Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Modeling Mind, Science and Post-Modernism

In this post I discussed the theory of the mind that holds that the mind is thoroughly a model-maker.

The holders of this theory generally believe that they do so in deference to science, or as a way to defend the intellectual primacy of science. In science, this view goes, we build models of the world and test them against each other. So if the mind is primarily scientific, it must primarily be a model-maker.

Unfortunately, the theory of the thoroughly model-making mind is ultimately destructive of science, at least if we want science to be about the real world, which seems to be what everyone wants. The only way to know if a model accurately reflects the real world is to compare it to the real world, so you must have some contact with the world that transcends the model if you are to have any hope of knowing if the model is true. If your verification of the model is itself an exercise in model-building (as must be the case for a thoroughly model-making mind), then there is no way to escape the world of models into reality. I know my model of an F-18 jet is accurate because I can compare it to a real F-18. If the only way I can find out if the F-18 is accurate is to build other models, then I can never find out if the F-18 is accurate. Whatever models I build to verify it will themselves need verification in terms of yet further model-building, ad infinitum. At some point there must be an end to model-building and a simple, direct appreciation of reality.

The truth of this can be found by analyzing the thought of any of these model-building-mind philosophers. At some point in their presentation, they will slip in some proposition as an absolute anchor point in reality, a point that is not itself a model of reality but is reality itself. It will not be called out as such, and is generally taken for granted in a way that makes it easy to overlook. But such an anchor point will always be there. One of the favorites is "organisms with more accurate models of reality survive better than organisms with less accurate models of reality" (which I'll call M1), which does the job philosophers want of bootstrapping the model-making mind only if M1 itself is a direct statement about reality and not a model. But then it contradicts the thesis of the thoroughly model-making mind.

The danger to science is that, in a philosophy that needs yet denies the mind any direct anchor in reality, the necessary anchor point can only be selected in an arbitrary manner. What is so special about M1? The model-making-mind philosophy cannot have an answer, since it is only hiding the fact that, according to its own principles, M1 is but another exercise in model-making. When this is realized, the theorist is free to keep the model-making mind philosophy, but select (arbitrarily) a different anchor point in reality. How about this one: "So that it may exploit the world in good conscience, Western thought hides from itself the violent and imperialistic principles that are its core", which I will call M2. In the view of M2, M1 is really just an expression of Western prejudices rather than a true reflection of reality; a convenient one at that since it maps the violent tendencies of Western man onto the core of reality. Here we have the genesis of post-modernism. And the post-modernist is right. M1 is a prejudice, for it is the prior principle that is itself not judged but in terms of which all other principles are judged.

The real answer to the foundation of science and its defense is in a philosophy that does not demand that the mind be nothing but a model-maker, and does not slip in foundational principles that are themselves not open to judgment. More on this later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just wrote an essay comparing Metzinger's phenomenal self model and Baudrillard's simulacra notion of self...