Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œIâ€™ve written a story!â€ My eighty year old fatherâ€™s rich, booming voice fired up the phone line, briefly burning through the fuzzy enunciation that stemmed from a minor stroke of three years back. It hadnâ€™t been the stroke but rather his growing blindness that had slowed his production. Through dictation heâ€™d still kept up his short monthly magazine column (in one of the last and most gravely scatological of these (...) heâ€™d inadvertently shamed my Enlightenment scholarship by writing â€œI thought everyone knew that Frederick the Great and Voltaire corresponded about their bowel movementsâ€). He sounded happier and more alive than Iâ€™d heard him in years, though the sketch heâ€™d written, from a catâ€™s viewpoint, is spectrally peopled under aliases by his Shakespearian actor parents, and a spunky Lesbian witch who lightheartedly inducts my mother into her coven through ritualized sexual intercourse, which scandalizes my grandmother and titillates my father, who confesses along the way to alcoholism, habitual premature ejaculation, voyeurism, and unassuageable jealousy of his illustrious father, whose death in 1949 aroused only â€œa cold prideâ€ (unlike the wrench I know he felt when his wife and his mother died in the late 1960s). The sketch resolves with his dead fatherâ€™s body intoning Hamletâ€™s lines about what a piece of work is man, ending with â€œA paragon of animals,â€ which the felineÂ observer coolly concludes must surely refer to cats. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â That phone call was my last conversation with my father. A month before he had, quixotically, married a woman heâ€™d known for two decades, on his part decidedlyÂ nonexclusively, a few days after she got a diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer. Now, in deference to her fear of flying, they took off on a tiring train and car trip from San Francisco to a convention inÂ London, Ontario, where my exhausted father began his slide into incontinence, depression, and dementia.. (shrink)
I was first struck by the influence of Fritz’ writing on himself in the summer of 1968. My wife Leslie and I were living in Buffalo. I hadn’t seen my father in a couple of years. Fritz was driving in from Los Angeles to do a science fiction workshop at Clarion College in nearby Pennsylvania. We were to see him at Clarion and then he was to visit us in Buffalo. I had just finished reading Fritz’ A Specter Is Haunting (...) Texas, then serialized in Galaxy Magazine. (shrink)
In 1956, when I was a callow sixteen-year-old sophomore early entrant to the University of Chicago, I read my first twentieth century philosophical book, A. J. Ayerâ€™s Language, Truth, and Logic. While I had already gorged on the Russian novelists, read through the then obligatory Hemingway and Faulkner, consumed Freud and a raft of popular sociologists, and managed to get myself expelled from my tenth grade social science class for issuing disparaging quotes from Marx and Schopenhauer, I was only then (...) being introduced to classical philosophical and scientific texts through the marvelous and soon-to-be-by-stages-dismantled Robert Hutchinsâ€™ three year great books curriculum, in which the Natural Sciences sequence began with Aristotleâ€™s Physics, Bk. II, continued with Galileoâ€™s Dialogue, selections from Newtonâ€™s Principia, and on to papers by Laplace, Mach, Jeans and Einstein. Mathematics ABC was a simplified version of whole stretches of Principia Mathematica, the content of Russellâ€™s great work having become common collegial culture for logicians and mathematicians. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I soon read some of the less technical works of Russell, whom Ayer cast as Hamlet to his own humble Horatio, and of David Hume, whose skeptical contentions Ayer claimed merely to update and cast into a linguistic vein. With the further help of Hume and Russell, I emended Rene Descartesâ€™s insufficiently skeptical â€œI think, therefore I amâ€ to the minimalist â€œThere are experiencesâ€. I wryly chuckled in agreement with Russellâ€™s saucy contention that the only materialists in the world were Russian commissars and American behavioral scientists. Common sense realism about physical objects leads to science, which inevitably refutes naÃ¯ve realism. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Disaster and apostasy loomed in my first concerted encounter, at the graduate course level, with 20th century Anglo-American philosophy.. (shrink)
In his short life, Alan Turing (1912-1954) made foundational contributions to philosophy, mathematics, biology, artificial intelligence, and computer science. He, as much as anyone, invented the digital electronic computer. From September, 1939 much of his work on computation was war-driven and brutally practical. He developed high speed computing devices needed to decipher German Enigma Machine messages to and from U-boats, countering the most serious threat by far to Britain's survival during World War Two. Yet few people have an image of (...) him. (shrink)
In his short life, Alan Turing (1912-1954) made foundational contributions to philosophy, mathematics, biology, artificial intelligence, and computer science. He, as much as anyone, invented and showed how to program the digital electronic computer. From September, 1939, his work on computation was war-driven and brutally practical. He developed high speed computing devices needed to decipher German Enigma Machine messages to and from U-boats, countering the most serious threat by far to Britain..
