The Hárbarðsljóð

Racy stuff for a Friday night -- a thousand year old poem. As our favorite cowboy Old Norse expert points out, many of the sexually explicit verses were left out of the 19th century translations of this material. Our contemporaries have no similarly limiting sentiments.


Anonymous said...

Hullo Grim,

Would you be willing to take a look at another one?


Grim said...

...the machinery of intelligence freely mixes correlations, reasoned arguments, and analogies, folding them over time into recursively layered confections of human knowledge.

You're using "knowledge" in a different way than most. Aristotle claims that knowledge is justified true belief. In the 20th century, Gettier cases caused us to reconsider that, but most arguments about knowledge have some sort of truth requirement (often, that 'to know' requires not only that the thing be true but that it be safely true, i.e., that to say you know a thing is only appropriate if you can be sure of it).

Correlations might not be true; analogies, by nature, always break (and thus are never "true" in a strict sense). To say that these things constitute knowledge is an interesting claim. It's also going to be a claim that most philosophers will reject because of this issue.

Try Timothy Williamson's book, Knowledge and its Limits, as a starting point for working out that issue. He has a model for knowledge that might be adaptable for your purposes, or that might inform you in developing your own.

It's getting interesting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Grim, coming from you that is high praise indeed!

If it's any consolation, my choice of the word "instinct" is also problematic, as it certain to have my psychology friends reaching for the liquor cabinet...

Essentially, the central problem for my thesis seems to be one of terminology. I am trying to figure out how to describe universal structures, found relationships that demonstrably exist in the real world, but that do not fit standard terminological referents.

Adding to the translational fun is that I don't think in words. But that's a story for another time.

Strategically, I need to stretch the definitions of certain familiar words as broadly as possible, while still retaining the desired meaning. My theme of accessible universality demands no less!

I haven't yet figured out how to make the wrinkles of my definitional strategy fully explicit. That is part of why I haven't yet written the "Introductory remarks" section.

On a deeper level, the animating force behind that strategy comes from a core musical insight:

The mind solves problems analytically, but the body solves problems algorithmically.

The mind can see the general physics of driving a motorcycle round a highway curve at a glance, but the body must work out how to do so by developing a custom program of precisely sequenced heuristic commands in its own unconscious, nonverbal language. This need to work things out is why central planning always fails, and why personal practice always matters.

The proper role of the conscious mind, in learning how to execute complex actions, is not to control! It is first to hold a clear image of the desired result, and then to ask the body to work out, through repetition, how that result can best be achieved.

Relying on conscious control won't cut it. The processor requirements are unattainably steep.

To sum up, the wealth of heuristic "knowledge" invisibly encoded in that second system is an essential ingredient in how humans things get done. Unfortunately, despite being quite real, it also seems to be largely invisible in the verbal world of analytic philosophy. Here, of course, I could be wrong! I just haven't read enough.

Therefore, since actions are everything in human interaction, we can only understand what is going on in the daily world of human activity by mapping the COMBINED universal logic of the entangled knowledge systems of both mind AND body, and only then distributing that map in a widely understandable format.

That's the theory, anyway.

Grim said...

Well, bear in mind that many a philosophy has run up on the rocks that you're calling "terminology." Socrates' game was trying to get people to define their terms. If you can't say what you mean in a plausible way, you may not really understand it as well as you think you do; some weakness in the idea may be masked by slippery terms.

Your solution to that seems to be that 'Of course we can't speak the truth of what we mean, because 'knowledge' includes and depends upon many things that aren't really true.' That's a radical position. It could be right; it's definitely radical. The problem is, can you formulate a defense of the proposition that it is right given the structure you're adopting? Or is such a proposition just one more kind of thing that we can't really have, because it would require being able to rationalize the irrational?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think that I can counter Socrates's gambit by blending the relevant bits of Heisenberg, Goedel, stochastics in general, and Hari Seldon. I'll try to explain.

Heisenberg and Goedel, for having made solid cases that certain desirable things _cannot_ in fact be accomplished, so stop wasting energy trying; stochastic gas laws, for showing that certain other types of desirable things _can_ be said precisely and meaningfully, despite lower-level uncertainties; and Seldon, for putting a discernable and fuzzily predictable human sweep on the whole glorious mess.

My unorthodox approach to terminology is heavily colored by my musical experiences. I have rehearsed, prepared, and performed to a high level extremely complex pieces of music, all while working with people who spoke next to no English. In this limited environment, a classic Socratic narrowing of terms is next to useless. The academic precision strategy just doesn't work.

What goes on instead is a lot of gesture, imitation, and a general willingness to get on the same page. The results work, despite (if not because) the use of an opposite strategy from that of academia at large! The definitional buckets for many of the words are enlarged as far as possible, with the avowed goal of attaining an actionable consensus in the profoundly limited rehearsal time we have. Put that together with skilled players, and it works.

Fuzziness within any given terminological bucket is fine! SO LONG AS we are working to identify higher-level relations _between_ buckets, that hold stochastically true DESPITE the imprecision within, that we can then use to build with. Call it a holistically reductionist approach to societal engineering, or something.

In the specific case of "knowledge," then, we must grapple with the problem of how the term is actually used in everyday life, such as "things that people know to be true, but ain't." It that sense, everyday "knowledge" is more a matter of an extensive sea of information points, each bracketed with multi-dimensional confidence intervals of varying size (some of them wrong). Or it would be, if the data were organized with anything like that level of clarity, which it isn't.

