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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

RAW (and Lakoff) on reality


Posted on X by @RAWsemantics with the comment, "The exquisite fit of #RobertAntonWilson's philosophical 'transactionalism' to the philosophy of 'experientialism' described in 'Metaphors We Live By' (Lakoff & Johnson). Just one example."


Oz Fritz said...

RAW frames it much better, as I see it. He doesn't come from the "myth" of any generalized "ism." He puts it "concretely and specifically."

Brian Dean said...

I much prefer RAW's dazzling framing/prose - but more generally, for many reasons. I don't mind "isms" used infrequently as semantic short-cuts, as here. RAW used "Transactionalism", "Aristotelianism", "Solipsism", etc, in this context (he sometimes referred to his own preferred approach as "Transactionalism" or "non-Aristotelianism"). Lakoff and Johnson referred to philosophical subjectivism & objectivism as, I think, per common "standard" (eg as you might find defined on Wikipedia - although I think Ayn Rand's Objectivism has probably taken over the use of that term in popular culture).

Given Solipsism as an extreme of Subjectivism, one can loosely translate the "isms" between RAW's usage and those found in the epochal 'Metaphors We Live By:

Solipsism = (akin to) Subjectivism
Aristotelianism = (akin to) Objectivism
Transactionalism = (akin to) Experientialism

Loosely, anyway. I don't think any of these authors overdose on these "isms".

Some of the "isms" as used by RAW:

"I am amused more than aghast that you confuse my position with solipsism. Shea has confused it with solipsism for 15 years or more and we argue about that regularly. Einstein confused this position with solipsism, also, and his 30-year debate with Bohr was based on the notion that Copenhagenism is solipsism. Other physicists still accuse Wheeler of solipsism. It seems rather hard to convey that transactionalism is not the solipsist pole of the Aristotelian-solipsist either/or but is a third alternative. I have tried to explain this dozens of ways in all my books, and the fact that some people still don’t get it just shows (I think) the extent to which the Aristotelian dualism still controls Western thought. Einstein didn’t understand this position even after 30 years of debating it with Bohr." (RAW, letter to Kurt Smith, 1987)

Oz Fritz said...

I have nothing against using the suffix "ism" for a convenient semantic shortcut. That suffix gets used to indicate an ideology of one kind or another; more often than not, ideologies – ideas – are given priority over the physical phenomena they're supposed to represent showing a strong bias toward the transcendental ideology of Plato. RAW is very cautious with how he uses language and doesn't care so much for ideologies. He only uses a single ism in the Natural Law quote to argue against it. He appears less cautious in the private letter to Kurt Smith though still frames it as "his position" rather than a truth of some kind.

I haven't read Metaphors To Live By so I don't know how beholden the authors are to ideologies and isms. From the quote given and from the title of the book, there seems a bias that prioritizes ideas and concepts over bodies. RAW seems more concerned with using ideas to attempt explanations for how physical bodies operate in space/time, hence the metaphor of something very physical - sex. In the quote above, Lakoff & Johnson use the concepts/ideas of "truth" and "understanding" to critique Objectivism and Subjectivism. I like that they refer to them as myths and also like the last sentence about grounding something in both the physical and conceptual. They also seem akin to RAW by rejecting an absolute conceptual system.

Along with Aristotelian dualism, Platonic transcendental ideas still control Western thought as exemplified by the billions of dollars given to Ukraine ostensibly to protect "democracy."

Brian Dean said...

@Oz: I agree with you about RAW's cautiousness with language, ideology, etc. I don't really see much fundamental difference between RAW's use (in reference, criticism, etc) of "isms" and ideologies, and that of Lakoff/Johnson in 'Metaphors We Live By' and elsewhere. Given the subject matter covered by all these authors, they can't avoid using "isms" without a lot of long-winded substituting of phrases, detours, etc.

Incidentally, a quick search of RAW's 'Natural Law' reveals a whole bunch:

etc, etc

Not all seem obvious "ideologies" - many sort of hide underlying ideology, even while they appear to "merely" noun-ify abstractions. It'd be interesting (and probably extremely difficult and time-consuming) to extend something like E-Prime to also exclude "isms" and other abstract nouns "concealing" (or displaying) ideologies.

