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A Folksonomy for Physical (Paper) Files January 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in filing, folksonomies, how to, information management, lifehack, Other, tagging.
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This site get considerable traffic sometimes from people interested in folksonomies and different methods of filing documents, partially because of my posts about LibraryThing.  Recently a number of people have been referred here by this site, whose author was apparently searching for a system of tagging paper documents.  This post does not do quite what she wanted, tagging individual pages of descrete documents, which I think you’d have to accomplish with sticky-notes, marginalia, and some method of storing these notes on a public spreadsheet or something.  Probably easier to scan the document into something and use OCR to turn it into text.  Nevertheless, I keep meaning to post something about the system I use to tag individual documents, because there seem to be a lot of people out there with similar filing issues.  What sort of issues? 

Well, I write grant proposals for projects and gifts at a University.  My job entails keeping records on who does what at the University, as well as who funds what all over the country.  I also to opinion poll research, data mining and marketing analyses for the fundraising operations, as well as institutional research at the University, and have been involved in an endless (thankfully, so far) stream of writing projects that aren’t connected to any of those things.  In short, I work with paper copies of things only when I can’t avoid it, which is to say I work with paper copies all day long.   When I want to file a paper copy of something, should it go in a departmental file, under the faculty member’s name, under the name of the research center or lab, under the name of the party to whom the proposal was written, under the type of proposal, or endless other options?  My indecision usually meant more than one copy, or it meant a growing “to file” heap on my desk.  A clue to a possible answer came last year, when I saw a reference to the Noguchi system of filing.

I first noticed the Noguchi Filing System on BoingBoing, and I tried to track it down through the article’s author (not Noguchi himself, since his works had not been translated at that time), but he had taken it down already.  I tried it out, but have since dumped the Noguchi system because if its aversion to large archives of information.  The ability to find anything I need immediately and easily means that I can keep a large archive, which means I don’t have to spend time deciding what to throw out.  And, again, it is the nature of my job, I often (a few times a week) find myself using documents that I haven’t even seen in years.  I retained the look of the Noguchi system, but combined it almost beyond recognition with a robust archiving system.

This method is essentially user-specified tagging.  But it can be extended and adapted to multiple users quite easily.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Put document in a 9×12 envelope which has had its top cut off.  Write some keywords about the document, the date (of filing), and a number on the side of the envelope, like this (click images to see full-sized ones):


Step 2: Write a filing entry in an excel spreadsheet including as many distinct keywords as you can remember about the document, like this:


Step 3: Filed the envelope in reverse numeric order (adding new files on the left), standing up on a bookshelf.  Mine looks like this:


Step 4: When you need the document, open the spreadsheet and hit control+F (or go to the “find” feature of your spreadsheet program).  type in a keyword and hit the return button.  The spreadsheet will go to a cell where the keyword appears.  If it isn’t the file you are looking for, hit return.  It will find another.   I have more than 300 documents filed this way and they almost always come up on the first or second try. 

If it is the file you were looking for, get the entry’s archive number (in the column to the right) and pull the document off the shelf.  Put it back there when you are done with it. 

To expand this into a multiple-user folksonomy, the spreadsheet may be stored on a public folder (or using google’s new filesharing capabilities, or a wiki, or whatever) so that it becomes a true user-specified classification system.  To do this, each user adds more keywords into the string, keywords that define how the document was used, so that they come up later in a search. 

This system may have been invented elsewhere, I suppose, because it is awfully simple and easy to use.  But I have never seen a reference to it anywhere.  I’d be happy to link to anyone who has a suitable exposition of this.  And it doesn’t have a name, as yet, either, so feel free to suggest one.

January Writing Contest at Write Stuff Concluded January 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, narrative, writing.

I have lost my second short-story-writing contest, the January Creative Carnival over at The Write Stuff.  I have been advocating these contests all over other blog comment threads as a way of motivating one’s fiction writing with solid deadlines and low-pressure, low-stakes, quick turn-around contests. 

