Saturday, July 14, 2018

379. In interaction ambiguity shrinks

I think that in present times one should try to have an ontology that also covers the wondrous world of quantum physics. What am I up against there? I am not sure. There are several interpretations of quantum theory that have long been at odds with each other, and still are, with fundamentally different implications, each difficult to accept. This is not the place to discuss all that. Can I connect my ontology to any of those interpretations?

The central feature of that ontology, adopted from Graham Harman[i] and Tristan Garcia[ii], is that objects of all kinds, including both material and abstract objects, have an inside (what is in it) and an outside (what it is in), and that they arise, change or vanish in interaction with objects in their environment. They cannot exist without that interaction. 

 do find something like that in the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum physics that has been the dominant interpretation for a long time. This concerns the duality of an elementary particle (electron, photon), as being both particle an wave, or “cloud” of probabilities of locations where the particle might be.

In the “Broglie-Bohm interpretation” particle and wave exist at the same time, but in the Copenhagen interpretation there is only a cloud, until it “collapses” into a single location, where the particle appears, upon interaction with an observer-measurer, or, more generally, another system. 

In the “Everett interpretation”, interaction does not yield collapse but, on the contrary, an combination of the waves of the interactors into a larger wave, which expands on and on in series of interactions, growing into a wave encompassing the whole world, resulting in an infinity of possible worlds, each with its own superwave.  

Now, in terms of my ontology, would the cloud-particle duality constitute the inside of that object? The interesting point here is that it is interaction with an outside system that changes the state of the object. That is particularly interesting to me since I have spent half my life in studying interaction between people.

I can see a possible connection with the Copenhagen interpretation with its cloud collapse, in language, concerning universals. Consider the notion of “chair”. It can denote (refer to) a specific chair, without ambiguity. But that is only one of many specific chairs that constitute the “particulars” of the universal. Thus, the meaning of the universal is indeterminate until it collapses into a specific denotation in a specific sentence in a specific action context. It is in interaction with other words, in a sentence, according to grammar and syntax, that universals are disambiguated, that the cloud of meaning collapses.

I would not know how this cloud could be seen as a wave. But then, in a lecture posted on YouTube, Carlo Rovelli claimed that in quantum physics the wave does not really exist either, but is no more than a way of coding past interactions.

Concerning universals, that makes sense. In my treatment of universals, in this blog, I proposed that the particulars are not merely contained in the universal, and do not “derive from it”, as some kind of “reflection” of a Platonic “ideal object”, but on the contrary feed, constitute the cloud of possible denotations, developed from interaction between people in using the word. So here also, instead of the cloud being a wave, it is a deposit of earlier interactions. I used the example, in a newspaper, with a picture of a man using a stuffed cow for a chair, and so this became an additional possibility for denotation, in the cloud. Walking past a pasture with cows, one might then point at one and say: “look what a beautiful chair”. 

There still remains ambiguity, now concerning the sentence as a whole, in differences of interpretation and understanding between people. They also take part in the interaction.   Understanding of quantum theory and language both seem to labour under what earlier I called an “object bias”. The objects involved (elementary particles, words) are seen in terms of objects moving in Newtonian time and space, but they are not like that. Earlier, I used the example of “chair”. A particular chair does not change colour or drop it legs when moved from one room to another, but the universal “chair” does change its meaning from one sentence to another. 

Is this of any use? The notion of wave collapse from quantum theory triggered the idea of a cloud of meaning for universals, and of disambiguation, shrinking the cloud to a specific denotation, as a result of interaction, between words in a sentence and participants in discourse. I leave it to the reader to find this interesting or not. 

[i] Graham Harman, 2018, Object-oriented ontology, Penguin.
[ii] Tristan Garcia, 2014, Form and object, Edinburgh University Press.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

378. The good life: is it enough?

In this blog I have argued for acceptance, even enjoyment, of imperfection, while keeping it moving, in development of the self, without God or a hereafter, other than what one leaves behind after ones death. I argued for a good life in contributing to that hereafter, accepting that it is enough and can be a joy if in the process one makes the best possible use of one’s talents. Of course, this depends on conditions. For people in disasters of war there may be no access to a good life.

