But it Does Move.
November 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
We may put it simply, and—we are quite sure—everybody will
agree upon that: Everything is moving, spinning, jumping, turning, winking, on any level, from the electrons, to the galaxies, from molecules and plants to animals and humans. Yet, even the founders of philosophy, those demigods from classic Greece, got trapped by the idea—or even more appropriate: ideology—of stasis, which in the beginning was the idea of the idea.
Throughout the history of culture there is a salient trace of that ideology. From said idea to Archimedes’ linchpin, from the silly idea of the earth as the centerpoint of the universe to the idea of the universal itself, or quite recently, to the idea of the state, which has been claimed as a proper concept for dealing with language and mind in thousands of publications. You find it in Hegel, everywhere there, not in Darwin or Nietzsche, again in the territorialism of Heidegger (should I say terrorialism?), but neither in Wittgenstein’s nor in Deleuze’s thought, whose whole oeuvres were directed strictly against any kind of stasis, territory, state or universal. Everything is flight, escape, series, event, and logics is transcendental, if there is something as logics at all. Above all and beyond any other, of course, so-called analytic philosophy, particularly that which once originated in German culture (though near Vienna) is still a proponent of the stasis, whether or not they think about the mind (and the brain) or not. Since it has been the program of whole modernism to expel time from the world view, it does not come as a surprise that Neuroscience as well as computer science forgot about the movement.
But it does move. What? Everything, not just the earth as Galileo was so eager to popularize. Actually, we even should not first put an object there (or a species, a gen, an idea) and only then, as a second step, asking how does it came about. We know quite well about the worries of Zenon and the limitations of Newton’s physics. It is indeed a radical move to put movement and change as the primary entity. It was radical in physics, biology, and it will be even more radical in “soft” sciences like libuistics or cognitive psychology, even in philosophy.
The question at the core of understanding the “world” therefore is about the transition from the moving, the vortices, the clinamen, the indeterminate to their territorial counterpart, the object, the symbol, the word, the proposition. It would be too bold to call them (semi-)illusions, probably; yet, one could find quite some arguments to support that.
Of course, throughout history there always have been people emphasizing the primacy of the open transition, Lucretius, Ovid, Whitehead (but not Marx, of course), Serres. They do not, however, form any part of the mainstream of contemporary philosophy.
So, here still as a (well-founded) suggestion, we could say, that van Fraassen’s question is upside down in the same way as Minsky’s or Clancey’s “frame of reference.” We should NOT ask about how words acquire reference, but instead about how the sheafed stream of references exudes and secretes words. In the beginning there is not the word, in the beginning there is just the (associativity of) bodies.
To put it still more exactly, we should not ask about the applicability of logics in the world, but instead about the transition from the probabilistic to the propositional. This holds even for categories like category or relations. If one would take category theory with categories as the quasi-objects, nothing would have been gained. What is nice about category theory is its abstractness, yet the arrows (“transitions”) have to be randomized, or represented as probabilistic functions, similar to Dirac’s Delta: the probability density can’t be a well-defined one, there is a cascaded, higher-order indeterminacy.
The transition from the probabilistic to the propositional is basically a movement, since it involves bodilyness. It would be a mistake to conceive of that transition as a purely formal one. In an important sense it is also a (deep) synthesis, a construction. Note that this holds for any perception, on whatsoever level you’d like to choose. From very similar reasons, Putnam called \ˌa-nə-ˈli-tik\ (pronunciation of “analytic”) an inexplicable noisy sound .
There is a wealth of corollaries here, which we can’t dig into. Yet, it is very clear to us that this transition is near a transcendental category, probably even before space and time. As such, it is also one of the primary architectural (though quite abstract) principles for our undertaking of a machine-based epistemology here. An instance of this transition can be found in the relationship of information and causality.
One of those corollaries is represented by a whole cluster of the ill-posed questions about the mind-body-problem. We would not deny that there is an important difference (now opposing cognitivism, the computational theory of mind, modern neuroscience, etc.), and that it is important to think about that difference. Yet it is not a problem. The concept that makes this problem disappear is exactly the formulation of the question about the transition from the probabilistic to the propositional. At the times of Descartes whose work paved the way for this pseudo-problem, everything had been conceived as mechanical machines. Information was unknown, computers not available, even a concept of probabilistic networks or computational structures endowed with associative power far beyond any intellectual reach.
The big question here is… well, actually it is not sooo big, how to transfer this insight into a software system. Concerning our population of glued SOMs the simple question is: How to feed them? In less “metaphorical” style—though it is not that metaphorical at all—we (as programmers) have the task to decide about the way we present “information” to the SOM and how we introduce it to it.
