Re: Objectivism and Extropianism

Mark Crosby (
Mon, 11 May 1998 10:34:49 -0700 (PDT)

Technotranscendence wrote:
< All: sorry this is so long and boring.:)>

I have a few final comments & references (then those
who want to turn the list into a chatroom can get
back to more exciting contemporary topics of
technology & politics ;) However, as an addendum for
the "Near-Term Scenarios" thread, those looking for
Nomological resolutions of the Hard Problems will be

Daniel noted:
< The problem here is that concepts need not always
be formed the same way. [CUT] This does not expose
any fatal flaws for Objectivist epistemology -- any
more than it would for any other flavor of
epistemology. >

A very interesting 1993 paper (but new to me) that I
was reading over the weekend is Mark Bickhard's
"Representational Content in Humans and Machines"
( - Bickhard
is a psychologist, philosopher and head of the
Computer Science department at Lehigh University in
Pennsylvania ).

What I think many of the 'constructivist' sources I
mentioned last week mean when they derogatorily speak
of Objectivism is what Bickhard calls ENCODINGISM.
Referring to various cognitive scientists that he has
reviewed, Bickhard says: "they all share ... an
underlying logical incoherence in their
presuppositions. Specifically, they all propose or
presuppose that representation is fundamentally
constituted as some form of encodings". Basically, he
says, the problem with this is that "in order for an
encoding to be defined, some already existing
representation (or string of representations) must
already carry the desired representational content...
there must be a lowest level ... not defined in terms
of any other representations".

Anyway, Bickhard proposes "INTERACTIVISM: A model of
Emergent representation ... developed within control
theory ... [as] a framework for a particular kind of
functional analysis [SKIPping many pages] ... [of]
processes that require continued transactions with
their environments". The first important property is
"recursive self-maintenance". Which is, I think,
what you were getting at when you said
< There does seem to be a difference, though, between
a control system in general and a living system. >

But, of course, this is all much too involved to
discuss in this forum. Anyway, I just wanted to point
out what some in the research community seem to mean
when they dismiss Objectivism.

However, this doesn't mean that there is no such
thing as an Objective Reality. Another article
that's useful on this (which I also haven't quite
finished digesting) is Barry Smith's 1995 "Formal
Ontology, Common Sense and Cognitive Science"
which does much to debunk notions of cultural
relativism in a rigorous way.

Smith mentions your point about Eskimos having many
words for snow, and notes: "Differences of this sort
may imply that the common-sense world that is
discriminated by natural cognition may differ from
culture to culture ... HOWEVER, they constitute no
challenge to our two theses of uniqueness and
autonomy of the common-sense world, since they
reflect no ontological incompatibility on the side of
objects, but rather differences of granularity or of
calibration in our articulation of one and the same

Smith also deals with arguments about "na´ve physics"
and "folk psychology", and fretting about
"emergence", that some authors on the Extropian
reading list (eg: Minsky, Churchland) make much of.
But Smith warns about over-reliance on what Bickhard
called "observer semantics": "The thesis that the
common-sense world is capable of being investigated
in large part by standard physical means may,
however, have limited implications. Thus suppose,
with [D.R. Hilbert, 1987], that we identify colour
with the physical property of surface reflectance.
The latter is an objective property and is physically
well understood, yet, as Hilbert points out, 'it is
not reducible to more fundamental physical
properties. Fundamentally different physical
mechanisms can result in objects that possess very
similar dispositions to reflect light. The
reflectance of an object is a *multiply grounded
dispositional property*'" (my emphasis).

Finally (hidden here at the bottom, after everyone
else has already blown off this post ;-), I was
fascinated by your comments on esthetics. Another
lengthy article that might intrigue you is Brian
Massumi's "Involuntary Afterword"
his piece for a special issue of The Canadian Review
of Comparative Literature, "Deleuze, Guattari and the
Philosophy of Expression" (same URL but with

Actually, this brings me back to one of the footnotes
in my original response last week, where I pondered
the possibly extropian nature of Guattari's notion of
"surplus-value semantics". What I was trying to get
at there is what section 2 of this CRCL issue calls
"The Superior Empiricism of the Human". Massumi, in
his purely poetic way, puts it like this:

"Even Kant notes the priority of process over form in
aesthetic experience. Beauty, he says, is 'drusy.' Or
more precisely, our interest in beauty is awakened by
drusiness. What in the OED is 'drusy'? A dusting of
miniature crystals appearing on a surface: the
sparkle of an appealing roughness that lures the eye
to extend the hand. ...

"The drusy, in awakening our interest in beauty,
points us in the direction of a non-cognitive
aesthetics: aesthetics as a kind of empiricism
involving itself with real conditions of emergence,
under-with cognitive conditions, or conditions of
possibility (Deleuze 1994, 154, 231-232, 285;
O'Connell). Drusiness points to the post-Kantian
dimension in Kant, or what Deleuze will call a
'superior empiricism' (1994, 56-57, 143-144).[5] What
is 'superior' about it is that subject and object
integrate into a greater autonomy of participation, a
matter-manner meld adding a new line of
multiple-singular encounter to the world: that of a
technic, an artificed between of any number of
possible subjects and objects, autonomous of any
given particular subject or object. This empiricism
is 'superior' because it is creative of reality. It
adds to reality."

Mark Crosby

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