Memory and the Political Philosophy of Cognition. Anarcho-Philosophical Dialogues 3. By L_E, OP, SK, Y, & Z.

Inline image 1

L_E:  Greetings to SK, Z, OP, and Y!

For this anarcho-philosophical dialogue, I’d like us to think and talk about the nature of memory.

I’ve been concerned with the question of whether the past exists and/or is real, and whether our memories of past events are reliable at all.

Some studies have suggested that memory is not reliable at all, and that one can make people remember things that did not happen.

It has also been suggested that, in evolutionary terms, memory is rather a result of our capacity of imagining the future, and not the other way around.

I would like to further discuss this with you. I’m still on the exploratory stage of this fascinating topic, so I welcome any suggestions to read and further thoughts on these issues.

To begin with, I have selected two passages from George Orwell’s 1984 where those issues are discussed. I have also sent you a recent paper by Felipe De Brigard on the relationship between memory and imagination:

De Brigard, “Is Memory for Remembering? Recollection as a Form of Episodic Hypothetical Thinking,” Synthese 191 (2013).

SK:  Any person working in philosophy nowadays, whether in the Analytic tradition, the so-called Continental tradition, or in the Pragmatic tradition, etc., has to deal with the question of the existence/reality of the past and “the memory problem,” i.e., “can memory be authentic, true, or veridical?” sometimes as separable/separated elements, sometimes as continuous with one another

E.g., in the so-called Continental tradition, even though Heidegger didn’t really address the memory problem, mainly because of his worries about psychologism and “anthropologism,” Sein und Zeit is always on the verge of addressing it, since the Dasein-analysis discusses various phenomena like anxiety, being-to-death and authenticity that all have memory-dimensions, and psychological/anthropological implications, whether Heidegger himself wanted to deal with them, or not.

Anyway, I want to say something about the background assumptions of the question of the existence/reality of the past and the memory problem.

In particular, the De Brigard essay is interesting for various reasons, but aso strikes me as treating the problem in a way that is too “professional,” objectified, and philosophically unproductive.

De Brigard begins using an example that is, in all kinds of ways, misguided.

The Israeli airplane disaster interviews, it seems to me, don’t show anything but the fact that people are easily distracted and media-suggestible, hence it doesn’t have any real implications for the “misremembering” thesis.

From this totally vague example De Brigard then makes an epistemological and cognitive science claim: we are just functional machines and memory should be taken in an instrumental and operational way.

That leads to his claim that our memories are not genuine capacities for recollection, but instead function only in order to serve our future-prospect self-interests.

It strikes me that this completely overlooks some self-evident existential-phenomenological truths about our experience of memory.

In this connection we can see the richness of the literary examples, like the Orwell excerpt.

And this richness is manifest because writers know that memory can’t be taken as a strictly biological, functional-psychological, epistemological fact. It’s totally embedded in our affective and practical lives.

I’m thinking here of the classic Marcel Proust example, which is so often misunderstood.

His series of novels, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, is supposedly guided by an “involuntary memory” thesis.

Taken this way, the most grotesque claims are made, e.g., that Proust was had a borderline personality disorder, or that Proust novels are just “novelistic fiction” filled with lots of misremembering.

Looked at from an existential-phenomenological point of view, however, and assuming that Proust was trying to capture the phenomenon of memory as fully embedded in human existence, these so-called “involuntary memories” are really a bridge between Bergson’s and Merleau-Ponty’s views about “lived” memory.

Let me quote a passage from Time Regained, the last novel in Proust’s series.

In this passage Proust is saying that he was thinking about one person while his memories recalled another person:

Once I left Gilberte early and in the middle of the night, while still half-asleep, I called Albertine. I had not been thinking or dreaming of her, nor had I mistaken her for Gilberte. My memory had lost its love for Albertine but it seems there must be an involuntary memory of the limbs, pale and sterile imitation of the other, which lives longer as certain mindless animals or plants live longer than man. The legs, the arms are full of blunted memories; a reminiscence germinating in my arm had made me seek the bell behind my back, as I used to in my room in Paris and I had called Albertine, imagining my dead friend lying beside me as she so often did at evening when we fell asleep together, counting the time it would take Françoise to reach us, so that Albertine might without imprudence pull the bell I could not find.

“The legs, the arms are full of blunted memories”. These memories are not made to serve functional/future-expected intentions.

They’re embodied memories, stretching out time in an essentially non-linear way.

As Deleuze says about Bergson’s conception of memory, for Bergson “duration is essentially memory, consciousness, and freedom” and it’s a duration because it is “the conservation and preservation of the past in the present.”

In this sense, the so-called “misremembering” could be possible only from an objectified, mechanized point of view, where memories are presumably taken as “real frames” perceived in a noumenally “real past” in an absolute time-frame that could be applied to mere objects but not to conscious, caring humans.

Any memory creates time from a first-person, embedded, embodied standpoint not as clock-time in a linear or chronological way but as a stretch of becoming, and that happens only because human-time is lived-time.

Much, much more could be said, I think, about how existential-phenomenological lived time relates to the McTaggart so-called “A series” and “B series,” etc., and how starting with the phenomenology of memory subverts cognitive science approaches to memory.

Anyway, as João Guimarães Rosa says (the most amazying Brazilian writer of all times): let’s see how the conversation runs, since after all I must prove that my monkey wears clothes.

Z:  Here are some semi-systematic thoughts about the existence/reality of the past, memory, and the serious political implications of different approaches to cognition, prompted by reading the De Brigard piece, the excerpts from 1984, and SK’s super-interesting comments.

I’ll start with some short texts from the Orwell, 1984 excerpts that L_E sent us.

“I am taking trouble with you, Winston,” he said, “because you are worth trouble. You know perfectly well what is the matter with you. You have known it for years, though you have fought against the knowledge. You are mentally deranged. You suffer from a defective memory. You are unable to remember real events and you persuade  yourself that you remember other events which never happened. Fortunately it is curable. You have never cured yourself of it, because you did not choose to. There was a small effort of the will that you were not ready to make. Even now, I am well aware, you are clinging to your disease under the impression that it is a virtue. Now we will take an example. At this moment, which power is Oceania at war with?”

“When I was arrested, Oceania was at war with Eastasia.”

“With Eastasia. Good. And Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, has it not?”

Winston drew in his breath. He opened his mouth to speak and then did not speak. He could not take his eyes away from the dial.

“The truth, please, Winston. YOUR truth. Tell me what you think you remember.” ….

O’Brien was looking down at him speculatively. More than ever he had the air of a teacher taking pains with a wayward but promising child.

“There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,” he said. “Repeat it, if you please.”

“ ‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’,”  repeated  Winston obediently.

“ ‘Who controls the present controls the past’,” said O’Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. “Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?”

Again the feeling of helplessness descended upon Winston. His eyes flitted towards the dial. He not only did not know whether “yes” or “no” was the answer that would save him from pain; he did not even know which answer he believed to be the true one.

