Another one of those quoteless quoughts. Life is too hectic for me to do anything more complicated than just think my thoughts. So here is an old thought that I never put in a public place (I am considering my cognitive science thesis as a rather private place, and besides: the thought didn’t have quite as sexy a name as in the title above). Probably I didn’t do that because it allowed me to flatter myself into thinking that once, when I had some real time, I’d work this out and people would be baffled by a thought so unequivocally changing the boundaries of any future thinking.

But I do no longer want to flatter myself. Reality is much too painful in the light of what might happen, certainly when you are convinced that what might happen ought in fact to happen.

The thought is simple: there’s a characterization of philosophy that, if at all highlighted, was never highlighted enough. It’s about the difference between static and dynamic philosophy; between the synchronic and diachronic approaches to knowledge. Sure, people have demarcated between absolute systems such as the Hegelian one and generically open-ended non-systems such as the Bergsonian élan vital. But in this case the demarcation is done to serve the purpose of a fingerpointing of the other side as ‘bad’. Closest to my thought is Wittgenstein where at least in one person, albeit split over two almost non-overlapping time periods, you have both aspects integrated. Because my thought is not a thought of either/or, my thought is a thought of neither/nor.

But I’ll leave it to the interested reader to click for further reading in order not to cloud the front page with my babble:

The idea when I first formulated it (here) was about linguistics and I called it ‘the stepping-stone theory of language’. I still believe that my approach in that thesis deserves further attention (& has the potential of clarifying linguistic stuff in ways at present still unclear). But the idea was originally, I think, inspired more broadly than only by language and common sense and the present thought is also broader than that.

Enough beating around the bush.

On the one side philosophy has a tendency to systematizing. The last great attempt was that of Hegel and the greatness of the attempt lies in integrating a dynamic aspect into the system: the aspect of dialectics. This two-step movement is one that allows to model the appearance of reality in a way that allows the model to remain systematically absolute: an end or target is inescapable in the dynamics of dialectics.

On the other side we have philosophies that are quasi-mystical and stretch themselves to not name the unnameable. It is these philosophies that resist closing the system but also these systems that are profoundly sceptical of progress. As a most evolved example of such a philosophy I name Bergson who avoided most of the contradictory speak of mystics and was able to integrate in the dynamic a place for logic and scientific assessment. That being said his élan vital was a blind movement, an impulse, a raw core of desire that was superficially covered by the more or less well ordered order of appearance.

In Wittgenstein you can find both. The early Wittgenstein was all about static analysis and, literally, what can be said. The late Wittgenstein was all about open ended dynamics, about playing games whose point was systematically – even: necessarily – elusive. The later mystic and the earlier nerd didn’t meet a lot but the absence of self-criticism of the later on the earlier Wittgenstein indicates that a guy – who would normally have to be considered as somewhat smarter than average – did not see the two aspects as mutually exclusive. That being said, he was, in his historic context, not able to integrate the two aspects in a convincing way.

[Since more or less then we talk about two traditions in philosophy: the continental and the analytic. It is appealing to lump either one together with the dynamic and the static, respectively; but that doesn’t hold. Quinean philosophy is of a dynamic nature, as is much that is in the logical tradition, even if the one-liner summary would tend to be static. And a lot of the – certainly simplified – continental stuff is really static, about Oneness and The Other; even if it is true that a majority of the interesting stuff on this side focuses on the dynamic. The truth is that the static aspect of philosophy is not en vogue the past decades (but the resurrection of it in reactionary politics doesn’t necessarily bode well) whether in one tradition or the other. And whilst this is better than the static part of it being fashionable it is still far worse than it could be. See further and sorry for the parenthesis.]

Here comes quadrialectics. It is a four-step movement that defines a direction but is incompatible with an end point or a target. One could of course say that the four-step movement is itself the target of the good life, but that would just be a matter of saying; we would find on analysis that a movement cannot be a fixed target.

This is how it goes. A first step is understanding something. This requires simplifying reality in discrete structures that make us feel certain about what we say; this is a conservative reflex. The second step is a step of creation. Having been able to understand some things we try to understand more things; with Gadamer (I think) we try to see a new horizon.  This is a fundamentally unstable step. The third step is about making the true innovations ‘politically correct’; in this step a vanguard of people will try to use the new powers of what can be expressed and understood. This is progressive, fundamentally. Finally, the fourth step is about democratizing the innovations. In this step the language gets settled & the people get – in the core – convinced that this new way of seeing things is an ‘enlightened’ way of seeing things.

The content of the fourth step is therefore irreducibly different from that of the first step, but the direction of it is in a continuous progress of understanding more and more and being able to express more and more whilst recognizing that such advances in understanding and expression can only be gained by securing previous advances and defending them to some extent. From a system point of view however steps one and four are similar; both are the result of something and are the beginning of something else. They are the result of democratizing a certain level of understanding and they are the starting point of a new period of creativity that will, initially, be criticized by the mass established opinions.

The direction is that of more understanding. The target is that of progressive insight with the static aspect of insight & an unstoppable dynamic of continuous progression (not to something because it it were ‘to something’ the progressive element would be secondary and transitionary only). This thought is the thought of cultural optimism. We are all of us condemned to go to greater understanding; however much the reactionary forces try to hold us back, we can’t but go forward. Maybe all of the evil ‘looking backward’ seems more prevalent but it only seems so because the expansion of what we can make of the universe is crushingly limitless.

