I said to him, “Why is it, Alfonse, that decent, well-meaning and responsible people find themselves intrigued by catastrophe when they see it on television?”
I told him about the recent evening of lava, mud and raging water that the children and I had found so entertaining.
"We wanted more, more."
"It’s natural, it’s normal," he said, with a reassuring nod. "It happens to everybody."
"Because we’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information."
"It’s obvious," Lasher said. A slight man with a taut face and slicked-back hair.
"The flow is constant," Alfonse said. "Words, pictures, numbers, facts, graphics, statistics, specks, waves, particles, motes. Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else. This is where California comes in. Mud slides, brush fires, coastal erosion, earthquakes, mass killings, et cetera. We can relax and enjoy these disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom."
Reblog with your Personality types bolded, for your own reference, or for your followers to get to know you better! Add some others if you know any (such as Hogwarts houses: not a typical personality test, but they give other people insight into what you’re like!) Ones with free online tests are linked.
We are finally in a position to understand how the computerization of society affects this problematic. It could become the ‘dream’ instrument for controlling and regulating the market system, extended to include knowledge itself and governed exclusively by the performativity principle. In that case, it would inevitably involve the use of terror. But it could also aid groups discussing metaprescriptives by supplying them with the information they usually lack for making knowledgeable decisions. The line to follow for computerization to take the second of these two paths is, in principle, quite simple: give the public free access to the memory and data banks. Language games would then be games of perfect information at any given moment. But they would also be non-zero-sum games, and by virtue of that fact discussion would never risk fixating in a position of minimax equilibrium because it had exhausted its stakes. for the stakes would be knowledge (or information, if you will), and the reserve of knowledge — language’s reserve of possible utterances — is inexhaustible. This sketches the outline of a politics that would respect both the desire for justice and the desire for the unknown.
This is, in fact, the use of the ordinary desk computing machine as employed in banks, in business offices, and in many statistics laboratories. It is not the way that larger and more automated machines are best to be employed; in general, any computing machine is used because machine methods are faster than hand methods. In any combined use of means of computation, as in any combination of chemical reactions, it is the slowest which gives the order of magnitude of the time constants of the entire system. It is thus advantageous, as far as possible, to remove the human element from any elaborate chain of computation and to introduce it only where it is absolutely unavoidable, at the very beginning and the very end. Under these conditions, it pays to have an instrument for the change of the scale of notation, to be used initially and finally in the chain of computations, and to perform all intermediate processes on the binary scale.
Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
The dangers of a philosopher’s development are indeed so manifold today that one may doubt whether this fruit can still ripen at all. The scope and the tower-building of the sciences has grown to be enormous, and with this also the probability that the philosopher grows weary while still learning or allows himself to be detained somewhere to become a “specialist”—so he never attains his proper level, the height for a comprehensive look, for looking around, for looking down. Or he attains it too late, when his best time and strength are spent—or impaired, coarsened, degenerated, so his view, his over-all value judgment does not mean much any more. It may be precisely the sensitivity of his intellectual conscience that leads him to delay somewhere along the way and to be late: he is afraid of the seduction to become a dilettante, a millipede, an insect with a thousand antennae; he knows too well that whoever has lost his self-respect cannot command or lead in the realm of knowledge—unless he would like to become a great actor, a philosophical Cagliostro and pied piper, in short, a seducer. This is in the end a question of taste, even if it were not a question of conscience.
Add to this, by way of once more doubling the difficulties for a philosopher, that he demands of himself a judgment, a Yes or No, not about the sciences but about life and the value of life—that he is reluctant to come to believe that he has a right, or even a duty, to such a judgment, and must seek his way to this right and faith only from the most comprehensive—perhaps most disturbing and destructive—experiences, and frequently hesitates, doubts, and lapses into silence.
Indeed, the crowd has for a long time misjudged and mistaken the philosopher, whether for a scientific man and ideal scholar or for a religiously elevated, desensualized, “desecularized” enthusiast and sot of God. And if a man is praised today for living “wisely” or “as a philosopher,” it hardly means more than “prudently and apart.” Wisdom—seems to the rabble a kind of escape, a means and trick for getting well out of a wicked game. But the genuine philosopher—as it seems to us, my friends?—lives “unphilosophically” and “unwisely,’ above all imprudently, and feels the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life—he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game—
“Kierkegaard may shout in warning: “If man had no eternal consciousness, if, at the bottom of everything, there were merely a wild, seething force producing everything, both large and trifling, in the storm of dark passions, if the bottomless void that nothing can fill underlay all things, what would life be but despair?” This cry is not likely to stop the absurd man. Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable. If in order to elude the anxious question: “What would life be?” one must, like the donkey, feed on the roses of illusion, then the absurd mind, rather than resigning itself to falsehood, prefers to adopt fearlessly Kierkegaard’s reply: “despair.”—
But with many managers this skepticism coexisted with a powerful nostalgia for the analytic approach that they themselves were unable (and in the case of ISO 9000, unwilling) to apply. This point was driven home to us on a three-day trip to the San Francisco Bay area, during which we alternated between interviews with biotechnology companies and with Levi Strauss executives. After describing how their laundries developed and disseminated the finishing effects that drove style in blue jeans—a process involving a lot of ad hoc experimentation, closely akin to kissing frogs—one of the executives talked about his plans in the future to cross-train his jeans designers in chemical engineering. “Then we will do it,” he said, “just like they do in biotech.” But what we actually learned in our biotechnology interviews was that they were doing it just like they do in blue jeans! The chemists were producing new assays and giving them to commercial labs to play around with and see what they could discover in terms of new uses, just as laundries were playing around with different ways of washing and abrading denim
Lester and Piore, Innovation: The Missing Dimension
In the same way too, by determining the relation which a philosophical work professes to have to other treatises on the same subject, an extraneous interest is introduced, and obscurity is thrown over the point at issue in the knowledge of the truth. The more the ordinary mind takes the opposition between true and false to be fixed, the more is it accustomed to expect either agreement or contradiction with a given philosophical system, and only to see reason for the one or the other in any explanatory statement concerning such a system. It does not conceive the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive evolution of truth; rather, it sees only contradiction in that variety. The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole. But contradiction as between philosophical systems is not wont to be conceived in this way; on the other hand, the mind perceiving the contradiction does not commonly know how to relieve it or keep it free from its one-sidedness, and to recognise in what seems conflicting and inherently antagonistic the presence of mutually necessary moments.