1. In Orwell’s brilliant dystopian-sci-fi critique of totalitarianism, 1984, Winston Smith is tortured and then made to “remember” all sorts of things about himself and the larger social and political world that never really happened, but that “Big Brother” and the totalitarian government of Oceania want him to remember.

2. But reality imitates art imagining future reality. Since the actual year 1984, thousands or even millions of Hungarians have claimed that they can both “remember” and also “see” that the Roma people are dirty, unruly, and dangerous.

3. In 2015 and 2016, in the USA, extremely well-armed policemen who shot a non-trivial number of unarmed young black men to death, have claimed they “saw” the victims engaging in life-theatening behavior towards them.

4. And in 2016, public sympathy for refugees flooding into Europe has been seriously compromised by the Paris and Brussels bombings and Cologne mob violence against women: since then, people all over Europe and the rest of the world now claim they can “see” that all refugees are potential terrorists and that all young refugee men are potentially threatening to women.

5. In Cognition, Content, and the A Priori,[i] chs. 2-3, I argued for a theory of essentially non-conceptual content and for a robustly realistic and metaphysical disjunctivist theory of perception I called radically naïve realism; and in earlier work with the cognitive psychologist James Russell, we argued for a non-conceptualist theory of episodic memory.[ii]

6. I won’t re-argue those claims now. Instead, what I want to do is

(i) to present the basics of an essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of memory, and indicate its parallels with my corresponding theory of perception, and

(ii) to apply these two theories to something I call the political theory of cognition.

7. More precisely, I am deeply interested in explaining how memory and sense perception can be ideologically manipulated for political purposes, and also how the philosophy of cognition can be deployed in order to provide practical, effective cognitive strategies for resisting this manipulation and for ideological self-deprogramming and cognitive self-liberation when the manipulation has already occurred.

8. To give my argument a critical anchor in contemporary work in the cognitive psychology and philosophy of memory, I’ll start with the De Brigard essay that L_E sent us, “Is Memory for Remembering? Recollection as a Form of Episodic Hypothetical Thinking,”[iii] because I think it’s a highly characteristic and almost paradigmatic example of mainstream work in the philosophy of cognition and cognitive science since, well, 1984. This is what De Brigard argues:

Misremembering is a systematic and ordinary occurrence in our daily lives. Since it is commonly assumed that the function of memory is to remember the past, misremembering is typically thought to happen because our memory system malfunctions. In this paper I argue that not all cases of misremembering are due to failures in our memory system. In particular, I argue that many ordinary cases of misremembering should not be seen as instances of memory’s malfunction, but rather as the normal result of a larger cognitive system that performs a different function, and for which remembering is just one operation. Building upon extant psychological and neuroscientific evidence, I offer a picture of memory as an integral part of a larger system that supports not only thinking of what was the case and what potentially could be the case, but also what could have been the case. More precisely, I claim that remembering is a particular operation of a cognitive system that permits the flexible recombination of different components of encoded traces into representations of possible past events that might or might not have occurred, in the service of constructing mental simulations of possible future events.

9. I have three critical points to make about De Brigard’s essay.

First, although I think that De Brigard’s thesis is ingenious, I do also think it’s in effect a skeptical theory of memory, basically an analogue of what John McDowell has called “highest common factor” theories of perception that start with the thesis that all perception is open to worries about illusion or hallucination, and then go on to claim perception is essentially an irreal mental construct of some sort.

But other things being equal, we should prefer anti-skeptical, realistic theories of cognition to skeptical, constructivist, irrealist theories. So that is an important meta-theoretical consideration against De Brigard’s theory.

Second, even apart from that, how can De Brigard’s theory that episodic memory is really a hypothesis about the future, handle the phenomenon of nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a memory-based longing for the past, as past.

I’m not talking about mere sentimentalism about the past.

What the truly nostalgic person longs for is NOT to experience, in the future, things that are similar to things experienced in the past, but instead to re-live the actual past.

There is a huge modal-phenomenological difference here.

There is one and only one actual past, but an indefinitely large number of possible future experiences with relevant similarities to any past experience.

Does the nostalgic person want any of those? No.

She wants the actual world as she experienced it, again, or as the realist historian Von Ranke put it, wie ist eigentlich gewesen, as it actually happened.

And how could that ever conform to De Brigard’s future-oriented model of memory-content?

So nostalgia is an important counter-example to his theory.

Third, I think it’s especially exemplary and significant that the epigraph for De Brigard’s essay is from Hobbes’s Leviathan:

So that imagination and memory are but one thing, which for diverse considerations hath diverse names. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 1.2.

The Leviathan, in turn, provides the philosophical foundations of the modern liberal political State; and Hobbes’s theory of memory is an essential feature of that political philosophy.

De Brigard’s theory therefore presents itself as highly “scientific” and “disinterested,” and therefore entirely innocent of political assumptions.

But in fact, more or less covertly, it is significantly committed to various classical Hobbesian liberal or neo-Hobbesian (neo)liberal capitalist Statist assumptions about human nature in general and about human cognition in particular. I’ll come back to this critically important point later.

10. I think that Endel Tulving’s classical distinction between

(i) episodic (1st-person indexical, I-remembering ) memory, and

(ii) semantic (fact-based, 3rd-personal or impersonal, remembering-that) memory

is basically a good one, well-supported by empirical work in cognitive science and phenomenology alike.

But at the same time, it does not exhaust the basic kinds of memory: there is also “skill memory,” i.e., memory-how, as studied by Daniel Schacter and others and this extension beyond Tulving’s breakthrough work has been generally accepted by contemporary memory theorists.

Nevertheless, granting the episodic memory vs. semantic memory vs. skill memory distinction, there are two other extremely important memory phenomena here.

11. The first is the phenomenon of my 1st-person remembering things about myself and my life in factual and indeed impersonal/3rd personal terms, as if I were looking at my past self and my life from the outside—cf. Kant’s notion of “empirical apperception” in the Critique of Pure Reason, and Sartre’s notion of a reflective/self-conscious conceptually-constructed ego in Transcendence of the Ego.

So, I think that Tulving didn’t sufficiently distinguish between these two sorts of memory-claims:

I remember being at my fifth birthday party. (egocentric episodic)

I remember that I was born in 1957. (allocentric/semantic episodic)

12. Both of these, in normal cases, have first-person epistemic authority. E.g.,

I remember my right hand being there just a moment ago. (egocentric skill-memory episodic)

I remember my own name. (allocentric/semantic episodic)

And so-on.

But in other ways, and above all phenomenologically, they’re sharply different.

Remembering my right hand being there just a moment ago puts me into direct essentially embodied contact with my own earlier self, and constitutes a part of my life.

But remembering my own name, as central to my ongoing allocentric/semantic self-conception of myself as it might be, could fall away without breaking the non-linear continuity of my own life.

