02-05-09

Star Trek

"To boldly go where no man has ever gone before." G. Roddenberry, Star Trek, anywhere.


Never cared too much for most of this series. Among my many weaknesses there is a certain immunity to being radically 'into' anything. Still, that line & the general gist of it mean a lot to me and should mean a lot to you. No not because of nostalgia, a passing infatuation with camp or because one has to dig at least what was popular - none of that. It has to mean a lot because it means a lot: because it's universal 'to boldly go where no man has ever gone before'. So universal it wouldn't make sense to think of intelligent creatures that wouldn't want to go there (which does not mean, alas, that all creatures are intelligent - all us humans are not intelligent, most of the time).

That's what I'm doing here: going where no man has gone before. Not trying to do - doing! No idea if I will wind up in places of any relevance whatsoever. Nor am I very sure that at least the ride itself is very enjoyable (or whether there is anybody on it at all). More, I'm going boldly because doing it prudently is just to keep within this, ot that, known territory; and for all one knows, that territory might as well be prison ('God'-prison, 'being responsible'-prison, 'hard work'-prison, 'listen to your experts'-prison, ...).

The spirit of Star Trek is the truely human spirit (and yes! - Lt Uhura & Chekhov are beasts in bed), the human spirit as it should be. And every single time I have heard the above line I have felt (albeit I have no appetite for travel & less so for even this most convenient space travel) that it was enough. Without any of us physically going anywhere we can be everyhwere (-Q!-).

It seems like the mediocrest of points one can on a corny piece of pop culture but it really isn't. It's the meaning of life, Jim, but not as we know it. We've succumbed, or all but succumbed, to the neurotic interpretation of meaning as a fixed point, that is to be discovered and henceforward used as steadfast anchor point. We're so far into this obsessive-compulsive behaviour in this 21st century that it's hard to see how we would ever be able to cut loose from the 'religious prison renamed compliance' in an as short stretch of time as is left between us and the 24th century. But precisely this mediocre point is the mental virus that will save us from our pet-genes of pettiness: it is a well known point, it is well understood, across cultures. Going boldly is fun, it's good for those coming after you, it is respectful to those that have gone before you, and it will only succeed by trying to communicate.

And on an unimportant side note: it has relevance for philisophy and for language - I don't know a clearer statement of Davidson's saying on conceptual schemes than Star Trek. I don't know a better illustration of far-reaching cultural relativity in some loose sense and the universal primacy of needing-to-understand in the strictest of senses.

Also, it always, in my memory at least, has ended well as it cannot but end well with us because there is, rationally, only the possibility for long term improvement. Such tastes as well the victory over the pessimism that is a necessary by-product of some strong & strict (neurotic) belief in cultural relativism - good to have a strong dose of psychosis once in a while, the short term being as it is rather miserabilistic.


Whilst writing this I was listening to Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony 1) & Brahms, (Piano Quartet 1), Simon Rattle: City of Birmingham Orchestra

12:31 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: optimism, boldness, pop culture, universals, tones |  Facebook |

19-04-09

On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

"It would be wrong to summarize by saying we have shown how communication is possible between people who have different conceptual schemes, a way that works without need of what there cannot be, namely a neutral ground, or a common co-ordinate system. For we have found no intelligible basis on which it can be said that schemes are different. It would be equally wrong to announce the glorious news that all mankind - all speakers of language, at least - share a common scheme and ontology. For if we cannot say that schemes are different, neither can we intelligibly say that they are one.

In giving up dependence on the concept of an uninterpreted reality, something outside of all schemes and science, we do not relinquish the notion of objective truth - quite the contrary. Given the dogma of a dualism of scheme and reality, we get conceptual relativity, and truth relative to a scheme. Without the dogma, this kind of relativity goes by the board. (..)"

D. Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 197-198.


This long one is one of the rare wormholes (some basic notion of science fiction is a assumed existant in the reader of this) between philosophy of language and ethics. I need to caution you here: my interest is rarely with the correctness of a conclusion nor even with the plausibilty of the arguments, nor with the validity of the reasoning. My interest lies squarely, and far from modestly, on what it would mean if true.

If true we have speakers that understand each other at least somewhat and a world against which they can check each other's understanding. Insofar as speakers don't understand each other, they are not speakers and they are merely, if that, part of a background against which understanding is possible. Part of the world. That is clean, that is neat; it's not much of an universal truth to navigate by but it's not only better than nothing, it's enough to make some quite striking moral observations.

Because - assuming that it is an important part of what we are that we communicate there clearly is virtue (aargh, thát word) in extending both breadth & depth of it (it is a truely Habermasian point to make). Not just that, whatever else may be said of an erroneous but shared & understood notion, there is no free-for-all - as everything, if it is to have any cash value in the world will either have to accord with the facts or, in the present case more importantly, be able to be morally judged good or bad as far as it helping or blocking communication and understanding. Some undoubtedly find this plebeian morality naïve and counter to everyday facts of falsities typical of what is called the common people. But these elitists are wrong and for following reason:

As per the above: language can't be individuated (more on that later - language by the way is not alone here, gene can't be properly individuated - subatomic particles cannot, ...) (in fact: maybe later has to be more on only that! - don't steal it, now!, at least not without referral, smiley here).

