Tag Archives: brain in a vat

The higher drivel – II

From the obituary of a leading philosopher at an Ivy League institution. He proposed the following thought experiment to resolve the question of whether objects and relationship exist in the world independently of how we perceive them. This is what bothered Einstein about quantum mechanics, and he is said to have asked Bohr (I think) ” do you think the moon is not there if we don’t look at it”. The thought experiment is a brain placed in a vat by a mad scientist (I’m not making this up). So the brain in the vat — call him Oscar –could not formulate the sentence of “I am a brain in vat” because Oscar has no experience of a real brain or a real vat.

For this they’re currently paying 60K+ a year? It’s the higher drivel.

I read a book by Nozick with similar impossible situations he worried about after a rave review in the New York Times book review a few years ago. It had questions of the order ‘would bubblegum taste the same on the surface of the sun’.

The higher drivel series will appear from time to time — here’s the first one (published 5 years ago)

“The predicament of any tropological analysis of narrative always lies in its own effaced and circuitous recourse to a metaphoric mode of apprehending its object; the rigidity and insistence of its taxonomies and the facility with which it relegates each vagabond utterance to a strict regimen of possible enunciative formations testifies to a constitutive faith that its own interpretive meta-language will approximate or comply with the linguistic form it examines.”

From p. 35 of the NYTimes book review 16 October’11

You could actually major in this stuff (Semiotics) at an Ivy League university (Brown) in the 80’s. According to the article, Semiotics was the third most popular humanities major there at the time.  One son got in in ’86, but (fortunately) didn’t go there.  Nonetheless he was quite interested in Semiotics, hence the name of this blog.  Fortunately the author of the above quote recovered and notes “I now spend more time learning from the insights of science than deconstructing its truth claims.”

What a gigantic waste of time.  Think what Brown could have done by abolishing the department and using the funds for chemistry or mathematics.  The writer tries to salvage something from the experience noting that ‘a striking number of semiotics students have gone on to influential careers in the media and the creative arts.’  Unfortunately this explains a lot about the current media and ‘the creative arts’.

Students were being conned then, and they’re being conned now.  It might not have mattered what you majored in 50+ years ago at an Ivy League university, the world seemed to want us regardless.   A friend majored in Near Eastern studies, was hired by a bank, never saw the MidEast and did quite well.  Not so today.  The waitress serving us last Wednesday at a local bar was a graduate of one of the seven sisters in 2010.  She majored in Sociology and Psychology, is in debt for > 20K for the experience and is unable to find better work.   It isn’t clear what such a major prepares you for other than what she’s doing.  Finding out the distribution of majors of the jobless 20 somethings participating in OWS would be interesting

For a taste of the semiotics world of the 80’s, Google Alan Sokal and read about the fun he had with such a journal — “Social Text”.  Should you  still have the stomach for such things read “The Higher Superstition” by Gross and Levitt, which goes into more detail about Derrida, Foucault and a host of (mostly French) philosophes and what they tried to pull off.