Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-10-17 - 8:09 a.m.
I finished the Valencia questionnaire and sent it off to the Birmingham Chamber – then started out on the task of leveraging it by sending to others who might be interested. I rather like it at the moment – maybe it puts together some perspectives that haven’t gone together before – at least in my mind. PW and I exchanged a few thoughts on the future of technology and had a few jokes at the expense of the French. Then I found a Stiegler book in that smart usa aesthetics series that I already have several titles from and I couldn’t resist ordering a second hand copy. Belatedly I discovered You Tube because the free business newsletters today were full of it – and immediately realised that this was totally on the Stiegler axis and polarity – I must be the last person in the western world etc. etc. So quite a busy day from the sociology of technology and global digitization of the lifeworld frontline or maybe I mean backline.
First thing I had practicised the flute, especially some of the chord sequences that I mentioned last time. I started to wonder about developing some solo versions of standards. My current technical emphasis is on control over the bottom half of the instrument, especially how the lower notes in the second octave are phrased and articulated to make the best expressive power of my technical limitations. On Idlewild there is a song which is both about the river of time and Sunday changing to Monday – need I saw more? Consequently I have started to wonder about a version of Missing using my current flute production platform. Some good live ETBG on You Tube it seems – I hadnt realised that Ben’s guitar playing used such interesting voicings.
A new work task has emerged which again takes the form of the completion of some text by the end of the week. This time it’s a project appraisal report for which a first draft has been prepared by one of the partners but where we have a strong interest in how the report is written in terms of the impact on another programme run by a realted organisation. I can see the risk of writing a load of stuff which isnt utilised and cast aside – something which doesn’t do wonders for my motivation.
Laurence sent a txt to say that Winnebago Deal are off on another European tour and I sent him some articles from the New York Review of Books – one about the unsoved nature of the mind-body problem and the other about Darwinism. The mind-body article tries to set out clearly why there is still a problem – admitting, to good effect in my view, that its something of a surprise after all the mental effort that’s been devoted and the closeness of the phenomenon to each person. I sometimes wonder whether a generation is arising which doesn’t sense that there is a problem – whether it could be solved by neglect? I suppose this is a version of Wittgenstein’s approch.
The other piece was an exchange of letters on the purity of Darwinism – whether the theory of natural selection is truly scientific in the sense that it might be a tautology. One of the writers, the less famous one, suggests that the cause of variation in species may be love, because its only amongst the higher animals where a parent loves its offspring that the genes are passed on. Remembering the unloved baby seal on autumn-watch I thouught this was quite a decent point. The more distinguished respondent suggests that love is selected rather than doing the selection which in my view rather concedes the point.
Its with hesitation that I make any sort of suggestion, but I cant help recalling the time Laurence dragged me along to hear someone who had spent decades working on yeast talk about the four big biological ideas – natural selection is only one of the four and maybe it only gets its interest from the way it hooks up to the other three. One is the hypothesis that all life is made from cells and another is that cells have an important bit in the middle which perseveres when the cell divides and reproduces. The last one, I think is about dna, but maybe there’s another bit about how dna actually works. If we didn’t have these other bits of theory then the idea of selection would be much less impressive.
In fact its almost that the Darwinist article is collapsing into the mind-body article as I think about them. The latter is a review of a book which tries to show how evolutionary mechanism would lead to conciousness. I think this is a relatively easy speculation for anyone who has owned a dog. You can see how bits of dog behaviour favour the dog pack and how dogs manage to link their behaviour into human group behaviour. It’s a short step from there to wondering whether dogs have emotions something like ours and if they do how there emotions as expressed through their tails for example might confer advantage on the group. Groups might work better if there are emotional states and these states are clearly signalled and can be co-ordinated. There is a very famous article called ‘what is it like to be a bat?’ and in essence the point is that this is a meaningful question. If the bat question is ok then its reasonable to ask if dog ancestors on the east african plain had feelings.
Searle – who is pretty famous in this area, having for example invented the Chinese Room argument – thinks that an evolutionary argument of this kind could be true but that if it were true it wouldn’t solve the mind-body problem. I think I am with him on this score for what its worth. An easy way of showing this is that natural selection requires other bits of theory to be interesting and worthwhile. You will never fully explain the way that cells work from the principles of natural selection, you will always needs lots of physics and chemistry too.
The question then is what the physics and chemistry mean for putative dog emotions and actual human ones – and that’s the bit that remains a problem. However good the natural selection account of the emotions’ origin then there’s still some issues left to be dealt with.
There is something nicely self referential here – because there may even be an emotional component to ‘issues left to be dealt with’ – we feel discomfort or unease when we look at the biological theories including natural selection but including some other big theories as well. Then we look at our lived experience and we sense a gap – a gap that makes us anxious.
I think I probably agree with the Chinese Room argument after all this – you could call it the Turing Bombe argument as well and use it as a good reason for spending a decade building another bombe several decades after the original.