Sunday, June 18, 2017

Parts of parts

Picture a machine--parts move in a regular manner, intersecting, colliding, pushed always by other parts. These parts only interact at the simplest level, basically banging into each other. If you had a lever that suddenly decided it wanted to "find it's true nature," that piece would soon be so dented and bent that it might dislodge and disrupt not only its original function but in being loose impact other parts in an unpredictable manner. Unpredictable, okay, but we know one thing-- the effects for the larger machinery of this piece flying, falling, bouncing, crashing, breaking, would not have fortuitous effects.

When we speak of humanity as a machine, we do not picture that one sketched just now. At the level of the most complexity we know, ourselves, our world, those dislodged parts could have beneficial  results, that is,those promoting growth, growth and a greater complexity.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Proper Study of Buried Treasure Is Buried

Words are attractive to the scholar, quite apart from their necessity. The gleam of a framework that can be filled in with interlocking ideas and function in an explanatory manner is not a modern vista, rather it is part of humankind' s inheritance. Yet the idea that words cannot capture ALL of reality is also ancient, and as true. You find scholars like Isaiah Berlin, (June 6, 1909 to November 5, 1997) resting in the linguistic shade, and their wave is so appealing. So you delight in the work of these writers, and don't quite give up the thought that it is adequate. You could say you have to be a lion and embrace generalizations, as well as a fox, always sniffing for the underside, that in which the words are mired/moored.

That is not how Berlin used the phrase "the lion and the fox" in his The Proper Study of Mankind (1997): there it means, he says, explicating Machiavelli, that in between line necessary for the ruler to stay in control, as in lie, but not so much the people stop trusting you.

Isaiah Berlin will come back into fashion. His graceful prose, glittering angles, still beckon. As long as his students never ask, how far can you trust the verbal, when you are blind to the other currents within and without, mankind. The assertion Man, is the proper study of mankind, is meant to avoid this dilemma, but it doesn't really. You want to assume the relics of treasure are a glimpse of what is truly beneath the ground in excavation. That cup recovered: surely a hint of greater finds still buried. What you not conceive is that dirt IS the treasure.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Reptilinear Dust

No, I have not seen the 2006 movie Snakes on a Plane. The picture one gets from this title however, is useful to point to the inadequacy of binary thought.  A certain hysteria can permeate public discourse when both sides only see two options. Some decades ago, an example was the Vietnamese war: you were against the war, or you were for it. Earlier, you were against communism, or you were for it. Major swaths of the 20th century resulted from the logic that the only way to be against fascism was to be for communism. And vv. And it can feel so persuasive, especially if you are young. OF COURSE IT BOILS DOWN TO TWO CHOICES. YOU ARE FOR US OR YOU ARE AGAINST US. WHAT COULD BE SIMPLER?

But the complexity of life, of our interactions and the bloomin buzzin business, means that the fork, the choice between two, is never correct. Wait, can that be right?

The snakes and you. At the physical level binary options take on a different cast. The plane in the movie title, is your own head. The electrifying thought of snakes in close quarters paints a picture, of the ordinary mind, in an extremis which is just the daily, dipped into dayglo paints.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Scientists say the darnedest things

This link

goes to an article headlined

Why did hunter-gatherers first begin farming?

The article itself does not even address that question.

The article discusses evidence for whether the first farmers deliberately tried to increase the yield of crops.

Read it yourself.  I wouldn't make such a fuss, but this happens in science popularizations all the time.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Field Trip to Academe

I do not normally quote, even the man whose influence defines this blog, Jan Cox, since the posts here are an "example" of fresh thinking. But this pdf is a fascinating look at issues in modern historiography, in this case-- the invention of writing.
is a free download. 

Interesting stuff. And also an example to see how binary thought operates: although the ideas here are cutting edge, they are always within the realm of the mechanical.  The author is Reinhard Bernbeck, and a few words about him sets our stage:

REINHARD BERNBECK teaches Western Asian archaeology at the Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin. His ...interests range from archaeological knowledge constructions and their ideological underpinnings to power relations in Neolithic and early urban societies of Mesopotamia. He has done fieldwork in Iran, Turkey and other countries. Recently, he started field work at sites of the 20th century in Germany.

Bernbeck makes a case that:

[The first] writing system represented, therefore, a technological not a conceptual, innovation...The discourse about the invention of writing is perhaps exceptional, as a relatively large group of scholars explicitly addresses medium- and long-term processes of convergence, and thus criticizes imaginations of creativity and originality for the process of the advent of writing.

If you haven't read the article I cite, here's a gloss: what Bernbeck means is that the invention of writing, rather than being a singular, specifiable, event, is a culmination of many small occurrences (like collecting pebbles) happening over thousands of years. Bernbeck is disputing:

The story which ... simply mirrors the traditional narrative of great inventions and their consequential spread. De-dramatizing narratives insert the traditional creatio ex nihilo-discourse into a multi-millennia development of precursors of script in the realm of management practices....

[My] conviction [is] that 'innovation' is largely a matter of narrative framing rather than historical reality.

"De-dramatizing narrative" is a new phrase to me, but what he means is pretty clear-- what we call important inventions are the result not so much of a single man's genius, but the culmination of many small steps over a long time, in that direction.

Bernbeck concludes:

[I]nnovation is a discursively constructed phenomenon that depends to a large extent on the variable inclusion of relations between preceding conditions and consequences in narratives about innovations...


The second argument of my paper is concerned with novelty itself. Innovation discourses tend to glorify tangible objects and neglect practices that may be at the origin of their very existence. 

Bernbeck is a really good writer. Funny how good writing carries a persuasive power of its own. He has just about persuaded me with his arguments that being able to count comes before being able to read. "Numeracy precedes literacy." But back to his conclusions. We are interested in this as a demonstration of binary thought. You might think he was arguing against binary thought, but in fact, that never struck  his mind--- the constraints that speech presents, when any issue must proceed on a binary basis, everything is either/or, this or that. Though he tones it down a bit at the end (in good scholarly fashion)-- his thesis is that history is made not by intellectual giants but by an environmental chronological series of small steps, which are ignored when the credit is passed around by historians.

Well, yes. That is the way the mind works. Notice his division of the issue into TWO parts and two parts only: His own "De-dramatizing narrative" and the "dramatized construction with a strong tendency towards reification."  The latter means the constraints of material evidence as the only thing necessary to define something "new," which then becomes, in effect, a "thing": the invention of writing, is treated as an object.

What Bernbeck misses, is not just that his thinking is stereotypical in arguing on the basis of only two, alternative explanations. If it is not one, it must be the other. Bernbeck ignores the mastodon-like obvious: BOTH are accurate. The critical precursory steps, and the dramatic leap forward. BOTH are necessary....Both and ... And, some third. Which I will not elaborate here, not wanting to get us into Karl Jaspers and his ilk.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The warp and the wolf

It's a world eat world wolf we live in

Friday, April 28, 2017


Factjacked is a word to cover the mechanical nature of human thinking, especially as it applies to those who identify themselves as   -- thinkers. You see factjacking in every headline.  It is the quality of a finished thought. Capital letter to ending period of punctuation. What it signals is that the case is closed, when the case can never be closed, regardless of the fact that was in question.  The raw edge of newness, of openness, of vacant possibility, of the connections binding and building, is lost with the factjacked fact. It is a quality of thought itself, not any particular fact thought. Factjacking refers to the cerebral achievements which can be confidently and clearly presented to multitudes.

A finished fact is a useless, and irrelevant fact.  Of course, that is, some of the time.....