March 29, 2011


Three philosophical interviews: Kuhn, Searle, Gardner

It seems I am in a philosophical mood the last days, so I do some more and link today three philosophical interviews, or texts about them, that I found interesting, and may return to in Nederlog.

1. Thomas Kuhn into pieces, in the ashtray
2. John Searle, about everything
3. Martin Gardner, interviewed in the Skeptical Inquirer

1. Thomas Kuhn into pieces, in the ashtray

This first item is not so much an interview with a philosopher, as about an interview with a philosopher, and with one I don't like ever since I read him ca. 1971: Thomas Kuhn, then famous for what he still is, through his book "The structure of scientific revolutions": What seemed to me then and seems to me now a lot of vague metaphorical talk about philosophy, philosophy of science, and scientific revolutions, and more specifically about Kuhn's terms "paradigms" and "incommensurability" (*) and "Gestalt switches".

Kuhn's stuff - mainly terminology, as quoted - got quite well known in the 1970ies, also outside philosophy, together with Paul Feyerabend's similar stuff, expounded in "Against method", and may be seen as the precursors of postmodernism that came from or were influenced by analytical philosophy and linguistic philosophy, for Wittgenstein II - the one of the Philosophical Investigations rather than the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus - also was such a precursor, and influenced both Kuhn and Feyerabend.

I liked none of this, already in the early 1970ies, because I considered it mostly pernicious nonsense, that consisted of large claims, cant catchwords, and a lot of slippery ambiguous arguments, that centered around and propounded two or three theses that I in 1989 satirically but adequately summarized thus, in "Yahooism & democracy" - where the Lindalinians are the Dutch; the UfA is the UvA = University of Amsterdam, whence I had been thrown out of the faculty of philosophy, not long before taking my M.A. there, for saying and publishing similar things. The links at the end of the paragraphs work:

The Lindalinians must be among the most curious and happiest people on earth, a state of affairs they owe largely to their miraculous democracy and to the genius of two of their greatest thinkers, the illustrious doctor Fraud (soul-healer) and the eminent professor Cant (philosopher). [4]

Although the Cantian teaching is so obscure that it can be fully understood only after a prefrontal lobotomy (that incidentally also greatly contributes to one's social popularity and to the degree of democracy), which, because of its markedly liberating effects on thinking is only permitted to philsophers, for who it is mandatory, it may be explained simply in its purpose and effect. [5]

The purpose of the great philosopher Cant was to provide everyone with a philosophy, that is, a set of sophistries and illusions to make the miseries of life bearable. [6]

Seeing that there are at least 3500 religions, all equally true; 100s of philosophies, all equally intelligent and informed; and 100s of political plans, all equally sensible, the illustrious Cant concluded that

1. Truth does not exist
2. Everybody is equal
3. All societies are equally rational and equally good. [*7*]

The Lindalinians hold that these immortal doctrines greatly contribute to universal happiness: Thanks to Cant, even the most idiotic creed cannot be false; even the most stupid fool may become a well-paid and honoured political leader; and even the most cruel government may claim its own human excellence. [8]

Especially when combined with Lindalinian democracy - all are equal or beheaded - this provides enormous chances on emancipation (= careers, riches and prominence, in Lindalino) for the great majority of human beings, which is why Cantianism finds great democratic support. [9]

However, although the great Cant saw deep, he did not see all, and in particular he was blind to that kind of deplorable human perversity that insists that some doctrines are more probable than others; and some societies more pleasant to live in than others. [10]

It is here that the immortal Fraud, who was a specialist in human derangements, made his invaluable contributions, which may be summarized by the following three propositions:

1. All humans have great problems, especially if they don't believe this.
2. All human problems can be solved by studying Cant and paying a Fraudian half of your income, unless your are young and attractive, in which case therapeutical miracles are wrought on the couch, by administrations to a member of the Fraudian brotherhood.
3. Whoever refutes Cant or Fraud thereby proves the truth of these doctrines. [*11*] 

