Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Brief Exercise in Subjectivity for Philosophy

After my prior post on what I took to be John Searle's misreading of Antonio Damasio's new theory that the roots of consciouness are in the primordial mind, I went out and bought Damasio's book. It is, (in my subjective opinion), quite excellent. It lucidly ties together neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and philosophy for an intuitively very plausible (to me) framework for how consciousness arose and how it operates.

What makes Damasio's account powerful is that it is rooted in the scientific and objective. But how I ended up reading his account, is an exercise in the power of the subjective. And whether I reduced my search costs for this book enormously with clever shortcuts, or whether I simply found a way to confirm my own biases, is up to the reader to decide.

I found Searle's review of Damasio through a posting by blogger/philospher John Wilkins. I recognized Searle's name and found it interesting because Hubert Dreyfus had noted repeated squabbles with him. As I find Dreyfus to be very engaging and insightful, I have an interest in seeing what Searle has to say because Dreyfus is interested in what Searle has to say. (I also have a bit of a bias against Searle because of Dreyfus but you can judge how much that influences me based on my previous post.)

The little flag raised by Dreyfus' interest in Searle got me to go back to look for the post after I wasn't able to read it immediately. Three times. Twice on my workstation, where for some reason Twitter malfunctioned, and the post didn't show, and then a third time on my smartphone where I found it. That amount of effort says something, I'm not exactly hard up for information to consume. The little flag had a powerful effect.

But how did I even see the post in the first place? I didn't even know who John Wilkins was two weeks ago, and now I'm following him on Twitter, seeing stuff he writes a few times a day. Well, a few weeks ago, Andrew Sullivan, who I find takes novel and well thought out positions on politics and provides a nice mix of philosophy and religion thrown in, posted a link to Massimo Pigliucci's blog. The post was interesting, so I started following it and his Twitter account as I figured one post of interest might lead to more posts of interest. A few days later Massimo posted a link to Sean Carroll's article requiring a physically testable hypothesis for the soul. I think this is a silly position, and had some back and forth with Massimo who doesn't believe this is a silly position. At some point, John Wilkins, started following me in Twitter. So I looked his back and forth with Massimo, and his blog post on the subject which I found covered the limits of science in this case, to be technically well done (and I agreed with his conclusions). So I started following John Wilkins on Twitter, and later saw his post on Searle's article.

So how many degrees of subjectivity do we have here? I bought a book because Searle disagrees with the author and Hubert Dreyfus disagrees with Searle. I found out about the book because Sullivan found Massimo's post interesting, then I disagreed with Massimo on a subsequent point and John agreed with me. It ended in an objective act, a $25 purchase on Amazon. And I've got a book I'm happy with, that I wouldn't have found otherwise. Perhaps I'm confirming my biases, but without my biases, how would I have found the book?


John S. Wilkins said...

Just how could we have done this in the Victorian era? Victorian internet be damned :-)

Chris M. said...

Here here! Then again, we might have had time to actually think instead of just bicker in 140 characters. But I like bickering, thinking makes my head hurt.