Integers don't work for communication and the continuum isn't as easily filled by an elite (must find back that article by Church!); at least not as easy as the elite thinks it can ;-) Common sense is a product that involves the common people more than it involves the happy few (e.g. the happy (sic) few that can make sense of this). We're constantly creating understanding and (Quine's right there albeit not radical enough) there's no possible end to it (although there is a beginning: any successful attempt at communication).

So that is the moral path: neither crooked nor narrow - no requirement to force us in directions against our grain because nothing is so natural for human beings as to be blabbering constantly. The risk does not come from our momentary tiredness of this talking, our instinctive conservativeness in not allowing new understanding that could jeopardize a status quo in which we and our children are pretty sure to thrive. No sir, the risk comes from the attempts to regiment our communication (rules for spelling come to mind as early symptoms) which is always (& necessarily, per the above) the creation of arbitrary and untenable (except temporarily, by force and coercion) in's & out's that are, as always, immoral by the simple but strong lights described above.

At the risk of repetition of things elsewhere slumbered about on this site; it is not at all a coincidence to discover that the shorter, simpler and less detailed version is the better. Only by stripping away the coincidental and realizing it's just an instant in the journey rather than the possible end point we can fix something worthwhile (Darwin's like that as well). It is immoral to defend a multiplicity of rules. Certainly when we're told that bending, or sometimes even only calling into question, these rules is in & by itself immoral. Very little things are immoral. Religion was maybe right in that (& only that): in the end judgment is simple and not a question of arithmetic.

(I apologize for the more-than-average typo's: my wireless keyboard is running out of batteries, it seems)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Chemical Brothers, We Are The Night, 2007.


23:14 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, optimism, davidson, convergence, learning, universals |  Facebook |

29-12-08

On Education

" (..) but we have only to proceed in improving our civil polity, conferring the benefits of education upon all, (..) and we may be quite sure that the effect to which I look forward, and which can alone render these advantages permanent, will follow." Malthus, An essay on the Principle of Population, Cambridge University Press 1992, p. 358.

"As long as the nations of Europe continue barbarous enough to purchase slaves in Africa, we may be quite sure that Africa will continue barbarous enough to supply them." ibid., p. 364.


Before wandering off again on more analytical slumberings, there is something that I felt I needed to say on practical politics. There is, luckily, the irreversible evolution towards universal adoption in theory at least of universal human rights. But, unluckily enough, there's a double problem of uncritical extension of these rights including all benefits deemed acquired in the Western wellfare state, combined with, prohibitively impractical attitudes towards their universal adoption in actual practice.

Any situation in which the amount and extent of universals is unduely blown out of a reasonable proportion can only lead, as a matter of fact, to irrational emotions (that are, in turn, the gravest threats to the actual universal rights). On the other hand, it is unfortunately so that a companion problem of demanding anything sub-standard to be rectified ipso facto in a binary way aggravates these emotions to this point we all know too well of claiming to be the purest - thereby reducing the universal rights to an instrument to the benefit of irrational emotions rather than: the true target of sane policy.

The problem is one of education. Rather: it is a double problem of education.

There is a lack of education in a happy few secularized and economically developed states on the actual principles underlying the universal rights. Politicians are left too unchallenged bandying about these universal rights as a matter of faith, more often than not making these universal rights subservient to some or other particular faith as per the tradition of their parents. The rational grounding of these rights is rarely mentioned such that citizens in these countries don't appreciate the freestanding & noble independence of these rights. At bottom these rational grounds aren't taught precisely because the critical discussion of these grounds is left to intellectual elites (and one thinks 'so called' almost implicitly with this concept) only to pour scorn on them for not merely accepting these secular rights out of some sort of secular faith quite like the faith in the revealed truths of the various religions.

Obviously there is even more of a lack of education in the developing world. Not in all but some extreme cases there is not only a lack of education because of a lack of means or a lack of education on the part of the parents but there's government ban on education (mostly of specific groups, these groups mostly oonsisting of the females). This lack is the real problem - if we could remedy the education gap, the consequently educated would no doubt remedy the rest of the gap - and that's the thing I wanted to discuss. There is a hierarchy of universal human rights & stability and food and lodging (and all of those other Biblical things) are not the top of it - not even the familiar political rights of a secular society or at the top of it. There's only education that can top that list.

So there: the practical solution lies in reapplying Malthus' slavery quote to the present case. We can only expect to see improvement there if we educate and criticize here. We can only support from here when we discriminate foreign governments primarily on the basis of a real push there to improve education to the local citizens. Only by learning to learn things independently can human beings be expected to create an independent mind; only with an independent mind can human beings be truely called human.

Voilà!


Whilst writing this I was listening to Massive Attack, Safe from Harm.

22:21 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, optimism, malthus, dynamics, universals |  Facebook |