response to R. Scott Bakker on transcendental phenomenology and BBT

Anyone who posits some form of efficacy or constraint outside the natural order on the basis of some kind of interpretation of ‘experience’ has the same argumentative burden to discharge: How do you know? What justifies such an extraordinary (supernatural) posit?…What makes the question so pressing now is that their instrument, reflection, has finally found itself on the coroner’s table. -R. Scott Baker

There is nothing “outside” the natural order. In this sense, I am opposed to the transcendentalist’s move to remove Reason or the reflective understanding from physical reality. There is indeed a supernaturalist residue in much transcendental and phenomenological philosophy. This is why my project has always been to theorize “the natural order” as itself always already creative, aesthetic, interpretational, experiential (mine is a naturalized transcendental (Schelling’s “Nature is a priori”)). There is no “other” world from which the causal efficacy of our world derives. With our universe, the cause is internal to the effect, which is another way of saying our universe is primarily organic (with mechanism as a secondary appearance). This is why I follow Whitehead in the endeavor to construct an ontology of organism, wherein: 1) Physics is the study of the evolutionary development of particles, stars, galaxies, and other micro- and macro- organisms-in-ecologies; 2) Biology is the study of the evolutionary development of single cells, plants, and animals in their meso-cosmic ecologies; 3) Philosophy, anthropology, and theology are different aspects of the study of the evolutionary development of languages, myths, and ideas in their noetic ecologies. The organism-environment field becomes the metaphysical metaphor guiding our theorizing, rather than the machine.

Now, when I say “my project has always been to theorize…”, I should qualify that “theory” in the context of an open-ended, evolving cosmos such as ours can never pretend to certainty or finality. Theory is not the construction of a disinterested, reflective ego (at least, no valuable theory is). Theory always remains dependent on the speculative leap of some metaphor or another. Theory is imaginative construction requiring equal doses of aesthetic taste and logical clarity. Our theories are always as much science fiction as they are science fact.

I agree with Bakker than cognition of the real just isn’t possible. But we must distinguish between cognition on the one hand, and sensation, feeling, and intuition on the other. If an intuition of the real is our goal, using the reflective instrument is like shining a flashlight in search of darkness. Reflective cognition is like King Midas, turning everything it touches into noetic gold. It transforms everything not-I into food for itself, digesting the world and defecating whatever it can’t assimilate as waste. It does’t seem to me much of a stretch to say that modernity’s exclusive reliance on reflective cognition is one of the main factors leading to the ecological crisis.

Let me be clear that, while I defend transcendental phenomenology from Bakker’s eliminativist meta-critique, my own philosophical home base is process-relational ontology. I have major issues with transcendental phenomenology as a philosophical resting place. It remains too anthropocentric, too concerned with issues of human access and not attentive enough to solar nucleosynthesis, cellular mitosis, and atmospheric levels of CH4. But still, I just don’t understand how, having grasped the power of transcendental critique–as critique–one could fail to see eliminativist arguments like BBT as anything but dogmatic materialism (materialism has today become the new School Philosophy, though it pretends to be the ultimate critic of all metaphysics). Where I leave transcendentalism behind is in my pursuit of a constructive, cosmologically-rooted philosophy, something the phenomenological approach just cannot provide.

Earth-Moon-3

It is clear Bakker has done his philosophical homework. I don’t think it is fair of him to lump everyone into the same transcendentalist clown car, though. Phenomenology was born out of the intense debates between Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, all of whom accused Kant of not having cleared his vision of dogmatist residues. They all recognized the possibility and the fact of neglect, and even of the neglect of neglect. But for these post-Kantians (with the possible exception of Hegel), the transcendental project was an infinite one by definition, meaning there would never be a point when the a priori structures were finally reached and could be clearly and distinctly spelled out once and for all. Fichte grounded the transcendental historically in the ethical development of humankind, describing philosophy as an attempt to asymptotically approach absolute metacognition as an ideal while never in fact being able to reach it. Schelling went further and grounded the transcendental in the creative developmental arc of the cosmos itself. For Schelling (and here he converges with Whitehead), not even God knows the a priori conditions of experiential reality: the divine is just as caught in the chaotic turmoil of historical becoming as any creature is. None of these thinkers, with the possible exception of Fichte when he is sloppy, thought that impersonal natural systems could be cognized in terms of their own 1st person experience.

Here is Schelling mulling over this exact problem, for ex.:

“I could conceive of that being perhaps as something that, initially blind, struggles through every level of becoming toward consciousness, and humanity would then arise precisely at that moment, at that point in which the previously blind nature would reach self-consciousness. But this cannot be, since our self-consciousness is not at all the consciousness of that nature that permeates everything: it is just *our* consciousness and hardly encompasses within itself a science of becoming applicable to all things. This universal becoming remains just as foreign and opaque to us as if it had never had a bearing on us at all. Therefore, if this becoming has achieved any kind of purpose it is achieved only through humanity, but not for humanity; for the consciousness of humanity does not = equal the consciousness of nature” (The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 1841).

In other words, 1st person reflective ego consciousness is largely a sham. It can tell us little if anything about the unconscious natural ground from which it emerges. Of course, Schelling (like Whitehead) argued that the field of experience extends beyond mere 1st person ego consciousness. My argument with Bakker has always been: why reduce the experiential field that is open to us to 1st person ego consciousness? Most of our daily and nightly experience is not egoic! Most of the time we are flowing through other experiential states more akin to animals, plants, and even minerals. So in a sense mine is also a post-human manifesto. We have never been human, if you want.

68 Replies to “response to R. Scott Bakker on transcendental phenomenology and BBT”

  1. “My argument with Bakker has always been: why reduce the experiential field that is open to us to 1st person ego consciousness? Most of our daily and nightly experience is not egoic!” I am very much in agreement here, and this has been a key point in my critique of BBR (Blind Brain Ramblings – the pretence that there is a real theory behind such logorrheic bombast is absurd). Bakker is basically a disappointed structuralist: because there is no method or structure in the brain and its workings giving certainty and infallibility in cognition, Bakker draws the conclusion that we have no cognition of our own cognition. Yet this very messiness and anarchy of the brain, involving a multitude of errors, is what allows it to attain meta-cognition quite regularly, but not universally. The “blind” brain is the only one that is equal to the task of seeing itself, fallibly and intermittently. Bakker is one of those disappointed by the failure of the old quest for certainty. He has not changed that fundamental paradigm. And so he has no understanding of most of the philosophies he critiques, that go beyond that paradigm. He has not grasped that anegoic “messy” complexity is the solution and not the problem.

    1. “Bakker is one of those disappointed by the failure of the old quest for certainty. He has not changed that fundamental paradigm. And so he has no understanding of most of the philosophies he critiques, that go beyond that paradigm. He has not grasped that anegoic “messy” complexity is the solution and not the problem.”

      Messy complexity is the basis of my position. The only difference is that my messy complexity lacks ghosts, perpetually underdetermined posits that allow philosophers to make perpetually speculative claims for the entertainment of each other. What’s your best guess, Terrence. How many centuries before you all stop the endless regress of interpretation and strike something genuinely *compelling*? How many millennia?

      No matter how many strawmen you use, Terrence, the bottom line is that your position is simply one cloud of guesses in a stormfront that delivers only thunder, never rain.

      1. “What’s your best guess, Terrence. How many centuries before you all stop the endless regress of interpretation and strike something genuinely *compelling*? How many millennia?”

        For one who has built his brand on edgy nihilism and prophesying the looming apocalypse of meaning, you rest a considerable amount of weight on final answers, subjective certainty, and comprehensibility to human minds.

        One would be forgiven for thinking you a substantive philosophical theorist, if you didn’t so often tell us how there’s no such thing.

        Back to scrawling meaningless symbols on the internet, where there’s no meaning to be found.

        “No matter how many strawmen you use, Terrence, the bottom line is that your position is simply one cloud of guesses in a stormfront that delivers only thunder, never rain.”

        Quite so. The real way to progress is to decry philosophical theorizing and lionize the cognitive sciences, then build your own case on philosophical theorizing that has no contact whatsoever with the cognitive sciences or those practicing them.

        Boom!, rang the thunder.

      2. This is pretty much the response I always get, GoC. A diagnosis of style, character. Insinuations regarding incompetence. *Never a single bloody answer to my questions.* I consider myself both a flake and a hack, so I have no problem being labelled such. I do my best, but this is just a hobby, when all is said and done. That’s what I take myself to be: a hack that asks questions that professionals and wannabe professionals can never seem to answer, outside of strawman assertions (‘final answers’ is quite different than ‘some answer’) and accusing me of being a hack.

