Monday, May 30, 2005

Stuff About Reifying

I've been taken for several years by the notions of memetics, memetic engineering, superorganisms subject to certain natural impulses and so on. But I've been worried that my thinking might be somehow fallacious because a number of people I like and respect have more or less dismissed this stuff on the basis that it involves reifying. I've thought about it, but the question basically was like a boil that needs to be lanced. So I took another stab at lancing this boil by posting a question on the sceptic forum and by spending the better part of a day reading various things about reifying.

In a nutshell, I feel that I've solidified by footing and validated my thinking, though I could still be wrong (and I'm sure I'm wrong from the points of view of some people). Maybe nothing has changed, really, but I feel better about the legitimacy of my thinking as influenced by the likes of Wilson, Blackmore, Bloom and lots of others down the years.

The following is nothing more than some notes I took while looking into this stuff. Maybe they'll come in handy down the road sometime.
Description: To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into a concrete thing. Reification is a Fallacy of Ambiguity. Reification is also sometimes known as a fallacy of "hypostatization".
Several definitions there. Most include the concrete aspect.
From the Wikipedia section:
Fallacious arguments based on reification may be committed when manipulations that are only possible on concrete things are said to be performable

on an abstract concept. A fallacy is also said to be committed when an abstract concept is referred to as if it bore no relation to the concrete

things of which it is an abstraction. Examples of fallacious statements arising from reification are:
* "That country doesn't have any democracy. We should give some of ours to them".
* "Just because we don't have any music, dance, paintings, drawings, or drama in this city doesn't mean we're devoid of art".

Also: hypostatisation

Alternate uses of 'reify' on the Wikipedia page don't have to do with fallacy.
Knowledge representation:
Statement: John is six feet tall.
Reified statement: Mary reports that John is six feet tall.
Computer science: Reification is the act of making a data model out of an abstract concept.
f. Reification
To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into a concrete thing. Reification is a fallacy of ambiguity. Reification is also sometimes called the fallacy of "hypostatization."
Description: To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into
a concrete thing. Reification is a Fallacy of Ambiguity. Reification is
also sometimes known as a fallacy of "hypostatization". reify means to change concrete historical social relations and processes into universal categories or eternal natural laws...
Not applicable to my questions. Something to do with Marx rebutting Malthus.
Perimeter Of The Medical Model
by Sohan Lal Sharma, Ph.D.
Need to read it fully, but he seems to find fallacy in application of the medical model of mental health, and writes in the section entitled THE LOGICAL FALLACY OF THE CONCEPT, "Moreover, it can be seen that if mental illness is like physical illness, which occurs in an entity, the body, i.e. a physical object, then mental illness must occur in an entity, the mind. The concept of mind, however, is acknowledged to be an abstraction; whatever else it may be, it is not a physical entity (Ryle, 1949; Szasz, 1966a). How, then, can a mind, i.e. an abstraction, be ill or sick in the same way as a physical entity (Szasz, 1966a)? If the illness or medical model is to be used, we must indeed first reify an abstract concept, and then treat such intangible non-entities as character neurosis as tangible disease entities. In so doing, the comprehension
and solution of human problems can be subject only to reductionistic and indirect approaches. This is evident in the numerous scholarly endeavors which attempt to comprehend social and interpersonal relations and group behavior by studying the biological or physiological substratum. It becomes obvious that in such a context where psychiatrists and psychologists continue to pursue an illness model, with its inherent irrelevancies and inconsistencies, the real worth and effectiveness of their professional contribution to social and human well-being must continue to be in doubt."
Looks like Dr. Sharma's definition of 'reify' does not necessarily include the 'concrete' part.
(The site is dedicated to advancing the debate about the ideas of Dr. Thomas Szasz, a "psychiatric abolisionist". Probably worth a return visit. (Lots there.)
"'There is indeed the inexpressible', Wittgenstein writes, 'This shows itself; it is the mystical [es ist das Mystische]' (6.522, my emphasis).

