Semiotics of Autumn

This season-appropriate meme crossed my path—or did I cross its? No matter. It’s a clever instantiation of Baudrillard’s simulacrum, and it really demonstrates the path to simulacrum in 4 stages. I don’t know who rendered this, but it arrived to me via Philosophy Matters. Although it’s self-explanatory, I’ll editorialise nonetheless.

At Stage Zero, the thing in and of itself exists—out there. This is the signified. It’s the thing represented by the symbol depicted in Stage One—a so-called pumpkin, la citrouille, la calabaza, der Kürbis, and so on—the signifier.

At Stage Two, the essence of the signified remains intact, but it’s lost its form. We can make a mental connexion between this and the signified, but we are a step further removed. In this case, the pie likely started as the signified but was transformed into a pie, a new signified and signifer.

At Stage Three, we may or may not have any remnants of the Stage Zero signified, but we still invoke the essence of the pumpkin. More probably, we invoke the essence of the pumpkin pie by way of the pumpkin spice.

By the time we arrive at Stage Four, we’re left with a claim of ‘pumpkin-ness’ and a visual cue to remind us of the path through pumpkin pie and the trace of spice, the marketing angling toward the pie over the fruit.

Keep in mind that the claim of natural flavours does not presume that pumpkin is one of those flavours.

Ingredients (Coffeemate Pumpkin Spice Creamer)
Water, Sugar, Coconut Oil, and Less Than 2% Of Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative)**, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Sucralose (Non-Nutritive Sweetener).

I’m not entirely sure I agree with the distinction between Stage Three and Four in this meme, but it’s just a meme, so I’ll leave it here.

Telles seraient les phases successives de l’image :

– elle est le reflet d’une réalité profonde

– elle masque et dénature une réalité profonde

– elle masque l’absence de réalité profonde

– elle est sans rapport à quelque réalité que ce soit : elle est son propre simulacre pur.

—Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation

Multiple Stupidities

A mate of mine since grade four recently shared an article with me. We’ve been acquainted since the early ’70s and have remained in touch on and off along the way. He ended up attending university with a degree in Political Science whilst I took the Economics route. Not only are our world views are different, but they were also different then, and they are differently different today. Still, we respect each other’s differences and know where we converge—our love of music and the socio-political sphere—and diverge—which music and what aspects of the socio-political sphere. This has no material impact on this post, but he is more of a pragmatic optimist whilst I lean toward pragmatic realism—whatever that even means. Perhaps I’ll share our political courses in future.

This friend shared with me an article on the five universal laws of human stupidity. I gave him a short response, but even as I was responded, I had more I wanted to articulate, and this place is reserved for musings of just this sort.

The article establishes a premise that people generally underestimate human stupidity. I am pretty sure I don’t underestimate human stupidity. Yet I question whether this perspective is misanthropic or good old fashioned realism. To voice it is to be accused of being a misanthrope. Within the perspective of the ternary chart I’ve been developing, the answer differs if one is Modern versus Postmodern. And to be clear, Moderns at one time claim to be abject Humanists, and yet I hear often how stupid this or that person is—or even people are in general—, and yet they counterbalance that with some hope for humanity—humans as a viable species.

Before tackling the issue of stupidity, let’s establish a frame. I tend to accept the theory of multiple intelligences. Perhaps, I don’t wholly agree or even feel the model captures the domain entirely, but conceptually, I feel that what we term intelligence can be dimensionalised. Whether these dimensions can be measured is a separate story—and my answer is a no—, but it can be conceptualised. Some have argued that all the theory of multiple intelligences does is to name the dimensions already accounted for in a grand intelligence model. Although I agree that these dimensions can be aggregated to capture weighted measures, I disagree that this is occurring. I am also sceptical as to whether this can be accomplished meaningfully.

However, one couches it, if we believe that intelligence is a thing and we can dimensionalise it, this also leaves open the door to the absent position. If we have a rating scale between 0 and 100 representing intelligence, where at some point an entity is considered to be functionally intelligent and then gradations of increasing degrees of superior intelligence, then we can also run the scale in the other direction—100 minus the intelligence value.