        I try to frame things in a way that makes it obvious that people such as yourself have no answers, and like clockwork, people such as yourself oblige.

      3. “I try to frame things in a way that makes it obvious that people such as yourself have no answers, and like clockwork, people such as yourself oblige.”

        There are no answers, except the ones you have of course.

        Careful, Scott. Your Cartesianism is showing.

      4. “In the meantime, if you could kindly explain how a position without subjects or subjectivity runs afoul ‘Cartesianism’ please let me know. Are you familiar with the BBT diagnosis of the subject-object dichotomy?”

        You’re confusing *the theory* for *your set of presuppositions” just as I’ve already pointed out, just as you’ve ignored, and just as I predicted you would because you don’t argue, you just repeat your small set of canned non-arguments.

        BBT is generic cog-sci theorizing, of which better has been done by actual scientists and philosophers who engage directly with actual scientists. It’s trite and uninteresting in that sense, so I’m not addressing it on philosophical grounds.

        What I am addressing — and this is at least the third time of many more to come in this round of Watch Bakker Not Get It — is your own quest for certainties, answers of a sort different than the ol’ philosophs give us, and rational comprehensibility of statements and explanations friendly to your lil’ ol’ human mind.

        It isn’t the theory that’s the problem as such. It’s the person wielding it with his early-modern sensibilities.

      5. Wow. Pure ad hominem. Rich. Keep swinging for the stands my friend keep swinging, and… oh yeah, avoiding the question!

        Here’s a version for you to ignore: Given what science has shown regarding metacognition, how does phenomenology evade the spectre of neglect?

        It’s the consistency that I find so interesting. On Scientia Salon, I had to go some 100+ rounds before people finally began tackling it.

        I’m getting the 100 rounder vibe from you.

      6. “Wow. Pure ad hominem. Rich. Keep swinging for the stands my friend keep swinging, and… oh yeah, avoiding the question!

        Here’s a version for you to ignore: Given what science has shown regarding metacognition, how does phenomenology evade the spectre of neglect?”

        Pay attention.

        You are not the one asking the questions. You’re the Cartesian who isn’t a Cartesian but is obsessed with defeating skepticism. From the look of things you’re also the Wittgensteinian that never read past the title page of the Investigations.

        Regarding “pure ad hom”, well, firstly you never address the questions raised to you. You try to set yourself up at the head of the table like you’re in a position to ask *me* anything (ps you’re a crap troll) when you’ve only done your usual song-and-dance of pretending you said something interesting then flipping the script. No wonder you got thrown out of academia.

        Secondly, if I get a cold call pitching financial management and he proves he can’t do basic math, I’m not buying his services, and I’m telling everyone I know that he’s a dimwit that cares more about his business than his financial skills. It isn’t an ad hominem fallacy to point out that some jerk spewing nonsense is spewing nonsense and lacks the background and insight to talk about his topic.

        Thirdly, I’m not a phenomenologist and the fact that you think all modern philosophy has anything to do with phenomenology is rich (see also point two).

        Fourthly, tell me why or how anyone but a Cartesian would even *care* about your question and then we’ll talk. You won’t, you can’t, and you’ll come back like this post never happened.

        Congrats on more worthless trolling I guess?

    2. GoC: “Careful, Scott. Your Cartesianism is showing.”

      This is what I once thought, that my skeptical and naturalistic buddies who were always asking me, “How do you know?” or “What are your data?” simply HAD to be buying into a problematic subject-object ontology. It was an effective ingroup strategy (‘How do you know?’ tends to threaten established authority gradients), but simply served to shake outgroup heads: STEP 1) Adduce preconceived ontological script that you have discredited (to your own satisfaction) in advance; STEP 2) Insist your interlocutor is implicitly committed to this script (despite the fact that no one can agree on the details of it); STEP 3) Deny the question any force, on the basis that it is ontologically ill-conceived…

      And yet somehow the question remains, How do you know?

      In the meantime, if you could kindly explain how a position without subjects or subjectivity runs afoul ‘Cartesianism’ please let me know. Are you familiar with the BBT diagnosis of the subject-object dichotomy?

      1. Oh, and are you familiar with the difference between intentional and prehensional experience that I’ve leaned on Whitehead to articulate here?: https://footnotes2plato.com/2014/10/18/shaviro-on-harman-and-whitehead-process-vs-object-oriented-philosophies/

        As I’ve said again and again, I’m perfectly willing to accept your critiques of intentionality. But who says experience and semiosis are always and everywhere intentional in structure?

      2. Process philosophy just seems to be so metaphysically invested, and ultimately serves up intentionalism in the end. On my account, all you need are whatever it is engineering and biology require. You can say that engineering and biology presuppose some version of Whitehead’s picture, but matters involving fundamental metaphysical presuppositions perpetually remain underdetermined. So I don’t see what warrants buying into any one interpretation, rationally or pragmatically. Seems like taking a longshot for no reason.

        Meanwhile, the world is speeding up. Time to think intellectual triage, I say. Ditch the ancient dead, get on with the new. The sciences that have revolutionized everything else in the world, have now got a hold of your soul. No surprise, that’s where the revolution is. I fear Whitehead is a castle in the age of cannon.

      3. “Meanwhile, the world is speeding up. Time to think intellectual triage, I say. Ditch the ancient dead, get on with the new. The sciences that have revolutionized everything else in the world, have now got a hold of your soul.” <–It is for precisely these reasons that I take Whitehead's approach seriously. Which other (meta)physicists have understood and ontologically adapted to 19th century biology/physiology and 20th century relativity/quantum theories? If you've as yet written anything about why it seems to you that process-relational ontology "serves up intentionalism in the end," I'd like to read it to understand the basis of your claim.

      4. If the *metaphysics* of biology and engineering remain underdetermined, then what we think we mean when we discuss bios/life and technology is underdetermined. So long we as are still going to talk theory/”ologize” together, then we are going to need to spell out our metaphysical presuppositions. If you disagree with Whitehead’s categoreal scheme, I’d be curious to know what, where, and why. If you don’t know or don’t care enough to get to know it, that’s fine, too. I’m just saying it might make for fun theo-logy/theory-talk.

      5. There’s no arbitrating them. You expect that to change? If so when? How?

        Otherwise, you have a curiously intellectual understanding of what counts as theoretically determined versus underdetermined, one that moots the distinction altogether. If metaphysical determination is a condition of theoretical determination, then I guess there’s no such thing as theoretical knowledge–no science.

        I’m about triage, about actually trying to understand what’s going on in a manner that enables intervention. You need to show me how Whitehead’s metaphysics could ever rise above the interpretive mire. But of course, if you could show that, then it would have already pulled itself from the interpretative mire.

      6. I actually think my account of scientific theorization is rather practical. I don’t know of any scientific theories that are not underdetermined. Science doesn’t deal in certainties. Science advances, when it does, because more general theories incorporate old data, plus new data. But new data is always coming in that contradicts or isn’t accounted for by the reigning theory. Science is increasingly instrumental these days: theories are “good enough” in the sense that they have technological applications, but never, ever, perfect or complete in an epistemic sense. Not in physics or any other science. Some more metaphysically-minded scientists will offer IOUs about a future physics that will be complete. But they are wearing their philosopher caps when they do that.

        I’m not saying metaphysicists are able to entirely spell out their presuppositions. That is an infinite task. But as an infinite task, it is a challenge we can and should nevertheless continue to pursue. Your repeated criticism of philosophy’s inability to arrive at some final answer is not a criticism at all, in my eyes. It is precisely what makes philosophy valuable and an indispensable aspect of civilized human life.

        “Our metaphysical knowledge is slight, superficial, and incomplete. Thus errors creep in. But, such as it is, metaphysical understanding guides imagination and justifies purpose. Apart from metaphysical presupposition there can be no civilization.” -Whitehead, from Adventures of Ideas

        I get that part of what BBT “means” for you is that civilization indeed cannot be. I guess I remain hopelessly naive that an ecological civilization is possible. If I wasn’t, why wouldn’t I just off myself? Anti-natalism would become the only justifiable moral philosophy.

      7. I don’t get it. Who’s interested in certainties? Who cares about ‘final answers’ in this day in age? Who doesn’t think science is a ramshackle mess? Even ‘scientific realists’ take the pessimistic induction seriously. You have to stop foisting these assumptions on me, Matthew.

