Iain Cameron's Diary
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2007-02-11 - 3:02 p.m.

Hacker hacking. I can’t be the only person to confuse them. Laurence sent me an article by Hacker which I really liked – of a piece with Hutto whose book I bought at Warwick when I saw C Pine Friday week. Also maybe a bit like Cavell whose book was waiting for me in Gfd. Very broadly this lot are arguing that Wittgenstein was on the right lines when he suggested that there is more than enough confusion around, quite understandably as the way things develop tends to provoke confusion. One can do worse than try to calmly sort a few things out. More generally this lot also seem to suggest that while it was a great triumph for Russell and Frege to find a way of getting parts of logic into a symbolic system, the implications of this can be overdone.

I have started playing with this thought in vids – using sentences with everything, something, nothing, truth etc and animating them to bits of the music. For example the sentences: Something is true of Everything – Nothing is true of Everything – Something is true of Nothing. Maybe I can use the symbolism as well?

Hacking is different but is the same age group and has been admitted to the College de France which is really something for a non-native philosopher. My guess is that the French really like the way that he took a suggestion from Foucault and unpacked it carefully to show how right the suggestion was. I have his book on the early history of probability which is a lot more fun than it sounds – for example that the first use of the mathematical theory of expectation is in Pascal as an argument for betting on God. The book I have stops somewhere in the 18th century – maybe with de Moivre, the ex-patriot gambler of St Martins Lane and friend of Isaac Newton. There’s a later book by Hacking which looks at the development of probability theory, mainly in France in the 19th century which I am trying to resist ordering.

Deming is lurking in the background. The feedback on my ploy of using Deming’s 14 principles in the modern history paper for Slovenia has been positive . 7 of the principles help explain some of the things that have gone right in the last 10 years while the other 7 can be used to identify some of the difficult outstanding issues for the future.

Deming is partly an applied statistician but obviously a lot more. I have been looking at another of these – Fisher. Fisher studied at Caius and had an enormous gift for applying statistics. He seems to have bundled together different bits of statistics to a sufficient degree that he is called a father of modern statistics – but at the same time he homed in on the rediscovery of Mendel’s plant breeding experiments. As I understand it one of the reasons that Mendel was ignored was that he devised his own theory of probability to go with his experiments. I imagine Fisher was able to take Mendel-like experiments and use his new unified statistical theories to account for what was going on. Along with Hux’s brother Julian and J B S Haldane (who happened to be a Marxist), Fisher is regarded as helping to found the modern theory that links natural selection and genetics.

My remote grasp of this stuff is enhanced by having been dragged along to a lecture in the Radcliffe by Laurence a couple of years back to hear the 4 great ideas of biology explained by a Nobel Laureate. I think maybe Fisher, JH and JBSH put three of these together. But it seems Fisher, despite this great achievement, fell out of favour in the 40s once the true character of Nazi eugenic experiments became known. The Dawk apparently rates Fisher as no 2 after Darwin. You can see where I am going and indeed I need only gesture vaguely in that direction.

It is so easy to come unstuck only a mild extension of the concepts from the life sciences into nearby territory. I think this may even have happened to S Fuller with his mild suggestion that it does no harm to teach intelligent design along with the Darwinian synthesis. Anyway this more or less completes a path from Hacking back to Hacker – and the need for a lot of caution about how ideas from one domain are developed in another.

Deming seems to belong to another wing though, a more new world utopian wing. I get some sense that maybe Cavell is out there too. While there may be natural processes which happen whether anyone is thinking about them or not, there are processes where what participants think is part of the process. Deming seems to be interested in these processes and what can happen if you encourage people to change their thinking. Pulling a few threads it seems that one of the great current pioneers of this approach in the UK is Checkland – one his books is on order.

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