I don’t need to remember that I’m called ‘Z’ in order to be Z.

13. A second memory-phenomenon that Tulving did not notice is the important difference between

(i) pre-reflective memory consciousness, and

(ii) self-conscious/reflective memory consciousness.

14. So there is an important distinction to be made between

(i) egocentric episodic memory, and

(ii) allocentric/semantic episodic memory.

15. And correspondingly, there is also an important distinction to be made between

(i) pre-reflectively conscious egocentric episodic memory, and

(ii) self-conscious/reflective egocentric episodic memory.

16. Moreover, since skill-memory or memory-how is also egocentric, there is also an important distinction to be made between

(i) pre-reflectively conscious skill-memory/memory-how, and

(ii) self-conscious/reflective skill-memory/memory-how.

E.g., remembering my right hand being there just a moment ago is self-conscious/reflective skill-memory/memory-how.

17. Now to take an example that deploys several of these distinctions.

I remember that I was born in 1957 (so this is like remembering my own name), i.e., I have an allocentric/semantic episodic memory of that event with first-person epistemic authority, but

I do not self-consciously remember being born in 1957, i.e., I lack a self-conscious egocentric episodic memory of my being born, yet,

given a plausible view on the nature of real human personhood, to the effect that my own life extends at least as far back as my essentially embodied consciousness reaches,[iv] therefore

I must also pre-reflectively remember the trauma of being born (as opposed to remembering my right hand being there just a moment ago, which is self-conscious/reflective).

18. The fundamental distinction between essentially non-conceptual content vs. conceptual/propositional content can also be deployed here.

First, egocentric episodic memory and egocentric memory-how are grounded on essentially non-conceptual content.

In this way, there is a disjunctivism for memory would run parallel to disjunctivism for sense perception.

More precisely,  essentially non-conceptual, radically naively realistic memory would start with what I call the essentially embodied V-Relation (veridicality relation) that is loaded in basic sense perception, and then stretch it out over time, with updated content moment-by-moment, and correspondingly updated formal (spatio)temporal representations, similar to Kant’s threefold idea in the Transcendental Aesthetic section of the first Critique that our representation of time is the immediate form of inner sense, that our representation of space is the immediate form of outer sense, and that our representation of time, again, is the mediate form of outer sense.

According to the essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of memory I’m proposing, then, memory is preserving a V-Relation over (space)time, via essentially non-conceptual content.

Now any mental state that lacked the preserved V-Relation over (space)time wouldn’t be real memory, but in fact only “false memory,” even if it had some superficially similar features that allowed, in context, for failures of discrimination by the subject.

So false memories are the analogues of perceptual hallucinations.

Misremembering, correspondingly, is the analogue of perceptual illusions: preserved V-relations with significantly false conceptual/propositional content.

Second, allocentric/semantic episodic memory and semantic memory more generally are doubly grounded on

(i) egocentric episodic memory and egocentric memory-how, hence on essentially non-conceptual content, and also on

(ii) conceptual/propositional content.

To the extent that memory is grounded on conceptual/propositional content, it involves significant “cognitive penetration.”

But to the extent that memory is grounded on essentially non-conceptual content, it is inherently resistant to, i.e., necessarily underdetermined by and cognitively autonomous from, conceptualization and “cognitive penetration.”

19. In this way, then, what holds in the essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist philosophy of perception that I developed in Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, chs. 2-3, must also hold in the theory of essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of memory.

Here, disjunctivism for memory says:

EITHER I’m in a veridical memory state = real memory, grounded on essentially nonconceptual content, OR ELSE I’m in an essentially different state that may superficially resemble real memory in various ways, sufficient to fool me in certain contexts—but it is not really memory, rather it is only “false memory.”

20. That brings me finally to Orwell and the political philosophy of cognition.

It is clearly true that all memory that contains a conceptual/propositional component is somewhat unreliable: e.g., the famous study on the unreliability of “flashbulb memories” done in the early 1980s by Ulric Neisser, and many other studies on misremembering done since then, cited by De Brigard.

21. But those facts should be no more likely to make us skeptics and constructivists/irrealists about memory than the fact that all sense perception that contains a conceptual/propositional component is somewhat fallible, should make us skeptics and constructivists/irrealists about sense perception.

22. Nevertheless, obviously, just like sense perceptual illusions and hallucinations, concept/proposition-driven misremembering and false memories can be manipulated.

23. Now a prime mechanism of thought-control in coercive States, especially totalitarian ones, is inducing misremembering (“illusions” of memory) or false memories (“hallucinations” of memory) for coercive political purposes—e.g., as per Orwell’s 1984; and sadly as per historical and contemporary reality, many many times since the 1930s, and of course also earlier too, during the terrifying heyday of the Inquisition.

24. But the ideological manipulation of memory also fully applies to modern neo-Hobbesian, (neo)liberal capitalist States.

E.g., suppose that you were exposed day after day to movies, TV, music, social media, etc.,etc., that were subtly or not-so-subtly Statist, anti-communist/socialist, racist/anti-Arab, ultra-capitalist, ultra-patriotic, etc., etc.,  and suppose that this started when you were very young.

Then you might well have all sorts of misrememberings and/or false memories, say, about 9-11, or about various US invasions of other countries, etc., etc., just as if you were living in a CNN-created version of The Matrix:

“Oh, is it Eurasia or Eastasia we’re at war with now? Better check CNN.”

25. Indeed, I believe that a great many Americans have all sorts of ideologically-manipulated misrememberings and/or false memories with significant political content and implications, about themselves, about history, and about the world in general.

And, of course, not just Americans.

In the larger context of modern, technologically highly sophisticated, capitalist, neo-Hobbesian (neo)liberal, and authoritarian or totalitarian States, the ideological manipulation of human memory for economic and political purposes is a universal phenomenon.

If you have ever gone to school, read a popular magazine or popular book, read a newspaper, looked at a billboard advertisement, watched TV and especially a newscast, watched a movie or streamed a video to your personal computer, listened to a radio, or listened to/looked at an iPod or mp3 player, downloaded or uploaded anything, used the internet, or used any kind of social media, then you have been heavily exposed to it.

26. Moreover, not merely misremembering and false memories but also perceptual illusions and hallucinations can be (and are constantly being) manipulated for political purposes, just like memory-illusions and false memories, as per 1984, and as per historical and contemporary reality.

Indeed, that’s a direct implication of the “cognitive penetration” thesis, to the limited extent that it is true in an essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist framework, even if most cognitive-science-oriented work on sense perception that contemporary philosophers of mind pay any attention to, presents itself as completely innocent of political implications.

27. People who have had serious ideological disciplining start to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the world, and to experience their own bodies, and other people’s bodies, in ideologically-determined, politically expedient ways.

