when I stop being so idle. Just on the basis of what little I've read, I can assure you he's a good thing, a very good thing.

14 comments:

  1. i was just trying to convince one of my blog's readers that he's one of my characters with no self-consciousness & he should therefore give me all his money, but it's really hard to convince someone they have no self-consciousness.

    Jerry Fodor sounds good, a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Fyodor Dostoevsky, perhaps.

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  2. Thanks, Bryan - that took me on to the New Mysterians, who seem pretty sound - and I was delighted to see that they're named after the legendary band ? And The Mysterians. Kind of like The New Seekers...

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  3. it's the other Fodor I want to read more of -- i'm itching to travel, but financially stuck home au moment.

    sigh. it's awful to be a petit bourgeois.

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  4. Susan, i hope you know that as soon as you commit a sex crime or murder, you're no longer really bourgeois? i seem to remember you flashing at some gent at the swimming pool once, which is a sex crime of sorts, after all, so you're not so much a bourgeois as a sex criminal. Hope this helps.

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  5. Critics of this view (Mysterianism--ed) argue that it is arrogant to assume that a problem cannot be solved just because we have not solved it yet.

    As opposed to the charming modern humility of insisting we are well on our way to solving everything.

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  6. Some scientists do entertain the idea of the unknowable, for example, this project, which is funded by the Sloan Foundation:

    The Known, Unknown, and Unknowable
    Jesse H. Ausubel, Program Director
    The goal of this program is the exploration of what is known, unknown, and unknowable in a variety of fields. It is very valuable to know what you do not know and why. Research has been funded on limits to knowledge in a broad spectrum of academic areas. Grants have supported such studies in plant molecular biology and genetics, ecology, computational economics, history of science, and prehistoric linguistics. Some of the work was summarized at an October 2000 conference at Columbia University. (for details, http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/~traub.sloan/ [sic]) A project begun in 2002 addresses predictability of weather and climate. We seek during 2003 to add to the viewpoint of producers of knowledge the viewpoint of consumers. We would like to explore limits to knowledge in fields with obvious practical implications, such as health or finance, where it is important for knowledge consumers, such as regulators or investors, to know what you can or cannot know about therapies or market movements.
    Proposals should be organized around conferences involving both producers and consumers of knowledge.
    An Essay by Ralph E. Gomory, from Scientific American, June 1995

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  7. elberry, you wretch, that lap pool incident was a "wardrobe malfunction," as I explained. However, you have reminded me I need to visit that chlorinated realm today. Just back from a food-filled visit to our nation's capitol/capital and I am feeling the strawberry shortcake in my fat cells.

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  8. Susan, i believe fat tends to accumulate in the breasts, so your trip to the swimming pool suggests you intend to commit another sex crime?

    i do not judge you, Susan.

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  9. Brilliant stuff. Read it in a supermarket car park while my wife exercised her stream of consciousness deciding whether to go for spuds from Jersey or Cheshire. Kept laughing out loud, which probably disturbed those of whom I was totally oblivious, or of whom I was unconscious (What?). Anyway, the intellectual grapple was, I think, going in my favour until I got home and checked to see if Gordon McCabe had joined the debate and caused uproar. But no, Elberry and Susan were going on about things sexual and I have now completely lost the thread! But that Jerry Fodor, he's good!

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  10. It's not my fault: Susan has issues. i'm just trying to help.

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  11. It's true, just ask Phil Walling. I am ponderous? Very well then, I am ponderous. I am large, I contain multitudes.....

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