Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The 'Ridiculosity' of my Life

     Ok, lets see if I can finish up this little overview of Carnap.  There are a bunch of other things I want to write about but I'll never finish up with Carnap if I write willy-nilly whatever I want!  Focus....must focus...

  Doh!  I can't do it!  I absolutely have to tell this story before I finish the Carnap overview, it's waaay too funny.  ....So, over the last month I haven't been working because of school and I have no job.  In conjunction with paying the astronomical cost of out-of-state tuition, furnishing my room, moving expenses, car repairs, the usual expenses of living and so on I have had the unpleasant experience of watching my hard-earned savings account evaporate at a rate much higher than I ever anticipated.  So, I called up a bachelorette/birthday party service and asked if they had any work.  They gave me 2 parties for Saturday night.  The first party was cake.  The second party was....an interesting experience....
  The organizers of the birthday party gave me a meeting place from which I would follow them to the party.  So, I'm following them for a couple of blocks and they pull over. I notice that I'm not in the best part of town (understatement).  I believe the technical term is 'the hood' or 'the ghetto'.   I'm a bit confused because we're pulled over at what appears to be a school.  Then they signal for me to pull up in front of them.  I oblige.  I park and they walk over and say, "we wanna see what you workin' with".  I step out of the car and they say (I'm going to paraphrase and summarize because I don't remember the exact words) "Um, we specifically asked for a black dude".  For the sake of accuracy I believe they told me that they had 'axed' for a black dude, but this isn't a paper on semantics.  I was very cordial (what if they try to ax me too?!) and I apologized and said the agency had sent me out, and I assumed it was because no black dudes were available, I further apologized for my whiteness, and told them that I had applied as much fake tanner as I could for the night and I wasn't going to get much darker in the immediate future. (I actually did say that).  I pointed out that I was their only option and they could decide if they wanted me or not, no offence would be taken.  After conferring amongst themselves they agreed to let me dance for the birthday girl.
  I show up to the house and there is a block party going on just like you see in MTV videos, people sprawled all over the front lawn, drinking, dancing, and eating.  Casting never told me but apparently I was the token white guy in this hip hop video.  As I walked through the party in the front yard I told the hostess to put the birthday girl in a room in the house along with the other girls, gave her my CD, and told her when the music started, I'd come out and do my show.  
  I heard the music start, took a deep breath, said to my self "showtime", and started my cowboy show for a very packed living room.  The birthday girl looked to be well into her 50s and was the mother of the organizer.  The whole time the birthday girl/lady kept on saying, "Damn! boy! Where your daddy at! I wanna meet your daddy!"  So, Dad, if you're reading this, you have a gig down here, anytime you're ready!
  The show went quite well despite there being almost no space to dance (I couldn't even do my best move!) and the birthday mom had a great time and the rest of the girls watching seemed to have fun too.  As I was packing up the hostess came up to me and said, "we've had other guys come out and dance at our parties before, but you were the best".  I thanked her for the compliment, gave the mom and hug and a kiss on each cheek, then--as inconspicuously as a white stripper can make his way through a front yard full of black guys whose girlfriends had just been entertained by said white boy--walked to my car, got in, closed the door and laughed.  Laughed at the 'ridiculosity' of my life. 


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Carnap Part 2

OK, I've seriously got to socialize with other humans, I'm starting to get cabin fever.
Oh, and what the crap am I doing at 3 am on a Friday night, drinking wine by myself and
writing about R. Carnap?

In the previous post I introduced R. Carnap, his overarching Enlightenment objectives, the forces confronting his view, and his first attempt at reconciling the Romantic with the Enlightenment. What I will do today is to look at the two key problems he faced and how he proposed to overcome them.

The First Problem: A Clear Definition of Knowledge

The opposition to classical enlightenment thinking is that by putting reason, logic, and scientific thinking, methodology, and language on such a high pedestal; the fuzzier areas of human knowledge--ethics, politics, emotions, the arts, spirituality--were relegated to second rate status. Another way of framing this is consider if we should give different epistemological status to different types of knowledge ----subjective folk knowledge vs objective scientific knowledge. Recall Carnap's first attempt to unify our different fields of knowledge by simply eliminating any term or concept that couldn't be exactly quantified and utilized in an artificial objective language of logic. The downfall of his "radical reductionism" was that everyday language and knowledge were, by the definition, valueless.
Hip Hop clown's response: That's so wack! I have lots of important stuffs to rap about!
Me: Nu-uh!
Hip Hop clown: Oh no, you di'int!
Me: Yup, I did.

