Thursday, March 21, 2013

Some notes on integration

In my cognitive experience, I've arrived inductively at certain observations as they relate to the prescribed thinking methods of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, with its key concepts of integration, context-keeping, and rigorously maintaining the hierarchy of knowledge.  (All of this ties in to induction as a regulative cognitive principle, which I'll get to shortly.)  Serious students of Objectivism - the ones who've taken Rand's advice and listened to serious amounts of Leonard Peikoff's lecture courses - are continuously immersed in these concepts, continuously actively "chewing" them mentally.  Their grasp of Objectivism - their context of understanding - pretty much puts them at radical odds with how Objectivism is so often "understood" (i.e., not really understood at all) in the mainstream of our intellectually-deficient culture.  If Rand's critics don't so much as have an effing clue as to how the concepts of integration, context, and hierarchy regulate the daily thinking processes of serious Objectivists, then they really haven't a clue at all what's at the root of Ayn Rand's philosophy.  They might know that Rand says things about the need for human beings to live by reason, but that would only be lip service on her part if she didn't provide some detailed picture of what living by reason consists in - namely, in terms of how one organizes one's mental processes in such a way as to know for sure, independently and first hand, how one's practices accord with the facts of reality.

Rand wasn't bullshitting around here and wasn't into the standard-issue "self-help" game of buzzwords and bromides.  We have an absolute, indispensible need for a philosophically-formulated cognitive method that assures us that our practices accord with reality, because that's what's inescapably necessary for functioning optimally in the world.  I submit that were people to read carefully through Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged, and the "expanded" version of that speech, namely, Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (the closest thing in print (meaning both in book form, and still in print *) to an "authorized" primary source on the philosophy outside of Rand's own writings, and lived by the principles presented therein, the culture would be well on its way to another, and better, Renaissance, and that's despite whatever flaws and errors (and readily correctable ones, if one employs the very self-correcting methods prescribed therein) exist in the book.  (* - Nathaniel Branden's Basic Principles of Objectivism book - based on a course Rand endorsed - is not still in print, and is superseded anyway in key respects by OPAR.)

That's just preliminary stuff (context-establishing, if you will) to get blog-newbies oriented and regulars re-oriented.  Now the notes, in no specific pre-ordained order:

Induction: I think of induction in terms of "adding-on," that is, in terms of integrating new information into the accumulated body of existing knowledge.  This differs somewhat (though perhaps not in substance, if you perform the correct reduction) from the "popular" or Phil-101 understanding of the notion of "induction," which is about going from particulars to general propositions.  That "logical leap" from particular to general has been an unending source of confusion and red herrings for students of philosophy, thanks (or no thanks) to David Hume's framing of the "problem."  Induction in Objectivist terms, as I understand it, has a kind of open-ended quality with regard to how one mentally organizes the particulars or new incoming bits of information, which relies on a certain practical need (whether or not this approach reduces to "pragmatism" is another, and complicated, issue) for unit-economy given the inherent physical limitations of homo sapiens cognitive powers.  In what most likely involves what Rand identified as a process of measurement (whether qualitative or ultimately quantitative) and measurement-omission as a key to how concepts originate, we quite normally and virtually automatically order concrete particulars along various dimensions of characteristics they possess in common.  That is, if we're good at having and maintaining an efficient and orderly mental process, we (implicitly or explicitly) rank concrete particulars in various ways.  The rankings can be cardinal or ordinal, though a scientifically-rigorous thought process will involve making the best effort one can to base ordinal rankings in cardinal measurements.  ("List-making" is one well-known form of such activity, like in, how do we go about ranking the greatest athletes or filmmakers of all time?  Quantitive cardinal measurement adds a genuine scientific rigor to these things, as much as the idea of that is cynically mocked by many, "as only providing a pretentious mask of scientific rigor."  Don't buy into that cynical horseshit for a second; the only issue here is not whether scientific rigor can be had, but how one gets there.  It's the cynicism that's a mask for cognitive sloppiness and intellectual laziness when it comes to justifying - or not justifying - one's "opinion."  Perhaps this explains how - in stark contrast to such attitudes - Rand honed in on the phenomenon of measurement as the root of optimal cognitive functioning.)