It was the first writing contest I ever entered, but the second I have lost, the one at The Clarity of Night having been concluded first (the Write Stuff contest, having taken place in Missouri, was creamed by power outages and out of action for a week.)  All in all, I prefer contests where I can get feedback on what I have written.  The prizes don’t really interest me that much.  As my participation in NaNoWriMo last year shows, token prizes are good enough for me at this point. 

So, I have joined Writer.com and Duotrope’s Digest, looking for others to enter, to keep the fiction flowing.  I will probably participate in The Write Stuff’s February contest, which they have already posted near the above link.  I’m writing something for Glimmer Magazine’s pirate story contest now and will probably enter the first chapters contest over at Gather.com.  I’m trying to push The Moon Topples into starting a contest (his idea, I’m just pushing it).  If anybody has any other suggestions (again, at this point I’m looking for firm deadlines and some feedback, not simply a market) please let me know. 

And if you have any feedback on my story, linked at The Write Stuff, above, I’d love to hear it.  I’d love to hear feedback from people who have written fiction, especially.  I’d love to hear feedback from davidbdale, strugglingwriter, Cyndi, and others I know write short fiction.  I imagine that the others who participated in the January contest would like to hear feedback on theirs, too. 

Introduction to Radical Constructivism V January 18, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Constructivism, fiction, literature, narrative, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism.

I’m going to take a slight digression before unleashing Postulate III to respond at length to a comment that anxiousmofo left on this thread.  I do this partially because he has tried so diligently to answer a question that has puzzled me for years.  He made me see some aspects to my position that I never quite understood (but also, of course, because he introduces the expression “intuition pump,” which I think is pretty funny and had not heard before).  The question at hand is something like “why should one even concern one’s self with the question of whether or not there is some sort of real world out there?”  This is the “question 2” which he refers to in his comment below (initially posted as comment #5 here).  –WARNING: CONTAINS SPINOZA

To answer your question 2, here’s a thought experiment (or, more honestly, an intuition pump). Suppose that you have been happily married to someone you love for twenty years, a kind, intelligent, attractive person named Pat. One day, Pat’s doctor informs you that Pat is a philosophical zombie. Pat has no mental states at all, and only appears to love you in return. The hypothesis that Pat loves you and enjoys being with you and is committed to you is consistent with all the data and makes useful predictions about how Pat will act towards you; it just happens to be false. Wouldn’t knowing that make a difference to you? Similarly, if what I see as objects and people in the real world don’t actually exist, my life would be meaningless.

Of course, the notion that Pat (or anyone else) is a philosophical zombie is an extremely far-fetched and unparsimonious* notion, and so (I would argue) is the notion that the world we experience is unrelated to the real world, or the notion that there is no real world.

*Unparsimonious because it would require that there be at least two kinds of people in the world, those with mental states and those without.

An intriguing thought experiment/analogy.  It reminds me of a passage in Neal Stephenson’s voluminous Baroque Cycle trilogy of novels, which I am going to reproduce here, it being relevant and hoping that since I worship his writing he will forgive me.  A black man (Dappa) and a Puritan (Daniel) are meeting the Puritan’s nephew (Peer, who writes for a sort of newspaper) in a club/pub in London, circa 1715.  The scene is one of the fifteen funniest in the 3000+ page work, but I will omit some of the funniest parts to focus on what is relevant to my response to your thought experiment.

“. . . Dappa was, at a very young age, taken aboard a ship by pirates as a sort of pet.  And these pirates, being a polyglot group, amused themselves by training Dappa to spead twenty-five different languages fluently.”

“Twenty-five different languages! Peer exclaimed.

“Yes.  Including English better than you, as you just saw.”

“But . . . he doesn’t actually understand any of them,” Peer said.

“No more than a parrot does, when it squawks out a demand for a cracker,” Daniel affirmed, then let out a squawk of his own as Dappa kicked him in the shin under the table.

“What a remarkable feat!  You should exhibet him!”

“What do you think I am doing right now?”

How was the weather yesterday?” Peer inquired of Dappa, in French.