Democritus was born at Abdera, about 460 BCE, although according to some 490. His father was from a noble family and of great wealth, and contributed largely towards the entertainment of the army of Xerxes on his return to Asia. As a reward for this service the Persian monarch gave and other Abderites presents and left among them several Magi. Democritus, according to Diogenes Laertius, was instructed by these Magi in astronomy and theology. After the death of his father he (...) traveled in search of wisdom, and devoted his inheritance to this purpose, amounting to one hundred talents. He is said to have visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Persia, and India. Whether, in the course of his travels, he visited Athens or studied under Anaxagoras is uncertain. During some part of his life he was instructed in Pythagoreanism, and was a disciple of Leucippus. After several years of traveling, Democritus returned to Abdera, with no means of subsistence. His brother Damosis, however, took him in. According to the law of Abdera, whoever wasted his patrimony would be deprived of the rites of burial. Democritus, hoping to avoid this disgrace, gave public lectures. Petronius relates that he was acquainted with the virtues of herbs, plants, and stones, and that he spent his life in making experiments upon natural bodies. He acquired fame with his knowledge of natural phenomena, and predicted changes in the weather. He used this ability to make people believe that he could predict future events. They not only viewed him as something more than mortal, but even proposed to put him in control of their public affairs. He preferred a contemplative to an active life, and therefore declined these public honors and passed the remainder of his days in solitude. (shrink)
"Born in London in 1806, son of James Mill , philosopher, economist and senior official in the East India Company. Mill gave a vivid and moving account of his life, and especially of his extraordinary education, in the..
Philosophers concerned with speech acts, or Wittgenstein's uses of language , mostly fix their attention on actions done by issuing just a phrase or short sentence (in the appropriate circumstances with the proper qualifications, feeling, intent, uptake, etc.). "Five red apples" is Wittgenstein's paradigm example in his Philosophical Investigations . "There's a bittern at the bottom of your garden" plays a similar role in J. L. Austin's most central and ambitious essay, "Other Minds." Indeed, as Wittgenstein points out, a single (...) word or gesture may do the job perfectly well, just as an illiterate man can make a valid contract by marking an "X" on a piece of paper. And, of course, in all relevant philosophical respects, a speech act may be written rather than spoken: in his leitmotiv example, Wittgenstein.. (shrink)
In part because he is known through his Meditations, a short pamphlet he wrote, rightly in fear, to conciliate (unsuccessfully) with the church, and because his rationalism is misconstrued when interpreted empirically, Descartes is subject to a variety of misunderstandings. It does not help that he is dogged by a canard invented in the late 1600s and revived by the animal rights movement, a canard that was designed to denigrate the then burgeoning mechanistic new science, discovered cruelly cutting up living (...) animals, while laughingly insisting the writhing animals feel no pain. Descartes maintained that, physically speaking, humans as well as animals are machines, but he also clearly maintained that animals feel pain and hunger, have sensory experiences, etc. As a more abstract level, 20th Century analytic empiricism revivified the attack on rationalist views. But the last half century has seen strong support (though largely unacknowledged) for Descartes’ views about cognition and perception. (shrink)
A. M. Turing has bequeathed us a conceptulary including 'Turing, or Turing-Church, thesis', 'Turing machine', 'universal Turing machine', 'Turing test' and 'Turing structures', plus other unnamed achievements. These include a proof that any formal language adequate to express arithmetic contains undecidable formulas, as well as achievements in computer science, artificial intelligence, mathematics, biology, and cognitive science. Here it is argued that these achievements hang together and have prospered well in the 50 years since Turing's death.
