Midnight Pub

Modernism, Post-modernism, and Neo-modernism.

~tskaalgard

(Repost from my blog, but I felt like sharing it)

Lately I’ve been thinking about three philosophical paradigms that have largely defined the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and how they influence many of the social conflicts in the world today. Many (if not all) of these conflicts can be boiled down to a disagreement over whether we all inhabit the same universe with the same rules, or if we inhabit our own special (but interconnected) universes with different rules for all of us.

Post-modernism brings some legitimate criticisms of early-twentieth-century modernism to the table, but that is its only contribution to thought. As a movement on its own, it is responsible for much of the lack of cohesion among people today. You can’t account for relativism when discussing the shape of the earth.

Relativism has its place in accounting for differences in taste and preference, but not when dealing with things like phyiscs, morality or ideology. As a student of anthropology, I have seen many abhorrent practices defended under the guise of cultural relativism, from Mesoamerican human sacrifice to female circumcision. Any ideologies based in human rights or equality must be based in modernist ideas of universal truths. To believe in equality, you must first believe that all humans are equal on some level. You cannot justify honor killings or other forms of misogyny with cultural relativism.

Early-twentieth-century modernism was infested with racism, ethnocentrism, sexism and other bigotries and predjudices when discussing which ideas were in fact true, (and this criticism is perhaps the only real contribution of post-modernism to discourse) but that doesn’t suddenly mean we can’t all inhabit the same universe with the same rules. These criticisms must be discussed, and the paradigm must be refined according to which of these are legitimate criticisms and which are just nonsense. This is why I advocate a sort of neo-modernist paradigm in which these ideas and criticisms are evaluated with open minds and a rigorous scientific method. One can criticize modernism and science without devolving into hippie magic woo nonsense.


veleventh

You are a very strong dogmatist. philosophy, unlike religion and science, does not even have special methods for finding out the truth. when you give birth to your own idea of consciousness and matter, when you offer something of your own, when you see where solid and soft fit together, then write me a smiley face.

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tskaalgard

Please return when you can hold a coherent conversation.

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pink2ds

I also kinda basically think that fundamentalism (things like JW, 7DA, LDS, and the equivalents in Islam like salafism) is kind of also rooted in modernism. Early modernism, I see as sort of "the view that there is a Silver Bullet worldview that fixes everything". Sometimes I also see followers of Dawkins, Hitchens etc in this "silver bullet" worldview category, or Gamergaters also (with their quest against what they saw as "pandering"). IDK if I'm right about that, it's more a general vibe or feel.

I'm rereading "All that is solid melts into air" by Berman, which is one of my fave books on modernism.

I see postmodernism as a kind of needed cure against the "silver bullet"/"universal truth" worldview. Yeah, there is only the same rules for all the universe, but those rules are a lot more complicated and misch-maschy and messed up than they first appeared. The hippie magic woo nonsense is sort of… a pretty good part of the scientific process. You generate hypotheses and then you test them. The hippie bull is one of several pretty good ways to generate hypotheses. Thinking pretty far outside the box.

Is there a silver bullet, simple single truth, that we have within our grasp? Or is it instead a tangled messy web of perspectives that we kind of need to shift between in order to be "least wrong" about the universe we're in?

Postmodernism at its best questions everything, questions all kyriarchy. Questions the old village rites as much as it questions colonialists with their books.

Postmodernism has also contributed wonderfully to aesthetics. Basically everything Gaiman or Tarantino has ever done is absolutely soaked in postmodernism. All modern pop culture basically.

To believe in equality, you must first believe that all humans are equal on some level.

OK, but it might be awhile until we discover what level that is.

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tskaalgard

There's a lot to deconstruct here, and I don't even know where to start. If my thoughts seem somewhat disjointed, I apologize - I just worked an exhausting ten-hour day.

We all inhabit the same universe. It's exactly the same for you as it is for me. It is independent of perception. Our senses may be imperfect, and this is why philosophical models have been designed (the scientific method) to compensate for this. Likewise, the universe is physical and material - there is no supernature to it.

Honestly, a lot of conflict stems from disagreement about this. I feel like this is the first conversation we should be having when we disagree about something down the line.

And as an endnote, this is perhaps why 99.9999999% of pop culture is terrible.

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pink2ds

The problem with the "silver bullet" perspective is that the world is a messy and complicated place.