[I am in a moment where it is more and more difficult for me to listen to any music.]



7 responses to “Quadrialectics

  1. Aljas de Paljas

    My understanding from your earlier thesis was that progress was based exclusively on interactions between persons, which I did not fully agree with. Introducing the fundamental second step of “creation” looks to complement your thesis nicely. Indeed, all in all, this description seems close enough to a description of the scientific method.

    Nevertheless, philosophy has not been known to necessarily adhere to the scientific method so there might be an interesting issue to explore in this area.

    In general, human progress seems to be a combination of continuous unstoppable progress and cycles of various durations that go back and forth. Many cycles might be caused outside of the control of humans (e.g. climate change to name a controversial one), however some cycles like the ones described by the “generational dynamics” theory should be of relative interest to philosophers since they concern intergenerational dynamics.

  2. Hey Aljas,

    Sorry for the long silence. Sometimes the only thing that happens is shit.

    Anyway, it was always my thesis that the notions of personhood and individuality were problematic when understood as some kind of absolute starting point. The starting point really is the social element, individualism is just the way we can get anywhere (can get away from the starting point). Creativity and individuality are closely linked, just as social behaviour is somewhat linked to conservatism (or security).

    I disagree with you on the link to ‘the scientific method’ – what most people would intuitively categorize as ‘scientific’ really is in the conservative area. All scientific knowledge is – not just primarily but essentially – a static knowledge. I think you see this in actual science: it is a lot about conserving a common ground, on which to enable debate. I guess what you include in scientific method is the creativity of the hypothesis but that really is not part of the method. It is rather a thing that allows to break the status quo arrived at at each point of scientific progress. Ultimately, science strives for capturing knowledge, for bringing things in statis.

    Do not get me wrong, this is by no means an anti-scientific point of view. It is an anti-scientistic point of view. A point of view that tries to show why a philosophy – or a life – that merely consists in the scientific method is one that gets one important point but misses the other one completely (which is, by the way, much better than most philosophies which don’t even come near to either point).

  3. Aljas de Paljas

    Quoting from our old trusted Wikipedia, “a scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”
    Now, combining this with the fact that a large majority of our brain activity is linked with the unconscious (and by extension unconscious observations) my understanding of the scientific method is really encompassing observation, intuition (including unconscious observation) and subsequent hypotheses.
    Now, if you observe certain things and/or make hypotheses, this in turn can help to create new methods to observe the world we live and this becomes an iterative process. E.g. simplifying this to the maximum, discovering magnetism can lead to creating an MRI machine that can lead to better observations of the brain that can in turn lead to understanding how our brain works that can in turn automate and improve the observations we make (e.g. recently science has been able to decompose the hearing process). Now this does not lead to the “right” outcome necessarily, however it is a very dynamic process.
    Going one step further, if you read someone like Kurzweil, you will see that he argues that this is in fact an exponentially expanding and accelerating process given the fact that you can build on more and more observations previously not available.
    I see this type of scientific method as the basis of our modern-world comfortable lives as opposed to someone who lived even only one century ago. Now I agree that previous views where science was unconditionally applauded are obviously equally naive, however my point here was to argue vehemently against a “static” view of science. I am not sure if and where that would make sense.

  4. I don’t want to be right in this (even if there may be more to the discussion of scientific method than wikipedia can cater for). If you include in science that which is commonly held to be prototypically non-science (e.g. the unconscious), your science may be things my science will never be able to be.

    What you call science I call language. There’s a lot we express in language that we do not, yet, know. It is difficult to say the same thing of science. But: whatever! We’re close enough.

    But on a lighter note: what truely offends me is your reference to somebody like Kurzweil. I mean: “The 90s are over”. It is not because you have success that you are right about anything. It would be very depressing to find out that your freedom is limited by some nerds’ expanding knowledge base. True invention is done as far as possible away from the spotlights, it is done by those who do not even care to have an impact.

    I’ll quote something from Gadamer shortly, if only to provide an antidote for the poisonous technology references. Technology just distracts us from real progress – a progress that is essentially one of improved communication.

  5. Aljas de Paljas

    Well, the unconscious in and by itself does not make for science. Science just starts from observations (and sometimes brilliant intuitions) and then evolves into a testable hypothesis. The value of the scientific method lies more in the fact that we can match the hypotheses with an observable universe rather than in the way humans come to a certain theory…
    Remember, I was not trying to talk about science at large but rather the scientific method since your original article was on the dynamics, not so much on the content of the science itself.
    Now as to your final point: real progress due to improved communication? I am not sure I have a richer communication arsenal than Shakespeare (far from it) but I know I can live a far more comfortable life than he ever could thanks to technological innovations since his days.
    Of course there is much progress outside of technology. Just imagine we would still be under a regime of slavery.
    I have not read all the works of thy master so will kneel before the mighty sword of your communicative wisdom…

  6. You haven’t read Shakespeare lately I guess, otherwise it would be clear you have a richer communication (but probably we don’t get as much out of it as he did – I mean, one thing is the materials you have at your disposal and another thing entirely is the skill with which you use those materials). Technology would not have gotten as far as it did if language did not first allow to imagine where it could go.

    ‘Nuff said, just on science: it are the intuitions and the observations that are of interest to me, dynamically.

  7. Pingback: Sunday Stories: Gravity’s Rainbow (6) « The Weblog

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