Traditional philosophy errs in its attempt to reduce das Mystische to language. It is guilty of misunderstanding the logic of language in ways foundationally damaging to itself. Fundamentalontologie and Naturalistic ethics (for example) violate the rules of logic by attempting to make language do something it cannot do: namely, to represent metaphysical, transcendental or existential ("Subjective") experiences adequately in intentional ("objective") or scientifically accountable propositions. Such linguistic attempts to hypostatise (or reify)
the metaphysical experience, as Wittgenstein says in the ante-penultimate proposition of the Tractatus, cannot signify; that is, the ambiguous signs of such language cannot do the work of hypostasis demanded of them. (Conversely, the Tractatus also shows that the positivist affirmation of the irrelevance of metaphysical, religious and aesthetic values from the episteme of philosophy is a facile and precipitate gambit.)"
From someone's personal blog about literature. I'm not sure what definition of 'reify' applies below.
"The one period of literature that I find emulated with less and less frequency is the very one that Peck cites as the source of all the trouble —
modernism, specifically High Modernism as practiced by Joyce and Eliot. Granted, some books still appear every year cited as paying homage to Ulysses but those aren't the one's winning the awards or capturing anyone's attention, not even the critics. Peck says that Joyce and his style were the bad influence that's ruined everyone since, and I'm tempted to agree, at least about Joyce. I find Joyce, even in Dubliners, nearly unreadable. Peck insists that his contemporaries
reify Joyce and High Modernism as the ultimate in literary art. What Peck fails to grasp is that each "age" of literature attempts to repudiate its predecessor more than embrace it. The early post-modernists with their tricks and absurdities were exploding the arch-seriousness and overblown ambitions of modernism more than completing the modernist project. Reifying the modernist project would have made it impossible to escape from, just as Peck laments, but I don't see anyone but critics doing this. Novelists, if they're any good, know better."
This is a philosophical critique of one E.E. Hirsch who wrote something called "Validity of Interpretation". It's actually chapter 5 of "Film and Meaning: An Integrative Theory" by Ian Douglas, which "is concerned with the intersection of film and philosophy". In this piece the critic says Hirsch reifies a process into an entity. It's all very highbrow, and seems to exclude the 'material or concrete' from the definition of 'reify'.
Several references to reification here (towards the bottom of the page in the section entitled A MEANING TO LIFE) apparently as a fallacious opening of the door to manipulation of people by denial of their self-transcendence. Something like that. The operative definition of 'reify' here also seems to exclude the 'concrete' or 'material' aspect of the 'thing' an abstract is considered.
Very similar to other sites such as Wikipedia, but since I'm here I'll snag the following:
"The term is often used pejoratively by epistemological realists as a criticism of epistemological idealists. Epistemological realists often regard reification as a logical fallacy. Fallacious arguments based on reification may be committed when manipulations that are only possible on concrete things are said to be performable on an abstract concept.
Epistomological realism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of objectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists independently of your mind. Opposed to epistemological idealism.
Epistomological idealism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of subjectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists only in your mind. Opposed to epistemological realism."

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Ass and The Scofflaw

H.R. 1528, Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005, by Wisconsin's Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, is an offensive piece of trash. Shame on Wisconsin.

This would be yet another law that creates scofflaws. Rightly so.

I agree with the perspectives given here and here because I am a conscientious objector in the war on drugs, which means this law would make me a criminal, subject to strong penalties, for failing to do things I would never do.

Leave people the hell alone!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Buckley writes in his latest op ed, about embyonic stem cell research, that "Practically everybody says that we should not clone. Why not? What's the matter with trying to produce another Marilyn Monroe, or another Vladimir Horowitz? Or, as we perfect the refinements of the trade, another Einstein? One runs the risk -- we'd have to admit this -- of cloning another St. Paul. But when he began to preach, we could inject into him some kind of serum designed to correct antediluvian thought."

He concludes his typically thoughful piece with, "[Embrionic stem cell] research may or may not end cancer, but it will certainly revolutionize, or seek to do so, laws and conventions that set bioethical limits on medical explorations."

Seems likely to me. I just hope the antediluvian mindset (*) Buckley refers to does not prevail. It is the source of the controversy, refusing to recognize, as it does, the link between the "soul" and the brain.