Since, as in rehearsal, much of the problem of "staying alive while human" involves getting things _right enough_ on limited time with limited resources and limited information, certain large-bucket definitional strategies apply to the everyday idea of "knowledge." For my purposes here, a working definition might be something like "the sum total of all the information, true or otherwise, that is involved in an individual human's decision-making."

Invoking Heisenberg/Goedel and the universal architecture of intelligence (not yet unpacked, but concisely described in the very lines you quoted above), we can easily show two things: first, that the content of this "knowledge" must differ radically from individual to individual (as does its quality, accuracy, precision, truth content, etc.); and second, that even in principle, the true content of any given individual's knowledge can never be "known," in a formal sense, with any reliable degree of precision, accuracy, and completeness (even in ourselves)!

BUT, similarly to the way that I can perform a cello concerto with great run-to-run consistency without "knowing" how I do it, I can also make a strong STOCHASTIC case that (1) certain human Universal Laws (intelligence plus instinct) exist that define a common PROCESS by which all such unique individual content is developed, maintained, and emotionally defended; (2) these higher-level laws CAN be mapped with precision, accuracy, and a fair degree of completeness; and (3) doing so reveals a characteristic architecture to human decision-making (per Seldon) that says meaningful things about Human Nature.

Does that help?

Anonymous said...

Another thought, fuelled by more coffee: perhaps one source of confusion is that my definition of "knowledge" is internally and logically oriented, whereas yours is externally and rationally oriented.

By this distinction, I mean that a thing is defined as "logical" iff it has an internally consistent structure, and defined as "rational" iff that structure can be externally verified.

For example, the rational method of science presumes a logical universe.

I am trying to make a rational case that the content of human knowledge, while demonstrably non-rational, nonetheless follows a universally logical process that can itself be rationally inferred. Then, I want to reason out practical consequences of both halves of that statement being true at the same time.

Grim said...

I think you're overstating the case with Godel (and Heisenberg isn't relevant as I understand him; we're not talking about quanta). His claim as I understand it is that you can't prove certain kinds of claims inside of formal systems. I don't think it applies outside of formal systems.

For example, the rational method of science presumes a logical universe.

That's not true: Hume is the counterexample here. He was responding to Newtonian physics, which made logical -- even mathematical -- claims about the performance of physical objects. But, Newton admitted, in terms of explaining why the math worked he had no hypothesis to offer: just what gravity is, as opposed to how what we call 'the force of gravity' expresses itself, seems unknowable. Hume pointed out that this is true of all the things he referred to as 'the secret springs of nature.' We have no idea how they work, or if they exist; in the 20th century, metaphysicians following David Lewis came to doubt that there were laws in nature or necessary causal connections at all.

The physics still works, even if we don't know why. But there's no presumption that the universe is logical; it may well all be an accident, and if so (as Hume says) all our systems could cease to work tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

All fair points. I'll take them in reverse order. 8-)

First, one does not simply cease grocery shopping just because the world's gravity might turn off tomorrow. I drew my epistemological floor in the manner that I did (limited attention, habits, instinct)for a precise reason: to wall off the inner workings of the "secret springs of nature" at a level below which their hidden nature interfered with the practicality of my argument. THAT they are there is sufficient; HOW they work is unnecessary.

Back to the presumption of a logical universe. No one organizes the expenditure of life's daily energies around, say, the specific expectation that the bathtub might, however improbably, suddenly sprout wings and fly away while singing Wagner, while also simultaneously considering all other similarly improbable events. It just isn't practical to live that way.

Now of course this does not keep human beings from being able to conceptualize this specific aerial feat, or from idly wondering whether the bathtub would sing well, or whether it would be a tenor, soprano, or basso profundo! Conceptually speaking, the human mind is a wonderfully flexible place.

Note, however, that in matters of biological structure, the mind's neural underpinnings are decidedly less flexible! Neural and other structures replicated throughout biology, over time and across species, are a strong guide that the universe _does_ in fact have an intrinsically logical structure, and that biological design has evolved to take energy-efficient advantage of what is at least a local pocket of stability. Ockham's razor applies.

Similarly, if, in my solipsistic conceptual view of the world, I have created conditions in which I must respect the apparent laws of physics and the interactive efforts of other people in my creation, and those efforts appear to be guided by a fairly consistent (even if dimly glimpsed) internal logic, then what I have created is a semantic distinction without a difference.

Imagined or not, in matters of everyday life, the world demands that I respect its intrinsic logic. The descriptive method of science supplies a rational method by which that logic can be investigated, and through which daily life can be improved. Central to the scientific method is the command to discard conceptual content, even if it is initially rational, if that content is superseded by empirical observation. Science bows to logic.

None of this is to say that Hume is wrong! I wouldn't even discourage speculation in that direction. But our shared reality forces us to live biologically, planning for tomorrow, as though he must be. This, then, is the practical level at which my efforts are focused.

Per Godel, I suggest that the logic of Human Nature IS in fact a recursively nested formal system of sorts, and that it gets around the Godelian barrier of rational self-reference through a most elegant logical architecture, featuring in each individual a web of multiple spreading centers of rational argument, interconnected by analogical haloes and cross-correlations, that then is surfed by limited attention. This is the "intelligence" argument I am trying to set up.

Per Heisenberg, if we simply borrow BOTH his idea that some things cannot be measured, AND that those immeasurabilities cancel out at larger scales, then we have a handy metaphor with which to describe certain aspects of our map of Human Nature. Not all the details can be made explicit, but enough of them can, at the right scales, to matter.

I do appreciate the chance to work these ideas out in words. Thanks, Grim.