From the Center for Peripheral Studies (OAC Branch). After Lance, the sky's the limit!

The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.

Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?

Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.

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My previous remark has been deleted, by me. My use of "people like you" crossed a boundary I prefer to maintain, between debating arguments and indulging in ad hominem. 

@Jessie

You have repeatedly claimed that scientific use of language is limiting. I have agreed. You also appear to claim that non-scientific use of language, unhindered by rigorous definition, can produce useful insights. I also agree—in the case of poets. I remain, however, unconvinced by your argument overall. The "could open up whole new worlds of understanding" argument is, I'm afraid, tainted for me by its use by religious propagandists, who use it to promote whatever it is that they believe in. What I need to make this conversation worth pursuing further is a solid demonstration of what you are talking about. Without it, we appear to have reached a dead end.

Peace.

P.S. A bit of ethnographic data.

The voice of a scientist, who doesn't seem at all, the blinded-by-science scarecrow that some of us seem to fear. The occasion is the flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, as reported in Science, 16 August, 2013, p. 708.

"We can expect the unexpected," said planetary geologist Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas...."We are going to be captivated; we are going to be befuddled."

Another veil is lifted. We wonder what comes next. Nietzsche got it right. A scientist after my own heart.

Jessie/John et al:

Western culture was founded on the basis of an understanding that "logic" (i.e. the manipulation of symbols) could not possibly describe *reality* sufficiently in order to inform human affairs in any fundamental way.  Plato knew this and so did Aristotle.  Neither would have imagined running the world based on mathematical models.

As a result, the "system" used to train cultural/political/economic leadership from roughly 500BC to 1500AD has been called the TRIVIUM, wherein "logic" was only one of three elements -- sometimes getting a lot of attention and sometimes not.  In those periods which we call "renaissances," the emphasis on logic seems to have declined, as we "remember" that logic is more of an after-thought or a cleaning-up the details and that it fundamentally cannot provide any principles on which insights can be based.

Accordingly, in terms of human cultures, you might consider excessive reliance on *logic* as a DEGENERATE condition or what happens when the rest of our understanding diminishes and becomes inoperative.  Logic seems to triumph when we stop worrying about the really important matters.

That happened in the West with a vengeance beginning in the 16th century and, in some places, got really bad by the 17th/18th centuries.  The immediate *cause* of this degenerate approach to understanding the world was the printing-press -- which led to the Gutenberg Bible, which led to the Reformation, which led to the widespread belief that scripture" could be interpreted *only* literally (i.e. reducing it to a series of symbols, as opposed to the four-fold exegesis that dominated previously), which led to the widespread belief that the world was coming to an end.  Like,any day now sort of soon.

That is the *anthropological* context for what we now think of as "modern science."  It was emphatically the basis on which the Royal Society of London was founded in the late-17th century, for instance.  Isaac Newton was a *radical* millennarian, who spent far more time going over Biblical passages than he did pondering gravity.

Alas, what we call the "Enlightenment" was a period of degenerated understanding.  Yes, it led to amazing feats of engineering (i.e. the practical application of all that "un-grounded" science.)  Populations have soared, life-expectancies have grow, living-standards have risen and we have all "benefited" as a result.  Progress, as we are told, but all at the expense of our underlying principles.

That said, the serious limits of "logic" have been widely recognized for at least the past century.  Nietzsche is a reasonable figure to cite for the early phases of this recognition but he was, after all, himself many generations into the "romantic rebellion" which was particularly strong in Germany.  Goethe was a lifelong "alchemist" and the Rosicrucians attracted significant numbers of "intellectuals" in the 18th century (if not earlier).

So, Jessie, you appear to be arguing against something that is already deeply discredited.  The "dysfunction" in areas like economics, where this turn-of-events may not have been noticed, is certainly worth highlighting.  Presumably, you are a part of this conversation because you did just that on the "real-world economics" blog, after which I contacted you and then you brought your "logic-is-not-enough" discussion over here.  We agree with you.  No need to continue beating that particular "dead-horse" hereabouts.