In practice, this is how the old IQ system worked. On the upside, we get average to genius; on the downside, we’ve got imbeciles, morons, and idiots—and of course, we’ve got the more general category of stupid. And if we allow for multiple intelligences, we get the contrary situation of multiple stupidities.

Standard multiple intelligence theory proposes that intelligence can be assessed along nine dimensions. Even if we excel on a few of the 9 proposed dimensions, we are still left deficient in the rest.

There have been studies performed where the multiple intelligences of medical professionals were assessed. Aggregated, these people typically marginally excel in rote learning and (believe it or not) interpersonal skills but can’t necessarily balance a chequebook. And they are notably deficient in the rest. To add insult to injury, many of these people overcompensate by feigning interest in matters of culture.

I am fully aware that this is a sweeping generalisation, but the point remains that one can excel in 2 or 3 dimensions, yet still be stupid in the remaining 6 or 7. If you consider the so-called progress of human civilisation, it has ‘advanced’ because of the intellectual contributions of very few: There are only so many Newtons and Einsteins among us—and Rembrandts and Picassos or Beethovens and Mozarts. We debate when AI will reach singularity and defend that AI can never be a Shakespeare, but fail to note that even qualitatively, the best we can amass is some homoeopathic quantity of these people. But when I point out that given the opportunity I wouldn’t have hired some 90+ per cent of my university or grad school classmates, who graduated with me because although they technically passed the course material, they were, as is the topic at hand, stupid. These are normal, ordinary people. They have jobs, families and relationships, and have hobbies and activities they excel at. Still, on balance, stupid sums up their totalities. On LinkedIn, every now and again I read posts on the Imposter Syndrome, how you are not an imposter. Not to be politically incorrect, but you are an imposter. But take comfort, so is everyone else. This is what Judith Butler means by performativism. This is Sartre’s waiter. Stay in your lane, and you’ll be fine. This is the Modern world. It’s also why Moderns have such a problem with Postmoderns who point out these things. In short and in sum: people are ostensibly stupid. Get over it. It could be worse.

Omnipotence and hubris are strong cognitive defences against cognitive dissonances. We may be familiar with Dunning-Kruger‘s chart that depicts how people over-estimate their topical knowledge, but we may not be aware that this overestimation is not limited to the scope of neophytes.

Karl Popper and I Are in Disagreement

Whilst Popper is correct in saying that you may (seemingly) resolve conflicts if you ignore definition alignment and go with a subjective approach. Just assume you are talking about the same thing and find accord. This is problematic because once instantiated, it will be realised that there was no common centre, and so the next round commences.

In some ways this comports with my language insufficiency postion—these terms are undefinable, so waiting for full agreement will require an infinite amount of time—, but pretending that one can ignore this step is fool’s play.

One approach might be to atomise a concept such as justice, thereby attempting to resolve a portion, but I’ll posit that this atomic approach will yield protons, neutron, electron, and then quarks and subatomic particles and quantum strangeness, so all we’ve managed is to kick the can down the road.

The best this attempt at a pragmatic approach yields is a pregnant pause, but it won’t remain resolved. It’s easy to blame the instability on the dynamism of society—and this does likely exascerbate the issue—, but this issue is inherently unstable at the start. Like an isotope, it’s just ready for any disturbance.

Compatible with Compatibilism?

Full Disclosure: I consider myself to be a determinist. I looked for something like Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability to evaluate where one might be oriented on a scale of free will to determinism to fatalism whilst also considering compatibilism.

Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability

Let’s lay some groundwork by establishing some definitions from most constrained to least:

  • Fatalism : a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them
  • Compatibilism : a doctrine that maintains that determinism is compatible with free will
  • Determinism : a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws
  • Freewill : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

It seems that freewill and fatalism are bookends with compatibilism attempting to moderate or synthesise freewill and deteminism. But it also seems that one’s selection may be contexual. Ultimately, this argument is fraught with semantic challenges insomuch as some underlying concepts are yet unresolved.