In the morning it was miserable and rainy,” Dappa returned.  “After noon I thought it would clear but, alas, it was still overcast until nightfall.  Only as I was getting ready for bed did I begin to see stars shining through gaps between clouds.  Could I trouble you for a cracker?”

“I say, the French pirate who taught him that trick must have been an educated man!” Peer exclaimed.  Then he got a look on his face as if he were thinking.  Daniel had learned, in his almost seventy years, not to expect much of people who got such looks, because thinking really was something one ought to do all of the time.  “One would suppose there would be no point in holding a conversation with a man who does not understand what he is saying.  And yet he described yesterday’s weather better than I could!  In fact, I think I’ll use his wording in tomorrow’s edition!”  Again, now, the thoughtful look. “If he could relate other experiences-such as the tete-a-tete with the Duchess–as faithfully as he recalls the weather, it would make my interview with him ever so much easier.  I had come prepared to do it all in grunts and sign languages!” And Peer gave a note-book in his hip-pocket and ominous pat.

“I suppose that whenever one speaks in the abstract–which is to say most of the time–what one is really doing is interacting with some sort of image that is held in the mind,” Dappa said.  “For example, yesterday’s weather is not here in the Kit-Cat Clubb with us.  I cannot feel yesterday’s rain on my skin, nor can I see yester-eve’s stars with my eyes.  When I describe these things to you (in French or any other language) I am really engaging in some sort of internal colloquy with a stored image inside of my brain.  It is an image I may call up on demand, as a Duke might demand that a certain painting of his be brought down out of the garret.  Once it is before my mind’s eye, I may see it as if it were there, and describe it.”

“That is all well and good for recollecting what you have gathered in through your senses, and stored in the garret, as it were,” Peer said. “So I could ask you to relocate your observations of the Duchess of Qwghlm today, and rely on your account.  But as you do not understand the conversation you had with her, or indeed the one you are having with me now, I fear your interpretation of what went on at Leicester House might be wide of the mark.” He spoke haltingly, unsure of how to converse with someone who didn’t understand what he was saying.

Preying on this, Daniel inquired, “But how could he interpret anything if he didn’t understand it?”

This stopped Peer’s gob for a few awkward moments.

“I would refer you to the work of Spinoza,” Dappa said, “whose words are of course perfect gibberish to me, but who wrote in his Ethics, ‘The order and connexion of ideas is the same as the order and connexion of things.’  Meaning that if there are two things, call them A and B, that have a particular relationship to each other, for example, my lord Wragby’s wig, and my lord Wragby’s head, and if I have in my mind an idea of  my lord Wragby’s wig, call it alpha, and an idea of his head, call it beta, then the relationship between alpha and beta is the same as between A and B.  And owing to this property of minds, it is possible for me to construct in my head an whole universe of ideas, yet each idea will relate to all of the other ideas in precisely the same way that the things represented by those ideas relate to one another; lo, ’tis as if I have created a microcosm ‘tween my ears, without understanding a bit of it.    And some of the ideas may be records of sensory impressions, for example, yesterday’s weather.  But others may be abstract concepts out of religion, philosophy, mathematics, or what have you–not that I’d know, since to me they are all a meaningless parade of hallucinations.  But insofar as they are all ideas, they are fungible.  Whatever their origins may have been, they are all now con-fused into the same currency, and so I may speak of the Pythagorean Theorem or the Treaty of Utrcht as well as I may speak of yesterday’s weather.  To me, they are all just crackers–as you are, my lord Wragby.”

“That is quite clear,” Peer said vaguely, for he had gone a bit glassy-eyed round the point where Dappa had begun to use Greek letters.  —The System of the World, pp 168-70 (ISBN-13 978-0-06-075086-2).

So anxiousmofo’s dilemma concerning Pat is very similar to Peer’s w/r/t/ Dappawork–both being in anxiousmofo’s terms “philosophical zombies.”  And my answer is the same to both: There is no discernable, measureable difference between what goes on in Dappa’s head and the heads of others.  Peer’s sanctimonious feelings of superiority over Dappa let him fall into that trap.  Anxiousmofo notes that there is something “unparsimonious” about asserting that someone else is a “philosophical zombie.”  And I agree wholeheartedly.  After all, in the days in which Stepehenson’s novels are set they still killed one of a set of twins, arguing that only one could possibly have been born with a soul. 

