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In this quote from the second of his 2012 Gifford Lectures, Bruno Latour laments the notion that one might recognise only a single kind of truth, and a single kind of veridication.

The various creeds of the Christian faiths appear to be confused with respect to the subject.  In some traditions, the text is “We believe”, in some it is “I believe”.  This does not seem to be a bone of significant contention (for once!), as very closely aligned traditions may differ in this small detail. It seems to make sense, though, as the Credo is professed together, in public, and the distinction between “I” and “We” is largely eradicated.

587 years before the Gutenberg Bible was printed, the Dunhuang scroll was printed using an already mature woodblock technique.  The text printed was the Diamond Sutra.  In a surprisingly contemporary manner, the text comes with this attempt to be available:

Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [11 May 868].

Perhaps a text such as this would make a good discussion point.

If we can articulate a goal, which is tantamount to recognizing a behaviour that fulfils that goal, then we can probably define, or create, a mechanism that achieves that goal, to within some tolerable error of observation.  But not all that happens is teleological.  When we say that we can provide a mechanistic explanation of an avalanche, there is the exchange of energy, but there is no goal, nothing to replicate, and no underlying mechanism.

We see mechanisms in coordinative systems.  We also see them (I suspect) in Gibsonian perception/action machines.  We bring them into being through the constraints of the experimental psychologists laboratory.

So the question necessarily arises: whose goals are we talking about?  Mechanisms, or purposes, are probably necessary to identify the elements for whom the question of natural selection arises.  The common structures of memetics and Darwinianism may point to commonality.  Whose goals?

Enaction seems to provide a good language for talking about this important question.

Several authors have objected to the notion that thoughts or ideas go on, separate from the words and movements that we see and hear. Here is Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, p. 107):

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expression”

Or Merleau-Ponty:

“The word and speech must somehow cease to be a way of designating things or thoughts, and become the presence of that thought in the phenomenal world, and, moreover, not its clothing but its token or body” (Phenomenology of Perception, p. 182)

Or, once more, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone:

“Movement is not a medium by which thoughts emerge but rather, the thoughts themselves, significations in the flesh, so to speak” (Thinking in Movement, p. 400)

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I’m reading Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence, about which more anon (if I ever figure it out).  Latour’s approach demands a bountiful almost unbridled metaphysics.  I like it, and fail to understand it, at the same time.

And I’m watching Kelso contribute to a debate about the origin of movement, or the notion of agency.  Kelso makes the surprising suggestion that the fundamental unit of analysis to understand animate movement is the synergy, and that that should replace the reflex arc, which should make John Dewey happy.

I’d like to join these two dots.  Latour’s menagerie is richer and more varied than the theory of coordination dynamics can ever reach, but it lacks any kind of rigour.  And yet, a problem I, and many others, have had with coordination dynamics is that the full rigour of the approach, with nice equations and quantifiable degrees of freedom and such, all that is only available for periodic components.  Oscillators, if you will.  And I have long ago objected to building a model up on the basis of oscillators.  For they are clocks, and biological beings have no clocks.

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The immune system embodies a simple binary distinction: self or other.  When other appears where self should be, action is taken. We dramatize this with our talk of pathogens, antibodies, attack and counterattack, infection, and the like, but of course such epithets only make sense from the point of view of the immune system.  Pathogens are not ethically challenged entities, and antibodies are not little determined Terminators. 

As we understand ourselves better, we may find ourselves making a similar distinction.  For now, the issue of what “we” are seems to be undiscussed, leaving it in an odd schizophrenic state of both Mind and Body.  But our discourse is improving, and as we learn more, so the “we” that we identify with will necessarily change.  This is a good thing, as the only way to face the large questions of planetary husbandry will require us to be plastic and capable of learning here.

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