Friday, February 13, 2009

Pauling House Meeting

We've convened at the Pauling House for a follow-up meeting with Dr. Susan Haack. We have about fifteen people present, ranging from artists to engineers to philosophers.

Terry is filling us in on some of the controversies that have wracked our little group, invoking Brian Sharp's objections to engineering, the proposal to attack "scientism" and so forth. His goal is to bring Susan into our threads, maybe get some input. Her interest in pragmatism, Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey etc. is a point of overlap with Terry's thinking. Percy Bridgman isn't usually categorized as a pragmatist (one of my questions).

Terry is lecturing us, going on fifteen minutes, twenty, thirty, on recent philosophy of science. He thinks logical positivism is still an important school of thought, whereas my sense from the 1970s, at Princeton University, was that positivism (ala A.J. Ayer) was really not that interesting. Richard Rorty was my teacher at this juncture.

I'd interject that the Artificial Intelligence program (AI) was equally bankrupt, a lot of hubris and hype, although we salvaged some of that work in the form of computer science.

I think of Terry as living in the past, not really tracking contemporary issues, poor slob (smile). Actually, I've been highly supportive of Terry on the Wanderers list recently, calling him "brave" -- I just don't like it when he ties these 1800s dead albatrosses around his neck, like "strict determinism" ala Laplace, a stinking corpse (no offense to the great mathematician). His willingness to champion engineering over science makes for some interesting rhetoric I think.

Dr. Haack has her own story of the recent history of science. The explosion of Logic as an enterprise in the late 1800s / early 1900s developed the (false) impression that science must rest on formal logic. This thesis was not borne out, was overtaken by events.

The concept of positivism is a bit of a hodgepodge so it's easy to keep it "alive" in some form, as Terry does, mainly to serve as a straw man he can keep beating up on (yawn).

I have a mental bar graph going, of "Terry talks" versus "Susan talks" and to the extent his bar stays higher than hers, time-wise, he's screwing up. I need to escape to another space, within earshot, have surrendered my chair to Steve, a recent arrival. I can hear everything being said, as I sip wine and blog. I did interject a funny story just now, relating to "mortuary science" (an ongoing joke tracing to last night -- I won't try to explain). Susan's bar is higher now, Terry out of my dog house.

We'll be having Thai food from Tanh Thao and the Portland Fish House. Oh wait, maybe American Express is a problem. ISEPP is sponsoring the meal, Terry being generous (thanks guy!).

Leslie Hickcox is here next to me, along with Lynne Taylor, helping to redress the XY-XX imbalance. Leslie has studied Dewey, other pragmatists, seems to be enjoying the discussion, is taking an active role. She's lending some cross country ski equipment to Tara for this weekend, which we appreciate.

On the table in front of me: Pragmatism, Old & New (Susan the editor), Putting Philosophy to Work, Inquiry and Its Place in Culture, and Defending Science -- within reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism. So there's "scientism" in the title.

What Susan doesn't want: a culture wherein "scientists" are this elite priestly caste, with everyone else giving up on really tracking or understanding what these scientists are about. That's her idea of a distopia.

Buzz is talking about "the brain" which makes Terry impatient (me too sometimes). There's a lot of incoherence here, not unusual with Wanderers. We're all over the map, come from different backgrounds.

I did mention in my intro, as we went around the table, that I've put in a lot of time serving as a champion of Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. That's been an uphill battle of course (most academic philosophers don't have the requisite background and training to work in this area). We had a deeper conversation during meal time, focusing on publisher ethics and copyright control. Susan is quite a fighter in this arena, sticks to her guns.

Lynne and I have a disagreement over whether bell peppers should be excluded across the board, from all the Thai dishes, given her allergies. She thinks I'm being rude in suggesting a compromise. I wish David Feinstein were here to back me up, glad he could make the Heathman dinner last night. I'm thinking my friendship with Lynne will survive this little altercation.

Before I forget, the hilarious thing Susan was saying last night, when I asked about Wittgenstein, was how so many of his students adopted his mannerisms. They'd insert these pregnant pauses, ape the guy in other ways, and that helped make the whole school seem ridiculous (shades of Erhard). She also had an injury requiring weekend treatment and the guy who showed up turned out to have been Wittgenstein's physician. He couldn't conceive of a woman being a philosophy teacher -- go figure.

Python 3.0.1 and IronPython 2.0.1 were both announced this evening, the latter being more or less Python 2.5, but on the .NET platform. Hey, what's up with the CBS News podcasts on iTunes? -- running many days behind.