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Adam Panflick Converses With John Searle

Adam Panflick Converses With John Searle in A Manner of Speaking.

The following material from John Searle is taken from an extensive 1999 online interview.

Adam Panflick is the well-known protagonist of evolving novellas, most recently The Manhattan Bully Wars, documenting his successful 1946 assault on bullying at Parousia Academy. The Boston Car Wars of the late 1980s is legendary as the first instance of anti-automobile fiction in history.

Dr. Searle’s many achievements are referenced in this Wikipedia article.

John Searle Interview — Introductory 1999

SEARLE:

… it seems to me there are two principles which, if properly understood (it’s not all that easy to understand them, but if properly understood –) provide you with a solution to the traditional mind-body problem. Those principles are first, all of our mental processes are caused by lower-level neuronal processes in the brain. We assume that it’s at the level of neurons, but that’s for the specialists to settle in the end. Neurons and synapses — maybe you’ve got to go higher, maybe you’ve got to go lower — but some sorts of lower-level processes in the brain, whether it’s clusters of neurons or subneuronal parts or neurons and synapses, their behavior causes all of your mental life. Everything from feeling pains and tickles and itches, pick your favorite, to suffering the angst of post-industrial man under late capitalism, whatever is your favorite.

Or stubbing your toe.

Or stubbing your toe. Whatever is your favorite feeling. Feeling ecstatic at a football game, feeling drunk when you’ve had too much to drink. All of that is caused by variable rates of neuron firings in the brain or some other such neurobiological phenomenon, we don’t know in detail what. Okay, that’s principle number one. Brains cause minds. All of our mental life is causally explained by the behavior of neuronal systems.

The second principle is just as important: the mental reality which is caused by the neurobiological phenomena is not a separate substance that’s squirted out. It isn’t some kind of juice that’s squirted out by the neurons. It’s just the state that the system is in. That is to say, the behavior of the microelements causes a feature of the entire system at a macro level, even though the system is made up entirely of those elements that cause the higher level behavior. Now that’s hard for most people to grasp, that you can accept both that the relation between the brain and the mind is causal, and that the mind is just a feature of the brain. But if you think about it, nature is full of stuff like that.

PANFLICK:

Yes, well. The man who depends on specialists may end up safe and sorry at the same time. Or so my synapses tell me. I can feel them at work as I speak. However they are not firing on all cylinders.

Causes all mental life? Indeed. How does he know? I am smiling but have not broken out into peals of laughter.

That said I quite believe with, my friend Nietzsche, that mind and body are one and that Descartes is out.

SEARLE:

Philosophy is, in part, the name for a whole lot of subject matters that we really don’t know how to settle the issues in, where we don’t have established methods for resolving questions. Now for me that’s part of the fun, it’s wide open. You’re not hemmed in, you’re not trapped in a narrow little research program. But a lot of people find that uncomfortable, that you can’t fall back on an established body of philosophical truths. Okay, now you have this wide-open area, but as soon as we can get a question into a precise enough form that it admits of a systematic answer that everybody can see is right, we quit calling it philosophy. We call it science or mathematics or logic. And that’s happened in a whole lot of questions. That happened to the problem of life. So at one time: How can inert matter be alive? That was a philosophical issue. Now it’s very hard for us to remind ourselves how important that was. We can’t recover the intensity with which our great-grandparents fought that question. Now we know how it works. And this, I think, will happen to the problem of consciousness. We will get a way of resolving it as a scientific question. This has a funny result for philosophers, namely, this is why science is always “right” and philosophy is always “wrong,” because as soon as we’re convinced that it’s right we quit calling it philosophy and call it science.

PANFLICK: Sort of like putting beef into a meat grinder and getting a burger. Yes, well, I quite like the notion that philosophy has to do with what you cannot pin down. Rather like theology dealing with what you cannot know. I’m liking this Searle.

SEARLE:

You just have to avoid saying things that are obviously false. And you’d be surprised how many famous philosophers say things that are obviously false. I mean, Berkeley says the material world doesn’t exist, it’s all just ideas. A lot of contemporary philosophers say the mind doesn’t really exist, it’s just a computer program or it’s a way we have of looking at things. Consciousness doesn’t really exist, it’s just a certain type of computer program. I would say, if you can proceed rigorously, you have an open mind, and you avoid making obvious mistakes, avoid saying things that are obviously false, well, I don’t guarantee you a successful career in philosophy, but you’re off and running. I mean, you’re doing better than a lot of famous people.

PANFLICK:

I like him better and better. Rigor. That speaks to me. I am one of the few persons extant who actually has time to practice rigor. To do so effectively requires overcoming a fear of mortis and this of course leads to the abolition of the car. It is always salient to come across a like mind.