Keith likes Kant, who wasn't confused about these issues.  Lee likes Nietzsche and he wasn't either.  John is a Daoist, so you know he's found something he finds personally satisfying which goes way-beyond logic.  No one who has been a part of this discussion -- which is, frankly, in my 20 years online, a quite remarkable one -- seems to be a "positivist" or "reductionist."

My belief is that we are roughly 100 years into another technology-driven renaissance and are likely moving through the "stages of apprehension" associated with *retrieving* our previous understandings of the world.  In the most recent previous renaissance (i.e. 15th/16th centuries), there was a whole lot of that going on.  The Greeks, the Romans, the Alexandrians, the Babylonians, the Gnostics all got "remembered."  Christianity split into three major pieces (and then split over-and-over again), with the Protestant-wing eventually gaining the upper-hand -- particularly in its English and German expressions.

These two branches of the "religion of the North" got to the point of fighting each other for "world domination" -- resulting in what we call "World Wars" -- out of which another faction emerged with a plan for "world peace."  That faction, nominally Protestant but actually deeply enmeshed in the retrieval of "pagan" knowledge, then became the leading benefactor of the social sciences.  Yes, as discussed earlier hereabouts, they were the Rockefellers et al.

By my reckoning, this group ran out of steam in the 1970s, as reflected in the massive decline post-Vietnam of ARPA funding for social science, which had been the setup that followed the pump-priming of the Ford/Rockefeller Foundations before ARPA was founded in 1958.  As a result, it seems to me that we have been in some sort of *new* situation for the past 40+ years.

Yes, since it's a renaissance, there's lots of "ancient wisdom" flying around.  Emergence-as-pantheism is quite popular.  Many people have been digging in regarding their "fundamentals" -- resulting in a rise of Islamic Jihadism and so forth.

This is the "metaphysical crisis" I've been talking about.  There is no *center* anymore.  Only "periphery."  Which, presumably, is why Lee has called his own effort the "Center for Peripheral Studies" -- suggesting that we should all approach our lives with a smile on our faces!

John,  I think maybe where I miscommunicated may have been in failing to make clear the form of well defined methods that would allow science to also study the things of nature in their own form.  My intention is not at all to suggest as you surmise:

 You also appear to claim that non-scientific use of language, unhindered by rigorous definition, can produce useful insights. 

Of course, it's not to say that people can't arrive at useful insights in all sorts of undefined ways, but my approach is a genuine scientific method.   It only starts with recognizing that science has no defined way of studying the natural systems of interest to us.  The definitions of science that let us predict things within certain limits need not be taken as representing how nature works, is all.  

They could be also considered as defining the predictable boundaries of how nature works.  That allows the subjects of scientific study to expand, from just being the patterns we find in the information we collect, to a study of the individual things, that produce the information and the patterns.  It's a small shift in the ontology that need not upset anything at all, well, except the epistemology.

It's somewhat like suggesting to the chef of your restaurant that she could do better if she also looked at the food being served, as well as at the recipes.  If you discover she is only cooking from the recipes as a formula, it could be important for her to look at the things happening to the food that are not likely to ever be found in recipes.  

If that has never occurred to your chef, it may be a challenge to her "wisdom", but it is in no way a matter of "religion".   It just suggests that by looking at the end product she might gain more creative control over the end product.  There are many ways food in preparation naturally behaves that can't be written into the recipe, and studying it can create a tremendous new opening for producing fine food.

Is that better?    

It's a "learning feedback" approach to science, not unlike a professor learning from the "strange" behavior of their students.  A observant prof. might come to understand that on Homecoming Week a lesson plan having to do with the football team may be needed to keep the student's attentions.   It doesn't say there's anything wrong with their teaching or the syllabus for the course, that doing that isn't mentioned anywhere.