Whatsoever the answer will be, the answer does not contain the “symbol.” We would be trapped by the “fallacy of the symbolic,” and concerning our reasoning we would commit a petitio principii: if we put symbols into the concept (or a body) in its very beginning, it is quite likely that we will not find any other thing than symbols thereafter (or destructive “secondary” chaos). It will not solve the problem where the symbols come from. Undeniably, however, we use digital computers and quite obviously also a symbol-based instruction coding system (“programming language”). How then to present information in a non-symbolic manner?
The answer is: by probabilization. We should not think that it is possible to present “facts” to the machine. You may remember the failure of the logics-oriented AI, the Edinburgh-school and their Prolog initiative. Instead, we have to present “probable contexts.” Of course, we have to define the concept of context such that it becomes operable, and again we use symbols for that. But this can be accomplished in a manner compatible to the probabilistic perspective. Any observational act could be conceived of as an interpretation of certain more or less anisotropic and regular changes of energy density. Such a description is almost purely physical. We are definitely on the proto-symbolic, even on a proto-semiotic stage. Fluctuations of physical energy densities are perceived as differential intensities. This scheme is not an absolute one, though. “Physicality” is best conceived as a relative property. For instance, words may form a physical layer for a novel. This view has been developed and emphasized also by Bühlmann .
The key element, though often overlooked, here is “interpretation” and its structural quality. We need some habits, methods and theories to be able to interpret. As always, it is important to keep in mind that interpretation is not a formal act, since formal acts are simply rewritings of some graphemes into some other, obeying to a certain fully defined space of allowed relations and transformations. We will discuss this issue in much more detail in the chapter about models and modeling.
I other words, probabilization of observable items, even of symbolic ones, means that we transform their digital symbolics “back” into a level, which could be labeled as “proto-interpretive.” This back-transformation should neither be conceived as a kind of “particularization” nor as a kind of “atomization.” The former would assume a subsuming class, which does not exist on the proto-interpretive level, while the latter would propose a kind of independence between the almost “physical” aspects. Let us call it the level of “elements,” despite the fact that we do not mean that this level is “more elementary” in the sense of “more basic.” This again would induce the petitio principii of the class-fallacy.
The selection, the design and the arrangement of “elements” is based on habits and theories that are completely outside of the item or context at hand. Obviously we meet a circular relationship here. Yet, that’s not a surprise, we even have a word for it: culture. Ultimately, even the structure of representing identifiable items by their elements may be assumed to be unstable. We simply can’t know about the elements actually in use by principle.
Yet, on the side of the receiving body (in our case the SOM, or the human brain, respectively) this means that there are certain observables (fully within the limit of theory-boundedness of any observing), which need to be taken as densities, not as symbols. The proto-symbolic phase of observation is hence homeomorphic to the space given by the super-position of body and numbers, or more precisely, the space opened by the associative power of particularly arranged matter. As said before, in the beginning there is neither the word nor even the sign. We may call it “impressions,” coming from the external world. Nevertheless, it remains fully acceptable for us that those “impressions”, forming into signs or words downstream the perceptive processes, are also dependent—and mandatorily so—on some kind of theory. Clearly, a proper concept of theory needs to be developed here.
So we find three important elements for dealing with the question about the appropriate presentational level: probabilistic contexts, relativity of physicality, and elements as a precipitation of culture. Nice food, isn’t it?
The transition from the probabilistic to the propositional includes the genesis of labels, and later also of symbols—if the former are going to be repeated and through their usage as abbreviations, or abbreviating models. This transition thus is also the correct description of the problem of “symbol grounding,” on which there is so much babbling. It does not come as a big surprise that a combination of associative concepts and formal concepts is rated as being very promising for the further development of machine-based cognition . Yet, we have to start with the associative part.
Note that for the transition from labels to symbols we need a community, hence mediality, which both are outside of any body. If members of a community aggregate to a form that we then again call “body,” such a body is again on the lower, the “boiling”, levels of the overall system. We will meet this topic again in our discussion on complexity. and the short piece about the strong limitations of swarms and their so-called “collective intelligence.”
Since we necessarily have to refer to certain kinds of bodies, we may be allowed to keep the notion of feeding. That feeding and herding (hoarding?) depends obviously on the inner mechanisms, on the anabolic metabolism of any of the individual SOMs. How should we conceive of the digestion processes that turn “stuff” into “words”? Taking the animal body as a kind of template, we can see that the body removes most of the form of the input-information, it establishes a deformation, before any macroscopic structure is going to be assembled. It is so-to-speak a SOM-on-Steroids that is able to propel us from the body and its world to the word and its logical body.
This article was first published 11/11/2011, last revision is from 28/12/2011
-  Hilary Putnam, The Meaning of “Meaning”. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193. 1975. available online.
-  Vera Bühlmann, Inhabiting Media. Thesis, University of Basel, 2008.
-  Uta Priss, Associative and Formal Concepts. ICCS’02. available online.