(*) Yes, I know Buckley's tongue was in his cheek with the "antediluvian" comment, but mine isn't. Separation of soul and brain is antediluvian though.

No brain, no "soul". No problem.
I don't know whose work this is, but I think it's wonderful.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Science & Technology News - Creation Museum Sparks Evolution Debate

"Despite his communication skills, Ham admits he doesn't always make a good first impression. But, that doesn't stop him from trying to spread his beliefs.

'He'd be speaking 20 hours a day if his body would let him,' said Mike Zovath, vice president of museum operations.

Ham's wife of 32 years agrees. 'He finds it difficult talking about things apart from the ministry,' Mally Ham says. 'He doesn't shut off.'

Ham said he has no choice but to speak out about what he believes.

'The Lord gave me a fire in my bones,' Ham says. 'The Lord has put this burden in my heart: 'You've got to get this information out.''"

So how come the words "obsession" and "madness" don't appear in this article? The man is crazy.

"When that museum is finished, it's going to be Cincinnati's No. 1 tourist attraction," says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, nationally known Baptist evangelist and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. "It's going to be a mini-Disney World."

This is the "museum" where one of the exhibits is a saddled and bridled dinosaur, as humans rode them like horses. Oh, well...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Evolution vs. Creationism, Redux (6 Letters) - New York Times

"To the Editor:

While 'The Evolution of Creationism' (editorial, May 17) is basically sound, I beg that you please, please, please stop referring to 'intelligent design' as a 'theory.'

It is not a theory. It is not even a hypothesis. It is not testable. It is not falsifiable. It is not science.

David E. James
Alexandria, Va., May 17, 2005
The writer is a senior staff geophysicist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington."

Hear! Hear!

Intelligent design is not science. It should not be taught in science class.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Talcum-trained sniffer dogs on par in the war on drugs

"'It's embarrassing,' Mr Evans told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.", referring to some sniffer dogs that had apparently been mistakenly trained to find talcum powder rather than cocaine.

What really ought to embarrass Mr Evans is his personal involvement in the drug war.

The talcum-trained dogs were just as effective as the war on drugs itself.

The fact that the WOD goes on and on despite any justification for its continuance - aside from the preservation of entrenched interests on both sides - is the real embarrassment.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Huffington Post | The Blog

Blogging about blogs and blogging seems like such a waste, but...

I've been blogging for a couple of months now. Why? I don't know. It's just a forum for self-expression, I guess. Doesn't matter if anyone but me ever sees what I post. It's just for me.

The reason I looked at Arianna Huffington's new blog is that Eugene Volokh posted on his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, that he'd been invited to post there, and because I've kind of liked some of what I've read from Huffington in the past.

Some time back it occurred to me that one reason I like Angry Atheist's blog is that, though she doesn't post frequenty, when she does it's generally quality stuff. She's an intelligent individual posting intelligent stuff. Angry Atheist doesn't waste my time with tripe.

So I looked at Huffington's new blog and saw that I'd have to sift wheat from chaff, which wastes my time. Dimes and pennies under tape ends... Give me a break.

I don't know if I agree with the wheat I linked above, but it made me think. If Huffington (and any blogger for that matter) wants to keep my interest they'll have to show some respect for my time.

I'll try to keep that in mind myself.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Energy and Despair

Is it possible to be serene and yet despair at the same time? In my experience Yes, but only in fits and starts because I am not a man of faith.

People I know who have religious faith don't seem to have this trouble (at least with respect to the things that bother me), which is something that has been observed and commented upon for a long time. The way I see things might best be summed up by a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." (Yes, a faithful one's happiness is different from a drunk's happiness, and the quote is less about relative happiness than about the applicability of the proposition that the faithful are happier, but you get my drift. If you think this world is nothing but a stepping stone then you don't have to worry about it as much.)

I try to pay attention to the things I think most important. My thinking style involves looking for trumps - to look for aspects of an issue that dominate the issue - to find the most sensitive variables - to identify the things that render the rest inconsequential.