For solid demonstrations you can look at the clear evidence of cultural dynamics underlying the dramatic decay of the NYC crime culture starting abruptly in the summer of 1990. The text of this web page (now a bit old) is kind of informal. I'm still waiting to find a criminologist, systems sociologist or anthropologist to take an interest in the case, or the methods, to joint author a paper.  

The evidence is clear enough to discuss I think, of New York sustaining a citywide high crime culture that abruptly transitions to a steady long term logarithmic decay, as if suddenly deflating for natural causes that no one noticed at the time or since, and so never made the news.   The mathematical methods and other applications were done mostly in the 90's, archived on The Physics of Happening part of my website, with the general theory discussed in section on The Physics of Natural Open Systems.  

P.S. /// the flyby of Pluto you mention is magnificent science!  Still, if you discipline yourself to study the things that closely follow equations, that's all you learn about.  You wouldn't learn about the lively, inventive and responsive things, of equal importance to us.

Mark,

It's great to have that overview of this discussion and history of struggle with many of the same issues.   Everyone comes to a discussion with a point of view they see as a thread of connection throughout the subject and related courses of events.    My interest isn't to disparage logic, though, but to help both logic and other ways of reasoning events discover and focus on the organized processes that animate the changes and events we see occurring.   Some are things that our misuse of logic cause us to unleash on others or the earth.  That certainly matters, but it also offers stunning examples for drawing attention to the broader subject.       

 

For example, it's fundamental to any business plan to start small, and by making a profit and using the profit to expand, to grow the business.   Very few people seem aware that basic mechanism is also found in the processes that bring about the organizational development (emergence) of every other kind of energy system.  All new organisms "do it", as do new cultures, new weather and electrical current events.  They all start with a burst of organization to startup their way of using energy.  That's the physics I study.    That's how Rome conquered the lands around the Mediterranean, and how Apple conquered the mobile device market, and how the Tea Party conquered the red states.

 

The need to understand developing systems, particularly one that your life depends on, importantly comes from their all being initially organized to constantly multiply their own scale and complexity, producing ever growing internal and external inequities too.  As a "story line" it's also found as the central theme of almost any story with a "beginning, middle, end" kind of narrative.    When your life support system has a "system logic" for maximizing its own growth and control of other institutions, without bound, taking over as the central culture of our society, that is "bad".   It doesn't make "logic" bad though.  

 

Anyway, I really liked your reply, and your interesting way of threading the related issues, even if I would thread them a bit differently and am not sure how to connect some of the principles causes you cite.   My approach gives me a way to identify things by their physiological design, i.e. as cells of organization that originate with growth, leaving a traceable energy history that can help identify how the grew.   So I focus on evidenced for establishing cause and effect.  You relate somewhat the same history, but more qualitatively.    

 

My guess is that "peripheral studies" has to do with opening up to the periphery of a discipline, something I find richly rewarding myself.    I would see as you do that we have a metaphysical crisis, that human culture as a whole seems to face.   I wouldn't see it, physiologically, as the "lack of a center" though, but more our collective misunderstanding that continual growth is a process of multiplying both the scale and number of centers... to the point that none of them communicate!!   Conceptually, that could have much the same qualitative appearance and effect there being no center, though.  

Jessie


Mark Stahlman said:

Western culture was founded on the basis of an understanding that "logic" (i.e. the manipulation of symbols) could not possibly describe *reality* sufficiently in order to inform human affairs in any fundamental way...As a result, the "system" used to train cultural/political/economic leadership from roughly 500BC to 1500AD has been called the TRIVIUM, wherein "logic" was only one of three elements -- sometimes getting a lot of attention and sometimes not.

Thanks once more, Mark, for an intervention which, along with many by Lee, have indeed made this thread something special. Thanks too to Jessie for jumping into what seemed to be a closed old men's club.