N.B.: I never said that there was no “real world,” only that we do not have any access to it, and that since the worlds people construct inside their heads are so much more complicated, and so often in conflict with the ones that other people are creating inside their heads, it is useful to set aside the quest for that “real world” and focus upon the ways in which we construct our own.  I will be examining some of the advantages of this particular strategy as I continue to formalize this exposition of the Radical Constructivist worldview. 

Introduction to Radical Constructivism IV January 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Constructivism, Education, lojban, Memory, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism, science.
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Postulate Number II: Verbal and nonverbal communication is the most frequent and important way that adult brains acquire information.

According to studies of daytime activities of representative adults and teenagers in the United States, we spend from 20-45 percent of the day working or studying, 4-15 percent of the day talking, eating, or daydreaming at work, 9-13 percent of the day exposing ourselves to media (television and reading, mainly–does not include going to a cinema), and 4-12 percent of the day talking or socializing.  Assuming eight hours of sleep (well, you could take better care of yourself) we spend anywhere from six hours, forty minutes (6:40) to fifteen hours, eighteen minutes (15:18) engaged in communication.*  Those of you with jobs that entail less physical work and more talking, writing, reading and other sorts of communication, and this probably includes most of the people reading this, spend more than that.

This constant communication forms the world in which we spend not only the time actively engaged in it, but much of the remainder as well, as our self-talk, coming now from our minds but originating in countless past conversations, television shows, books, movies, advertisements, shouted insults, lectures, blogs, memes, interrogations, beatings, affairs, jazz riffs, hate mail, spam, the lyrics of Oingo Boingo songs, jingles, warning flags, spankings, gestures, and such bathes us in a constant stream of images and words–messages. 

This communication, more than anything, even more than the physical constraints which seem to keep you from, say, flying to the moon or sinking to the Earth’s molten core, is the world in which your brain lives most of its waking hours.

[To reinforce Postulate Number I for this specific and important way in which our brains acquire knowlege: This allows an amazing amount of potential for misunderstanding.  Partially, this is a feature of our language, any language (except Lojban, about which the jury is still out).  Partially, I think, it may come from the belief that one can reason objectively about this world of language.]

Postulate Number I: The process by which we acquire knowledge is limited, hobbled, and distorted by a number of things.

Postulate Number II: Verbal and nonverbal communication is the most frequent and important way that adult brains acquire information.

*Finding flow : the psychology of engagement with everyday life, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, pp 9.

Introduction to Radical Constructivism III January 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Constructivism, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism, science.

I have looked at my previous postings on this subject and they appear long-winded, flippant, and needlessly argumentative.  Indeed, I think that it is possible I have started out on the wrong foot entirely.  Postulate number one really should be something like postulate number 10.  There is too much to cover for anyone not already convinced could take it seriously. 

So let me try again, building up from smaller assertions.

Postulate Number I (revised)–The process by which we acquire knowledge is limited, hobbled, and distorted by a number of things.

Example A: Consider that our brains can process recieve something like 10,000 sensory inputs per second, but can process only a small fraction of that input. 

Example B:Consider that our brains play tricks on us, making up information about the outside world and trying to pass it off as input.

An experiment you can do at home–The Blind Spot

  1. Take out a blank piece of paper. 
  2. Draw a star in the middle of it about an inch from the left-hand side, bigger than the diameter of a pencil, but a little smaller than an IPod ear-bud. 
  3. Three and one-half inches to the right of the star, draw a dot, approximately the same size as the star.
  4. Hold the paper in front of you, about six inches away.
  5. Close your left eye and stare at the star with your right one.  (The star should be directly in front of your right eye.)
  6. Slowly move the paper away from you while staring at the star.

