Friendship, real esteem,and perfect confidence are banished from among men. Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve, hate and fraud lie constantly concealed under that boasted candor and urbanity, for which we are indebted to the enlightened spirit of the age. (Rousseau, Discourse On The Arts And Sciences)
- Our model of the physical world, in which one thing touches another and communicates movement to it, hasn't worked since Newton and his gravitational force. A force is action at a distance. A mystery. When we try to understand the relation of things of the mind to things of the body, we fail, because we don't know what things of the body are.
- Can't we explain things of the body by things of the mind?
- Do we know about things of the mind?
- Not everything. But maybe enough to start.
- We start, and get stuck with metaphors: material things spoken of as solidifications of the mental, manifestations of the mental, even death of the mental.
- Physical metaphors to explain what a physical thing is. Going in a circle. Then what?
- We smash atoms against each other to produce particles, right? And try to learn how these particles affect each other. We create the particles ourselves, but maybe they teach us something. Similarly, we can take two activities in which we can see mind and body, and see how in the two activities, mind and body differ in relation to each other.
- I've read the argument. Thinking and action, self and world, defined and open compose the "particles" of mind and body that we create in our analysis. When the object of our thinking is the world, not noticing ourselves, and when we act, the object of our actions is our selves, the world unclear, that's the good way. The bad way is when the object of our thinking is ourselves, and the world unclear, and when we act the world is defined to us, our selves obscure. The second way has the consequence that when we look back on our personal history we can't see a story, because the arena of story is action, and we are unknown to ourselves while we act. Now, what are we supposed to do with these ideas? You develop them in some detail.* Creative action leading to thought of love. Or frightened action leading to vain security. But have we made the problem go away, by instead of talking about physical and mental things we talk about description of the self and world in thought and action?
- Our idea of a physical thing occurs only in one of the two ways.
- The destructive and discontinuous.
- In the other way, when you think, you see a beautiful world experienced as a whole, no separate things. When you act, the world is in the process of change, again with no stable, separate things. Imagine now the two sorts of people exchanging things between themselves for profit. Obviously those who are living with things are going to be more attracted by the idea of having more of them. It's hard to see how the other sort would be interested at all.
- Both sorts of people, those who forget themselves in action and see their own strength or weakness in their thought, and those who forget themselves when they see the world's beauty and are blind to world when they act in it, start practicing this new form of trade. For the first sort it fits right into with their usual way of acting. For the second sort though it is only a game. A game that immediately turns ugly when it comes out that the first sort will harm anyone to gain profit. By nature we sympathize with each other, would like to help and avoid hurting each other. But the kind of person who forgets himself in action and forgets his own story is the kind of person who can forget he has hurt someone, and will only help another when it profits himself.
- So the person who takes gain seriously, because he takes things seriously, is also the person who will harm others in the search for gain?
- Yes. Bad as that is, it gets worse. The kind of person who forgets himself is also the kind of person who, not understanding himself, does not understand others. He can recognize and feel safe only with others very like himself. With those he can't understand he feels in danger.
- The self forgetting stick together.
- Yes. One kind of person is willing to harm others in trading for gain, the other kind reluctant. The willing kind get together and make life difficult for the other by attempting to force the things in the world into an arrangement that will give them maximum gain. They force the other kind into a division of labor with themselves. The willingly harmful become one class, the unwilling become their servants. In time, unable to live as they did, the servants take on characteristics of their masters and see themselves too as things.
- You're saying that division of labor can be the result of market trading for gain.
- Division of labor also exists independent of markets, for example within families. Trade for profit creates a special kind of division of labor. Subordinating all personal and social goods to money making, it ends in defining people as things, dividing them from each other on the basis of kinds of lives they live, reaching the point where there is only one character but different relations in power, masters and servants.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.**
- 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.
- 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?
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
The Technology Of Good
Einstein & Intellectual Physics
You Have To Have A Story
How To Read Plato's Republic
Karl Polanyi: The Great Transformation (text)
**Marriage, Philosophers, Politicians
***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