The trivium, source of the world trivial because it was preparation for the harder quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy), is definitely worth a revisit, as you have insisted. Grammar, logic and rhetoric: the mechanics of language, analysis using language and communication (where language and circumstances meet). As we have been exploring on another thread about economists' grotesque pretension to being a hard science, I feel that not enough attention has been paid to Keynes's philosophical position, not least because he was the most influential social thinker of the 20th century.

This was summed up in A Treatise On Money (1930, note the acronym, a gesture to scientific modernism): "The mix of logic and intuition and a wide knowledge of facts (mostly imprecise) required for the highest economic interpretation is too difficult for people who can only imagine the implications of simple facts known with a high degree of precision". The Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations was key to his thought in these matters (they were also lovers). Between mathematics and poetry there is a wide spectrum of linguistic practices ("language games"), each with its own logic, truth and standards of rigour. There is no ideal universal language beyond our common ability to grasp our own times.

Keynes rebelled against Russell and Whitehead's analytical philosophy which lent authority to the economics of his day (and ours). He preferred vague and rhetorical relevance to precise irrelevance, inveighing against "symbolic pseudo-mathematical methods (as) mere concoctions which allow the author to lose sight of the complications and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretensious and unhelpful symbols". Even Menger insisted that the principle of marginal utility expressed in words says more than any mathematical derivation from it.

Keynes wanted to make contact with his audience, something professional economists (and anthropologists) rarely attempt to do. For that we have to speak and write precisely in everyday language. The same with his policy recommendations. In the face of the British Treasury's blind and incompetent adherence to monetary theories that they believed to be timeless, he offered discretionary standards of judgment that were relative to a specific problem, time and place, the now of the short run. ("In the long run we are all dead"). He knew that the problem was not to invent new ideas, but to escape the influence of the old ones that "ramify into every corner of our minds". Hence his belief in the receptivity of the young.

One wonders what might have been the result if he had known German as well as his mentor, Alfred Marshall, did.

Jessie,

I thought that our conversation was ending. Now I hope it is just beginning. Two things have changed my mind.

First, of course, is your last post, which suggests that we are, if not exactly on the same side, on similar pages in this discussion.

Second, while reading Jason Antrosio's Living Anthropologically blog yesterday, I was moved to check out  and buy the Kindle edition of Tim Ingold's new book Making, which turns out to be very impressive and, I believe (based only on a quick read of the first couple of chapters), very congenial with the position you are advocating. It would be very interesting, indeed, to hear your take on this book or even, perhaps, start a new thread devoted to a close reading of it.

There is something in it for everyone here. Acheulean hand axes and the role of tools and materials in human experience for Lee, illustrations of pre-linguistic or, at least, not cognitively elaborated, cultural skills for Mark (fits right in with the cognitive module that Merlin Donald associates with Homo Erectus in his Origins of the Modern Mind), and a formulation of the relation between a forward-looking, learning with or from anthropology distinct from backward-looking, learning about ethnography that strikes me as very much in line with Keith's Human Economy project. 

Just now, I must turn my attention to the work our clients pay us for. But I do hope our conversation continues.

Jessie Henshaw said:

John,  I think maybe where I miscommunicated may have been in failing to make clear the form of well defined methods that would allow science to also study the things of nature in their own form.  My intention is not at all to suggest as you surmise:

 You also appear to claim that non-scientific use of language, unhindered by rigorous definition, can produce useful insights. 

Of course, it's not to say that people can't arrive at useful insights in all sorts of undefined ways, but my approach is a genuine scientific method.   It only starts with recognizing that science has no defined way of studying the natural systems of interest to us.  The definitions of science that let us predict things within certain limits need not be taken as representing how nature works, is all.  

They could be also considered as defining the predictable boundaries of how nature works.  That allows the subjects of scientific study to expand, from just being the patterns we find in the information we collect, to a study of the individual things, that produce the information and the patterns.  It's a small shift in the ontology that need not upset anything at all, well, except the epistemology.