        All I care about is practical traction, finding ways to lock into problems that facilitate progressive resolution. Since I think it’s pretty clear that the clock is running out, and since I just don’t see what metaphysics does but add to the mire, I think casting one’s lot with this family of supra-natural guesses as opposed to that amounts to embracing social irrelevance. If we had an infinite amount time, maybe, but we don’t.

        Human meaning just isn’t what we thought it was–why should any one be surprised by that? Nothing has turned out to be what we thought it was. So the question, then, becomes, ‘What is it?’ Science is answering these questions in a ramshackle but profoundly actionable way, and they are transforming every element of society in the course of doing this. And you’re arguing, ‘Science doesn’t know everything!’

        The problem is that science does, FAPP, monopolize actionable theoretical cognition on what is. That’s the *problem,* the thing that may very well cut our throat, and yet so many continentalists act as if *believing* this is the problem–largely because it allows them to defend their incestuous domains from the likes of me.

      8. RSB, I’m confused… (I’m sure we all are). Time is running out before the semantic apocalypse and you’re worried my taste for Whitehead’s naturalistic metaphysics (there is more than one kind of naturalism–it is frustrating that you are so willing to obscure this by referring to anything not BBT as “supernaturalist”) is leading me into social irrelevance? If BBT is correct, then there is no such thing as “social relevance,” so what gives? What exactly are you trying to say here? For that matter, what is “time” in the ontology of blind mechanism you are apparently propounding? There can be no real time at all in such an ontology, so no, it isn’t running out, it never started running. If I understand you, then it seems you’re confused about the implications of your own position. Which maybe you’re perfectly willing to admit, given the implications of medial neglect?

      9. I appreciate that you want me to be wrong, but it gets exhausting, the lack of charity. The reason you all have so much problem with my position is that you’re too busy stuffing it with straw to actual grasp the Gestalt.

        Relevance is an effective way to understand selectivity without understanding the astronomical biological complexities (the stuff that crashes when you die) that engineer it; it’s a low dimensional tool, and a powerful one, so long as we resist the urge to understand it VIA intentional cognition. This is what BBT explodes: what metacognition has traditionally made of relevance and other intentional idioms. On BBT, using intentional idioms is entirely consistent with understanding the associated processes mechanistically. This is what makes it such a big deal, potentially. If you don’t understand this, then you quite simply have no clue as to what you’ve been critiquing, Matthew.

        Am I a victim of medial neglect–most certainly. The therapeutic power of BBT lies in its ability to roll back the illusion of sufficiency, and to begin isolating ‘neglect effects.’ Intentional philosophy has not only failed to decisively explain anything, it has also failed to decisively *formulate* the explananda. BBT gives us a way to understand why this happens, and how we can connect experience and biology without running afoul the OLD illusions. And it makes a number of testable predictions as a result.

        I’m sure there’s plenty new.

      10. RSB, I grant I may be misunderstanding the Gestalt of BBT. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t understand it, since what I am able to grasp seems mired in self-contradiction. So yeah. But you have not responded to the process-relational position I’ve been articulating on this blog for several years, which has nothing to do with defending the legitimacy of intentionality for metacognizing the physiological conditions of consciousness. I have repeatedly agreed with you that intentional consciousness can do no such thing. What I have argued, instead, is that Whitehead’s panexperiential ontology (based on his reading of quantum, relativity, and evolutionary theories) allows us to distinguish between the high grade experience of intentional consciousness and lower grade “prehensional” experience associated with non-conscious systems.

      11. The reason it seems mired in self-contradiction is that you assume uses of intentional idiom necessarily presume the reality of intentional phenomena. But since the question at issue is, What do intentional idioms amount to? this intuition is a question-begging one. Get past this reflex, and you’ll see the power of my account (as more and more people are).

        You’re right, tho: I do have my own tin ear. My skepticism of metaphysics is a principled one, one which can be articulated in blind brain theory terms but stands quite independently. Give me a reason why I should view Whitehead’s metaphysics as an exception to the problem of underdetermination, and I’ll be all ears. Otherwise, I think I have good grounds for presuming that your metaphysical creed, like all metaphysical creeds, will remain a matter of partisan bickering. I want to be able to exchange ideas with scientists, not a select subset of academic philosophers. I just can’t see what taking on metaphysical commitments could possible gain me, especially in a day and age when the science is moving so fast, and cutting so deep into what it means to be human.

        I appreciate that people regard my thought as offensive–they should. But Matthew, it’s *new* and it’s empirically responsible. It possesses ample abductive power, and it can be falsified. It has anticipated trends playing out across cognitive science–everyone is beginning to bite the heuristic bullet. And it’s consequences are horrific enough to warrant genuine, as opposed to straw-filled, opposition. It has plenty of holes, trust me–the tu quoque is simply not one of them. I fear that amounts to little more than an ingroup wave of the wand.

      12. I see. So your claim is that intentional consciousness and descriptions of consciousness are artifacts of brain mechanisms that can be scientifically explained in neurophysiological terms? This makes more sense, but still, I am at a loss to understand why such explanations are somehow immune to medial neglect. If we can’t trust 1st person consciousness and its sensory cues to explain its own conditions of possibility, then why should we trust 3rd person consciousness and its sensory cues to do the same? In both cases, we are dealing with the accounts of conscious human subjects. My confusion comes from the fact that science, so far as I can understand its methods, depends upon deliberate activity by conscious scientists.

        As for what you say about metaphysics, I can understand skepticism regarding this or that metaphysical scheme, but a skepticism of metaphysics in general? Are you claiming that your particular breed of mechanistic materialism is somehow not a metaphysical scheme? Despite the fact that 20th century revolutions in physics have brought it seriously into question, it is true that mechanistic materialism is still the favored ontology of a large number of scientists. This doesn’t make it any less metaphysical. You, too, have your own metaphysical commitments, even if they remain implicit and/or unacknowledged. Even “empiricism” has metaphysical baggage that needs unpacking (typically, “empiricists” have a lot to say about passively perceived objects but very little in the way of a convincing account of the activity of perception itself). It is common for scientistic types to deny they have any metaphysical commitments, but what they mean is they don’t care to articulate them. Every scientific theory is underdetermined because it is based on the postulated existence of unobservables in order to help us make sense of observables. Something always remains hidden behind the veil as an aid to explanation of what is dancing on stage in plain view. What makes natural science different from metaphysical speculation is that scientific theories are generally experimentally testable (aside from the proliferation of new theories in physical cosmology). They are focused more on what is beneath the stage lights and prefer, as far as is possible, to leave the shadowed unobservables to the philosophers (that or they deny that shadows exist and denounce philosophy as an intellectual black hole). But no matter how robust the experimental protocol, no theory is ever proven correct. A theory survives only because it hasn’t yet been proven wrong. Often, theories are proven wrong by new data, but they remain the reigning account only because of institutional inertia and collective anxiety of the scientific community about not having a replacement theory. But I’m sure you know all this, which is why I’m confused by your criticism of metaphysics as underdetermined. So are scientific theories! And let’s not pretend that scientific disciplines and subdisciplines don’t have their own in-group/out-group dynamics. That sort of favoritism and group-think is definitely not unique to philosophers.

      13. One further question, RSB. It is about ethics, rather than theory. Do you agree with this researcher’s statement?

        http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/18/first-almost-fully-formed-human-brain-grown-in-lab-researchers-claim?CMP=share_btn_fb

        “The ethical concerns were non-existent, said Anand. ‘We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way.'”

        Let’s say we scale up this lab’s work. Let’s say they grow a bunch of fully formed human brains in the lab and “educate” them by feeding virtual sensory inputs into them for several years. Maybe they even let these brains link up with one another and share virtual communications. Are the ethical concerns still non-existent? Is there no need to worry ourselves about the pain or the meaning such brains might experience? Are they moral subjects like the rest of us (and I assume you subscribe at least in practice if not in theory to the idea that you and others are moral subjects deserving of respect in certain key ways)? Cuz, I mean–err… I don’t mean(?)–there’s no their there as far as BBT is concerned (–err, wait… can a blind brain even be concerned?), right?