The universe has not only matter but also processes (just like your computer has not only copper but also electrical currents running through it). Of course, once physics dig deep enough they might find that matter is energy or vice versa. We'll see.

We still know so little about the universe, about the human mind, about the best ways to run human society. It's maybe not as neat and teleological as once thought.

We all inhabit the same universe. It's exactly the same for you as it is for me.

That's probably true. But if it is, then there is very much we don't know about that universe and how it works.

this is why philosophical models have been designed

I appreciate that you wrote models plural here. That's sort of what I like about the pomo approach, the universe is this messy tangle and there are more than one thread to start trying to follow. Some models fit better (make more accurate predictions) for some data, other models for other data. For example dark matter explains some things better than modified gravity and vice versa. Quantum physics is another well known example where we find that using it for some domains is way better than special relativity, but not for all (for example we don't have a quantum theory of gravity yet).

Feynman had a wonderful example:

Incidentally, psycho-analysis is not a science: it is at best a medical process, and perhaps even more like witch-doctoring. It has a theory as to what causes disease - lots of different 'spirits' etc. The witch doctor has a theory that a disease like malaria is caused by a spirit which comes into the air ; it is not cured by shaking a snake over it, but quinine does help malaria. So, if you are sick, I would advise that you go to the witch doctor because he is the man in the tribe who knows the most about the disease; on the other hand his knowledge is not science. Psychoanalysis has not been checked carefully by experiment.

Now, these days we hopefully know a little bit better about what helps and doesn't help in terms of psychology than we did in Feynman's time, but there is still a lot to learn. The world is a weird place and we're coming at it from all kinds of different directions, is my point here.

When a discipline tries to claim that it covers all fields perfectly—like those various churches of the 19th century I mentioned (I guess I forgot the most politically influential one of the bunch, American evangelical baptism)—I kinda back away a bit from that. I wanna encourage a much more mish-mash-y, patch-work-y, inconsistent view of the world. That's not to say that the Universe itself is necessarily inconsistent, but that our "best knowledge of it, so far" can be.

There are many pairs of philosophies that both can't be completely true, but, doing our best to follow them can be best practice with what we've got so far. A kind of sloppy, pre-synthetic dialectic.

One example is acceptance vs improvement. Do we accept things as they are or do we try to improve them? Both hopefully. We don't want to kid ourselves into seeing things as something they're not, but, we want to change things for the better.

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tskaalgard

You're the only one talking about a "silver bullet" here. I never brought that up at all, and you're also reading a lot more into all of this than is necessary. Both matter and energy are material realities, I'm not trying to say energy doesn't exist (where did this even come from??).

Slow down and approach words at face value.

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pink2ds

By "silver bullet" I mean "a sure-fire method for finding out the rules of the universe".

You wrote: "all inhabit the same universe with the same rules".

That's what I mean by "silver bullet perspective"; the perspective that we know, or are about to know, the rules for the universe.

Post-modernism, to me, is the idea that maybe the cosmos is more of a black box of weirdness than we first thought. Maybe things aren't so clear cut.

To me, that's a valuabe idea.

a rigorous scientific method

The notion that epistemology would be a finished field and that a perfect scientific method would have been discovered is exactly what I meant by "silver bullet". The scientific method is the silver bullets that is leading us to true answers.

But science doesn't always work like that. Sometimes true ideas are discovered in weird ways.

Some times we know one thing and we know another thing but those two things seem to disprove or contradict each other. In post-modernism, that's easy to deal with since it's all about trying to juggle a bunch of perspectives.

"Aspect to Aspect", from Making Comics

In classical modernism, any such contradictions or inconsistencies were a sign of Heresy and Blasphemy. I'm not onboard with that. General relativity and quantum mechanics are incompatible, and, I'm OK with that. That only motivates us even more to keep looking. It might take a while, it's been an issue in physics for over a century now.

If we're on the same page about this "being OK with inconsistencies" thing, then we're on the same page and there's no debate. And, you can thank post-modernism and relativism and hippie magic for that. That was a huge contribution to thought from post-modernism.

(Or as Marshall Berman calls it in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: modernism. In other words, his schtick is that modernism is so mutable that the changes that post-modernism brought are themselves inherently part of modernism, and that there's no "post-" about it.)

