Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-12-22 - 5:52 a.m.

Keith, the colleague I share an office with, has left for his Christmas break to be followed by a 3 week trip to Australia and so he won’t be back for a month. This will make the post Christmas return to work in 2007 particularly irksome. We have to get something into the select committee on education and skills by 8 January. I sent a first draft to my colleagues in London earlier in the week and yesterday it came back tied up with a few queries. It’s the first chance to comment on some big announcements at the beginning of December.

I got an e-card from the Cambridge-MIT partnership. I am not sure what I have done to deserve this but it cheered me up for my foggy drive down the M40. I told Robin that I was off for Christmas to the serial-killer capital of the UK and to ease my mood she sent me a link to cats carolling.

There was a good TV programme on Monday night about militant atheism put together by Rod Liddle. Following up links from that I discovered that in the 90s a kind of post-Derrida theology of weakness has appeared. It seems that BS is implicated as well. Liddle’s programme brought home how far Darwin had disrupted the Kantian synthesis been aesthetics, ethics and knowledge which rests on our occasional aesthetic apprehension of nature as having a purpose (seemingly) – even if its sometimes a threatening purpose as in the sublime. In fact I went back and looked at the Sublime of the Small and thought – yes well maybe. Its kind of stuck in the Tennesee Williams panic watching the turtles struggle down to the sea.

At the other end of the spectrum, Vytigovsky’s Mind in Society arrived which I think I will take with me down the A12. After the first world war there was a period when a whole wave of philosophies appeared that shift the foundation of things away from what Latour calls the brain in the vat towards some kind of social grounding. I used to think that the first one that I met was the later Wittgenstein which started around 1929 but that was a mistake and the first was probably Karl Popper. There’s also Mannheim and Lukacs both of whom happen to have been Hungarian and both of whom I read in the 70s. Vytigovsky is the Russian wing of the same intellectual moment.

He takes dialectical materialism seriously – as indeed did Lukacs. One of the good things about the big Kowlakowski book on the history of Marxism is the way he charts the growth of the intellectual underpinning of the movement so clearly. Lukacs thought that the way forward would get discovered by the working class in the way that the Slave gets the jumps on the Master in Hegel’s dialectic. Mannheim thought in contrast it would be the free floating intellectuals – and in a sense this is where we have ended up letting private equity shape the world – or Gordon Brown.

Vyti thought that a new psychology was needed for a new society and in the latter part of the 1920s – just as Shosta was writing The Nose – he started to map this out. One might add – just as Hux was working up to BNW.

As a materialist he needed to move on from introspective methods eg Freud and Jung which seemed to lead to irreconcilable differences of opinion. But materialist psychology seemed to be stuck in a phase which had overdone the Darwinian commonality across all forms of life. Just because the stimulus-response phenomenon could be observed in most living things, that didn’t mean you had to make it your only explanatory tool. As a dialectical materialist he wants to home in on the material processes which push life onward and upward.

Vyti seems to like ‘play’ as a behavioural form which facilitates learning. The trouble with ‘play’ as I understand it is that after a lot of trying there isn’t a generally accepted theory of what it is. He also looks at gesture as a step on the way to symbol making.

This gesture stuff strikes me as very potent. It has been linked to the meaningful aspects of musical phrasing – that phrases might get their sense by some kind of isomorphism with gestures. Then there is the discovery of gestural painting in the US only a decade after Vyti’s death – as an evolution from the Freud-Jung approach to painting.

The question of what kind of social forms facilitate the growth of knowledge – how the insights of the first pioneers from Vyti’s generation have worked out in practice – seems to be emerging as a theme in the Leonardo project I am putting together. Andreas mailed some good ideas through yesterday from Steyr.

Its hard to avoid the thought that the Deming loop is part of the story – despite its simplicity – that is the cycle of plan, do, check, act.

In fact you can even make a case that where the soviet system went wrong was in its application of the loop. The five year plans were carried out but when they were checked and found not to be coming up to expectations it was the ‘act’ phase that was a bit strange ie carting people off to the Lubyanka, mass persecutions, eliminations of intellectuals, search for traitors in the pay of foreign powers etc.

There’s quite a famous aircrash where the root cause is put down to the authoritarian style of the captain of one of the airliners. His reaction to deviations from the plan was so extreme that his crew cut down on the reports they fed to him and one of these reports was critical in terms of stopping the two planes in crossing each others’ paths. I think something similar may have been happening in the NHS lately.

The powerful bit is linking two loops together in a figure of 8.

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