The issue then becomes how one places this or that grouping of particulars under what cognitive-conceptual classification, in such a way as to allow for cross-classification as and when the need for such arises.  How does one classify, for instance, The Big Lebowski?  What are key features of this unit that more or less necessitate our placing it under a genre classification, for instance?  It usually gets classified primarily as a comedy - and that's cool; that's cool - but we need a philosophical accounting for this that doesn't make it arbitrary.  Why isn't it primarily classified as a mystery?  I mean, it could be classified as a mystery, but in measurement-terms is it as much of a mystery-narrative as The Silence of the Lambs?  Conversely, aren't there darkly humorous elements of the latter film?  (Of course there are!)  In some way I haven't thoroughly formalized in my mind yet, I think this process of classification is ruled by what Rand identified as the Rule of Fundamentality.  I think it's this (i.e., fundamentality) that is at the heart of any inductive-classificatory process.  Again, induction is about a certain kind of process of adding-on (or re-adding-on, as and when one needs to come back to the original concrete particular in spiral* fashion and re-integrate) plus classifying the added-on concrete particular or unit in accordance with the requirements of unit-economy and cognitive efficiency.  Fundamentality is also at the basis of efficiently comprehensive explanation* of observed phenomena.  (* - Myself, I look at the search results of these asterisked links, and quite immediately perform - or is it re-perform? - a certain kind of induction.  Notice, by the way, how Google search results are ranked on the basis of relevance, according to a scientifically-rigorous heuristic-algorithmic procedure, which I'll call "hal" for short.  And that's before applying the full powers of our own cognitive machinery to mentally organize such search results.)

Anyway, that about covers my to-date ideas concerning the process of induction.  Now some other points:

Some things integration entails in practice: First off, integration in the originative sense - the uniting of sense-particulars into mental units or concepts - is a process of induction in the sense I've been discussing.  But what else does this mean?  It means, as a cognitive habit, the virtue of rationality, which requires a constant, unrelenting focus on bringing new items of information into the sum of one's knowledge, and always expanding one's knowledge.  Put another way: it's all about intellectual curiosity, man.  It's a constant striving to add on the new bits, to always be learning, to expand the range and scope of one's cognitive awareness to fullest of one's abilities.  If this is a "bromide," then you'd think it'd be so ingrained into the everyday culture that it would go without saying.  But maybe that's just it - maybe it's "ingrained" (i.e., not really so) only as far as being a "bromide," something that gets paid a lot of lip service but isn't attended to in the way responsible philosophers would attend to it.  As long as the intellectual kids get marginalized, mocked, bullied, and beat up at school while the so-called educators and so-called parents just resign themselves to accepting it as a "normal" part of youthful upbringing, then the message hasn't really gotten through to the adults (and needlessly, tragically so).  And it certainly as shit ain't happening for real when you listen to the utter crap that flows from the boob tube and the politicians.  (How on earth did we get complete morons on the House "Science" Committee, or obviously unqualified ignoramuses kept on a presidential ticket, or a pseudo-intellectual head of state who's clueless about a key cultural figure?  A big fat fucking failure to integrate, that's how.)