Is that really enough?

Dostoyevsky proposed that without God humans fall into a moral abyss. 

It is claimed that without a God people grasp at some superstition to replace it. Some other absolute, universal and unchanging, Žižek’s object-a, perhaps, dressed up and veiled in ideology.

In neo-liberal ideology, the market is the substitute missionary superstition, held to apply always and everywhere.

Or a scientist’s Platonic ideal of objective truth, the dream of reason.

So, is there some hidden superstition in my view of ‘imperfection on the move’. Or is it not really adequate for satisfying the human craving for significance?

As discussed in his blog, my answer to Dostoyevsky is as follows: I propose debatable ethics, an Aristotelian virtue ethics, with commitment to phronesis, practical wisdom. With the virtues of being reasonable, courage, moderation, and justice, mastering the art of trust.

My answer to Plato is truth as warranted assertibility: the exercise of logic, search and respect for facts, and practical workability.

My answer to liberalism is that yes, we need markets, but they are imperfect and have moral limits, require restraint by regulation, and a test against virtues.

One may hope that after death the movement of imperfection continues, in new ways, conducted by new generations. One needs hope not in a passive sense of waiting to see, but in an active sense of having a goal, seeing ways to achieve them, and confidence in one’s ability to do so. This needs courage, to face the uncertainties involved.

So, without a God, I do maintain the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love in the form of what Gabriel Marcel called ‘brotherhood’, and love in the form of philia.

In ‘being in the world’, the individual forms itself in interaction with that world. For imperfection to be on the move, one should grasp the opportunity of opposition by others, to escape from one’s prejudices. That requires empathy, the ability to understand the position of others and what moves them.

It requires openness to surprise, the willingness and ability, the resilience, to absorb disappointments.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

377. Trust in Japan and the US

In his book on trust, Fukuyama (1995) claimed that Japan is a ‘high-trust society’, along with the US (and Germany). Indeed, Japan is said to be ‘the society that displays perhaps the greatest degree of spontaneous sociability among contemporary nations’[i], where that sociability is defined as: ‘the ability to come together and cohere in new groups, and to thrive in innovative organizational settings’.

From the ‘World Values Survey’ also it was reported, in 2005, that Japan was among the countries with the highest score on the proposition ‘most people can be trusted’.     

Yamagishi & Yamagishi claimed the opposite: trust in people in general is much lower in Japan than in the US. This was based on a survey with the proposition ‘Most of the time people try to be helpful’, 47% of respondents agreed in the US vs. 26% in Japan.[ii]

Instead, and as a compensation for this lack of general trust, Japanese employ stable relationships, in tight networks of family and long term relations, based on loyalty and internal monitoring and sanctioning.

Yamagishi & Yamagishi noted that this locks people up in existing relationships, at the sacrifice of possibly new and more productive relationships with outsiders. There is also a vicious circle: not going outside one does not develop the cognitive and social skills of judging the reliability of possible new partners.   

Interestingly, Fukuyama did note that when Confucianism migrated from China to Japan, in the seventh century, emphasis shifted away from benevolence and filial piety to loyalty to the leader, and ‘reciprocal obligation based on exchange of services … entrenched in feudal traditions’.[iii]  That does seem to connect to the analysis of the Yamagishi’s.  

How is this divergence of findings to be explained? To answer this question I employ the categorization that I developed in my 2012 book on trust[iv], and that was also used in earlier items in this blog. There, I distinguished different features of trust that need to be considered
, to avoid confusion.
Perhaps the most important distinction is that between reliance and trust. One can rely on people in two ways. One is control, where one manages the room for misconduct, by contract or hierarchical control, and incentives for good, non-deceitful conduct. The second way is trust, which goes beyond control, in the expectation that people will not deceive even if they have the room (opportunity) and incentives (gain) for it.