Crash Course Philosophy does provides a nice summary of the challenges in defending even compatibilist positions away from detemininism and even fatalism.

As this video notes, our choices may appear to be free, but it doesn’t take much effort to perform a 5-whys investigation to remove anything but homoeopathic amounts of agency.

Taking a short example, let’s look at the cases of the trial judges mentioned by Sapolsky (Behave) and Kahneman (Noise). Given all of the factors entering into sentences, prior offences, sex or gender of either the defendant or the judge, education, income, and so on, but far the largest factor in determining the length or severity of a sentence was the time between the sentencing and the judge’s last meal—effectively their blood glucose levels.

Some may argue that this is a short interval, but behaviourists would argue that a person now is a culmination of all of their experiences to date. That the decision of the so-called criminal to rob the liquor store (going for the stereotype here) was not the result of low blood sugar. This may be true, but there is still an unbroken chain of confluent events that brought them to that place.

From a culpabilty perspective, even absent true agency, the offender should still be incarcerated or whatever to prevent this behaviour from repeating. Of course, if you believe in rehabilitation, you are necessarily a behaviourist in soem shape or form: the idea is to effectively repattern experience impressions. The other problem is one of probability. That you did X once, are you lilkey to do it again? If not, then there is no further risk to society, as it were. Given the probability of recitivism—and some argue that mass incarceration increases the probability or attempting criminal actions post-release—, is this even an effective deterence? It’s time to get out of the rabbit hole.

From my position, it is impossible to reconcile experience and freewill. The best you can argue is that one is free in the moment—like some strange improv exercise, where you are shown a film that stops abrutly, and you are instructed to act out the remainder of the scene. Is this free, or is this extrapolating on your experience.

Skipping to fatalism, how probable is it that absolutely everything is determined. Reality is just a film we are both in and observing or experiencing, but all of it is already laid down. We are just unawares. Every strange plot twist and early exit was not only already scripted, but it’s already been captured. There is no room for improvisation or flubbed lines. There is no opportunity to go off-script. Even these words are predestined. Even unpublished thoughts were not meant to be published.

There is no way to test this sort of system from inside the system, and there is no way to get a vantage above it, so here we are.

The notion of determinism affords humans some modicum of agency, perhaps akin to one part in a trillion trillions. Practically, we are taking credit for a butterfly effect—and punishing for this degree of freedom. As Sapolsky has noted, most instances of perceived agency are trivial. We can ‘instruct’ finger movement with our brain. Ostensibly, we think: move finger; bend; point; stop. And even so, what was the cause of the thought to move the finger? Was there truly a non-causal event?

Cognotive dissonance ensures that we can’t allow ourselves to be NPCs or automotons. We have to omuch hubris for that. We must have some free will. Some religions say we not only have agency here in this life but that we chose the life to begin with. Even so, we’ve not seen the script in advance; we’ve merely chosen which lessons we want learnt.

So what about compatibilism? Sort of, who cares? Whilst I can define some interstitial state between free will and determinism, it seems that it would not be even tempered or would otherwise skew heavily toward determinism.

What keeps me from being a hard determinist is that I hold out hope for statistics, chaos, and stochasticism. One might argue in return, that these, too, are determined; we just don’t see the underlying connection. And that’s my cognitive cross to bear.

To be fair, it seems that the notion of free will or even compatibilism are secondary, let’s say, reactions to the need for culpability, for moral responsibility. Societies are built upon these notions, as are legal systems. Necessary ingredients to invent are:

  • ‘Individual’
  • Agency and Volition
  • Choice, Motivation, and Intent
  • Responsibilty and Blame

None of these actually exist, so they need to be invented and constructed in order to associate self-control to actions. In fact, we have insanity escape clauses to recognise that there are cases where control is lost, whether temporarily or permanently, or never had in the first place for any number of ‘reasons’. At core, these attributes are necessary to exert power in a society. The next goal is to convince the actors or subjects that these things are ‘real enough’— as the saying goes, ‘good enough for the government’.

Even if we accept these things at face value, the interpretation and processing of these are different animals still. The notion of Will itself is likely speceous or another fabricated notion. Perhaps, I’ll address Will on another day. Probably not, as all of this is distracting me from my language insufficiency work.