      14. Matthew I applaud your patience and willingness to stick it out with Scott. For as long as I have watched him “defend” BBT in comment sections, he has pulled this bait-and-switch where he (1) will not answer any questions posed to him and (2) attempt to strong-rm the conversation so that he’s the one running the seminar and entitled to make demands of everyone else despite having no grounds to stand on because of (1). My point is that you cannot expect charity or serious engagement from him, although he’s happy to make ample use of those requirements when they hurt his position.

        Case in point:

        “I don’t get it. Who’s interested in certainties? Who cares about ‘final answers’ in this day in age?”

        There are examples right here in this comment thread where Scott has rested his entire case against “philosophy” (sic) on “our” inability to answer his Serious Skeptical Questions! which are only posed by every first-year undergrad.

        Apparently, the answer to “who is interested in certainties?” is “R. Scott Bakker”. He takes this skeptical line not only as a knockdown blow against “philosophy” — as if this is a monolithic subject with a singular method solely based on introspection — but as a positive motivation for his own project *which has no time for skepticism*.

        If he’s not relying on Cartesian premises, why even ask this question? Why act like this is a problem in need of resolution? Naive skepticism of this sort isn’t a serious problem for anyone who doesn’t adopt a view of mind as effectively a non-extended thinking substance.

        We can also talk about how BBT makes ample use of a notion of a “brain blind to itself”. What can that even mean? The brain is a lump of fatty tissue with a high degree of structural and functional organization. By definition it can’t be “blind” to anything; it’s just a set of causal-functional connections between material elements unless you posit a Cartesian homunculus there to do the seeing. This “neglect” line assumes there’s a perceiving consciousness there to perceive.

        There’s no need to posit a homunculus, of course, and we don’t have to fall into that mistake if we don’t adopt a line wherein words have meanings in virtue of corpuscular Ideas inhabiting a mysterious non-extended thinking substance. But Scott does, and BBT inherited that presumption, so the theory rests on a serious mistake.

        If you aren’t presuming a conscious homunculus doing the watching, and if you aren’t implicitly privileging that conscious, deliberative, experiential self over the non-conscious and non-rational processes (as I am not, and Matthew is not as per his original post), then this “blindness” story doesn’t even get off the ground.

        BBT is Cartesian to the core, if only in its implied theory of mind and theory of meaning. That Scott says it rejects this distinction by stipulation is of no consequence. He can stipulate that he doesn’t believe in horses all he wants, but we’ve caught him in the saddle wearing spurs. The Ghost in the Machine is there in the model, as is the linguistic presumption that meanings are identical with Ideas in the Cartesian-Lockean sense.

        Now here’s another question Scott won’t address:

        “Human meaning just isn’t what we thought it was–why should any one be surprised by that? Nothing has turned out to be what we thought it was. So the question, then, becomes, ‘What is it?’ Science is answering these questions in a ramshackle but profoundly actionable way, and they are transforming every element of society in the course of doing this. And you’re arguing, ‘Science doesn’t know everything!’”

        Show me one paper from cognitive neuroscience that (1) has anything to say about semantic meanings and (2) doesn’t rely on a notion of computation over representations to do it. Good luck, since even connectionist models don’t entirely do away with mental representations, which is virtually impossible if you’re talking about a cognitive system that has to interact with an environment in a way that isn’t random.

        If you can’t do this, then you need to make a case for why anyone should take a philosopher’s intuitions — yours — over the best available science. This is *your* standard, mind you, not something I’ve pulled out of nowhere. Why take you seriously over the actual cog-sci literature, when you speak with too-broad generalities about “science”, and with too little familiarity with the particular subject matter?

        What you’ve identified is a practical problem, in ethics and politics, which is largely independent of any theoretical conceptions of linguistic meaning or mental phenomena. “Science” (sic) isn’t so much providing determinate answers (in an exhaustive and exclusive theoretical sense) as providing practical and comparatively easy ways to instantiate what it does find. You leap from the basic idea that the growth of scientific knowledge about the brain will enable invasive and ethically-troubling interventions, which is very probably true, to the theoretical claim that this *means* there is no such thing as meaning. Even if you only mean this in an inductive or explanatory/IBE sense of “means”, it’s still a leap that excludes other, better, rivals.

        If I’m not a Cartesian, and implicitly identifying meanings with corpuscular Idea-stuff of a non-physical sort, why am I convinced of your conclusion? Why should I find it troubling in any sense but the practical sense? Which to be fair is troubling in a tangible way, but it’s not the nihilistic apocalypse you make it out to be — I’ve come to understand that lightning is an electrical discharge and not Thor’s wrath, but I don’t take that as a good reason to go stand under trees in a thunderstorm because science has explained what lightning really is. The theoretical doesn’t enter into it in any relevant sense.

        What is baffling — in the sense of “how can this guy be serious?” — is that you think you’re being original here. Nietzsche did away with meaning and naturalized the “mind” and “reason” in the 1880s, and coping with the fallout of that has been a serious endeavor ever since, but you’re acting like you’ve stumbled across this apocalyptic prophesy that nobody had ever considered.

      15. “One further question, RSB. It is about ethics, rather than theory. Do you agree with this researcher’s statement?”

        Not at all, though I think he’s a profound example of what to expect.

        “Let’s say we scale up this lab’s work. Let’s say they grow a bunch of fully formed human brains in the lab and “educate” them by feeding virtual sensory inputs into them for several years. Maybe they even let these brains link up with one another and share virtual communications. Are the ethical concerns still non-existent? Is there no need to worry ourselves about the pain or the meaning such brains might experience? Are they moral subjects like the rest of us (and I assume you subscribe at least in practice if not in theory to the idea that you and others are moral subjects deserving of respect in certain key ways)? Cuz, I mean–err… I don’t mean(?)–there’s no their there as far as BBT is concerned (–err, wait… can a blind brain even be concerned?), right?”

        I get it. I’m an institutional outsider (as GoC loves to point out), and as such, there’s no institutional incentives to take a honest look at my position. What I don’t get is why so many people, not having done that work, assume they know enough about my position to foist me with such uncharitable commitments. Human nature I suppose.

        The BIG reason I’m so troubled by BBT is the picture it paints of human morality (even though I have friends, long time interlocutors, who hold much the same view as the one BBT advances, who insist they are ‘moral realists.’)
        There’s such a thing as moral cognition, and labs around the world are discovering a great deal about our ability to judge–*discovering.* Because of this, I view all moral/ethical speculation that proceeds in ignorance of these findings to be naïve, horrifically so, in some cases. Since there’s no way to decisively determine ‘What is morality?’ a priori, empirical findings automatically become relevant. So I’m curious to hear what your views are, Matthew, and how they incorporate findings from the science of moral cognition.

        Moral cognition is heuristic cognition. This is a fact. When a reader first posted the link to the fetal brain on my site, I was *appalled* (but not at all surprised). Since that heuristic response is in some measure the product of aeons of tuning and a lifetime of successful coping, I’m inclined to accept it, to defer to it’s wisdom. I remain appalled.

        But since my response was so strong, and since I know the dismaying research involving the universal tendency to rationalize strong moral feelings, I *don’t trust* the arguments that immediately leap into my head. Odds are, they’re all ersatz, post hoc.

        On the high dimensional view of biology, they’re simply no ‘natural kinds’ correlated with moral properties. There’s no such thing as moral properties. This explains the interminable nature of moral debates, the fact that moral claims are perpetually underdetermined: there’s no ‘moral fact of the matter.’ And this I think, is a disaster, particularly given the challenges on our horizon. There’s all kinds of problems here, but I think they clearly pertain to humanity, not to the theoretical shortcomings of BBT.

        Especially when it comes to moral matters, the more readily a given theory delivers us what we *want* to hear, the less trustworthy we should assume it to be, simply because we now know, as a matter of empirical fact, that we are hardwired to rationalize our moral intuitions–and in many troubling ways.

      16. “On the high dimensional view of biology, they’re simply no ‘natural kinds’ correlated with moral properties. There’s no such thing as moral properties.”

        The second statement does not follow from the first.

        The first thing: why would you expect a science, which excludes (or aims to exclude) valuations from its method, to discover moral properties? I don’t expect biology to discover facts about the Higgs boson either, but that doesn’t entail there are no facts about the Higgs boson. This is a non-starter.

        The second thing: the biological sciences do make ample use of normative and evaluative properties. You might have heard of medical science, which most certainly does make judgements about defects, pathologies, illnesses, and health. These aren’t natural kinds in themselves, but they are properties we ascribe to particular organisms according to factual descriptions of how things are with them. This is why your general use of “sciences” is sloppy and leads you astray. You’ll have to add some theses about the unity of science and the theoretical reduction of “higher” to “lower” for this to even begin to work — and you don’t allow yourself the metaphysical resources to do it. Oops.