The second distinction that I make is that between factors within a relationship and institutional factors outside it.  

Outside the relationship, control can be based on the law, and contracts based on it, as reputation effects as an incentive. Inside the relationship, control can be based on hierarchy, or a balance of mutual dependence, or the use of a hostage.

Outside the relationship trust can be based on generally shared ethics and morals. Inside the relationship it can be based on routinization in long term association, empathy, identification, friendship or love (as in a family).

An overview of these factors is given in the table below.

                                                           Sources of reliability


                                    Outside                                   Inside


  room for conduct      contract, the law,                    hierarchy, mutual dependence,
   incentives                  reputation                              rewards, punishments

Trust                             ethics, morals, shame           routinization, empathy.
                                                                                          identification, loyalty,
                                                                                          friendship, love 

Now, in this framework I can to some extent locate the positions of Fukuyama and the Yamagishi’s, as follows.

Apparently, the Japanese mostly employ the internal factors of hierarchal control and personalized trust based on loyalty. However, I wonder: if generalized trust is indeed lacking, as the Yamagishi’s claim, in an absence of shared generalized, non-relationspecific ethics and morality, how about using the opportunity for control from institutions of law and regulations, and outside reputation mechanisms? Do they forgo that opportunity? If so, why?

How about the US? Is cooperation there indeed based on generalized trust, in a shared ethic and morality, or more on control with contracts and reputation? The latter seems more plausible. That is how the US is widely perceived: as a highly legalized society rather than one based on forbearance and benevolence. Could it be that in the surveys, and their interpretation, there is a mix-up between the two? Perhaps what is interpreted as generalized trust is in fact mostly reliance on such control.

Further empirical research seems needed that takes these considerations into account.

[i] Francis Fukuyama, Trust; The social virtues and the creation of prosperity, 1996, Penguin, page 150.
[ii] Toshio Yamagushi & Midori Yamagushi, ‘Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan’, Motivation and Emotion, 18(1994), p. 129-166.   
[iii] Fukuyama, op. cit. p. 182.
[iv] Bart Nooteboom, Trust: Forms, foundations, functions, failures and figures, 2012, Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

376. Will humanity survive its cultural evolution?

It has become customary to say that the biological evolution of humanity has been overtaken by its cultural evolution, and to applaud that: we are making our own destiny, and things move faster. I wonder. I doubt that humanity will survive that evolution.

There are two problems with the claim.

The first point is whether cultural development really is like evolution. The logic of evolution is based on the three factors of variety, selection by a ‘selection environment’, and transmission. In biology there is a distinction between ‘interactors’, the carriers of genes, which may or may not survive selection, and ‘selectors’, the genes that are carried and transmitted by the carriers that survive.

What are the equivalents in  cultural evolution? The equivalents of genes, the selectors, are ideas, it is claimed, called ‘memes’ (derived from the word ‘memory’). They survive and proliferate according to the interest they generate. What are the interactors: the carriers of ideas? Not only their inventors but also the people or institutions that adopt them? When ideas do not survive, the carriers still do, and may learn from it and come up with other ideas. They do not necessarily cease to exist. And the ideas may be picked up later, even after the death of its generators. That often happens.

Transmission takes place by communication, through different media. In the process they are interpreted and thereby distorted, and thus get mixed up with the process of the generation of novel ideas. The equivalent of that in biological evolution is copying errors of genes, which do happen, but not as systematically as interpretative variation in communication.

More importantly, the selection environment must be independent from the units that are selected, the interactors. In other words, there should be little co-evolution, where the interactors can affect their selection environment, create their ow selection. In nature that does happen, for example in symbiosis, but there also this is much more limited than in  culture.

In the economy the selection environment is supposed to be markets. But in marketing producers affect the choices of consumers. Large multinationals put pressure on government to give in to their demand in rules and regulations, such as taxes, competition policy,  and protection of the environment, on the threat of moving their business abroad when not satisfied. Politicians create new political movements. New media are created. Scientists who cannot get their papers published in existing journals crate their own, new journals. In democracies, laws, regulations and other institutions are adapted to the will of the people.