At a point around 10-11 inches away from your eye, the dot will appear to cease to exist.  The paper will appear to be blank in the spot where the dot was, unless you move your right eye away from the star to look at it.  You have a blank spot in the photoreceptors that receive light in your eyes.  Your brain constantly fills in these spots with information from your other eye, or if that eye is closed or missing, from your short term memory.  It constructs this picture you think of as “reality.”

Example C: Consider that when painters wish to see the “true” color of an element of “reality” that they are painting (especially when out-of-doors), they make a hole in a card, and look at the element through that hole, diminishing the effect that the surroundings have upon the brain’s perception of the element.  In other words, people look at trees and think of their trunks as brown and their leaves as green, while the light that actually bounces off the trunk can appear green, black, grey, red, or many other colors, depending on the position of the sun, the condition of the atmosphere, and, especially important to landscape painters, the distance from the painter.

Books–Big trouble, by Dave Barry January 15, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other.

When I was a teenager in California I thought that Dave Barry’s newspaper columns were the funniest things in the world.  I stopped reading them for a while in college, and found later on that they rambled around too much with what seemed like inside-jokes, and were in any case too centered on toilet humor to interest me.  I have no idea whether the columns changed, or whether it was my own tastes that had changed.

So I was troubled to see Big Trouble in my Christmas stocking, thinking it would be one of those books you read just to be polite.  It was something worse, I’m afraid.  It is one of those books you’ll read and find it hard to tell anyone about it. 

Recently I was reading a blog (somebody whom I think is in my blogroll, but I couldn’t find the entry and I don’t remember who it was for certain) which commented on the guilty pleasure of reading David Sedaris.  Friends, there is nothing to feel guilty about reading David Sedaris.  That stuff’s just wicked funny, and incredibly well-written.  But Dave Barry, . . . try telling the people at the English Department faculty party about that one. 

But let me explain a little.  It is as if the effort of forcing his writing to take the form of a story–with characters, a beginning, middle, and end, that actually takes place somewhere–channeled his humor in a more readable direction.  It is like watching a movie starring Robin Williams but directed and written by someone else, compared to simply watching Robin Williams associate freely on stage (on cocaine).  It makes Barry readable and funny once again.

I’m tried to find a good example, but Barry’s humor is not housed in individual sentences.  It is in the set-up and execution of jokes over a series of pages and in characterization. If you are looking for a funny book that will take about three hours to read, you might take a second look at Barry’s fiction. 

Books–The First Immortal: A Novel Of The Future by James L. Halperin January 14, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, Philosophy, Science Fiction.

I’ve been putting this review off.  I finished this book back at the end of November, I think, and it just seemed like too much of a pain to actually respond to it. 

First off, the Foresight Institute has an excellent and fairly comprehensive review of it here.  Halperin’s vision of the future pace of political and technological change, despite some dogged attempts at hedging, comes off far too optimistic for my taste.  But that stuff is too complicated to get into here, so I’m just adding my personal observations to what’s already been written for Foresight. 

I know that when reading fiction I tend to try to see what the author is thinking, and that this is not usually fruitful or possible.  But in this case, because of the political nature of the subject matter, and because of Halperin’s stated interest in cryogenics, it is impossible not to read this book and think to oneself, “Hmmm.  This guy is absolutely terrified of and obsessed with death.” 

Look, I don’t want to die either.  Last night my wife and I had a discussion about mortality.  She has recently lost her beloved grandmother.  We had both lost in the spring a West Highland White Terrier that had been with us since just after we got married, through our first house, graduate schools, a move to the East Coast, career changes, all sorts of disasters.  Anyway, my wife said that part of the fear of death comes from the fact that people tend to visualize the future in terms of events happening to us as we are now.  The example she used was of a boy who wants to marry his mom when he grows up, because he thinks that he will need somebody like that when he grows older.  So I guess I’m thinking that there will be a time when death does not seem the horrible prospect it does now.  I’m certainly less scared of death than I was when I was younger. 

But the over-the-top urgency with which Halperin infuses the fear of death and the prospect of cryonics into this story baffles me.  For example:

Even before Wendy’s suspension, I’d begun studying the phenomenon of aging with an obsession matching my previous delvings into nanotech and neuroscience.  My own appointment with death-or-ice seemed too distant to warrant preparation . . . but the impending demise of my first golden retriever had filled me with an overwhelming sense of urgency.