        Moral properties need not be synonymous with that class of normative judgement about organisms of course, but it’s a damn lie to say that biology doesn’t have room for any class of normative or evaluative properties full stop — and if we can’t get rid of them in biology, then you’ve got a big job ahead of you to explain why this “natural kinds” argument has any weight.

        ***

        “This explains the interminable nature of moral debates, the fact that moral claims are perpetually underdetermined: there’s no ‘moral fact of the matter.’”

        Why exactly does the possibility of disagreement about moral facts entail that there is no such thing? Theoretical physicists at the cutting edge disagree over how things are at the limits of our ability to investigate reality and this in no way entails that there is no fact of the matter to decide the case. Cognitive neuroscientists disagree over a great many matters about the brain’s function and how to interpret those findings, but you never get sick of telling us how there are facts of the matter.

        Your problem with moral realism is *your* quest for certainties and methods that can provide certainties via reduction. You find indeterminacy and disagreement viscerally troubling so you make the value judgement that methods which are fine with uncertainty and indeterminacy can’t be right.

        Cartesian to the core.

        ***

        “There’s such a thing as moral cognition, and labs around the world are discovering a great deal about our ability to judge–*discovering.* Because of this, I view all moral/ethical speculation that proceeds in ignorance of these findings to be naïve, horrifically so, in some cases. Since there’s no way to decisively determine ‘What is morality?’ a priori, empirical findings automatically become relevant.”

        Let’s say that I’m driving my car around and, having never looked under the hood or read anything about how cars work, am of the belief that the car runs by the oscillation of magic pixie juice.

        Now someone with basic knowledge of internal combustion pulls me aside and says, “Look, Ghost, that car runs on refined petroleum which is combined with oxygen in a combustion reaction, which does mechanical work. Your whole story about pixie juice is bunk, and we’ve discovered this empirically.”

        My kindly interlocutor is surely right — I’ve been mistaken all this time. But damn me! Next time I go to start the car, it doesn’t go. He’s ruined my story about the car, so now it will never drive again!

        Does that make sense to you? No, it’s a ridiculous story. My running theory or explanation for why the internal combustion engine does what it does has no bearing whatsoever on the actual function of the class of material object we call “car engines” or its particular instance under the hood of my car.

        Human beings think and reason, and in many cases neither, and act and behave as they always have. Nothing is *changing* because we have learned otherwise. Likewise discovering the mechanisms that are associated with moral judgements is not the same thing as discovering what those judgements are or making any claims about their correctness.
        The problem is, again, your need to explain the concepts we use and judgements we make by pointing at some *thing* in the brain or mind. You’ve transposed Cartesianism into a materialistic key, you’ve denied that there can be any such entities to fill those roles, and then concluded that there can be no such things.

        That is *your* assumption and *your* expectation about how moral judgements must work. It is no claim about how things have to be, and it is not any genuine restriction on the nature or existence of moral facts. We’ve discovered empirically what vision is, and we don’t think that colors or ordinary objects don’t exist just because we can give a microphysical and cognitive account of the relevant processes.

        This isn’t just lazy, it’s assuming layer after layer of early modern and theological assumptions about *how mind must be* and *how morality must be*. But these are *your* musts, not anyone elses.

  2. Reblogged this on AGENT SWARM and commented:
    Bakker’ is caught in a picture drawn on the basis of the bifurcation of subject and object and of the consequent quest for certainty. This quest fails, and messiness or disorder can no longer be seen as obstacles to cognition or meta-cognition but asre active facilitators of them. This is the lesson of Michel Serres’ THE PARASITE amongst many other works that Bakker “refutes” so glibly with his repetitive scientistic mantras. Bakker has no idea of the paradigm change that makes disorder and uncertainty, in other words “error”, into key components of knowledge.

    1. Which is why I lay questions on you, Terrence, obvious questions. ‘Scientism’ is a shibboleth. The reason the scientific community regard approaches like yours as conceptual comedy is primarily because you can’t answer their questions, such as, What evidences your theoretical claims? What concrete solutions have your claims generated? And if they simply lead to the piling on of problems, isn’t this a good indicator that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere?

      1. “their questions, such as, What evidences your theoretical claims? What concrete solutions have your claims generated? And if they simply lead to the piling on of problems, isn’t this a good indicator that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere?”

        You always go on this broken-record refrain, Scott, and yet whenever you’re held to the same account and asked to account for your own foundationalist and reductionist assumptions, which are baked in a’plenty, you tuck tail and hide behind another ten thousand words of canned non-arguments that never get close to a rationale for your presuppositions.

        Isn’t that a good indicator you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere?

        Terrence has your game right. You don’t understand the positions that you go on about as “flawed”, you march out these Cartesian standards of evidence and a theory of mind that could have been lifted out of Locke, and in the end even your “heresy” is still a tacit assumption of the Inquisitor’s own terms. You simply cannot see how there could be minds, thoughts, actions, or meanings without a mysterious soul-stuff to do the work, and that is compounded by a rather embarrassing lack of familiarity with work that has, for at least the last 50-60 years in the English-speaking analytic tradition alone, not had any truck with your early-modern way of thinking. A way of thinking made all the more baffling, I should add, given that you claim to have been a Wittgensteinian. I’ve never met a Wittgensteinian that apparently never read the man, but the Internet brings us all sorts.

        Frankly you’re in no position to be asking the questions.

      2. I have a modest philosophical question for you Bakker, something that has been clinging to me like a cloying odor for some time now. I think it poses a problem for you even though you have alluded to it rarely. First I have to express my admiration for your fiction which is somewhat obnoxious but I feel compelled. Please if you cant stomach it skip to the next paragraph. I’m a huge fan of your work not just because of my propensity toward fantasy fiction as a means for imaginary escapism. Your books allowed me to temporally rid myself of the boredom, that endless dull clonking of quotidian reality, I recovered an untutored innocence and fresh like a newly scrubbed Adam, began to reword my world. Imo the writing itself, the style, the lyricism, the polish, the sentence-making etc improved with each book. I know you are a “plot guy” but people don’t really emphasize this aspect enough from what Ive read. which is kind of shitty Its clear to me at least that the sentences you write, there varied rhythms begin to pass more and more not just through the minds eye, but through the ear, the mouth, even the intestines. So I eagerly await the next installment.