What is to a considerable extent autonomous in the present selection environment, is technical development. It is governed by what sells and what is technologically possible. That is very difficult to contain within the constraints of ethical considerations. Market considerations mostly win. Part of that problem is the one of externalities: what is preferred by individual consumers and firms often does not align with what is good for the collective.   

The second point is that the outcome of evolution, any evolution, is not necessarily ‘good’. Evolution does not necessarily produce improvement. That depends on the selection environment. In cultural evolution, now satisfaction of desire is the dominant selection mechanism, at the expense of other values. If tolerance and justice are in the way of individual material and emotional satisfaction, then for electoral reasons they are held back.  

In the present culture expression, hypes and emotions determine what survives and proliferates, at the expense of reason, facts, knowledge and public interest. Fake news wins. The environment, which was the old election environment, is not part of market mechanisms. The future, and future generations, are subservient to the present.

In this way humanity cannot survive, and will succumb to its own evolution.

The symptoms are becoming increasingly clear. Increasing inequality, injustice, racism, nationalism, egotism and narcissism, and blind, compulsive consumerism. Wars will lead to correction, in a renewed experience of shared hardship, or to ruin.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

375. Does ethics need dogma?

In the preceding item in this blog I discussed the unsaid: what cannot or should not be said. Another angle is that one should take something as dogma, leave it unargued. Zizek argued this for ethics. The example he took was rape. As soon as you submit this to argument, one can always find some conditions where the accusation can be relativised: the women secretly did elicit it, evoked it with dress and demeanour, etc.

Similarly, one can relativise honour killings, or cliterectomy as justifiable in cultural relativism.

Another case Zizek brought forward was the holocaust and anti-Semitism. As soon as you enter into discussion of wrongdoings of Jews, you have to admit that indeed some of them engaged in usury. Of course some of them did, as did non-jews, and if jews did more it was because they were excluded, discriminated against, in other than financial activities.  

This is an intellectual challenge to me. I have pleaded, throughout this blog, for an Aristotelian virtue ethic, being reasonable, willing to listen to any argument, taking into account contexts and contingencies, in the exercise of phronesis, practical wisdom. That issues in relativism.

In his view, Zizek goes back to Kant: the categorical imperative. Ethics, Zizek agrees, is a matter of absolute metaphysical commitment, without accounts of reason, interests, or custom.

This is a problem for me. If Zizek is right, what is there left to reject discrimination with, and intolerance? Zizek is cynical and dismissive of tolerance, but I cannot see where that leaves us.

Does Zizek here fall back into Platonism? Or is he being merely realistic about reason and its ability, its cunning to hide its hypocrisy, in hiding the bias, the illusion of righteousness, not seeing its ethical bias, often determined by material self-interest and social self-interest, and psychological urge to be seen as righteous?

He has that view also with respect to psychoanalysis. It is an illusion to think that it will bring the analysand to understand itself, clearing out the ghosts. The best one can achieve is to live with imperfect self-knowledge and self-control. The analyst lets the myth rest because the false belief in it brings the analysand to open up, which is needed to achieve a much more modest result.

Elsewhere, Zizek gave an admiring view, to my surprise, of Christ as an anti-universal, anti-platonic solidarity with the particular, the unique, the different, excentric human being. But then, how can one imitate Christ while harbouring an ethical dogma?

In one of his many presentations on YouTube Zizek said that we should not ‘have our hearts go out’ to the refugees, which is cheap and subject to hypocrisy, but should give them rights. The problem is that of exclusion, and we should ‘involve the refugees themselves in the debates’. How does that work, on the basis of cultural, ethical dogma?

There is a more pragmatic stance. One does not have the ethical right to condemn cultural attitudes of others, but one has a democratic right to not tolerate practices that are at odds with the basic rules one has adopted together in one’s society. There lies a difference between pragmatic doxa and philosophical dogma.