I’ve popped over to Amazon.com and noticed that a lot of the favorable reviews of this book seem to come from people similarly terrified about death and similarly optimistic about cryonics, and technology in general.  I don’t know, should we fear death this much?

Book–Variable Star January 13, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, Science Fiction.

Another posthumous offering from the mind of Robert H. Heinlein, or almost.  This was written almost entirely from eight or so note cards and a few pages recently discovered in the bowels of the Heinlein archives at Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp (what everybody called UCSC where I went to school). 

First off, it reads nothing like a Heinlein novel, with a few notable exceptions. The world in which it takes place is structured in a fashion similar to some of Heinlein’s writings, for example.  (It takes its historical back-story from Heinlein’s “Future History” stories.)  It is logical and internally consistent.  And it is very well-written, another Heinlein hallmark. 

All that aside, it is a tremendously good read.  I had no idea that Spider Robinson could write like this.  I’d always been put off by his name, I suppose.  Why would anybody change his name to “Spider?”  I realize he was born well before that They Might be Giants song (“Spider, he is our hero / Spider, get rid of . . . ,” but still, what is the deal?  It is only worse if his parents named him that.  What would it be like growing up with such a name?  Or maybe it was a nickname that he got tagged with early on.  “Hey kid, the way you suck out the insides of predigested bugs, we should call you ‘Spider.'”  “Hey kid, the way you lie in wait for your prey to fall into your foul and sticky trap, we should call you ‘Spider.'” 

Anyway, I’m going to mooch some of his books. 

Introduction to Radical Constructivism II January 11, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Constructivism, Education, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism, science.

My apologies, SilverTiger, and others who are following this dialogue, for being so long in posting the second of this series.  The following is only a partial response to his second post on the subject.  There is a great deal there, and although I would love to respond to it all, I am thinking that it might be easier to follow this discussion if it is taken in small chunks. 

SilverTiger’s first question is a digression, probably, from the main body of this, since it originated in my personal narrative, which had perched on the razor-thin fence of relevance.  However, I will attempt to answer it, just to be fair to the spirit of this discussion. 

The “progressive historian” quoted by your professor held the opposite opinion but although he sought to interpret history in support of his opinion, do we have any reason to suspect his treatment of historical fact?

Yes.  Of course we do.   We always have reason to suspect a historian’s treatment, as well as the facts they chose, and how they were chosen, and whether they are answering relevant and valuable questions, etc.  Unfortunately, historians don’t agree on these things as a matter of course.  They don’t always agree on facts, methods, important subject areas, or other weighty concerns.  Within the profession there is a tacitly-agreed-upon canon of books and studies that form the basis of what we might call “historical knowledge.”  But every generation new and talented historians decide that other areas need to be included (as, for example, the Middle East becomes more important and the fall of the Soviet Union makes more Ottoman materials available for study).  And sometimes talented historians smash old “truths” and dispute old “facts” as well.

The next question SilverTiger poses is

The description of the pilot flying on instruments is interesting, but what does it really tell us? . . . How true is it, though?

Well, it is a workable, and somewhat functional, start to other important points of which Radical Constructivism is, itself constructed.  It is a model of the way the body and brain seem to function.  Is is true?  I’m not sure this question makes any sense in RC.  But SilverTiger elaborates further down with some additional questions.

More prosaically, the idea that we “only” receive our information about the outside world via the senses, while true, can be overstated. Put your hand on a hot plate and what happens? You move it away pretty damn quick. Are you aware of any “information” coming to you “via the senses” and “being interpreted by the brain”? Nope. You feel pain, you yell and you move, all in one. So much for seeing the world through a TV screen.

This is an interesting example of the difficulty of a scientific, rational, realist worldview.  When you put your hand on a hot plate your reflexes and reactions occur without the intermediary of the brain, pulling your hand from the plate and initiating another series of actions, an adrenaline rush, for example, and possibly an exclaimation.  What the brain does, is reorders these reactions.  You think that you yelled simultaneously with pulling your hand off.  You think that the sensation of pain came before the reaction.  It did not.  In fact, it had to be interpreted as pain, whereas it began as intense sensation along a number of nerves. 