E.g, perceptually stereotyping/framing people with a certain non-Hungarian ethnicity and social history as “dirty,” perceptually stereotyping/framing young men who have dark skin and are wearing hoodies as “threatening to the police,” or perceptually sterotyping/framing refugees who have swarthy complexions and are wearing vaguely foreign-styled clothing as “potential terrorists” or “potentially threatening to women.”

28. For all these reasons, I strongly believe that we can all significantly learn, and also individually and collectively benefit, from the political philosophy of cognition.

29. Moreover and above all, any liberationist political philosophy—e.g., Kantian ethical anarchism[v]—is also going to have to develop and deploy a serious, critical political philosophy of cognition.

30. Now essentialist content non-conceptualism and radically naïve realism about memory and sense perception are uniquely theoretically well-suited for providing an adequate explanation of such ideological manipulation, and also for developing phenomenologically robust and agentially effective strategies for cognitive resistance, ideological self-deprogramming, and cognitive self-liberation.

31. This is because mainstream theories of cognition, like De Brigard’s, are either content-monist, constructivist/irrealist, or functionalist/mechanistic, or any two of the above, or all three, and therefore cannot accommodate or account for either

(i) first-person, conscious or self-conscious cognitive resistance to “cognitive penetration,”

(ii) first-person, conscious or self-conscious veridical cognition, as a realistic standard against which misremembering/perceptual illusions and false memories/hallucinations can always be directly and first-personally, as well as intersubjectively, tested, or

(iii) first-person, conscious or self-conscious normatively-guided, free volitional control of cognitive activities.

In short, these mainstream theories cannot account for phenomenologically robust and agentially effective strategies for cognitive resistance, ideological self-deprogramming, and cognitive self-liberation that you can try out, and freely practice repeatedly, yourself, in the privacy of your own home.

Unlike what is entailed by mainstream theories of cognition, according to the one I’ve just been arguing for, you don’t need Government-funded and Government-monitored men in white coats, cog-sci labs, machines, or drugs to be able to do this.

That is: you don’t need a little army of neoliberal, university-based O’Briens in white coats to reverse-manipulate what some other O’Brien did to you.

And at this point, the more or less covert, significant political commitments of mainstream theories of cognition, including De Brigard’s, should be self-evident:

Follow the funding.

32. What I mean, of course, is that mainstream theories of cognition are all more or less intentionally designed to meet the approval of the people who control their funding sources, i.e., administrators and other functionaries of the military-industrial-university complex that drives the (neo)liberal State.

33. Now in order to develop the resistant and liberating cognitive strategies I’ve been talking about, starting out from the essentialist content non-conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of human cognition, I hereby propose that we creatively adapt well-tested, effective techniques for resisting cult-indoctrination, military-prisoner thought-control, and kidnap-victim or terrorist-hostage-victim thought-control, especially including Stockholm Syndrome, and then apply them ourselves, at home and in public, to resisting the ideological manipulation of human cognition for political purposes.

Indeed, the Wikipedia article on “Mind Control” is a good starting-place for learning about these techniques: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_control>.

34. An important and illuminating irony here, of course, is that the most practically-useful, hands-on accounts of these techniques have been recorded in classified, publicly-unavailable US security agency, military, and foreign service handbooks that have themselves been designed and written in the larger context of powerful, politically-expedient ideological cognitive manipulation, by the US government, of the very people who are required to study and master those handbooks as part of their highly demanding, rigorous, and thought-controlling training.

35. But this is only one of many important, illuminating ironies in the political philosophy of cognition.

L_E: I share SK’s concerns with the overly naturalistic proposal in De Brigard’s essay.

However, despite being suspicious of his initial commitments, I find some of his conclusions very interesting.

The idea that memory is just another kind of episodic hypothetical thought sounds very sensible to me.

First, as De Brigard himself notes, it helps us make sense of some aspects relating to the evolutionary function of memory.

But second, and more importantly, it seems to me that if we entertain his proposal seriously, then we have to rethink what is it to “misremember” something.

On this view, misremembering would not simply be a matter of having a mental state that fails to match, at the level of content, how the world was at a certain time. It’s not clear to me what this conception of misremembering would be like, but it seems compatible with the overall proposal.

In relation to SK’s comments on Proust, I don’t know much about him to say something substantial, but in relation to the passage that you mention, and the way people usually misinterpret his writings, I’d say that De Brigard’s whole proposal seems to be more liberal than more standard naturalist views on the nature of memory.

Since memory is said to be continuous with other mental states, cases of remembering that we would otherwise consider “abnormal” in a more conservative naturalist view could actually be seen as genuine cases of memory.

For now memory is “allowed” to be “contaminated” with features of other mental states, such as imagination.

In any case, I do recognize that it would be hard to make sense of the embodied aspect of memory that Lucas mentions in De Brigard’s view.

But as long as strong naturalist view on memory goes, it brings up some interesting points to the debate.

Now, in relation to Z’s comments, that’s very interesting about NCC and memory.

My growing interest in the subject stems from my current research in perception, and whether disjunctivism holds for memory is actually the central question for me.

As for the political philosophy of cognition, I hadn’t actually thought of that!

When I suggested the Orwell piece, I was thinking in more general terms, i.e., what are the criteria to say that we remember correctly, irrespective of whether those were personal facts about one’s life or historical and/or political facts.

But as regards the political philosophy of cognition, this made me remember how little contemporary analytic philosophers care for the “philosophy of history”, and important questions such as what is a historical fact, how does history develop, etc.

OP:  Here are some reflections on SK’s, Z’s, and L_E’s previous thoughts and the De Brigard paper.

SK: From this totally vague example De Brigard then makes an epistemological and cognitive science claim: we are just functional machines and memory should be taken in an instrumental and operational way.

I agree here – it seems a bit like what Daniel Dennett called ‘greedy materialism’ – the idea that every biological phenomenon/capacity has to be interpreted in evolutionary/materialist terms.

This might lead to framing every phenomenon as having a very definite (evolutionary) function, and consequently the epistemological and cognitive claims become also normative claims: as if we suddenly can define norms for ‘proper functioning’…

Z:  25. Indeed, I believe that a great many Americans have all sorts of ideologically-manipulated misrememberings and/or false memories with significant political content and implications, about themselves, about history, and about the world in general.

And, of course, not just Americans.

In the larger context of modern, technologically highly sophisticated, capitalist, neo-Hobbesian (neo)liberal, and authoritarian or totalitarian States, the ideological manipulation of human memory for economic and political purposes is a universal phenomenon.

If you have ever gone to school, read a popular magazine or popular book, read a newspaper, looked at a billboard advertisement, watched TV and especially a newscast, watched a movie or streamed a video to your personal computer, listened to a radio, or listened to/looked at an iPod or mp3 player, downloaded or uploaded anything, used the internet, or used any kind of social media, then you have been heavily exposed to it.

This is interesting! – would it be correct to say that this entails more or less the following?