Now, here's something - I base this on extensive exposure to many self-styled "Objectivists" over the years - where all too Objectivists themselves need to clean up their acts and follow their own methodological advice.  And what specifically do I have in mind here?  Their attitude toward the rest of the philosophical community, of course, that's what.  Provincialism is pervasive in human cognitive and other behavior, but the whole idea of philosophy - of intellectual curiosity, of integration, of context-keeping, of hierarchy-recognizing - is to break free of such limiting cognitive biases, to the best of one's abilities.  It's a two-way street here; on the one hand we have a philosophical community that has been by and large dismissive of Rand and Objectivists, and on the other we have the same thing only in reverse.  Mutual contempt and dismissal, with (tragically) little productive dialogue.  If there's something that Objectivists could have learned from their other intellectual hero, Aristotle, it's that the traditional Randian approach to polemics is just piss-poor when you compare it to the way Aristotle and other serious philosophers responded to different viewpoints.  There's no way that a serious philosopher could imagine, with a straight face, someone of Aristotle's philosophical temperament saying a bunch of the things that Rand said about Kant.  Her views about Kant listed under the "psychological techniques" section of the Lexicon entry on Kant are particularly atrocious.  Not long ago I gave myself the assignment of going through the entirety of that entry and determining which excerpt was the least worst at providing an intellectually-empathetic characterization of his views.  The result of this exercise was not encouraging.  Even where you get some straightforwardly traditional interpretations (particularly concerning the "appearance/reality dichotomy" Kant constructed), it's usually one mostly-sensible sentence couched in a terrible paragraph consisting of bad inferences.  This is, in short, a failure to integrate.  What Objectivists need - and, again, they are far from being alone in this regard, and the Rand-bashers themselves are some of the worst offenders - is to practice what I term intellectual empathy.  It took me a while to induce this principle (and all that it entails) as a requirement of integration, context-keeping, and hierarchy-respecting.  In brief, unless one has made a connection to the cognitive context of the "other," one isn't doing one's job of integrating.  What does it mean to make such a connection?  Here's the eminently reasonable standard I would propose: that one characterizes or represents the viewpoint of another to the satisfaction of that other.

You know how cool things would have gotten, that much quicker, had Rand done that with Kant and the rest?  (Seeing as Kant wasn't around to vet Rand's or anyone else's representations, you have to do some imaginative integration here.)  Or, for that matter, if a great many of Rand's critics did that with her ideas?  Note that this is easier said than done; it took me a good deal of time and practice to make it a cognitive habit and discipline to do my best to hold myself to that eminently reasonable standard, which has also led me to recognize how much some of my older blog postings are offenders in that regard.  But hey, you know, perfectivism.  Can't be refuted.  Now.  What needs to happen, as far as putting integration into practice goes, is a much better dialogue ("dialectic," which Dr. Sciabarra poignantly describes as the "art of context keeping," only to be dismissed by all too many Objectivists who failed to live up to that aforementioned reasonable standard) between Objectivists and the academy, and basically between everyone and everyone else.  It's not easy.  Actually, I take that back.  It is easy, but also time-extensive.  It's a cognitive habit that has to be developed over time.  What would not be easy would be to make it happen overnight; but baby steps in that direction are easy, and then it snowballs from there.  Habituation is key here, a concept which most likely ties into the concept of integration as such.  Just throwing a lead out there off the cuff, for whatever it's worth.  And, of course, integration ties into (integrates with) the concept of perfection (which, of course, is not an end-state but an ongoing process in humans, hence eudaimonia-as-activity).   So the cultural Singularity (defined by culturally-pervasive cognitive integration, which would be "utopian" by the lackluster standards of the present-day) is going to necessarily presuppose that the folks have been habituated over time.

If such a potential integrative dialogue were to be actualized, I think you'd have people coming to a consensus on some things despite their differences; I mean, a consensus on real substantive issues of tremendous importance - like about the vital need to integrate, for example. ;-)  Anyway, we'd have people meeting and overcoming (in some quasi-Nietzschean, quasi-Hegelian sense, I suppose) the barriers presently erected between people's cognitive contexts, so that they aren't clashing (to use Peikoff's term) as they used to.  That's quite a challenge to embrace, but the payoff would be amazing, I think.  Objectivists, Kantians, Aristotelians, pragmatists, theists, Christians, Muslims, atheists, the whole variety of viewpoints . . . with a proper mutual understanding between them ("Oh, so that's what Thinker X was getting at!  Now it makes sense!"), they would discover not only how much they have in common but also have an enhanced approach toward Getting Things Right.  Plus humor quality and irony-detection might explode exponentially (especially with the aid of Sagan's favorite brainfood).  Perhaps when all is said and done they'll all get together and sing Kumbaya.  Oh, don't you laugh, you cynical fucks, damn you, don't you laugh.  (Movie reference there of course.)  It's like Lennon said....

(I was originally going to title this posting "Brief notes on integration," but it didn't turn out so brief.)

P.S. Reminder: 30 days left.  Tick tock, tick tock.  (Movie reference of course.)

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