When I think about free will, it is foisted on humanity in the same manner as gods and religion. With gods, we have been defending against theism for millennia. The gods fetish and free will are inextricably linked. As with the chicken and egg connundrum, the question is whach came first. Is God a reaction to fee will, or is it the other way around. Did we create free will to allow for responsibility and then fabricate Supreme busy bodies to act as ultimate judges? Or did we create the gods and build out the myth of free will to accommodate punishment of deviant behaviour. Or are these just parallel constructions? Enquiring minds want to know.

The futility of words

“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

— Carl Jung

My research into the insufficiency of language yields some nice results. Thank you Google.

To Gustav Schmaltz
30 May 1957
Dear Schmaltz:

I understand your wish very well, but I must tell you at once that it does not fit in my with my situation. I am not getting on at 82 and feel not only the weight of my years and the tiredness this brings, but even more strongly, the need to live in harmony with the inner demands of my old age. Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words. I have got my marching orders and only look back when there is nothing else to do. The journey is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length. What you think of as a few days of spiritual communion would be unendurable for me with anyone, even my closest friends. The rest is silence! This realization comes clearer every day, as the need to communicate dwindles.

Naturally, I would be glad to see you for one afternoon for about two hours, preferably in Kusnacht, my door to the world. Around August 5 would suit me best, as I shall be home at then in any case. Meanwhile, with best greetings,

Yours ever,

I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words

Carl Jung

Clearly, the main theme here is solitute and slience, but I keyed in on the futility quote.

Why the world does not exist

Markus Gabriel was brought to my attention, and I immediately thought of Lance at The Dog Walks.

In essence, part of his argument touches on the insufficiency of language, but his key rationale for this claim is anchored arount Kant and set theory. He published a book by the same name on this topic in 2015. This TedX talk is from 2013. I haven’t read it and am unlikely to do so in the near term, but it might be interesting if it expands upon the notion presented here.

Language Primacy: Cognition or Communication

As I am busy researching, this will likely be short. It would be even shorter without this preamble.

In researching the literature for my insufficiciency of language hypothesis, I am reading Fodor and Reboul to try to better grasp the evolutionary function of language. Both rely on the Theory of Mind. It seems that the more accepted theory is the language primarily evolved for communication as a survival mechanism. However, Fodor defends that cognition was the primary function and communicated was exapted. Carruthers contributes to the Language of Thought domain.

As I’ve presented here in dribs and drabs, my insufficiency theory of language argues that language is ill-suited for the communication of abstract concepts. It is fine for expression; communication of situational objects, inventions, and motion, description; and argumentation. But imagined concepts such as fairness, justive, and freedom don’t hold water. As I’ve discussed this hertofore in detail, I’ll not repeat myself.

Confirmation bias notwithstanding, the primacy of cognition better explains why abstract conceptual communication so often fails. Language has been stretched beyond its boundary constraints, and the air is thin past that.

I’m not sure I am willing to choose a side quite yet. Rather, I’ll note the different perspectives and move on. The underlying mechanism is less important to me than the empirical deductions that follow.

Gender Constructs

I’ve been following Philosophy Tube since Abigail was Ollie. Always top-notch material. Their content has gotten longer over time, so I’ve found myself skipping over in favour of shorter presentations. I am so glad to have decided to watch this one.

As anyone who follows me knows, I am a big advocate of social construct theory, yet I learned so much in this vid, which is proper well-cited AF. Lot’s of new content to add to my backlog, so I’ve got more than enough reading material for my next few incarnations at least.

The biggest takeaway for me is the notion that not only is gender a social construct, but so is sex itself. Previously, I have defended the sex-gender distinction, but in fact, scientific taxonomies are still social constructs—only in the scientific community rather than the greater community at large.

Abigail’s platypus drives home the point. Not that it’s some big reveal. Another less poignient analogy is fruit and vegetable classification. Tomatoes are fruits. Mellons—watermellons, pumpkins, and so on—are fruits. Say it ain’t so.