But that still leaves the problem of the rebel: what room does he get? And here we are back at the problem of Foucault, and Bourdieu, of how to escape the collective symbolic order, to develop an authentic self. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

374. The unsaid

Žižek and Harman both discussed the unsaid: what cannot be said (Harman) and what should not be said (Žižek).

From Heidegger, Harman adopted the idea that things, even objects of use, are not completely transparent, cannot be completely paraphrased, enumerated in all their qualities. In German: they are ‘ unhintergehbar’, you cannot get behind them. I adopted this idea, for several reasons. First, one cannot look in all directions at the same time. Even in a given direction one cannot see everything. Looking at the inside of a thing, how far ‘down’ does one go? Down to the level of elementary particles and quanta, and according to what rival view of what goes on down there? And concerning the outside, looking at the use of the thing and one’s experiences with it, its phenomenology, one cannot enumerate all its actual and possible affordances and what would be experienced by whom. As a result, Harman claims, reference is inevitably ‘oblique’: partial and incomplete. Some expressions are ruined when explained, such as jokes, metaphors and poems.

Žižek claimed that whether or not things could be said, they should not always be said. Ideologies, in particular, exert their power precisely by not being explicit, but remaining partly hidden, indirect, implicit, so that they remain invulnerable to argumentative opposition: whatever you object against, they did not explicitly say that. And vice versa, when you are the underdog, the outcast, it may be best to remain silent, because your speaking will be twisted or co-opted by the ruling symbolic order. What does not fit cannot be said.  

Don’t rationalize religious faith: you will lose all rational argument. As Kierkegaard taught: just dive into it, and admit ‘Creo quia absurdum’: I believe because it is absurd.

Žižek mentions the ‘Occupy movement’. The only language game in play is that of the established order, and that is precisely what they wanted to get away from.   

Accusations and threat are most effective when giving no more than innuendo and insinuation. When a Mafia boss tells one of his soldiers ‘I trust you, my son’, what does he mean? Multinational companies in their lobbying, to get their way from government, do not threaten directly to move their business and employment abroad unless they get their way.

Recently the nearest Shell Oil Company got to that with respect to the Dutch government, in pleading for the abolition of dividend tax was ‘We do not make demands, but we do want to be seen as friends …’, and the government gave in, while being able to claim that they were not coerced.

And yet, bad as all this sounds, there is something to be said for such modes of implicit direction. I discussed this, in this blog, as the ‘exemplary cause’, adopted from Aristotle. There, one does not give a direct order, but sets an example to be followed. This move recognizes the condition that professional practices often cannot be fully specified, unable to cover the richness, the context specificity and variability of the practice, so that room must be given to find the locally apt specificities, to adapt, innovate, improvise according to conditions.

This is practical wisdom, in contrast with the hypocrisy of manipulative obliqueness. But can one always tell the difference? Managers presenting exemplars shift the responsibility for execution to the worker. Such ‘participative management’ is in fact shifting the blame of failure.

This is one of the ways in which capitalism gets its way no matter what, as Žižek has repeatedly argued.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

373. Ontology and discovery

Here I discuss the link between the ontology that I presented in preceding items in this blog and the theory of discovery that I proposed earlier.

The central feature that I adopted from ‘Object oriented ontology’ (‘3O’, presented, in particular, by Harman and Garcia) is that any object, not only material objects, has two dimensions of existence: an inside (‘What is in it’) and an outside (‘What it is in’). The criterion for an object is that it has a more or less durable structure of its elements. I also adopt Garcia’s idea that the object is the ‘difference between what comes in and what goes out’.

I find this attractive because it is dynamic from the start. Objects develop from interaction with other objects, which affect what comes in and goes out and the development of what happens in between, in the object. 