It's somewhat like suggesting to the chef of your restaurant that she could do better if she also looked at the food being served, as well as at the recipes.  If you discover she is only cooking from the recipes as a formula, it could be important for her to look at the things happening to the food that are not likely to ever be found in recipes.  

If that has never occurred to your chef, it may be a challenge to her "wisdom", but it is in no way a matter of "religion".   It just suggests that by looking at the end product she might gain more creative control over the end product.  There are many ways food in preparation naturally behaves that can't be written into the recipe, and studying it can create a tremendous new opening for producing fine food.

Is that better?    

It's a "learning feedback" approach to science, not unlike a professor learning from the "strange" behavior of their students.  A observant prof. might come to understand that on Homecoming Week a lesson plan having to do with the football team may be needed to keep the student's attentions.   It doesn't say there's anything wrong with their teaching or the syllabus for the course, that doing that isn't mentioned anywhere.

For solid demonstrations you can look at the clear evidence of cultural dynamics underlying the dramatic decay of the NYC crime culture starting abruptly in the summer of 1990. The text of this web page (now a bit old) is kind of informal. I'm still waiting to find a criminologist, systems sociologist or anthropologist to take an interest in the case, or the methods, to joint author a paper.  

The evidence is clear enough to discuss I think, of New York sustaining a citywide high crime culture that abruptly transitions to a steady long term logarithmic decay, as if suddenly deflating for natural causes that no one noticed at the time or since, and so never made the news.   The mathematical methods and other applications were done mostly in the 90's, archived on The Physics of Happening part of my website, with the general theory discussed in section on The Physics of Natural Open Systems.  

P.S. /// the flyby of Pluto you mention is magnificent science!  Still, if you discipline yourself to study the things that closely follow equations, that's all you learn about.  You wouldn't learn about the lively, inventive and responsive things, of equal importance to us.

John,   That's certainly good news!!  :-)  

The respect that physics deserves as “queen of the sciences” generally protects it from criticism.  It’s view of the universe, though, is derived from studying only subjects mathematics was found effective for predicting, a rather strong bias I think.  

So it seems dubious that those studies would be reliable for helping us understand all the kinds of subjects for which that method proved ineffective.   There are the many forms of flowing organizational development, for example, like growth from a seed, or organizational successions, for which we can neither describe what sort of organization those systems have or how it develops, with parts changing everywhere in the those systems all at once.  Somehow something starts it, and highly complex organization just falls into place, on the first try! What my approach suggests is it’s useful to study those subjects as non-deterministic processes of viral pattern development, and that tracing their energy flows is a way to find markers for their transitions from one form of organization to the next.

I tried to follow your links, but the blog link isn't to the article you read, and I didn't find any of Ingold's books affordable, except his book released as a .doc from  2000  The perception of the environment: essays in livelihood, dwelling a... The introduction includes the following quote of interest on what motivated him to become an anthropologist, and the rest looks interesting to browse.

“I had been fired by a passion for physics. It was assumed that I should go to university to read natural science. But my initial enthusiasm soon gave way to disillusionment. Like so many of my contemporaries I was appalled by the extent to which science had reneged both on its sense of democratic responsibility and on its original commitment to enlarge the scope of human knowledge, and had allowed itself to become subservient to the demands of the military-industrial complex.”

Jesse,

Ingold's article "The Textility of Making" is available online as a PDF. It seems articulate in a short--and free--form much of what is developed more fully and with lots of nice examples in Making.


I look forward to hearing what you thinking of it. 

P.S. A Google search for "Tim Ingold Making" turns up a lot of Ingold's stuff. 

Update: On second thought, I would read Bringing Things to Life before "The Textility of Making." In the former Ingold has found the voice he uses in Making. In the latter there is still a lot of academic posturing and references to continental philosophy that may be of interest to those concerned with intellectual genealogy but do little to make the argument more intelligible.

John:

Your "Daoist" metaphysics are showing through! <g> What, might you suggest, are the "forces of the Cosmos" that Ingold points to and what is their relationship to humanity?  Are these forces "natural"?  Is humanity somehow "against" Nature?