The problem is that in looking for trumps I think I find them, and they frequently seem intractable - there's not a goddamned thing that can be done about them. Not reasonably. Sure, you can always tilt at windmills but that's not my style. (I got in trouble with a respected elder relative once when, in the context of a discussion about a development project he was working on in the Third World, I accused him of tilting at windmills. He angrily replied to the effect that if nobody tried then the end was certain. Sure, but sometimes hope is misplaced - wrong even - and resignation is appropriate. Whatever...)

The energy situation is dire. Everybody says "Renewables! Hydrogen!" but nobody cares about net energy. Politicos don't care (or can't be seen to care) about energy efficiency or anything beyond the cost of gasoline next week. We still get tax credits for buying Hummers, and every energy development effort is met with NIMBY or BANANA.

Serentity through apathy? Naaa. That worked for a while, but I wasn't able to remain apathetic because I love my son. Serenity through medication? Naaa. Serenity through religion? Naaa, I don't want to try to lie to myself (which is not to say that people of faith are lying to themselves).

Imagine finding out that Chicxulub 2 is headed our way. Could you be serene in the face of the near certainty of upcoming calamity?

In fits and starts, maybe. I'd hope the impact calculations were off, just as I hope now that I'm wrong in my interpretation of what I think I see when trying to pay attention, when I think I see nearly certain calamity ahead.

Serenity through doubt? Hey, whatever works.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


At the height of the cooling season these wires carry enough energy at a high enough power rate to launch half a dozen (probably more) fully loaded jumbo jets all at the same time.

Power lines are among the must under-appreciated tools of modernity, to say the least. But let these two poles fall down this summer and it'll make the national news. People's lives and livelihoods depend on these poles.

Mas Vida

This is algae growing in the water flowing down a wall at SRP's Arizona Falls hydro power plant.

Visitors, surrounded by water on three walls in the water room, may sit on large boulders as they enjoy the cool and soothing sounds of flowing water.

The New York Times > Kristof: Day 113 of the President's Silence on Darfur

Mr. Bush might reflect on a saying of President Kennedy: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality."

Mr. Kristof might reflect on the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

"Mr. Bush doesn't see any neat solution"

If so, Bush is right. Pragmatism should prevail over moral anguish. I'm sure Kristof is a good, moral person, but he's wrong.

Population pressures exacerbate cultural enmities whenever the two coincide. Sometimes you just have to let events run their course because the sort of action that would be required to deal effectively with situations like Uganda, Darfur and so many other places, without bleeding us to death, are politically impossible.

It's better to do nothing than to do something ineffectual in cases such as these.

As population pressures increasingly focus resource competition and shove together cultures best kept apart, we're going to see more and more of this sort of thing. If humanity is lucky enough to make it through the next several decades, it will probably be partially as a result of pragmatic bloody-mindedness.

Unless science develops some sort of brain pill to address the problem, you have to kill people, and lots of them. I'd start by making an example of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, then move on to his backers in Sudan, which might temper the Janjaweed problem in Darfur. Invade full-force, kill them all, then get out just as quickly. Fight fire with fire, then stabilize.

Yeah, right. Not in my lifetime. Not even in fantasy.
The Conqueror Worm (Wikipedia) (Wikisource)

Author:Edgar Allan Poe

Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!

That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Stuck in Lincoln's Land - New York Times

Stuck in Lincoln's Land - New York Times: "Lincoln's core lesson is that while the faithful and the faithless go at each other in their symbiotic culture war, those of us trapped wrestling with faith are not without the means to get up and lead."

Brooks' thoughtful piece concludes with a reference to a symbiotic culture war between evangelicals and the faithless.

I don't think it's symbiotic at all; rather, the evangelical superorganism is playing the pecking order game. Howard Bloom is right.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Florida girl's abortion allowed

BBC NEWS | Americas | Florida girl's abortion allowed: "'It's a tragedy that a 13-year-old child would be in a vulnerable position where she could be made pregnant and it's a tragedy that her baby will be lost.

'There's no good news in this at all,' he said on Tuesday.

I can agree with most of what the Governor said, but not his use of the word "baby" and not his final sentence.

A three month fetus is not a baby, and there is some good here: that I was wrong about the likelihood of this developing into another Terry Schiavo-style crusader fest.