        Now I just recently discovered your fantastic blog. Your posts on continental philosophers fascinate me because you, at least attempt, to tackle them on their own turf. Although sometimes the attempts at caustic humor are hit or miss. When you lapse into lamentable hit-and-runs on people like Zizek as churning out “Blockbuster Philosophy”- certainly not oscar worthy- I cant help but cringe. Now I am currently an undergraduate at Rutgers studying analytic philosophy but my passion lies with the continentals. Perhaps I should be excoriated for being all too hypnotized by the “Manifest Image”. “Nihil Unbound” has been a groundbreaking work for me. And I read your responses to the critique of Eliminativism which were in the majority strong. I think your post on Zizek was more unjust. Every time you accuse Zizek of at the end of the day trying to rescue intentionality I’m completely flummoxed. He’s doing the exact opposite thats why Lacan and Freud are so crucial for him as the first to undermine the delusion of self-introspection, saying what you really mean etc. The really symptomatic point in this post occurs here, where you explain why you reject Zizeks move from epistemological blindness to ontological incompleteness, “Personally, I lack Zizek’s faith in theory: the fact of human theoretical incompetence inclines me to bet on the epistemological over the ontological most every time. Zizek can’t have it both ways. He can’t say consciousness is ‘the inexplicable’ without explaining it as such.” Here a kind of rancid irony wafts up out of nowhere. and I think I can see the rotting carcass that belies it. You say that you personally lack Zizeks faith in theory. That kind of faith in the power of “theory itself” implies that he is somehow more dogmatic, naive because of it. But you have faith in theory too, a great deal in fact. I mean if BBT garnered the attention it deserves, it would have earth shattering consequences. So I’m fixating on this sentence because I think it somewhat dishonestly masks what is really going on: a “winner-takes-all-death-match” over whose theory maintains a more powerful and uncompromising skepticism toward our supposed intentionality, consciousness, meaning-making capabilities etc. Who will be the first to demolish this palace of mirages we have built for ourselves? For you the fact of theoretical incompetence is best explained as an epistemological one. We all know that classical ontology = metaphysics = blind dogmatism etc. But Zizek has a very, shall we say idiosyncratic, ontology, grounded in an interpretation of quantum physics, and it is clear that he is after the exact same drastic destabilization of our knowledge-gathering aspirations that motivate BBT’s project. And here Brassier I think is correct in highlighting how ontological commitments get smuggled into Eliminativist accounts unwittingly, and not just by coincidence, for the failure to seriously grapple with them actually impoverishes their “bottom up” approach, grounded in neuronal vectors correlated with brain states etc as accounts that will explain meaning. This I find more compelling than the “we can’t get rid of the manifest image and simply subsume it all under the Scientific” argument. For why should ontology be consigned to the manifest image? Why wouldn’t mathematics, or say, quantum physics be Ontology carried on with updated instruments? Why must ontology remain refractory to the neuroscientific approach. I’m tempted to say that Zizek is actually in the lead when you say “Zizek can’t have it both ways. He can’t say consciousness is ‘the inexplicable’ without explaining it as such.”. Wouldn’t you need to ground the claim that we are doomed to epistemological blindness with regard to ourselves and our environments in an ontological account of how that very blindness arises out of inorganic matter. That is, instead framing the problem “we are enmeshed in our delusions for structural reasons (internal to our brains) whereas reality is fully constituted, waiting outside forever out of reach” you opt for “since Neuroscience tells us our minds are made up of and emerge within mechanical matter, spirit being bone and all, wouldn’t you have to say that that there are certain properties inherent in that matter that gave birth to our minds, well first to extremely primitive life forms with rudimentary perceptive capabilities, that account for our epistemological blindness”. This is not calling for a subjectivizing of matter or some vitalist bullshit. Nor does it claim that we should step outside ourselves to view ourselves. It merely says that the dead slop from which we came was always already ontologically incomplete. Is this not totally compatible with recent developments quantum physics, with theories vouchsafed by many physicists. We can’t see ourselves because of the way our brains our structured that way yes. But isn’t it a more interesting question to ask, “how did these illusion-making machines arise out of inorganic matter in the first place?” There we necessarily enter ontological terrain. And though he doesn’t attempt to have a fully developed account of this, isn’t Zizek more skeptical than you in asserting that not only our we constitutively blind to ourselves (for him because of psychonalaysis, for you neuroscience) but matter itself is also blind. When you shy away from ontological statements out of some vague distrust in theory (maybe that skepticism grew like a weed out of your own pre-theoretical temperament) you proceed to leave the Real untouched. Safe and smooth like that philosophical easter egg, the Kantian in-itself can sleep easy knowing it won’t be vexed by ontological investigations. Assuming that that rowdy bunch of quantum physicists get their shit straight one day and agree that given the increasingly convincing alignment of the empirical data with our theories, its looking more and more plausible to suggest that reality is somehow ontologically incomplete, maybe even distorted by the kind of negativity (less than nothing) that Zizek is alluding too, in albeit an extremely vague and nebulous way. Then one could finally perhaps tackle the problem of how consciousness arises out of dead matter, that the weird ontological torsions in the Real somehow give rise to our impoverished brains, and then definitively explain WHY it is that we are epistemologically blind. Because of conditions inherent in the structure of reality itself. Reality is unknowable because it simply doesn’t exist in the way that the manifest image claimed it did. So it is actually you Bakker who want to have your cake and eat it too. You who defend the position that we are epistemologically blind without explaining why this is? If its just epistemological could it not be just some present difficulty to be transcended at a later stage of technological development? No matter what you do this possibility remains unless you ontologize the gap in the way that Zizek suggests. Now Zizek doesn’t have an adequate explanation of what the ontological deadlock is, nor how it connects to what neuroscience is telling us (according to you) about out brain functioning. But he doesn’t claim to at all, in spite of what your persistent straw-manning suggests. One thing is palpably clear. You might disagree with all of this, but your claim that Zizek is deliberately trying to rescue intentionality, safeguard the sanctity of the manifest image etc is woefully misleading.

      3. GoC: “You always go on this broken-record refrain, Scott, and yet whenever you’re held to the same account and asked to account for your own foundationalist and reductionist assumptions, which are baked in a’plenty, you tuck tail and hide behind another ten thousand words of canned non-arguments that never get close to a rationale for your presuppositions.”

        Kindly point me to an instance. I love hard questions!

        As for my presuppositions, I have plenty. But intentionalists in particular have difficulty realizing that I don’t have to presuppose any one of their thousand accounts of intentional idioms to use intentional idioms. I presuppose my own account.

        And they also seem to regularly confuse my view with the sitting-duck targets they practice on ad nauseum. How is BBT ‘foundationalist’? And how does uttering the word ‘reduction’ count as an argument?

      4. “Kindly point me to an instance. I love hard questions!”

        Sure: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com

        The author loves to hear himself talk, and never really gets around to an argument or understanding that he’s a Cartesian theorist working with early-modern assumptions about mind, meaning, and self, but if you’re willing to slog it out you’ll find examples in every single post.

        ***

        “As for my presuppositions, I have plenty. But intentionalists in particular have difficulty realizing that I don’t have to presuppose any one of their thousand accounts of intentional idioms to use intentional idioms. I presuppose my own account.

        What a surprise, you didn’t understand the criticism and launched into another diversionary song-and-dance with a canned non-argument.

        You are the intentionalist. Everything you write comes down to some version of this:

        “Where is my certainty? My explanation? My comprehensibility to the human mind? (PS those things don’t exist)”
        — R. Scott Bakker

        “And they also seem to regularly confuse my view with the sitting-duck targets they practice on ad nauseum. How is BBT ‘foundationalist’? And how does uttering the word ‘reduction’ count as an argument?”

        I didn’t say BBT was foundationalist. It is a reductionistic theory created by a reductionistic thinker to be sure, but what I actually did say is that *you* are foundationalist. It’s dripping from every word: look at your replies to Terence re: the need to be certain, to provide comprehensible answers, ending the inquiry after them ol’ stupid philosophers spent so many years spinning their wheels.

        The reductionism falls out of your need for secure foundations. It isn’t troublesome in itself but rather for the reasons that you’ve adopted it and set yourself up as the heretic on the wrong side of the subject-object distinction.

        You’ve presumed an intentionalist stance before you even get to work on your totally-not-philosophy-because-only-science-has-answers-but-not-doing-science-either non-theory that you cooked up to sell books.

        Of course you don’t realize this, you’ll come back with some non-sequiturs about blah blah intentional blah blah question begging blah blah other canned arguments that show you don’t even grasp what I’m saying.

      5. “I didn’t say BBT was foundationalist. It is a reductionistic theory created by a reductionistic thinker to be sure, but what I actually did say is that *you* are foundationalist. It’s dripping from every word: look at your replies to Terence re: the need to be certain, to provide comprehensible answers, ending the inquiry after them ol’ stupid philosophers spent so many years spinning their wheels.”

        Finally, something other than ad hominem. So when I refer to my own view as being abductive, as making testable predictions, as consisting as low-dimensional cartoons, am I simply throwing up a smokescreen to cover for my secret, foundationalist presuppositions?

        Is it just because I think that THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF GOING IN CIRCLES is probably a good sign that something has gone wrong? Foundational truth is a pipedream: I fear insisting that my style suggests that I subscribe to it is a pretty piss poor critique. About as superficial as it gets, actually.

        Like saying I dress funny (which I do).

      6. “Finally, something other than ad hominem. So when I refer to my own view as being abductive, as making testable predictions, as consisting as low-dimensional cartoons, am I simply throwing up a smokescreen to cover for my secret, foundationalist presuppositions?”

        Firstly, there’s nothing secret about your foundationalist assumptions. In the epistemological domain you’ve decided what evidence has to be, how we have to access it, and how it must be presented to human beings. That’s fine, you’re a scientific realist and there are plenty around. Go nuts.

        Secondly, and this is the real problem that I’ve now raised four (4) times in this round of Watch Bakker Not Get It, you’ve assumed how mental concepts and linguistic meaning must be in order to avoid this “apocalypse of meaning”. *That* is the real problem: assuming that there must be these things to explain or explain away, and if we can’t find them the way we find tables in the room or electrons in theoretical posits, why, we must just be deluded ol’ brains what can’t cogitize themselves!

