Thursday, July 03, 2014

Puns and thinking about thinking

I slipped in conversation the other day and said "House of Thrones." This lead immediately in my mind to "Game of Cards."

Then there's also Cards of Thrones, Games of Houses, Throne of Games, Thrones of Cards, Thrones of Houses, Cards of Games.

I don't stay consistent with the pluralization, but one thing I like about puns is how they switch up the imagery and short-circuit the concepts at play. It makes it become all the more clear how stable we need words to be in order to use them automatically, and how the slippage of association is something we're ignoring in order to make sense of what we're reading. In other words, we fixate on the immediate association that comes to mind and suppress the others available, which means at some level the mind chooses how it will present its own understanding to itself by lessening the feeling of other possible associations

Kahneman's example is illustrative: "Ann approached the bank." What are you picturing in your mind? Who is the person you're imagining? Where is this person going? How is this person approaching it? What is the thing this person is approaching?

How you have experienced these associations puts a lot of constraints on how your mind frames the meanings, since the mind figuring things out is mostly about shortening its overall processing and meaning-generation while conserving its energy. It's lazy. Every genius is lazy and seeks to find better and better ways of doing more with less, using less and less information to form more and more comprehension. And since the only way to train the mind is to expose one's self to correction and the hard work of verifying, a really lazy mind unaccustomed to the humiliating effects of correct will go without both correction and verifying, and the genius will learn to fall for appearances.

If you live in a riparian environment, away from the city, chances are you associate 'bank' with rivers more than you would with that building where they convert imagination and speculation into brick and mortar and cash. You also think of 'Ann' as a woman, likely, but maybe if I pronounced it like 'Ahn' it'd be a little more unclear. If I had used 'Atahalne' for a name, it's likely you wouldn't have had a great idea what to picture or imagine—you might have taken the time to see if this is a real name or a made up one, or you might have thought that since I dabble in writing fiction, it's not meant to be human and could be some sort of otherkin. But you will have had to use something in place of the subject, and this is what I find most fascinating about how people think.

I often ask Colleen a question that's very low resolution, when I intend her to give me a very high resolution answer, and this has been extremely frustrating for both of us. On the one hand, her low resolution answers as she gives them already contain the fullness of all the high resolution answers she can give, but not explicitly, so it's not as though she didn't understand the question but she already practices a lifelong habit of doing all her high resolution thinking so fast it's just intuition for her at this point. She is a genius but unrecognized because she lacks the ego needed to seek out recognition. On the other hand, I'm a very impatient person who is also very committed to not framing how people answer my questions when what I'm trying to do is reveal the high resolution operations of their own thinking. I cannot ask for the high resolution answer, because any way in which I prime for thinking about one's own thinking provides the instrument that person will use to achieve the higher resolutions—their answers will be framed by what that instrument is capable of bearing to understanding. You can't learn about the vector of the wind if you're given a graduated cylinder; you can't see the rings of Saturn using a cyclotron.

I love children and puns, though. Children are awesome for asking questions and learning about how the things we take as settled in meaning are really quite open to alternative understandings and interpretations. I love hearing how they're working out what things mean, and often you can even expose them to their own meaning-generation by deliberately being absurd with meanings around them.

By the time the kids come to me in a philosophy class, they know exactly how and what something means, and it takes a very long time to open them up to the subtle and deep choices we make to frame meaning for our System 1, intuitive thinking.

And that's a great problem I think philosophy has to address: the metacognitive association of the immediacy of a conclusion with its assured truth. In other words, despite the fact that everything you present in the form of a sentence or claim is the result of many, many inferences, constructions, observations, syntheses, and choices, people assume they mean just what they say so long as they feel they are saying something that was immediate to themselves. "I know exactly what I mean! Stop twisting things or making it more complicated!" Except it wasn't the teacher who made things more complicated, we are the ones who take very complicated networks of reasoning and turn them over time into concise and immediate claims, into something simpler in appearance and form.

The most difficult thing about writing, and what demonstrates skill, is concision. People tell me all the time to be more concise, write more clearly, write less. But then when I turn this ideological association upon them by showing how their own concise claims only mean something within a very complex and chosen framework, suddenly it's not a fair thing. We should, I'm told, take things charitably as they are said. But what is said is not itself the most charitable way of truncating the complex —how could we know we're always being charitable with ourselves if we're not even aware of all the choices and conclusions we have been making? How do we know we're not still deceiving ourselves about what's happening in our thinking?

This is the interesting thing about the lay acceptance of Cartesian certainty's paradigm claim: I think, therefore I am. They don't want to admit that they don't really know what it means to think. Descartes obscures this problem, going so far as to say that even if he's convinced—convinced!—there is nothing in the world, even if he is completely deluded about who he is as the thinking thing, nevertheless because he is being deceived, he is thinking, and thus, he is. And we who perform this analysis will come to the same conclusion about ourselves.

Implicit in the definition is the necessity of being something, but we don't know what that is or how it works. We don't know anything about it at all. And under the hypothesis, we actually assume delusion. So, if we're supposed to accept we do not have anything of the truth, under what reasoning can we say we do have certainty about knowing we know what's happening as we think? How do we understand thinking here?

Descartes has enough given to make some sense of what he means by thinking, but it's not an immediate process to come to such a complicated conclusion as "I am thinking." In fact, given this is a temporal assessment requiring memory, judgment, and self-reference, it is a representation of something, not presentation itself. And in the context of the Meditations, it is a representation that could be the result of misrepresentation. The trickster god knows well how to trick the deep structures of Cartesian rationality to fundamentally mislead the thinking thing into thinking the whole of reality is really nothing but appears as something.

So how could we know we know what we know about ourselves? As with Descartes, we're assessing our thinking at several removed layers while trying to maintain a high resolution description. This is not immediate access to our own thinking. It is thinking filtered and restructured and reified and recorded and remembered and rebuilt and returned. And all of those, at least for Descartes, are intentional; they are the products of the faculty of will, or volition. Choices.

In other words, simpler words, "I am thinking" is not an atomic observation. It is not an immediate reality to which we have immediate access. It is, rather, the result of several decisions we have been making in order to imagine ourselves into believing we now have immediate access to this conclusion.

And if we cannot even get right how we know that we are thinking, how can we get right so many other things we just assume are sensible and intuitive, such as the wind blowing or love twitterpating or debt increasing?

How can we be so careless to think we know exactly what something means if we're unwilling to learn how we mean things?

It's hard work to think about thinking.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Is this wise?
Is this yours?
Is this love?

Real Time Web Analytics