  • People possess a ‘store’ of memories or memory traces that they frequently access and that are true in the sense that the events these memory traces refer to did really happen.
  • In addition, they have acquired knowledge about facts (i.e. doing math, geographic knowledge).
  • Nevertheless, they also acquired false memories about themselves and the world through media channels and ideological indoctrination.
  • These false memories (in conjunction with the true ones) influence in turn how they view themselves and the world – i.e. memories are used to form conceptual frameworks that help us to create narratives about ourselves and (our place in) the world.

Now on to something that L_E said.

L_E: But second, and more importantly, it seems to me that if we entertain his proposal seriously, then we have to rethink what is it to “misremember” something.

On this view, misremembering would not simply be a matter of having a mental state that fails to match, at the level of content, how the world was at a certain time. It’s not clear to me what this conception of misremembering would be like, but it seems compatible with the overall proposal.

Could it be related to the four bullet points above? Based on those four, one could even entertain the thought that we seldom remember events correctly at all.

Suppose we conduct a test where participants are shown a video of a blue car that does not break at approaching a crossroads, and causes an accident.

Afterwards the participants have to fill out a questionnaire and are asked if they noticed a stop sign.

A certain percentage of the participants do remember a stop sign, although there wasn’t one in the video.

We have here an instance where we can check the discrepancy in the memory and the event, because we deliberate designed the experiment so that there is a discrepancy we (as researchers) know of.

However, what we cannot test in this setup is whether the participants who filled out the questionnaire correctly did remember other details wrong.

They might for example remember a red car, or might remember a blue sky, while the weather in the video was overcast.

Unless we ask for these details, we cannot be sure how correct the participants who ‘remembered correctly’ really are.

In this hypothetical case, a true memory is an exception, and misremembering is the norm.

The only reason we do not find this out is because we can never ask enough details about the memory…

Now back to something else that Z said.

Z:  Second, even apart from that, how can De Brigard’s theory that episodic memory is really a hypothesis about the future, handle the phenomenon of nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a memory-based longing for the past, as past. I’m not talking about mere sentimentalism about the past.

What the truly nostalgic person longs for is NOT to experience, in the future, things that are similar to things experienced in the past, but instead to re-live the actual past.

There is a huge modal-phenomenological difference here.

There is one and only one actual past, but an indefinitely large number of possible future experiences with relevant similarities to any past experience.

Does the nostalgic person want any of those? No.

She wants the actual world as she experienced it, again, or as the realist historian Von Ranke put it, wie ist eigentlich gewesen, as it actually happened.

And how could that ever conform to De Brigard’s future-oriented model of memory-content?

So nostalgia is an important counter-example to his theory.

As a thought: that could probably depend on whether nostalgia is indeed a longing for the past as past or a longing for reliving that particular feeling one felt back then.

If we want to relive the experience from the past, we will have to relive it in the future.

If we long for reliving the experience of a that good glass of wine and a Beethoven symphony, we look backwards in time and access our memories, but does nostalgia also entail we also want to go back in time?

If De Brigard is right about memories and imagining future situations, could we say that remembering is a creative act?

This would turn a lot of presuppositions about for example witness testimony upside down.

De Brigard says that in remembering something, a form of recombination is occurring. However, the recombined content fits with the overall memory.

In the example of the car and the crossroads, misremembering whether there was a stop sign is not that strange.

After all, we regularly encounter crossroads with and without stop signs. If memories are the product of recombining clues and impulses, this is to be expected.

What would have been strange is if one participant definitely remembered a fluorescent green rabbit on the crossroads.

Yet, this is precisely the type of incoherent recombination that happens in dreams.

What if memories are a kind of coherent, ordered projections that we consciously invoke? (As in: ‘let me see if I can remember’).

The question of reliability of memories is then bound up with the mechanism that we use to consciously order our previously experienced impulses.

L_E: In response to Z, I think an answer to the nostalgia issue along the lines developed by OP would be right.

Maybe one could explain nostalgia as constructing mental representations of some expected future event based on elements derived from past experience?

I’m not defending this here, but it doesn’t seem to me to be off track either.

In any case, I think that even if De Brigard might be inclined to this view, we don’t need to read his overall proposal as being a kind of “functional reductionist” view.

What I mean is that even if a certain biological organ B has been selected to perform function X, it doesn’t follow that all the activities performed by B must be understood as instances of performing X.

For example, eyes have not been selected to allow us to read written texts, but that doesn’t prevent us, or at least I don’t think it does, to say that one of the functions of eyes is to allow us to read.

This, I believe, is even consistent with the “etiological view” of function, as per Ruth Garrett Millikan’s distinction between “direct proper functions” and “derived proper functions”.

Thus, even if memory is a performed by an evolutionary mechanism originally selected to “think about the future,” I don’t think we need to explain all the tasks performed by this mechanism as instances of “future-oriented thoughts.”

This brings me to OP’s example of the crossroad.

I think that the conclusion that we seldom remember correctly only follows if we assume the “standard” framework where memory is seen as a mental state that establishes truth-conditions in relation a past events.

However, if we deny this, and adopt a more constructive view, then the whole idea of what is to remember correctly changes.

Maybe a more fine-grained analysis at the level of content would be required (e.g., what features of a given mental state are we taking to be about the past).

In any case, despite finding this view interesting, I find it really hard to imagine how it would work in practice.

Z:   I’ve always thought that there were strong meta-theoretical reasons to favor cognitive theories that are realistic, non-materialistic/anti-mechanistic, and anti-“error-theoretic,” and that those reasons came from self-evident phenomenology, especially the phenomenology that directly supports our strong non-conceptual sense of our own embodied intentional free agency.

And closely related to that, there’s a further meta-theoretical argument from pragmatic self-contradiction which says that it’s rationally self-stultifying and cognitive suicide to hold any constructivist/irrealist, materialist/mechanistic, “error” theory of cognition, since the rational justification for that theory would have to appeal to our non-erroneous, realistic, non-mechanical agential capacity for logical insight and inference.

If the theory were true, you wouldn’t be justified in believing it!

And I still think that’s all correct.

But now I can also see another and in some ways even more compelling reason to favor realism, non-materialism/anti-mechanism, and anti-“error theory,” which is fully political: If these theories were true, they’d entail you were just the sort of creature designed for classical Hobbesian liberal and neo-Hobbesian neoliberal Statism, and above all, for any form of authoritarian or totalitarian Statism–hence you’re nothing but an irrealist/constructivist, decision-theoretic machine with epiphenomenal consciousness, constantly confabulating/dreaming that you’re in direct, first-person contact with reality, and really free.

In other words, if they’re right, we’re fucked!

Therefore, they really, really WANT you to believe cognitive theories like this, so they can control you; they heavily fund and carefully monitor research that supports these views; and they withhold funding and other professional rewards like high status jobs from people who are developing and defending theories contrary to these: that’s because the political consequences of such contrary theories are deeply threatening to them.