Here are some issues with the scientific method
It's tangled enough that there's an entire branch of philosophy wrestling with it
Slow down

Oh, I'm not upset, don't worry.

approach words at face value

Kind of also want to provide some context to words in addition to their face values.

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veleventh

my friend and I are developing ideas for metamodern.

science is not friendly with philosophy. science has no right to enter the field of meanings about meanings, and therefore leave science for technology and biology. Science will never say what thought is ... or rather, it will say that there is no thought, and you and I are not, and all these are just vibrations in the ear membrane. science serves power and philosophy has long been replaced by science in a false way.

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tskaalgard

Science is a form of philosophy. In fact, we used to refer to it as "natural philosophy." Science is a method, not a corpus of dogma, as many think it is. All of this talk about "science [having] the right" is frankly nonsense. Thought is a physical process like anything else, which our brains engage in as physical organs. This is, as I described above, "hippie woo nonsense."

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veleventh

Yes. I agree, but alas, most and even scientists will not agree with you. many scientists will say that philosophy is nonsense. today physicists i.e. natural philosophers broadcast about philosophy, religion.

tell me what a thought is and what a word is and maybe we are in the same boat or I will join your side. do you think science will tell you about this? or tell you the truth? I'm not a hippie supporter.

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tskaalgard

...how many scientists have you spoken with? Science is completely dependent on philosophy and scientists will tell you this. I'm not a neuroscientist, so I don't understand all the mechanics of it, but thoughts are composed of various electronic impulses in our brains. A word is just a component of speech, an arbitrary symbol in a auditory code.

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mellita

Hmm, I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss the suggestion that there's more to thought and meaning than (our present) physical science. I can only advocate in brief for a philosophical complication to the extent that I understand it, but which I nevertheless feel is worth taking into account. You're quite right, after all, that science is dependent on philosophy.

Now, to say that there could be more to thought and meaning than physics would not be to suggest that thought and meaning aren't dependent on the physical world—they certainly seem to be, by all accounts—but that the problem just isn't as simple as the reductionist materialist account makes it out to be. (I say reductionist not in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that the theory 'reduces' the mental to the material, i.e. the physical.) No matter how close we seem to come to solving the easier problems of consciousness, there is as yet no satisfactory explanation for how non-sentient matter can produce consciousness. It's important to stress that the issue is not perception; human beings and cameras alike perceive, after all, but we only attribute consciousness to one of these two things. Philosophy does not sit easily with contemporary science here because it would seem to enable important predictions as to the course our physical sciences will take. Not only is it hard to imagine the physical sciences explaining consciousness in the short-term, it remains to be seen how they can ever do so in the long-term.

The most obvious issue is, naturally, the conflict of the objective with the subjective. Consciousness represents the essence of the subjective: privileged access to the experience of what it is like to be something. Whatever may contribute to this experience, such as our faculties of perception, our nervous system, and so forth, the appearance of subjective, first-person experience is a challenge of another order and should be taken seriously as such. We can't, I would think, presume to understand something fully if we can never expose it to rigorous examination to generate reproducible findings, and it might well be that subjectivity will forever prevent us from doing so. We could come damn close, of course, but some barriers might nevertheless resist our solutions. Consider the mechanic in William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' of the "simstim", a technology which allows you to assume the perspective of another person and perceive everything they do, feel everything their body feels...with the exception of their mind. This is a wonderful representation of the problems scientists face. All such observation can achieve is the production of new, subjective experiences in the minds of others, but access to any mind other mind than our own would remain elusive. We would have to somehow let other people into our "I", our fundamental being, and vice versa.

Consider a mental image, for example. Suppose I have you imagine a ramshackle wooden home on a prairie. You perceive this in your mind, according to the description provided. How can we reduce this to the physical? In fact, such things are often argued to be "physically irreducible", but what does this mean? Well, one way to imagine the problem is to try and scale the mental image down until you meet the hardware, so to speak, until you're back in the physical realm. But when can you possibly do this? You might make the image increasingly simple, so that instead of a whole prairie scene you instead imagine a single color, a rusty brown hue. But the complexity of the image wasn't the issue; it was that it was perceived subjectively in the first place. Or work the other way up, beginning from the physical. When does the image appear? Can we imagine it slowly coming into being? But the original issue remains in all cases: why does the image come into being at all, and how? At what point is there subjectivity—where does objectivity end? What makes the difference between purely objective, observable, physical processes and this abstract, mental content?