        What you’re doing is preaching a heresy of the Church without really arguing with the Bishop’s doctrine. Your skepticism still supposes that we must either give a Cartesian story about mind-stuff or a Lockean story about Ideas if we’re to say anything interesting about mentalistic or psychological language.

        You go on to conflate the mental and the linguistic as if meanings have to be in the head, as if this hasn’t been addressed by, oh, every English-speaking philosopher since Wittgenstein, Ryle, and Quine. What reason do we have to think that skepticism about belief-desire talk is also skepticism about semantics unless we suppose that meanings are identical with or properties of mental states?

        This isn’t about your BBT. It’s about what *you* keep supposing about minds and meanings for them to have any relevance to human life. Woe is me but the res cogitans cannot be real! But wherefore the minds and meanings o woe is me!

        Too bad nobody has seriously thought that since the 1930s. (Which is the problem of you really just making things up about “philosophy” because I guess you had a hard time with grad school or whatever.)

        “Is it just because I think that THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF GOING IN CIRCLES is probably a good sign that something has gone wrong? Foundational truth is a pipedream: I fear insisting that my style suggests that I subscribe to it is a pretty piss poor critique. About as superficial as it gets, actually. ”

        Your first sentence and your second sentence are in severe tension with each other, if not outright contradicting one another, and you don’t even see it. Going in circles: nope, can’t have that. Foundational truth: nope, no such thing. Suspend judgement: nope, I gots to get paid.

        You want progress and explanatory power to end the goings-in-circles that you construe *as a problem* which *can and should be solved*, which presupposes some heavy-duty metaphysical, epistemological and normative commitments of a realist stripe, and you want to deny those same commitments on the other hand because, well, you can’t be seen letting your early-modern thinking hanging out all over the internet.

        Talk about being in the grip of a theory.

  3. To Ghost of Carnap: Bakker is “in position to ask questions”. This is true. I would add that Bakker is in “no position” period. He has no position but Bluff, Bloat, and cheap debaters’ Tricks (BBT). He cannot even read my replies, yet alone Badiou, Zizek, or Deleuze. He tries to get bothers to formulate his position for him, because having none he hopes we will be hoodwinked into doing his work for him.

    1. Well, time will tell, Terrence. I have no problem with being a hack. How about yourself?

      But the fact is, I do receive very many hard questions regarding BBT, which more and more people in the cogsci community are looking at closely all the time. Your observations just don’t make sense to me, and after giving you the benefit of the doubt on several occasions, I now think you have no real understanding of it whatsoever.

      So I’m content to wait, to let you plow on with your claims of BBT being pseudoscientific rubbish and so on and so forth. The egg is already in the air, my friend. It’ll on your face sooner than you think.

  4. “Scientism is a shibboleth”. Bakker really needs to look up the definition of shibboleth in a good dictionary. A shibboleth is not a chimera, far from it. Scientism is a shibboleth that separates those who are content to reside in contemporary ideology (“biomaterialism” in Badiou’s naming) and those who will have none of it.

    1. Seriously? You make it too easy sometimes. A shibboleth is a word you use to sort us from them. ‘Scientism’ is just such a word in continental circles. I’m accusing you of relying on ingroup identifications in lieu of actual argument.

      The thing that kills me is that *here I am,* the big bogeyman in continental circles, willing to engage in argument and debate, to explain to you precisely why the whole world outside your narrow circle regards you with such derision. I say to you, these are the questions the scientific community would like you to answer, which happen to be the same questions the man in the street would like to have answered… and your response is? None of these people are qualified to ask these questions!

      EIther you want to be part of the big debate, or grouse amongst yourselves, where it’s safe.

  5. Bakker announces the death of meaning, but all that he can really assert is the death of the primacy of signification. Despite criticising contemporary philosophers Bakker has no idea of the difference between meaning and signification. He has no idea of the difference between knowledge and cognition. He has no idea of collective, materially inscribed, constantly tested knowledge, he thinks that modern philosophy is all about intentional predicates, which only goes to show that he has never picked up a book by Badiou, Deleuze, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler, or Latour. Or if he has, he hasn’t the slightest clue about what they are saying. This is plain for all to see, if they have even the slightest acquaintance with the thought of any of those philosophers.

    1. Do you have anything but straw Terrence?

      If you can’t re-express an interlocutor’s arguments in terms they agree to BEFORE launching into a critique, it’s a good sign that you’re critiquing your own fictions.

  6. To npopow91: this is good, to keep Bakker to specifics. When discussing Continental Philosophy, Bakker abounds in blanket condemnations and sweeping generalisations, but there is nothing behind, it’s all fluff. You are right that he takes Zizek as saying the reverse of what he does say. So let us see if Bakker can reply to your very specific argument, or if we get more bluff, fluff, and bloat.

    1. oh he will if feels so compelled lol and it will be ample enough im sure. My post was actually kind of weak question begging in certain respects that he will circle and highlight like patches of fat during a sorority girl’s hazing. I hope to supplement and bolster it. I do think that to restrict oneself to epistemological commitments makes you somehow more disenchanted and skeptical whereas doing ontology is always blind faith and just speculating willy nilly relies on a misreading or non-reading of people like Badiou and Zizek. Momentous developments are occurring in continental philosophy even now and its up to us enlighten haughty analytics that ttheir ignorant external critiques testify to a lack of imagination. There is a contradiction that Nietzsche would have detected immediately in he who constantly browbeats theorists with what masquerades as an all-encompassing skepticism. But all this skepticism is grounded in an unshakeable faith (scientism) an external guarantee. Its just the will to know turned back on itself. Eventually (maybe never) the question arises “what is the value of my form of skepticism”. Does it refine and advance thought while affirmatively advancing its possibilities for becoming, or do the innumerable obstacles it procures only limit what it is possible to think. Rigor is essential for philosophy we would agree. Maintaining science as an essential truth domain that conditions philosophy also. But at some point a theoretical disposition derives from a lived temperament which must be evaluated in terms of its transformative power. The world as it is provides a convincing argument that whatever ideas conflict with knowledge or the reality of the world as it is should be consigned to the historical dustbin.I’ve personally witnessed a herd of bovine skeptics munching critiques like grass, under the insipid sun of shared convictions.

      1. Honestly Scott my apology is sincere. It was my first attempt at a blog post and I can see in hindsight as coming off very douchey but honestly it was the product of unchecked hysteria. So please don’t hate. I understand your claim that Freud and Lacan are intentionalists but my question doesn’t hinge on defending them. It was my own fault for misleading you that way. It has to do with whether it is possible to hold a position that defends the ontological incompleteness of reality that is consistent with quantum physics (minus Zizeks intentionalist recuperative attempts) and that destroys a persistent aspect of “The Myth of the Given” that is out of bounds of for any purely epistemological theory. I tried to formulate it concisely on your blog. Anyway I promise to refrain from excessive monologues in the future. Nor am I a Continental troll just trying to vex you out of spite. I loved Brassiers book a lot and your engagement with it was fascinating. Those were my motives.

  7. Bakker made one mistake: he tries to say nothing just digress (with him its “digression all the way down”). But he did say one definite thing: “You do realize that Lacan and Freud are both thoroughgoing intentionalists”. Lacan is most definitely not an intentionalist. On Lacan’s reading neither is Freud, and Freud is post-intentionalist from the beginning (over 100 years ago). How can this guy pretend to understand Zizek?

  8. Bakker does not speak in the name of the scientific community, no matter what he insinuates. Apart from a few careerist opportunists, how can the “scientific community” be interested in a position that is never in fact clearly formulated?

    1. That has to be the key point here. Scott is a blogger with philosophical training writing philosophical blog posts who argues, without irony, that philosophy should shut up and let the scientists get on with it. Yet he himself isn’t a scientist, he isn’t working with scientists, and he has little familiarity with the cognitive neuroscience literature. Meanwhile the cognitive sciences which he lionizes make ample use of the concept of mental representation (examples abound in the literature on perception and cognition), whereas Scott sits on his blog saying how it doesn’t exist.

    2. It’s very clearly formulated in numerous places. Traditional intentionalist philosophy (including semiotics!) is largely the product of systematically misapplying intentional cognition to the problem of intentional cognition.