I agree that the whole thing is nothing like seeing the world through a TV screen.  But I’m not sure how that invalidates the analogy or the point I was attempting to make, which was that our brains are locked inside our heads. 

Regarding the next question, about the Newtonian vs. Einsteinian worldviews, you seem to be saying that that I originated that distinction.  I was talking about Ptolemaic vs. Copernican models of the behavior of the Earth and the Sun–a simpler distinction.  Regardless, let me attempt to answer the questions posed below.

I too have heard that when NASA sends vehicles into the reaches of the solar system, they use Newton’s equations, not Einstein’s. What does this mean? Does it mean that the objective real world is inaccessible to us and so we can construct any world we like – or borrow Newton’s or Einstein’s – and use whichever we please because the world is merely what we think it is? No.

I didn’t use my example to demonstrate that “the real world is inaccessible to us.”  I take this as an axiom, a provisional assumption that nobody has really been able to demonstrate false to my satisfaction.  But first they would have to get me interested in the importance of thinking that the real world is accessible to us.  I have seen many of the “real worlds” asserted by others dashed to bits.  Whenever I hear somebody talking about “facing reality” I become wary.  Such a phrase usually means that they have recognized that I do not share their view of a situation and have, thus, become upset by that knowledge.  The assertion that somebody else will not “face facts” or “see the real situation” is what Nietche would have called a “will to power.”

So, does the Earth revolve about the Sun (Copernican), or does the Sun revolve around the Earth (Ptolemaic)?  This is a spurious distinction to somebody who thinks as a constructivist.  RC thinking would go more like this:  Which equations are easiest to use in order to get me up in space and return me safely to Earth? 

Regarding the question of whether we can “construct any world we like . . . and use whichever we please because the world is merely like we think it is,” I’m always a little puzzled by this assumption.  The idea that we construct reality does not mean that we do so arbitrarily.  We rely on a great deal of sensory data, millions of little experiments that we conduct and record, our interactions with others, and perhaps most important, the voices in our heads, to “construct reality.”

Most people, scientists included, will acknowledge, as SilverTiger has, that one shapes questions about the world, which, in turn, shapes the answers one gets about it.  So everyone is “constructing” their own reality.  The important questions, it seems to me, have to do with the amount of our own reality that we are constructing, the proportion.  I won’t assert that we construct all of our own reality, for the simple reason that I assume that is the case.  The more I come to grips with the process by which I am constructing my world, the more control I am able to assert over the construction process. 

I’m working hard on proposition number two.  But in the interests of the give-and-take of discussion, I’d like to ask one question first.  SilverTiger asserts that “the question . . . is whether we can in any meaningful way know this underlying real world.”  For Radical Constructivists, of course, this is not a meaningful question.  Can we know something about this thing that seems so important to you?  I don’t know.  I promise to think carefully about the answer to that, however, as soon as SilverTiger, or anyone else out there, can show me that it is an important question.

Another New Header Image January 10, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Constructivism, Lowell, Massachusetts Drivers, Other.
1 comment so far

In honor of the discussion that SilverTiger and I are having about Radical Constructivism, I have inserted a new header image, which I call “Contradictory Injunction.”  Luckily, there are endless examples of these sorts of messages in Lowell, Massachusetts.  A few years ago the snowplows had wiped out the paint on the Wood Street approach to this intersection, but the City repainted it in this confusing arrangement. 

Drivers tend to read into the sign different messages.  The ones who remember when it was a left-turn only lane read the “only” part of it as confirmation.  If they have to go straight, onto the Roark Bridge, they stay in the endlessly long line of cars in the right lane.  And then they are peeved when those on the left merge into them.

I figure the only acceptable thing to do in the left lane there is to split your car in two, and I’d gladly help others with a rocket launcher, if I had one, or an axe, if they stayed still long enough.