In any case, perhaps the progression of the easier problems of consciousness will, someday, crack the issue of the hard problem. I'm by no means opposed to it. Perhaps consciousness really is situated in the electromagnetic field, and our experiences of will are that of the EM field influencing the neurons of our brains, or something along those lines. Or maybe there'll be something objectivity has to pass over in silence.

This is to say nothing of the further issues posed by the existence of reason and value.

I offer all this only because it might be of interest to you and some others here. I can't claim to really understand it, only that I have a little familiarity with writing on the subject. If you'd like to follow up on it, Thomas Nagel's work is very clearly written and rigorously argued on this subject.

To speak to your larger point, I'm in perfect agreement that you and I inhabit precisely the same world, and that the difficulties we tackle are those of limitations in our personal worlds of perception and understanding, not a true difference of worlds as such. But I agree with pink2ds that the brass tacks are by no means simply taken care of, and that our practical approach to the world must necessarily consist of a (sometimes self-contradictory) patchwork of perspectives.

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tskaalgard

I never suggested that we currently understand all of these processes. I do not think we currently understand everything (otherwise we would have been able to simplify all of physics into one equation, which we have not yet done.)

To respond to the body of your comment, consciousness emerges just from a certain level of computational complexity. A camera is analogous to an eye, not to a conscious mind. Likewise, computers and AIs are capable of "imagining" (rendering, in various forms) images like the one you described. The comparative simplicity of computers dictates parameters be exceedingly specific, whereas our consciousnesses are capable of much better input parsing - however, on the other side of this, vague parameters mean you and I will not produce an identical image.

And again, if something has no measurable effect on the physical world, it is irrelevant. If it can't be measured in any way, it has no effect on the physical world. For all intents and purposes it does not exist.

And you're correct that practical approaches to the world must consist of a patchwork of perspectives, as you so eloquently put it. This is simply due to a lack of understanding on our part. To analogize again, this is similar to the apparent irreconcilability of quantum physics and general relativity (the main obstacle to that aforementioned equation of everything).

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mellita

Can we take it for given that consciousness is a product of computational complexity? I don't see, at least at first glance, why this should be the case. In fact, it's easy to conceive of an extraordinarily complex computer or artificial intelligence which exhibits nothing we can call consciousness. Even if it did, it would remain to be explained at what point and why it had become conscious in the first place.

Consciousness is not merely rendering. A program which parses inputs to produce representations can hardly be called conscious, and even many combinations of such programs will have to have their emergent consciousness, if it even exists, explained. That's precisely my point about the camera and the eye—perceptual and/or representative modules, for lack of a better word, are not conscious in themselves, so why should amalgamating a boatload of them produce consciousness? I'm not saying this couldn't be the case, simply that the likelihood of such emergence is not, it seems to me, self-evident.

Furthermore, it seems suspect to suggest that if something can't be measured, it has no effect (although the reverse might be true). Does this follow? Subjectivity could be a troubling case in this regard, since it absolutely has effects on the world and yet might very well be the paradigmatic case of immeasurability.

A psychological subject describes a dream which her therapist records in writing. Is this not an effect on the physical world (both the verbal description and the physical record) which has its origin in something which is possibly, for the sake of argument, immeasurable (her subjective experience of the dream)? After all, if the dream didn't exist, it couldn't be described, right?

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tskaalgard

I'm either not explaining myself well or everyone here is being deliberately obtuse. I'll give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume it's the former. Dreams are, like all thoughts, the product of physical processes that occur in the brain. We lack the apparatus to measure this effectively, but this is the case.

I also never said consciousness was the same as a rendering. I'm looking at my old comment and I wonder where this idea of yours came from. Please address the words I actually say and not ones you have come up with for me.

In addition, a computer of sufficient complexity would have to be conscious - it's frankly ridiculous to think consciousness wouldn't arise in sufficiently complex AI. Consciousness is not some magical soul force or anything of the type.

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uirapuru

I think it might be the case that you are not explaining yourself well. I've read all the threads here and although you can argue that somethings you didn't say they do seem a bit implicit in your text.

Furthermore, it seems you are holding an ultra objectivist framework of thinking and want others to use this same framework to engage in this conversation, maybe that is why you think people are possibly being obtuse. They are not, they are simply not using your same framework of reasoning.

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