      You’re right, though, I am an ICONOCLAST, through and through. I get the same love from analytic intentionalists as I get from you, and for much the same superficial reasons. But I’ve been watching the research trend in my direction for more than a decade now,,,

      The crucial thing, however, is that I can actually say what kind of information will disconfirm my view (among other things, it depends on a very specific view of metacognition). What will make you wrong? Terrence. And if you don’t know, how could you ever know if you were wrong? Arguments absent evidence are simply in the eye of the beholder. You and thousands of other theories, and what, you just happened to win the Magical Belief Lottery?

      Anyway, certainly you of all people should take care raising the spectre of credibility, wouldn’t you say?

      (It’s like pushing buttons on a robot, sometimes)

      1. “I get the same love from analytic intentionalists as I get from you, and for much the same superficial reasons. But I’ve been watching the research trend in my direction for more than a decade now,,,

        Would it surprise you to learn that I don’t have time for intentional semantics or belief-desire psychology? Since you’ve just accused me of being an “intentionalist” I’m going to assume the answer is yes.

        This is what I mean by canned non-arguments. You don’t know what I think but somehow I’m an intentionalist because I think you don’t know what you’re talking about.

        It might just be that intentionalism and Bakker aren’t the only two choices? Scary to have to think for once, but try it instead of cut-and-pasting some non-sequiturs.

        “The crucial thing, however, is that I can actually say what kind of information will disconfirm my view (among other things, it depends on a very specific view of metacognition). What will make you wrong?”

        Being wrong isn’t the problem I’m concerned with. It’s only Cartesian intentionalists like yourself that fret over skepticism.

        “(It’s like pushing buttons on a robot, sometimes)”

        Sure, when you run every conversation out of a Word file with canned arguments under the subheadings:

        – My Intentional Idiom
        – How do you know magic belief lottery
        – No you are the ad hominem here
        – Brains are blind and this explains why people are robots even though this only works if you accept what I think about semantics, minds, and epistemology.
        – Answer my questions even though I totally did not respond to yours
        – How to be smug and get rich blogging while never answering a single difficult question

        I probably missed a few from bakker.txt but that covers the main ones.

  9. I mean I agree with you Blake. I can confidently speak for Lacan that the whole signifier/signified splitting stuff and the critique of Descartes is all meant to undermine the idea that we can understand ourselves through introspection. He goes even further and says that “it is impossible to say what we mean” in language. Language speaks us not the reverse. This all seems very non-intentionalist to me but again my question about the “ontological completeness” vs “epistemological blindness didn’t hinge on that at all.

    1. “perhaps I don’t fully know what Bakker understands “intentionalism” to mean”

      Don’t worry, neither does he.

  10. Bakker’s “theory” (really more a logorrheic Stimmung) is neither science nor philosophy. It is composed of cherry-picked scientific findings and speculations thrown into opposition with long-abandonned philosophical views. The resulting argument is internal to his own worldview, as he bravely tries to update his own philosophical culture by means of his cogsci gleanings. Bakker is arguing with himself, and trying to get us to take sides, and to help that side out.

    Bifurcationist epistemology and a naive adulation of science, both widespread features of our late modern subjectivity, are synthesised in a neuro-materialism that Bakker is proposing as the up-and-coming version of the dominant ideology of our day: bio-materialism. This is not without political and ethical consequences. If apparatuses of power can not only gain more control over our thoughts and behaviour by neuro-manipulation, but can also interpellate us as “blind brains” (or neuro-materialist subjects), then real processes of change and of creation can be stopped or canalised according to interests that do not serve our own empowering.

    This is my biggest objection to Bakker’s bluff and bloat trick: it’s irresponsible. Yes, the thought is indigent and the “provocative” remarks on philosophy are farcical in their ignorance. But this is normal self-publicity for someone writing “hard” science-fiction where the purportedly hard science is no longer physics but brain science. Bakker does not give us any help in resisting modern ideology, he just wallows in it, and gets rather irate if we don’t wallow with him.

  11. Bakker has made the mistake of engaging the discussion on a real philosophy blog, with a rather demanding level of intellectual content and method. Bakker has neither, and is now trying to bluster his way out. An amusing example of his inconsequentiality is his blithely complaining that the others do not “grasp the gestalt” of BBT. Grasp and gestalt are intentional terms, as is position (Bakker mentions his “position”), and incompatible with blind brain semantics. BBT is truly a case of the blind leading the blind, an intra-personal drama where Bakker is trying, and failing, to re-educate his antiquated philosophical self to neuro newspeak.

  12. Bakker’s continuing self-re-education as a blind brain involves him in a number of incapacitating paradoxes. We are always already “blind brains”, but we do not know it, do not realise it yet. Hence the forthcoming semantic apocalypse. However “know” and “realise” are intentional acts, and so inapplicable to a blind an-intentional a-semantic brain.

    Bakker is split between the subject of the content-level enunciation, a blind brain whose writing is in the strict sense meaningless, and the subject of the enunciative act, a meta-brain proposing blind brain semantics as a way of accounting for the blind brain’s acts (perhaps better called processes). This Blind Brain Semantics (BBS) suggests two options

    1) lexical replacement: we replace current intentional idioms with their blind brain cognitive core, we elaborate a new lexicon to go with the new semantics

    2) interpretative replacement: we keep the current lexicon but give it a new, blind brain, interpretation, we apply a new semantics to an old lexicon

    Sliding from one to the other gives apparent paradoxes and provocative statements, e.g. there are no intentions, or grandiose proclamations, e.g. there are intentions but only BBT can explain what they really are.

    Another effect of this sliding back and forth between blind brain and meta-brain is Bakker’s inability to distinguish between error and meaninglessness. Bakker cannot decide if our cognitive acts are erroneous (based on fundamentally flawed and/or misapplied heuristics) or meaningless, the mere playing out of an-intentional a-semantic processes.

    A further effect of this sliding is the “apocalyptic tone” maintained by Bakker. A blind brain knows no apocalypse, nor does a meta-brain pursuing its speculations. An “apocalypse” intervenes when a meta-brain tries to re-educate itself (and us) into a blind brain. This would involve a long and difficult effort of scientific apprenticeship and research. It would involve getting specific, and going into the details. An easier apocalypse is in the other direction: to re-educate a blind brain (they all are, ex hypothesi) into a meta-brain of the appropriate sort, one that believes in the blind brain hypothesis taken globally, grasped as a “gestalt”. This weak apocalypse (one might even call it a “cheap apocalypse”) does not oblige one to come up with a whole new lexicon or a whole new semantics of all the terms in the old lexicon. A sprinkling of new terms and a few sweeping gestures as to new interpretations, and the thing is done: the BBT is the very apocalypse that it announces for later.

  13. It is interesting how you begin yours with an axiom “there is nothing outside the natural order”, without the corresponding “how do you know”.

    I think cellular metosis and such merely begs the question of the reaction again phenomenal reduction but that also appears to not have considered the reduction beyond a conceptual appropiation. It would seem that your analysis stems from an alread present position that you are blind too; namely that there is nothing outside the natural order. It would seem that the position from which yoy make the statement relies upon what is outside: You just havent looked into it because you view the discourse of such reduction to be a given mode of objects; objects that are already there as problematic, such as gravity and insect phermonal activity.

    The neglected space presented by such an object oriented approach is not only left out, but indeed repressed in the assertion of communal objectival sense. Not to say that reality is not in this mode, merely that the proclaimation of its essentiality is shortsighted and premature.
    1st person subjectivity is a concept already formulated within a particular ontological horizon that asserts is primacy against its limit, because it is embarrased to admit its view is biased. It confines its antagonist within its own framework for the purpose of its own identity.

    Perhaps if the investgation was enacted without such pre iordained bias. .

    1. Mine is a process- and not an object-oriented approach. There is nothing outside the natural order only because natura naturans/natural productivity is also part of nature as nature’s order-generating Creative abgrund.

      I also reject the idea that 1st person experience has some kind of ontological primary. I think it is just as primal as the third person perspective that Bakker is trying to reduce it to, which is the only reason I’m defending phenomenology from his attacks. In the end, though, Creativity is primordial, the productive source of the two types of product called subject and object.

  14. What Whitehead says here in Process and Reality would seem to answer, and differ from, both Thompson’s and Bakker’s views: “This account agree with the plain facts of our conscious experience. Consciousness flickers; and even at its brightest, there is a small focal region of clear illumination, and a large penumbral region of experience which tells us of intense experience in dim apprehension. The simplicity of clear consciousness is no measure of the complexity of complete experience. Also this character of our experience suggests that consciousness is the crown of experience, only occasionally attained, not its necessary base’ (Whithead, PR 267).

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