As he observed in The Uses of the University, based on his Godkin Lectures at Harvard, the American university had become the nexus of
the ‘invisible product’ of new knowledge that, according to his vision, would serve as a catalyst for social and economic development, raising the standard of living and transforming society. The university trained the experts and professionals who kept society running. Indeed, the university’s production of knowledge affected everyone – to the point that, Kerr argued, it could even cause the rise and fall of nations.
The emerging ‘multiversity’ that Kerr famously described in The
Uses of the University was new to America, and to the world. This new university, in his view, was characterized by multiple sub-units and by the need to serve different parties. It lacked a unifying mission. As such, its pluralism resulted in growing tensions within itself and the external world. As a realist, Kerr noted that the ‘multiversity’ was ‘a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money’.
And as an observer of complex organizations, he saw a particular role for the university’s administration. True to his experience as labour arbitrator, he believed that the university’s president needed to assume, above all else, the function of a ‘mediator’. The mediator sought to find
where competing interests intersected, producing persuasive agreement in the place of what Kerr called ‘class warfare’. The managing the research university successful ‘mediator president’ would create a climate of workable and forward-looking cooperation.
Kerr’s vision did not escape criticism. Former University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins argued that the modern university could not pursue such contradictory roles. Hutchins called Kerr’s university a ‘service station’; one of Hutchins’s proteges went so far as to label it ‘an educational General Motors’. But for an institution of its size, and with an ambition to be accepted into the elite, the University of California, and especially the Berkeley campus, had little choice. As Kerr noted, ‘It is an imperative rather than a reasoned choice among elegant alternatives’. In truth, Kerr’s ‘multiversity’ seemed to him a historical destiny; its president was ‘driven more by necessity than by voices in the air’.
Why art? Because you have something to say, or because it allows you to live a more interesting life? Do the two coincide? Does good art come from having something to say, or from the compulsion to do certain things which happen to result in art? One would think that art which is not the result of…
The MIT report (PDF) on the Aaron Swartz case is out. I am going to take some time to study it and understand it more fully. I’m away with my family and won’t be commenting on the report now, beyond the following:
The report says that MIT never told the prosecutor that Aaron’s access was…
“New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it - once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”—John Steinbeck, America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (via unbeautifulnewyork)
Combining this observation with the insight that science has no special method, we arrive at the result that the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not ‘just a small selection of them. The assertion, however, that there is no knowledge outside science - extra scientiam nulla salus - is nothing but another and most convenient fairy-tale. Primitive tribes have more detailed classifications of animals and plants than contemporary scientific zoology and botany, they know remedies whose effectiveness astounds physicians (while the pharmaceutical industry already smells here a new source of income), they have means of influencing their fellow men which science for a long time regarded as non-existent (Voodoo), they solve difficult problems in ways which are still not quite understood (building of the pyramids; Polynesian travels), there existed a highly developed and internationally known astronomy in the old Stone Age, this astronomy was factually adequate as well as emotionally satisfying, it solved both physical and social problems (one cannot say the same about modern astronomy) and it was tested in very simple and ingenious ways (stone observatories in England and in the South Pacific; astronomical schools in Polynesia - for a more detailed treatment and references concerning all these assertions c.f. my Einführung in die Naturphilosophie). There was the domestication of animals, the invention of rotating agriculture, new types of plants were bred and kept pure by careful avoidance of cross fertilisation, we have chemical inventions, we have a most amazing art that can compare with the best achievements of the present. True, there were no collective excursions to the moon, but single individuals, disregarding great dangers to their soul and their sanity, rose from sphere to sphere to sphere until they finally faced God himself in all His splendour while others changed into animals and back into humans again. At all times man approached his surroundings w’ h wide open senses and a fertile intelligence, at all times he made incredible discoveries, at all times we can learn from his ideas.
We see: facts alone are not strong enough for making us accept, or reject, scientific theories, the range they leave to thought is too wide; logic and methodology eliminate too much, they are too narrow. In between these two extremes lies the ever-changing domain of human ideas and wishes. And a more detailed analysis of successful moves in the game of science (‘successful’ from the point of view of the scientists themselves) shows indeed that there is a wide range of freedom that demands a multiplicity of ideas and permits the application of democratic procedures (ballot-discussion-vote) but that is actually closed by power politics and propaganda. This is where the fairy-tale of a special method assumes its decisive function. It conceals the freedom of decision which creative scientists and the general public have even inside the most rigid and the most advanced parts of science by a recitation of ‘objective’ criteria and it thus protects the big-shots (Nobel Prize winners; heads of laboratories, of organisations such as the AMA, of special schools; ‘educators’; etc.) from the masses (laymen; experts in non-scientific fields; experts in other fields of science): only those citizens count who were subjected to the pressures of scientific institutions (they have undergone a long process of education), who succumbed to these pressures (they have passed their examinations), and who are now firmly convinced of the truth of the fairy-tale. This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else about their business, but without any real disadvantage: they have more money, more authority, more sex appeal than they deserve, and the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society.