How is Ingold's attack on (what he unabashedly caricatures, apparently without any serious attention to the relevant history, as Aristotle's) "hylomorphism" different from Bateson's attack on "conscious purpose" (i.e. modern human society)?  What are these people so upset about?  Could it be the humans?

I have a friend who has made quite a career on the philosophy circuit as an accolade of D&G (as they are affectionately known), who are dutifully mentioned in Ingold's first paragraph to establish his own bonafides.  My friend is also a big "fan" of Spinoza, who many regard as a "pantheist."  He is also a *very* serious participant in psychedelic explorations.  What does his life tell us about these subjects?

As best I can tell, my friends's personality is consistent, without schizoid-tendencies, so what do his affectations for D&G, ketamine (the ECCO favorite of Bateson's pal John Lilly) and Spinoza plus Ingold's valorizing of "flow," Paul Klee and "making things come alive" have in common?

Could it be a common "pantheistic" metaphysics (which is perhaps consistent with your own Daoism)?  And, given that all these people, who never met each other and come from very different personal circumstances and backgrounds, nonetheless why do they seem to have come up with similar outlooks?  What might that tell us about the "shaping" tendencies of the only thing that they all share -- their common "electric" technology environment?

Where do ideas/principles like this come from?  Why is "emergence," which is the *secular* version of this sort of this particular "ancient" THEOLOGY (as shown by the complete lack of any "religion" terms in "Incomplete Nature," an earlier recommendation of yours), so popular today?  Why are we "retrieving" the Pre-Socratics (as implied by the swipe at Aristotle)?

What is it that makes "memes" like this popular?  Why do people believe the things that they do in a world that is dominated by 24-hour PSYCHOLOGICAL warfare (i.e. their shared technological environment)?  Are these just "personal convictions" or perhaps something else -- something in the "water-supply" . . . ??

Keith:

Thanks for your consistent and illuminating references to the work of Keynes!  In part because of my work with Carlota Perez (and some other "evolutionary" economists), I've drilled down on Schumpeter, perhaps Keynes' greatest "rhetorical" rival in the 1930s/40s and (other than noticing that he was a Cambridge Apostle <g>) not nearly enough on Keynes.

If you remove the RHETORIC (i.e. the need for *public* persuasion with those who disagree) from the picture, then, indeed, it becomes no more than empty "word games."  In Keynes' times -- before television, before WW II and its "gift" of relentless psychological warfare (or what Boulding called "eiconics" and most today call "memetics") -- rhetoric was still alive and, to some degree, both meaningful and influential.

Today the WSJournal has an Op-Ed (sent by a friend, who knows of my interest in these matters) that excoriates the Republicans for their unchanged "messaging skills."  My sense of the 2012 election was that Romney et al had crafted a "radio-era" approach versus a very savvy "television-meets-digital-era" approach by Obama.  Rush Limbaugh (radio) vs. Facebook-style ad-targeting.  

Yes, the political environment has changed and only one "party" has figured this out, as reflected in the results. As the Op-Ed finishes, "It may be voter brainwashing, but in the expanded media age in which we marinate, it works."

My friend went on to say that ancient rhetoricians knew that there were three "paths" to persuasion -- appeals to Ethos (i.e. morality), Pathos (i.e. fears and dangers) and Logos (i.e. structures of reality).  My guess is that when I have the chance to ponder Keynes more carefully, I will find elements of all three at play.

What Obama et al have been doing, very effectively, is pure PATHOS!

My further guess is that the well-known "bad news" orientation of TELEVISION (i.e. pathos), combined with its drive to turn everything into a *fantasy* conflict -- making actual persuasive discussion impossible, which is clearly the case in today's US government -- is now being challenged by a new digital environment which will allow some ETHOS and LOGOS back into the dialogue, but maybe that's just my "optimism" showing through . . . !!

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