Alan Turing draws a firm line between the mental and the physical, between the cognitive and physical sciences. For Turing, following a tradition that went back to D=Arcy Thompson, if not Geoffroy and Lucretius, throws talk of function, intentionality, and final causes from biology as a physical science. He likens Amother nature@ to the earnest A. I. scientist, who may send to school disparate versions of the Achild machine,@ eventually hoping for a test-passer but knowing that the vagaries of his (...) experimental course are history and accident. (shrink)
As is well known, Alan Turing drew a line, embodied in the "Turing test," between intellectual and physical abilities, and hence between cognitive and natural sciences. Less familiarly, he proposed that one way to produce a "passer" would be to educate a "child machine," equating the experimenter's improvements in the initial structure of the child machine with genetic mutations, while supposing that the experimenter might achieve improvements more expeditiously than natural selection. On the other hand, in his foundational "On the (...) chemical basis of morphogenesis," Turing insisted that biological explanation clearly confine itself to purely physical and chemical means, eschewing vitalist and teleological talk entirely and hewing to D'Arcy Thompson's line that "evolutionary 'explanations,'" are historical and narrative in character, employing the same intentional and teleological vocabulary we use in doing human history, and hence, while perhaps on occasion of heuristic value, are not part of biology as a natural science. To apply Turing's program to recent issues, the attempt to give foundations to the social and cognitive sciences in the "real science" of evolutionary biology (as opposed to Turing's biology) is neither to give foundations, nor to achieve the unification of the social/cognitive sciences and the natural sciences. (shrink)
Though Mr. Lin purports to attack “Chomsky's view of language” and to defend the “common sense view of language”, he in fact attacks “views” that are basic and common to linguists, psycholinguists, and developmental psychologists. Indeed, though he cites W. V. O. Quine, L. Wittgenstein, and J. L. Austin in his support, they all sharply part company from his views, Austin particularly. Lin's views are not common sense but a set of scholarly and philological prejudices that linguistics disparaged from its (...) inception as an organized science a hundred years ago. Professor [of Philosophy]: I will explain to you the secrets of language in all its wealth and complexity. (shrink)
Though Mr. Lin purports to attack "Chomsky's view of language" and to defend the "common sense view of language", he in fact attacks "views" that are basic and common to linguists, psycholinguists, and developmental psychologists. Indeed, though he cites W. V. O. Quine, L. Wittgenstein, and J. L. Austin in his support, they all sharply part company from his views, Austin particularly. Lin's views are not common sense but a set of scholarly and philological prejudices that linguistics disparaged from its (...) inception as an organized science a hundred years ago. (shrink)
Pace Atran, (1) folk physics, (2) folk biology, and (3) folk psychology rest on informationally encapsulated modules that emerge before language: a gifted austic person who can see objects and animals perfectly well can nonetheless be incommunicatively mind blind.
Nature's experiments in isolation—the wild boy of Aveyron, Genie, their name is hardly legion—are by their nature illusive. Helen Keller, blind and deaf from her 18th month and isolated from language until well into her sixth year, presents a unique case in that every stage in her development was carefully recorded and she herself, graduate of Radcliffe College and author of 14 books, gave several careful and insightful accounts of her linguistic development and her cognitive and sensory situation. Perhaps (...) because she is masked, and enshrined, in William Gibson's mythic and false Miracle worker , cognitive scientists have yet to come to terms with this richly enlightening, albeit anecdotal, resource. (shrink)
I write, as Robert Graves put it in his Oxford poetry lectures, both matador and judge, both as a novelist and as philosopher and literary theorist. Considering the present aggressive stance of literary theorists, detonating, denuding, and deconstructing the humble scrivener's offerings as if works of fiction were the shoulders of midgets on which the giants of critical theory may grind their jackboots, you will think me rash to confess to the jejune offense of novel writing, but I mean not (...) only to confess but also to explain and justify--even, indeed, to revel--in the inversion of fiction and life that is our lot, revel, that is, in an inversion both more enduring and more significant than that between fiction and literary theory. (shrink)