SEARLE:

I use computers every day. I couldn’t do my work without computers. But the computer does a model or a simulation of a process. And a computer simulation of a mind is about like computer simulation of digestion. I don’t know why people make this dumb mistake. You see, if we made a perfect computer simulation of digestion, nobody would think, “Well, let’s run out and buy a pizza and stuff it in the computer.” It’s a model, it’s a picture of digestion. It shows you the formal structure of how it works, it doesn’t actually digest anything! That’s what it is with the things that a computer does for anything. A computer model of what it’s like to fall in love or read a novel or get drunk doesn’t actually fall in love or read a novel or get drunk. It just does a picture or model of that.

PANFLICK:

Yes. Exactly. I could not have said it better myself. I would never think of feeding my computer, though I might strangle it on occasion. There is, however, one thing that computers can do that we human beings cannot, to our knowledge, do. Backups. Therefore, in my own cogitations, I have rather hoped that the Deity we cannot know has arranged a backup function for us as we pass through our material phase. We could then bring up different versions, times, er, relationships. Those of us who are already in our dotage are particularly affected as we might well prefer something a bit earlier.

SEARLE:

The Free Speech Movement, within its own initial objectives, was successful. We did change the university regulations so the kind of thing that was done to me as an assistant professor couldn’t be done after 1964, and I don’t believe it could be done today. I may be wrong about that but I don’t think so.

However, two other things happened that really we couldn’t have predicted and they were not so fortunate. One is, we created a whole lot of radical expectations. This is characteristic of revolutionary movements; people involved get a sense of enormous possibility. “All kinds of exciting things are going to happen, we can create a new kind of a university. We can create a new kind of a society. It’s all going to start right here in Berkeley.” That’s one thing that happened: we created unreasonable expectations about what could be achieved by a student movement of this sort. And a lot of people wanted to keep going after the FSM because we had this marvelous student movement here, we’ve got all this energy and idealism. It’s very hard after you’ve had the heady and exhilarating triumph of overthrowing the university administration to then go back to your classes and start doing homework, taking notes, and writing term papers. A lot of people found that very hard.

The second thing that happened was an issue came up that really made it impossible to carry on a normal civil life in the United States, and that was the Vietnam War. By the late sixties, from ’66 afterwards, it became progressively more difficult to run the university in the face of the amount of protest that went on against the Vietnam War. So the FSM, by providing an example of successful student protest, created imitators all over the United States, and it was possible for a lot of people to have the illusion that, well, we have created a national student movement, and this national student movement is going to have an enormous change, an enormous effect on the process of change in American life, beginning with the Vietnam War.

I mentioned two things; actually there was a third thing that happened, and that is the set of totally dreadful vulgarizations of culture that occurred under the general name of “the sixties.” In the sixties, people had a whole lot of really quite stupid theories about life. They thought, you get immediate gratification through drugs, and indeed if you can’t get immediate gratification through drugs then you get it through some other equally instantaneous form of gratification. The idea that satisfactions in life normally take a lot of work, you have to do years of preparation to do anything worthwhile, in the sixties it was very hard to convince people of that.

PANFLICK:

Yes, again. The sixties were not about any of this stuff initially. We were engaged in something that Searle does not refer to.

Berkeley did breed untoward enthusiasm and a secular self-righteousness that was positively noxious. But behind it there lies a certain harmless passivity that must come from being in California, if one ventures to suggest a cause and effect that, while the thought may originate in the brain, refers to a pervasive and debilitating external phenomenon. A penumbra if you will.

“Abba’s Way” is a response to these words of Jacques Deridda, “We need the unprecedented; otherwise there will be nothing, pure repetition.”

Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language — The Entire Book Digested Online in Nested Form READ IT HERE

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The Timeless Way of Building — A Sign Post

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It is time for the thought and extensive catalog of examples of Christopher Alexander’s design ideas to enjoy a mega-leap in terms of how widespread and influential it is. Just as we face economic crisis, we face a chance to witness a better way forward.

There will either be more of the same tawdry and thoughtless, automobile-subservient design that has produced our noxious sprawl, or there will be a revolutionary move in the direction of Alexander’s thinking in his seminal book A Pattern Language.

Here is a good introduction to what Alexander thinks.

The pattern approach that Alexander talks about is intended to completely avoid unbalanced forces. He regularly uses cars in his discussion of patterns. They are real, they are valuable and they’re not going to just disappear. A central point of these patterns is that they’re not something Alexander has devised as a new architectural ‘-ism’ to imprint his vision on the world. These patterns are things that arise naturally, given the way all humans want to live. Growing organically out of a combination of the people and their surrounds. There is a sequel to The Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language, that acts as a catalogue of the most important patterns that Alexander and his colleagues have observed in successful towns and buildings.

To find out what this site has to say on the subject please search for “pattern language” or “christopher alexander”. The main Christopher Alexander and Pattern Language link.