So:

IF you are the sort of creature that can freely and rationally resist that sort of ideological and political control, and rebel against it, and that also has an independent first-person veridical cognitive access to real, irreducible facts that confirm the falsity of their theories,

THEN their cognitive theories must be wrong, for heavy-duty political reasons too, along with the phenomenological reasons and pragmatic non-self-contradiction argument(s).

OP: A quick response to Z – and still thinking about L_E’s earlier post…

Z: But now I can also see another and in some ways even more compelling reason to favor realism, non-materialism/anti-mechanism, and anti-“error theory,” which is fully political: If these theories were true, they’d entail you were just the sort of creature designed for classical Hobbesian liberal and neo-Hobbesian (neo)liberal Statism, and above all, for any form of authoritarian or totalitarian Statism….

I believe this is a recurring problem in modern philosophy and one of the legacies of the more scientistic strands of Enlightenment thought: how is the subject conceptualized?

The Cartesian subject had his rather distant position to its lifeworld, yet could access it without changing it. Kant’s transcendental subject has access to a certain portion of his lifeworld etc. Hume was altogether skeptical about our beliefs etc.

I have always thought that modern (post-Descartes) philosophy reads as a series of definitions of the subject.

Two recent examples come immediately to mind.

The first one is Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, where he more or less erases the idea of the subject, and replaces consciousness with a series of mechanisms that together yield a subject.

I think this type of thinking has given rise to the idea of consciousness as an epiphenomenon.

Proponents of this view simply accuse those with a different account as believing in the ‘homunculus in the head’. Dennett calls this idea ‘The Cartesian Theater’.

However, this approach plays fast and loose with: A) the idea that dualism and materialism are not the only two games in town, and B) that in the absence of a fully explanatory alternative, materialism must be right.

Note that the materialists set the terms of the debate, so we might have a contradiction in the making here: an alternative account must conform to the rules set by an existing, yet incomplete account….

The second example is the agential/politicalsubject in John Rawls’s Theory of Justice.

We have here a kind of bare subject that is interested in rationally maximizing his changes and taking economic opportunities in a setting of continuously engaging in beneficial contractarian relationships.

Apart from the fact that Rawls was great in conceiving a whole theoretical system from the ground up, one has to ask: what kind of philosophy emerges when the notion of the subject is so impoverished?

I still think that Rawls’s communitarian critics were right in pointing this out.

Which brings me to political oppression and the idea of the subject: If it is true that the subject is largely conceptualized as a perfect citizen of the state, then large portions of modern political philosophy have been heavily tainted by what we called elsewhere ‘duplicitous bullshit’ – i.e. the theories of the philosopher as reinforcement for state power.

It would even show that the true difficulty lies in imagining futures that overcome the current constraints of state power, (neo)liberal values or Enlightenment lite…

            Z: So:

IF you are the sort of creature that can freely and rationally resist that sort of ideological and political control, and rebel against it, and that also has an independent first-person veridical cognitive access to real, irreducible facts that confirm the falsity of their theories,

THEN their cognitive theories must be wrong, for heavy-duty political reasons too, along with the phenomenological reasons and pragmatic non-self-contradiction argument(s).

More recent cognitive research shows that people are hardwired to think in certain ways, because they utilize certain neuronal connections more than others.

For example, if you tend to be pessimistic when estimating you win the lottery, whether you’re attractive, whether you’ll get the job etc. you strengthen the neuronal paths associated with pessimism.

It can take literally years to overcome such tendencies.

It seems that different behavior changes the composition of neuronal networks over time. In that sense, a lot of thinking about responsibility might have to be redone.

The ominous dimension of all this is that we might be hardwired by our education to think in certain ways.

Maybe there should one day be a theory of the “Neuronally-Prestructured Professional,” along with a new theory about individual agency.

Now this is all related to memory again: if it is true that we are indoctrinated to some degree in 1984-style, the control that is exerted is largely memory-control.

It is a form of prestructuring thinking so that alternative futures become unimaginable as it were.

This point has already been made in a different context by Paulo Freiro in Pedagogy of the Oppressed: the first step to liberation is to show people that it is possible – that life can go on in different ways after the existing order breaks down.

In addition, this situation of indoctrination and perpetuating a series of impoverished readings of the subject might also be why modern philosophy has had quite some difficulty in working out why subjectivity arises in the first place. If you follow the Dawkins/Pinker/Dennett line of thinking, consciousness arises when the complexity of a system passes a certain threshold.

I am not so sure about this type of reasoning, since it leaves the question how agency arises from matter untouched – leaving the issue of how subjectivity arises also unanswered.

Z: I totally agree with OP’s general point, which is that there’s a deep connection between philosophical conceptions of the subject or self, the background political structures/power-structures in contemporary States, and ideologically manipulated non-conceptual imagery or stereotypes or “pictures” about the subject or self that everyone, philosopher and non-philosopher, carries around with them.

This picture, in turn, is basically a materialist/physicalist one, whether reductive or non-reductive.

And this of course is totally mirrored by an internally-related picture about free will and agency, which is either hard determinist or compatibilist/soft determinist.

We’re neoliberal machines! Three cheers for us. Scientistic Statism shall set you “free.”

The problem for a liberationist philosophy of cognition, mind, and agency, then, is how to inspire people

(i) to become critically aware of the picture AS an ideologically-manipulated picture (basically, as bigtime bullshit), and

(ii) critically challenge the picture, then

(iii) release themselves from it by coming to a clearer conception of who and what they really are, and then finally

(iv) act accordingly.

Or in other words, how to inspire them to awaken themselves from their ideologically-manipulated dogmatic slumbers and dare to think and act for themselves?

Of course this also fully returns us to the questions of heavy duty enlightenment, authentic education, and understanding/recognizing bullshit for what it is….

To be philosophically blunt about it:

IF I’m right that we’re really complex non-equilibrium self-organizing thermodynamic living systems with essentially embodied consciousness, intentionality, and caring, and free agency as dynamically emergent immanent structural forms of their lives, THEN materialism, dualism, hard determinism, soft determinism, and classical libertarianism are all deeply wrong.

So if I’m right, then we’re NEITHER machines NOR ghosts with mysterious causal powers, we’re essentally embodied rational, conscious, intentional, caring minds, hence naturally incompatibilistically free living organisms, and this has HUGE ethical and political implications.

L_E: I’m in agreement with what Z says about our general conceptions of the nature of mind, agency, the self, etc.

That is, I don’t see myself as a reductionist/materialist in relation to the mind, and not even a mechanicist in DB’s sense.

However, I think that his conclusion that memory is continuous with other mental states is something interesting in itself, despite his heavily mechanistic background assumptions.

In particular, Peirce had already defended a “continuist view” of memory, perception and imagination in a completely non-mechanistic and non-materialistic way.

I’m not saying that there are close connections here, but I find it interesting that despite starting from a very different set of background assumptions, one can reach “similar” general conclusions.