Another thing that I find particularly important is that here there is room for scientific analysis as the analysis of the composition of an object, the inside, in the natural sciences, and a non- or less scientific, at best a ‘scholarly’ consideration of the outside, of how objects are used and experienced, in their ‘phenomenology’. This includes philosophy and most of the humanities. Neither analysis not phenomenology suffices for an adequate understanding of the object. This necessitates modesty on both sides of the divide.   

Another thing that I find intriguing is that this view of existence as functioning in interaction with other objects is also the view of present quantum theory of physics, according to which elementary particles, and states of systems, appear only in interaction with others. In human affairs, people are not autonomous, as economics claims, but develop in interaction with others

In the theory of invention, in a ‘cycle of discovery’, that I proposed in 2000 and summarized in item 356 of this bog, that change of an object in the form of some practice or knowledge arises from a interaction between ‘what is in’ it and ’what it is in’.

To make this more concrete, I modelled the object as a ‘script’, i.e. network of nodes that represent component activities or ideas, which have ‘subscripts’, while the script as a whole fits in a wider ‘superscript’. The canonical example is a restaurant, with component activities as nodes.

The logic of discovery now is as follows. When an object moves, or is moved, into a novel environment (‘what it is in’), it meets with new challenges to survival, which necessitate adaptation of ‘what is in it’, in order to cope what comes in and goes out in that new environment.

At first this is sought in ‘differentiation’, minor changes (in subscripts of nodes), while maintaining its basic logic (script structure of nodes). In differentiation, not yet jeopardizing fundamental logic or structure (of the nodes), adjustments are derived from earlier development, reconsidering things that failed or were inappropriate then.

Next, when that does not suffice, there are more radical shifts in importing subscripts or entire nodes from other scripts that are locally successful where the focal script fails, thus changing more radically what is in the script. This entails experiments with hybrids of elements from old local scripts, in what I call ‘reciprocation’. This is important in yielding opportunities to experiment, to tinker, trying out alternative combinations, basic logics or structures, finding out where the limitations lie and where conflicts or complications between old and new parts arise.

This is groping, still tentative, with incoherence between old and new, and the need for a more radical change, of basic logic or design, in a recombination of nodes from old and new scripts, and their contents (possible subscripts), in ‘accommodation’.

This, next, is followed by subsequent optimisation, with adjustments in the components (consolidation). That, finally, converges on a ‘dominant design’ and stabilization sets in.

The circle is, in other words, an alternation between contraction and expansion, of content (what is in it) and context (what it is in), and between stability (consolidation), minor change (differentiation) and fundamental change (reciprocation, accommodation). Along the cycle, one needs some stability, if only to find out where the ‘real limits’ of a practice lie, and to build up both the motivation and hints for renewal.

One can see all this as an elaboration of Kuhn’s notions of paradigm shift (here: accommodation), and normal science (here: consolidation). Then what the circle adds is how you get from the one to the other.

Where does the urge behind the cycle of discovery come from? The urge to manifest oneself, to try and fail, to fall and stand up, to go out and explore, Plato’s thymos, Spinoza’s conatus, Bergson’s elan vital, Hegel’s absolute Spirit, Nietzsche’s will to power, where do they come from? Could it be from evolution, because its process of creative destruction, as described, yields an evolutionary advantage in discovery?

Note the connection with the ontology that I discussed in Chapter 2. The crux of that was that an object has an inside and an outside, in the environment it is in, and with which it interacts, and that its inside has a more or less durable coherence of elements. According to the cycle of invention discussed here, when the environment stabilizes, the object consolidates, in the absence of novel impulse. It needs to change its environment to meet new sources, needs and opportunities for novelty. Then, it meets stresses, challenges to change its structure, but does not do so instantly, but experiments, more to the extent that it lives, has intentions, with adaptations, and with hybrids from its own structure and elements from the new environment. And then it may cease to be the object it was, developing a new structure from old and new elements.

Finally, coincidence or not, the ‘loop quantum theory’ that is one of the recent contenders of fundamental physics, models space and time as networks of nodes, as I do with scripts to model objects.