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Maxim Noah Khailo’s Whimsical Web Works: Poverty, Crime, and the space you live.

Maxim Noah Khailo's Whimsical Web Works: Poverty, Crime, and the space you live.

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“We often assume socio-demographic reasons for crime in an area such as race, income, and education. With the emergence of GIS technology, studies have been done to investigate whether connectivity of neighborhoods affects income and crime. There have been studies that showed a strong correlation and ones that showed a negative ones.

“The architect Christopher Alexander and his theory of centers created a different model of understanding well being in the context of the physical space around you. His idea is that physical space (the actual space of objects and where objects do not exist) has a degree of life to it that can be increased by proper incremental enhancement of centers. Centers specifically are anything that attract the eye. In his book series “The Nature of Order”, Alexander explains several practical ways of increasing the life of centers and therefore increasing the life of a specific location. How this affects our mood and consciousness can be scientifically tested and maybe eventually pave a way to construct objects, neighborhoods, and cities that is beneficial for everyone.”

Thinking of this sort is what I devoutly hope will sprout up on the Web. Our politics is meaningless and counterproductive if it does not think about issues like space, its function and shape, aesthetics, the relationship of wellbeing to more than one’s personal problems. I have quoted perhaps too much, but I do like the thought and I add this in hopes of encouraging more of the same.

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What Is "Obama’s Moon" ? A Memo for The Future

JFK selected the MOON as his target and the effort that ensued was a bright spot of the 1960s. What might Barak Obama do to spur a similar sense of purpose and vision among his country-folk? Obama’s MOON should be a New Model for Human Settlements. The creation of genuinely NEW models in unzoned areas in cooperation with states and people’s organizations to integrate education, medical care, ecology and pride in public space into doable NODES suggesting the way we’ll live when vertical cities and metro-sprawl — the shape of automobile culture and oil economy — complete their slow, steady decline.

This gets to the nub of this blog. I don’t know much about one thing, but I know a bit about many things, and what I know tells me that for all of the talk about integral this and integral that, no one has really designed and created a viable settlement for the future.

I do not want Barack to propose this until he is in the Oval Office and to get there he must go through the state of Ohio, in my humble opinion.

We are talking a vision of future settlements in which the following possibilities become manifest.

Instead of today’s factory-schools we have education carried out in nodes and modules within an integrated community of from 5-15,000.

Instead of assuming we can do major ecological things in today’s unsustainable environment, we create settlements which have enough scale to make complete eco-sense possible and even profitable. And enough style to appeal as neighborhoods of the future.

Such settlements are needed to move us beyond reliance on the car and car culture. I have surmised, as a fantasy, circular or oval settlements which rise five levels above the ground and whose interior is completely navigable by foot or means that do not require fuel or wheels. I have integrated exercise into the mix by eliminating steps entirely and having a gentle slope to a spiral walk that brings one to residences, nodes, shops, cafes and so forth.

Such settlements will not be built to force people to live in them. They will be speculative projects which will appeal to enough to enable their launch within the parameters of what we call “the market”.

Such settlements will integrate the timeless insights of Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language with technologies that need to be integrated and tweaked to enable a full unification of the emerging cyberculture with the funkier side of good design represented by Alexander.

I am talking aesthetics here as well as techno-brilliance. Something to get somambulent architects out or the narcisissitic boxes of the past.

More to come always.


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Thinking About The End of Oil — An Aesthetic Response

A decline in oil production and relocation of populations are among the subjects of this provocative post by Lakis Polycarpou at The Energy Bulletin.

None of this answers the question of what will happen to agriculture when world oil production really begins to decline. But maybe the question should be turned around. Given that industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl are based on scales which are so unnatural in both organic and human terms—so disconnected, so structurally compromised—maybe the proper question should be, how is something so dysfunctional sustained? So far the answer has been: with massive financial capital, huge expenditures of energy, and sheer force of will. What will happen when at least two of those three forces start to dry up? Maybe we should look to aesthetics to give as a clue.

An example of how the thought of Christopher Alexander is beginning to surface among those contemplating the dysfunctionality of the noxious automobile age. (That is an “aesthetic” response. 🙂

End of Oil: The Peak Oil Debate


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Christopher Alexander’s "Elements of Style" Slide Show

Christopher Alexander’s “Elements of Style” Slide Show conveys a few of the hallmarks of Alexander’s design ideas which reach detailed expression in his architectural works including “A Pattern Language“. Alexander’s importance to the creation of an integral vision for the future is obvious. Yet there so little evidence of movement to think about human settlements of the future that one feels more frustrated than not by the apocalyptic “to do” list of “An Inconvenient Truth” set against the paltry suggestions of how to actually do what is suggested. The key may well lie in a discussion of an evolution of human settlements themselves.

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