Give it a viewing and like or comment here and/or there.

Disengendered Gender

It’s only happenstance that I’ve got consecutive gender posts. Derrida spoke about prioritisation in binary pair, and the inherent symbolic connotation. Sex and gender are two examples.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, masculinity holds the priority in this pair bond. Masculinity traditionally conveys hardness, strength and logic, whilst femininity conveys softness and weakness and emotion. This is what Beauvoir intends by her use of the other sex—male and other. Even in a non-binary frame, maleness still prevails over everythying else. Of course, in this broader world, male may trump female, but in an appeal to nature fashion, female trumps intersex in the same way the light-skinned people of colour trump their darker-skinned counterparts.

English even has derivative terms such as hysterical, an emotional state rooted in the Greek hystera, the uterus or womb. Etymologically, the word was invented by the Greek under the impression that this behaviour was a deviation from male normaly.

In the physical world, this male-female terminology generailises to penetrator and penetrated—penetratrix, anyone? We routinely refer to plugs and connectors with prongs as male and recepticals are female. At first glance, it might be tempting to assume that penis is somehow related to penetration, but it’s not so, as penis derives from tail.

Fun Fact: The plural form of penis is penes.

Etymonline. online etymology dictionary

In music there is the notion of cadence, the beats of a rhythm. Classically speaking, there are masculine and feminine cadences. And if you guessed that masculine cadences involve strong beats and feminine cadences invlove weak beats, you’d be correct.

Feminine Cadence
a musical cadence in which the final chord or melody note falls on a weak beat

Merriam-Webster online dictionary

The reason I am writing this is as a reminder to the predjudice langage embeds and perpetuates. Even if we have lost the connection to the original intent, the sense remains. We should actively seek other terms that don’t promote this anachronistic belief system.

It’s also easy to get carried away and over-specify the domain. So, terms like manhole, manuscript, manipulate, and such are, let’s say, false cognates, in a manner of speaking. There are no counterpart womanholes—sophomoric humour notwithstanding—, womanuscripts, and womanipulation, though it might be fun to write some exposition with the intention of satarising these and words with a similar structure. I’m not sure I could womanage to carve out the time to get there.

Last Word

In a different space, we’ve got master-slave word pairs. In computers, there may be master and slave drives. I’ve heard people point out the insensitivity of this notion without grasping that projecting American (or wider-world) human slavery on this rather than understanding this pairing existed well before the New World was even ‘discovered’. This is where hysterical political correctness needs to step down and give way to education.

Counting on Grammatical Gender

This wall of words was posted in a Facebook that the AI thought I would be interested in. I’m not, save for the rhetorical and grammatical structure. I am not interested in the veracity of the claim or the sentiment it is meant to provoke.

May be an image of text

The author purportedly had a conversation with a former student, who identified as being a member of another race—black, I suppose; African-American in the current vogue; negro and coloured in bygone days.

Notice the head-fake. A conversation with an individual person quickly morphs into a generalisation. This individual, in the mind of the author—or at least the conveyance—was now the representative mouthpiece for this so-called race. But that’s not what I question.

They and them are now considered to be acceptible singular forms if a person identifies as such. I’m not sure I am equiped to comment on identification to a grammatical element, so I’ll side-step that and focus on the outcome.

Perusing this or something similar, there is a sense of undeserved weight—an inclusion from the perspective of a single person. Some people actively promote themselves as spokespeople for a group, whether race or something else. But this person did not necessarily claim to speak for anyone beyond him or herself—perhaps some small, immediate group of collegues who shared this perspective.

I am wondering how this will play out as a device to intentionally deceive the reader.

Another thing…

I was in Philadelphia yesterday, and a black associate of mine was commenting on what he deemed to be 150 neo-Nazi skinheads parading in the rain, a point eliciting more pleasure than perhaps it deserved. His assessment is that race was not a problem, that he held no illwill toward any race. His contention was with ‘motherfucking racists’. Unfortunately, there is no scientific racist litmus. There are only actions and perceptions. This is where Popper’s paradox of tolerance pops into mind. And so it goes