Monday, June 10, 2013

Negative Guy


- In scientific, technical, probabilistic, statistical knowledge, we look at the world as it is. We discover in it a machine: do this kind of thing, that kind of thing follows. When we make happen what we prefer, we are satisfied, and go on to discover more machines that allow us to make other predictions about more or less preferable outcomes.
- And that's wrong?
- There's no rest.
- What about the satisfaction in being right in our predictions?
- We won the game, but there is no world outside the game. We have to start the game over again to get back into the world. We don't rest in the world.
- How do we rest in the world?
- We build the machine of knowledge in our own personal experience.
- How?
- We develop habits of doing things, and while we act, look out for those habits of ours that bring good results, cause the world to change in a way good for us. When we develop new habits with good results, we stop.
- And?
- We rest, looking back on both what we did, and the world we were acting in. We see a machine, a model, in which one part is ourselves, the other is the world, and all of it we stand back from, are aware of, are conscious of.
- What do we see when we've made our successful scientific predictions?
- A model of part of the world in relation to part of the world. We're not there.
- Then, if I understand you, the difference between statistical and personal knowledge is that in personal knowledge the model we use includes our own experience and give us rest, in statistical knowledge our model excludes our personal experience and never allows us rest.
- That's right.


- Has anyone ever told you, you're a pretty negative guy?
- I'm a critical type of person who, in the machine of society, is likely to have more trouble than the accepting kind of person, someone more like yourself?
- Meaning I'm looking at you scientifically.
- Someone using the personal model can understand someone using the impersonal model, but not vice versa.
- Why not?
- Because the personal model, involving both self and world, can incorporate the scientific model as part of the world responded to. The scientific model leaves out personal experience entirely.
- Then how do people communicate with each other?
- How does a negative guy communicate with a positive guy?
- Yeah, how?
- The two sorts of model users have in common the world seen as a machine. The operator of the personal machine gets the attention of the operator of the impersonal machine by flourishing his expertise with it, and while he has their attention, reveals how the other machine makes use of it.
- But they can't understand, you've said.
- Not until they are operating it themselves. The demonstration gives the incentive to try. The medieval Middle Eastern philosopher Farabi described this as Philosophy standing back from the world but inspiring its laws, themselves only a shadow of the truth.


- You're more negative than ever. What you just said about Farabi, philosophy standing back from the world, the people inspired a bit but left to its own recourse. How are we ever going to progress?
- We don't have to make progress, only improve.
- Meaning?
- Progress implies a continued improvement. A book published last year*, summarizing current anthropological and archaeological knowledge, concludes that societies based on sharing and societies based on division between masters and servants could be found in all periods of history. Maybe one kind develops out of another, but we as a species haven't gotten anywhere.
- Negative guy. The sharers operate with personal knowledge, the divisive with scientific. One model hasn't beaten out the other, so far, but it might in the future.
- Who's to say?

*The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus
Harvard May 2012