The results of these teachings on human happiness and civilization, in Lindalino, are great and salutory and are called Yahooism ("with a human face") i.e. what we English sometimes call Humanism. [12]

Yahooism is completely tailored to the human needs, the human qualities, human attitudes and human strengths, of the Lindalinians, and in many ways a straight, if popular, offshoot from the immortal teachings of Fraud and Cant, and may be illustrated e.g. by the practices in the university of Lindalino. [6]

That is, the strengths of the doctrines of Kuhn, Feyerabend and other postmoderns that started to flourish in the 1970ies - Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, Kristeva, Lacan, Deleuze: bullshitters all - and that got them popular in the social sciences, political sciences, and literary sciences, was that they argued, on philosophical grounds, in these cases made up of ambiguities, fallacies, pretensions, delusions, and the fact that bullshitters indulging in this were in the seventies not laughed out of the universities but warmly embraced by them, amounted to the theses that all truth and all science is relative; all morals are relative; and anything goes, especially the fashionable politico-philosophical cant of the day, that combined marxism, feminism, emancipation, liberation, and environmentalism, a little later replaced or extended by black and queer studies, into one bullshit ideology, that of postmodernism.

I think I have fairly well outlined the content, attractions and dangers of postmodernism in Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism and at long last have arrived at my subject in this section:

It is in the opinion-pages of the New York Times, and it is a five part series, that collectively takes over 450 Kb. The link is to an overview of all five; the first starts here, and this and the others are all linked at the end to the next, if any:

I like it, and mostly agree with it, but I do not know how many will read through all five parts, if only because it's collectively a lot of text, that also requires - it would seem - rather a lot of background to appreciate. (Many liked the first part, which has 125 comments on the NYT site, that go into all directions, mostly praising Mr. Morris.)

There is another difficulty with the five part piece, which can be explained briefly by telling why they are called, collectively, "The ashtray":

In 1972 - when I already had decided Kuhn was mostly a fake and phony, who used ideas from others, notably Popper and Polanyi, with a personal twist and some highly pretentious terminology of Kuhn's invention, at least in the contexts in which he used them, namely "paradigm" and "incommensurability" (*) - Mr Morris was a graduate student at Princeton, studying with professor Kuhn, then quite famous as a philosopher because of his "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"; fell into debate with professor Kuhn about Kuhn's pet ideas, that Mr. Morris felt unable to swallow, for rather palpable good logical reasons; and in reply got thrown an ashtray at him by professor Kuhn, that missed Mr. Morris, after which professor Kuhn also took additional steps to remove Mr. Morris from Princeton, in which he succeeded.

Clearly, Mr. Morris has a personal axe to grind - effectively, Kuhn ousted Morris from the university and from a career as a philosopher of science, though Mr. Morris seems to have done quite well as a maker of films, documentaries and photographical pictures - but then, I suppose, most people would have a personal axe to grind, if they had his experiences with Kuhn.

As I said, I like Mr. Morris series, and agree with most he says, but I am not sure whether anybody who is not rather familiar with philosophy of science and with modern mathematical logic would want to read through all of it, while it seems tenured philosophical academics look upon his texts with some disdain, because Mr. Morris is not a tenured philosophical academic, and speaks ill of one of that breed, and also writes about philosophy in ways they don't.

I may return to the series later, and then lift some quotes from it, because it seems to me to discuss one of the bases of postmodernism and its dangers quite well, which is the false thesis that there is no independent reality against which we can compare our ideas, statements and terms, and that all there is are only texts, pretensions and propaganda, and no truths or facts of the matter - and indeed this is true, but it is true of bad philosophy, of postmodernism, of fairy tales, of political and religious superstitions and of pseudoscience only, but is not true of real science and not true of rational natural philosophy.

But then that is the strength and attraction of postmodernism: It reduces everything to propaganda, and it insists nothing can be refuted, since nothing can be true or false, except metaphorically, for which reason postmoderns are capable of supporting any doctrine, making any career, in any way, and do so, for while they are relativistic about everything that does not touch their own personal interests, they are absolutists about their excellencies, authenticities, and rights on tenure, fame, money, and media-exposure.