In this respect, I understand Z’s concern with respect to the political and moral implications of accepting the kind of view that lurks in the background of De Brigard’s proposal.

But I must say I’m a little bit more optimistic about the way one can change or resist this situation.

In particular, if what I said about De Brigard above is right, then even if one lives in a community which largely accepts a given worldview, one can still entertain ideas that are contrary to this largely accepted view in a narrow scale.

What I mean is basically that even if we start from a mechanistic/materialistic, etc. perspective, we can reach narrowly scaled views of the nature of, e.g., the mind, that is contrary to the general Establishment.

In other words, even if the State can control what we think in a large scale perspective, it doesn’t follow that it can do so in a narrow scale perspective.

So, in terms of a practical proposal, I think the most sensible approach consists in exploiting the “narrow contradictions” to eventually undermine the large scale predominant view.

I know this sounds too “conservative”, but I think it’s one effective way to covertly fight those coercive powers.

There is an old saying in Brazil (I’m sure SK will know of this!), of which I don’t know the equivalent in English, which says that “we should eat by the borders”, such that, eventually, we’ll be able to “eat” everything.

This is more or less what I have in mind.

To conclude, I believe that this makes the job of the “real philosopher” much harder than that of his/her professional counterpart.

First, we need to be always adopting a kind of “covert dissimulated” rhetoric of the kind, “Look, this is all interesting and worth studying, but here’s an equally interesting perspective to think about this….”

Second, we need to be always up-to-date with what’s being produced by the professional “good little do-bee philosophers,” but also in deep connection with real philosophy.

This requires of us double-time (or even triple-time!) work.

In any case, given enough time and given that there is a considerable group of people working along these lines, I believe that some kind of change is likely to take place.

I know this doesn’t address all the important topics raised by you before, but I hope it gives some broad idea of how I see the political issue raised.

Z:  Because of our APP dialogues, not to mention recently following and thinking about crazy Brazilian politics, I’ve been totally philosophically blown away by the recognition of the impact of ideological manipulation on cognition, especially on philosophical thinking, but also on cognitive and practical agency more generally.

I mean, (1) for decades I’d noticed (and was totally frustrated by) the following phenomenon in my Intro-level classes:

We’d be discussing some very tricky issue, say abortion, and although everyone when they started the discussion was dichotomized into card-carrying pro-choicers and card-carrying pro-lifers, after much conceptual work and arduous discussion I’d get them to the point of seeing that under some conditions, abortion is permissible, and other other conditions, abortion is impermissible.

So the true view is a complex and subtle ethical position that’s neither pro-choice nor pro-life.

And I’d carefully summarize this at the end of class, while they were doing the shuffle thing and starting to check their smartphones again.

Then 3 days later, I’d start class by saying “So, as we saw last time, etc.”

And then they’d look at me like zombies, and everyone who was pro-choice would just re-assert the pro-choice position, and everyone who was pro-life would just re-assert the pro-life position.

Fucking unbelievable. They’d simply reverted to their pre-existing cognitive standpoints.

It was like they’d been lobotomized or given electroshock treatments during those 3 days.

And (2) for a long time I’d also been impressed by later Wittgenstein’s analysis in the Investigations of bad “philosophical pictures”  and how they mess up real philosophy.

But I’d never really put (1) and (2) together–I think in part because, on the one hand, I’d never really internalized, till recently, how much professional academic philosophers are like Intro students (and actually, like kindergarteners); and on the other hand, how Wittgenstein’s analysis is quite misleadingly framed as a problem about philosophical language, or “grammar,” not about the mind.

Anyhow, putting these two together, and adding in our APP-discussions about heavy duty enlightenment, cognitive and practical liberation, philosophical bullshit, and contemporary philosophy of mind/cognition, esp. memory, plus observing and thinking about crazy Brazilian politics, have produced a kind of philosophical epiphany or revelation.

I mean, I now see with AMAZING CLARITY see why it’s unbelievably difficult to get really new and radical philosophical ideas across, even to (actually, especially to) people who are highly trained and highly reflective.

People, whether kindergarteners, Intro students, or professional academic philosophers (and especially them), can’t be liberated from their cognitive illusions/bad pictures by arguments and clearly-presented theories alone—they either simply screen out what you’re saying and hate you for trying to make them think self-critically outside their boxes, or, if there’s some temporary breakthrough, they revert almost immediately to the illusion.

So, what to do?

It means that, first, in addition to killing yourself to create lucidly-presented theories and sound arguments for new and radical ideas, then second, you also have to do something amazingly non-conceptual and non-propositional to get people to undertake some sort of gestalt switch for themselves, and revolutionize their own cognitive imagery, and third, it has to be so vivid and life-changing that it’s like they’re undergoing a religious conversion experience or falling in love.

Easy-peasy, eh?

Y:  Hello everyone!

Generally speaking, I agree with the idea of “challenging the standard, materialist/mechanist picture of the mind and its covert political assumptions in a quiet, incremental way,” if possible.

And I do think that there are people raising these challenges.

But oftentimes they simply are ignored, and I’m not sure what would instigate a philosophical revolution.

In most of the philosophical work that’s been done cognition in general, and memory in particular, the starting point is the brain and the general assumption is that it’s all a matter of computation.

It’s the brain that thinks and remembers, and memory often is described as some sort of recording.

So what we need to do is figure out the neural mechanisms that underpin all this, and then we’ll be all set.

These kinds of assumptions also greatly influence the work on personal identity:  we’re asked to imagine what would happen if someone’s memories somehow were transferred from one brain/body to another brain/body (as if we’re just taking information from one place and “installing” it another brain/body).

So as others in this conversation have noted, the general assumptions surrounding memory are connected to a general picture of the self that is mechanistic, materialistic, and computational.

What gets left out of this picture?

As Z points out, it’s the fact that we’re embodied, non-deterministic, non-mechanistic, beings.

If want to formulate an adequate account of memory, then we’ll have to bring the human body and human biology back into the picture.

There actually is quite a bit of empirical support for the existence of implicit, bodily-based memory.

It’s interesting to me that it continues to be so controversial to claim that we won’t understand mentality solely by studying the brain; or that the human mind is not, in fact, comparable to a sophisticated computer.

And I am baffled by the suggestion that memories somehow could be extracted from one brain/body and “installed” in another.

Given the centrality of the body to our habits, emotions, and general perspective on the world, it seems to me that even performing a whole-brain transplant would result in dramatic loss of memory.

Why has this brain-based, information processing view of cognition in general, and memory in particular, persisted?

Is it because everyone thinking and writing in this way actually believes it, or have many professional philosophers just accepted it because it was the standard way of approaching these issues?

There definitely are people making arguments that challenge the dominant view, but it seems that many analytic philosophers just choose to ignore the arguments.

I wonder if part of the reason why this view gained such popularity is our infatuation with computers and some sort of philosophers’ envy for the STEM fields.