The Second Problem: The Connection Between Technical/Scientific Knowledge/Language and Everyday Knowledge/Language

The second problem is that if we grant one type of knowledge special status, how then does the one system of knowledge interact with the other? To better understand the problem lets take a step back for a second. Recall that the whole goal of the Enlightenment undertaking is to use reason to improve our social and personal systems so we can better ourselves and live richer more meaningful lives. With this context in mind we can see that there is a going to be a problem if we separate different forms of knowledge, ways of knowing, and language. We need the scientific language/knowledge for the practical realm. The problem is that by separating the two realms we are implicitly saying that they operate on different principles, respectively. In the realm of everyday affairs people don't use the language of science or the methods of science. In many cases it would be entirely impractical. Yet, we need the scientific domain and it's concepts and language to improve the practical domain. So, how do we connect the two forms of knowledge so the ultimate utopian goals can be met? (I'm imploring you...)

Ok, it 3am on Friday night, and I've had a little wine. Studying is way more fun this way, but maybe not as effective...I think I'm gonna have to finish this post another day...Sorry to keep you all in suspense, I know how badly you want to find out Carnap's master solution!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Meet My New Friend R. Carnap: Part 1 of 3

I've been holding off on discussing R. Carnap for a while partly because it's tough to know where to start and even more difficult is where to end. This guy was amazing. A giant in 20th Century philosophy.
I studied him a bit in undergrad in my epistemology course. At ASU I'm taking a full course on him. It was one of those situations where you need to take a class, only one fits your schedule so you take it hoping for the best. I couldn't be happier. The professor is a Carnap scholar, is very passionate about Carnap's work and the content of the course is inspiring.
Carnap's overarching goal was, in some sense, to continue the traditions of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking is characterized by the notion that through human reason we can gain insight and knowledge about the natural world (ourselves included). That knowledge in turn can be used to reshape all aspects of human life (social, political, economic, etc...) improve the human condition.
The Enlightenment view through out history, and even now in the mainstream, has always had strong adversaries. A general term for the countervailing world-view would be Romanticism. It the rejection of the idea that through reason and technical knowledge alone can we describe and form our lives. Romanticists hold that the cold world of logic and science ignore the intuitive awareness humans posses as another way of "knowing" our world. They argue that our values and culture are a special kind of knowledge of which science has no part. For example, science can't tell us what good art is; science can't tell us how to resolve ethical debates; it can't tell me what the best flavour of ice cream is! This debate still goes on today between everyday people, not just philosophers. For a good account of the issues displayed in literary format I highly recommend "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Prisig. (I don't necessarily condone his point of view but he expresses the points of view of both sides quite well.)
At any rate, one way to frame the whole debate is as a confrontation between two systems of knowledge and language. One the one side you have the systems passed down from our ancestors, our intuitively derived folk concepts, common sense and ideas couched in everyday language. On the other hand there are the theories, laws, derived from reason and the scientific method, all couched in a new scientific language.
One of Carnap's great goals was to try to reconcile this apparent intractable conflict. Through out my little fireside chat about Carnap it is important to keep in mind his over arching reason for ever undertaking this impossible task. I will repeat it here because it is so important and is the reason why I have fallen in love with his philosophy: His whole goal was to find a method of improving the way we construct and live our lives. He felt that the sciences, having shown more positive progress than any other human endeavour offered the best method. The problem was how do we quantify knowledge in the humanities and everyday life so it can becomes useful to this purpose. When it comes to the social sciences language and concepts are notoriously fuzzy. Enter his first attempt.
Radical Reconstruction
His first attempt was characterized by an effort to piece by piece replace fuzzy imprecise terms of every day language and replace them with exact quantitative and logical terms. These terms would then be used in an artificial language to which the rules of logic could be applied. Any terms that were irreconcilably vague were rejected from the new language, because they did not convey useful information.
For example, the terms "hot" and "cold": They convey information but not very much. We can add more information and say "colder" or "hotter" or "hottest". The problem is that the information is still vague and subjective. If we can objectify the information, then we can make rational logical decisions with it. Enter the scientific concept/language of science....temperature! 35o Celcius! Now, the information is objective. Once the language has been objectified it becomes useful and trustworthy for making decisions. Also, now that it is quantified, we can apply the force of mathematics and reason to it and deduce other information and gain new knowledge.
Carnap's first attempt had many opponents, including many of his peers. Not only was it impractical to go through an entire natural language and word by word, concept by concept; but it ignored out of hand the practical and important role of everyday language. Everyday language may be imprecise but it can serve as a useful tool for expressing human concerns, emotions, and for going about the practical business of one's day. It wasn't long before Carnap himself dropped his idea of radical reconstruction.

Well, as usual, I've gotten carried away and what I thought would be 30 min of writing turned into over an hour. It's 4am....time for bed. Stay tuned for Carnap's next idea "The Principle of Tolerance".

And as always, I eagerly accept any questions about this post or previous posts!