Indeed, as Frankfurter wrote in On Bullshit:

 "For the bullshitter (...) is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose."

That's what Kuhn produced, and by this indeed he produced a paradigm of bullshitting in and around philosophical topics of all kinds.

The three basic reasons this happens are: Personal greed for tenure or status; lack of talent; lack of character (the last link is in Dutch). See my lemma Academic philosophy in my Philosophical Dictionary and my Spiegeloog-columns (that I wrote as a student: Now you ought to know why I am not a tenured professor: I am smart and honest).

2. John Searle, about everything

John Searle (<- Wikipedia) is of the minority of academic tenured philosophers of the last 50 years who made sense and wrote clearly. He got most famous for his Chinese Room argument (<- Wikipedia), that I dealt with in my comments on Leibniz's Monadology and in On the question why human beings cannot be computers (parts 3 and 4).

Searle thinks the answer to the last question is "No", as I do, and as indeed Martin Gardner, the subject of the next section, does, but not quite for the same reasons as I, it seems. But Searle is an interesting and sensible man, and the following six-part interview by Harry Kreisler is well worth reading if you are interested in modern analytical philosophy, consciousness, philosophy of mind, or cognitive science:

3. Martin Gardner, interviewed in the Skeptical Inquirer

Another man who wrote rather a lot about philosophy and philosophy of science, who also had a very clear mind and a very clear style, and who wrote a lot of interesting books, is Martin Gardner (<- Wikipedia).

I wrote about him in Nederlog when I heard he had died: Let's now praise famous men and then mentioned four excellent books of his, here repeated for your convenience:

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science Dover
The Annotated Alice New York: Bramhall House Clarkson Potter.
The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener

Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus

The first and the last are collections of essays on pseudoscience, quackery, flimflam, bullshit and delusions presented as science, and should be read by anybody interested in clear rational thinking, philosophy of science, or the dangers of pseudoscience and bullshit.

The second is a very fine annoted edition of Lewis Carroll's books about Alice (In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass).

The third is an exposition of Gardner's own philosophy, that is a combination of modern philosophy of science, in which Gardner, as it happens, edited - in fact: mostly wrote - Rudolf Carnap's book "Philosophy of Science"; rational academic skepticsm of a Humean kind; and Gardner's own theism, for Gardner, who had a very religious Christian upbringing, and had lost all his Christianity through studying philosophy and philosophy of science, remained a theist of his own invention and inclination, rather like Voltaire and Franklin.

I like the book a lot, for like all of Gardner's texts (that I read, but I read most of them, it seems) it is very clear, very informed, and free from nonsense, and whereas I am an atheist and Gardner was not, he also was eminently clear that his own faith was given to him by his own feelings, that owed a lot to his upbringing, and has no rational basis.

There is an excellent interview with Gardner in the Skeptical Inquirer, here:

It is from 1998, and if you want someone talking very sensibly about many things - something the most intelligent of my readers must know is a rare event - this is a must read. On the same site there is from last year

So... another Nederlog on philosophy, this time with links to sensible philosophy, though the first is a well-deserved demolishing job of a philosopher who produced a lot of nonsense.

If this is what you like, and you read Dutch, here are some more reported demolitions in Nederlog, each well-deserved:

And as for philosophical demolishion jobs: This one is also quite good, quite amusing, and in English, but requires knowledge of Wittgenstein's doctrines, and is not by me:

Have fun! Enjoy! (If I sound a tad cynical: I am, but the philosophical links in this Nederlog are quite readable and worthwile. If you are into these things, at all, of course...).


(*) There is little sense in my spending time on Kuhnian bullshit-terms like "paradigm" and "incommensurability": The Wikipedia-links may help you, as long as you realize that, in the end, it is flimflam based on several confusions

Here is my practical rule of thumb, since 1972: If someone speaks seriously of "paradigms", "paradigm shifts" and the like, he or she can be given up intellectually. It just is and always was cant, cant, cant.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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