Is there any way to jar them out of their preexisting assumptions and urge them to pay attention?

Z: I completely agree with everything that Y said!, and then some.

It would indeed be an authentic philosophical revolution if the philosophy of mind cognition, cognitive science, and other closely related parts of philosophy, like epistemology and philosophy of rationality, agency, persons, and free will, etc., went over from the dominant materialist/mechanist/functionalist picture to an essential embodiment- oriented, anti-mechanist, dynamicist picture.

It would be an organicist revolution in philosophy and science, comparable to Kant’s Copernican Revolution.

That started me thinking about philosophical revolutions generally.

Since the 17th century, they’ve happened roughly every 100 years, each revolution takes about 20 years to unfold, and each one is followed by a somewhat ambiguous reaction of some sort:

(i) the Scientific or Newtonian revolution/rationalism,

followed by an empiricist reaction,

which is ambiguous because rationalism and empiricism fully share the crucial assumption that the mind is passive in relation to its objects;

(ii) Kant and absolute idealism,

followed by an anti-Hegelian reaction, broadly neo-Kantian,

but which is also importantly ambiguous because 19th century neo-Kantianism splits rather dichotomously into (iia) a consciousness-oriented, phenomenological strand, and (iib) a naturalistic, scientistic, psychologistic strand;

(iii) early analytic philosophy, rejecting neo-Hegelianism and neo-Kantianism alike,

followed by logical empiricism/scientific naturalism,

which is somewhat ambiguous because logical empiricism/scientific naturalism follows on very smoothly from the naturalistic, scientistic, and psychologistic strand of neo-Kantianism, so the rejection of Kantianism is at most partial,

then followed, since World War II, by the rise and almost total domination/hegemony of the current killer-coalition of dogmatic Soames-style analytic philosophy plus hyper-disciplined, coercive moralist Social Justice Warrior (aka SJW)-driven professional philosophy, riding on top of the deeper historical-economic-sociocultural-political process of the almost total neoliberalization of higher education,

which is the most ambiguous reaction of all because of its almost complete rejection of the original analytic revolution, yet still calling itself “analytic philosophy,” together with a broadly logical empiricist/scientific naturalist worldview, now almost indissolubly fused with SJW-driven coercive moralism and neoliberal political ideology, and hyper-powered by the military-industrial-university complex.

So perhaps we’re locked into a permanent Night of the Philosophical Living Dead.

If so, we’re fucked and there’s little or nothing we can do about it.

Nevertheless, it’s now been almost 100 years since the early analytic revolution.

So IF the revolutionary pattern persists, THEN we’re actually at the beginning of another philosophical revolution, over the next 20 years, although it may be difficult to see its shape because we don’t have the benefit of historical hindsight, or adequate distance from the actual process.

Now in the 1920s, in the wake of WWI, there was a short-lived organicist proto-revolution:  Bergson’s writings, Dewey’s Experience and Nature, Samuel Alexander and British emergentism, Whitehead’s “philosophy of organism” and process philosophy more generally, etc., etc., and related very cool stuff in biology/physics, like Lloyd Morgan’s organism-based program for biology, later developed by Maturana and Varela, Schrodinger’s work on quantum mechanics and the nature of life, early versions of non-equilibrium thermodynamics culminating in Prigogine’s work, Bernal’s pioneering work on chaos and complex systems dynamics, etc, etc.

But then came the Nazis and other forms of authoritarian/totalitarian fascism in Japan and Italy, then WW II, then Russian communist totalitarianism, and the almost complete post-war domination by the USA, technocracy and neoliberalism.

So, sadly, the first wave of the organicist revolution got prematurely flattened out by the political juggernaut consisting of Nazism/other forms of totalitarian fascism, followed by Russian communism, followed by American neoliberalism.

So anyhow, what I’m thinking is that PERHAPS there’s a new, second wave of the organicist revolution just getting underway.

If so, it would mean that subtle, larger-scale sociopolitical forces would help change people’s minds and open them up to organicist philosophy.

Obviously I think that the most plausible and philosophically powerful form of organicism is a Kantian/weak idealist/”objective idealist” version.

In a phrase, Liberal Naturalism—and in fact, that’s basically what Nagel was talking about in Mind and Cosmos, and why it got him in so much trouble with the good little professional philosophy do-bees, the Soames-style analytic philosophers hating it for its anti-mechanism and anti-materialism, and the SJWs hating it for its philosophical openness to religious thinking and the design argument.

So PERHAPS we’re at the beginning of a liberal naturalist/organicist revolution in philosophy, the second wave and truly effective completion of the flattened first wave of the original organicist revolution from the 1920s.

And alongside it, in a larger historical sense, PERHAPS we’re also at the beginning of a sociocultural, economic, and political revolt against the neoliberalization, Americanization, scientistic mechanization, and disciplined-mind professionalization of everything.

This would also mean that the center of world-historical gravity would gradually move away from the USA to some other part(s) of the world.

An obvious possibility for a new world-historical gravitational center would be Brazil in particular, and South America more generally, because of its natural resources and emergent (neoliberal/conservative coalition? or a post-neoliberal/socialist coalition?, that is the huge question being contested in Brazil under the guise of the “Petrobras corruption/impeachment” controversy) economy/political system.

That in turn would explain why the New York Times, i.e., The Cognitively-Disciplined Professional’s Own Newspaper, and other major politically-oriented papers around the world, are so obsessed with Brazil’s current cultural and political situation….

Anyhow, if my speculation is correct, then it would all be VERY exciting, and it would also directly imply that we should simply keep on being APP, and not worry too much about our having the immensely difficult, seemingly overwhelming, and seemingly practically impossible task of of awakening professional academic philosophy from its ideologically-hyper-disciplined dogmatic slumbers on our own.

For if I’m correct, then they’re all going down into the dustbin of history, whether they like it or not….

NOTES

[i] Z, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).

[ii] J. Russell, and Z, “A Minimalist Approach to the Development of Episodic Memory,” Mind and Language 27 (2012): 29-54. Also available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/1352637/A_Minimalist_Approach_to_the_Development_of_Episodic_Memory>.

[iii] F. De Brigard, “Is Memory for Remembering? Recollection as a Form of Episodic Hypothetical Thinking,” Synthese 191 (2013).

[iv] See Z, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, unpublished MS, Winter 2016 version, available online at URL= <https://www.academia.edu/22215580/Deep_Freedom_and_Real_Persons_A_Study_in_Metaphysics_Winter_2016_version_comments_welcomed_>, chs. 6-7.

[v] See, e.g., Z, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise, unpublished MS, Spring 2016 version, available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/15300656/Kant_Agnosticism_and_Anarchism_A_Theological-Political_Treatise_Spring_2016_version_comments_welcomed_>.

This entry was posted in Not An Edgy Essay by Z. Bookmark the permalink.
Z

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.