Interestingly enough, my quick word search of 'Natural Law' revealed that Bob uses the term "Subjectivism" too:

“Subjectivism,” then, applies more to the Absolutists that to modern post-relativity and post-quantum thinkers. The Absolutist has found one way of organizing energy into signals — one model — which has become his or her favorite brain program. This model, being a brain product, retains autobiographical (subjective) elements, and the Absolutist is deluded in projecting it outward and calling it “reality.” The “modern” view seems more “objective” in saying, at each point, “Well, that model may have some value, but let’s look back at the energy continuum and see if we can decode more signals, and make a bigger or better model.” The Absolutist, insisting that his/her current model contains all truth, appears not only more subjective, but unconscious of his/her subjectivity, and thus “bewitched” or hypnotized by the model. In insisting that his “one true model” or Idol should be satisfactory to all other brains, and especially in the favorite Absolutist error of assuming that all other brains which do not accept this “one true model” as the only possible model must be illogical or dishonest and somehow nasty, the Absolutist always tends toward totalitarianism, even in sailing under the flag of libertarianism. (End-quote, Natural Law)

On your point about "bias that prioritizes ideas and concepts over bodies". Well, maybe, except for the underlying "embodied cognition" approach that tends to ground concepts, metaphors, etc, in physical world functioning, brain, body, much like RAW's often-favoured focus.

People occasionally ask me where to pursue RAW's approach to semantics, etc, in his absence, and this is just an avenue I suggest that will likely bear fruit (while enhancing appreciation of RAW's writings), and which has the advantage of some anchoring in scientific developments in neuroscience, cognitive science, etc. But one doesn't have to get bogged down in the science - there's the media-criticism, political, poetic, philosophical, many other aspects (see 'Philosophy in the Flesh', 'Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things', and so on). Or, for those not bored by all this, see my earlier blog post:

Oz Fritz said...

Thank-you for your long reply, Brian Dean. The misunderstanding is my fault. There is some irony here. My comment which started this debate was made about the opening post which compared a quote from RAW against a quote from Lakoff & Johnson. In that quote, RAW doesn't use any "ism". He uses the words "objective" and "subjective" as opposed to L & K's "objectivism" and "subjectivism". I see that as a fundamental major difference between the two. The latter shows a bias toward transcendental concepts, concepts that are generalized.

The irony is that my short initial comment was specifically about the two quotes. It was not intended as a comment on everything RAW wrote in Natural Law, which I haven't read in awhile, or a comment on everything in Metaphors We Live By which I haven't read at all. I wasn't pitting the concept of RAW's use of language against the concept of L&K's use of language outside the two specific quotes given in this post. The assumption that I was speaking in general clearly (to me) indicates an unconscious bias to Plato's philosophy of transcendental ideal forms. Generalizations are an abstraction that place the particulars under an overarching (transcendental) concept that unifies the particulars by their similarity to the concept. In a generalization, the concept defines any and all particulars.

Regarding "embodied cognition": I think you have to call all the dead Ukrainians who died to protect the concept of "democracy" or the concept of "the Ukraine" and all the dead Russians who died fighting for the concept of a "unified Russian homeland" or for either side fighting under the idea of "patriotic duty" examples of "disembodied cognition."

Brian Dean said...

Going back to my original X/tweet (cited by Tom for this blog entry), in which I suggested RAW's "Transactionalism" and Lakoff/Johnson's "Experientialism" as a good fit together, I want to add that a major part of Lakoff's work critiques the "transcendental" (eg Platonic) and "objective" (eg Aristotelian) 2000+ year-old traditions in western thinking that RAW also critiqued. Much of Lakoff's critique, eg on categories and generalizations, owes a lot to empirical studies, ie "real world" data, as opposed to the canonical (or sometimes just unconscious) philosophical transmission of the traditional views.

The "new views" (eg "embodied cognition" replacing disembodied, literal, universal, transcendental "reason"), promoted by folks such as Lakoff - and, as I see it, very much in line with RAW's thinking - seem in ascendance because of the accumulating scientific findings that increasingly cast doubt on "classical" accounts (of reason, categorisation, etc) that came to us from the era of Plato, Aristotle and later via Descartes and some persistent but (as we now know from recent sci) flatly incorrect Enlightenment notions.

I would cite, as a good example, Lakoff's book, 'Women, Fire and Dangerous Things', which challenges (based on recent research, prototype theory, etc) the classical thesis of categories, and with it the traditional notion of "transcendental" reason. Hopefully, any RAW fan reading it will immediately see the ideas as chiming within Wilson's Quantum Psychology ballpark. In a nutshell, the complete dismantling of the notion that categories (and with them an important bunch of implications about generalised reasoning over kinds of things, etc) somehow exist in a realm abstracted from the peculiarities of the entities doing the categorising - as if they directly mirror "true" kinds of things existing independently of any categorisers. No God's eye view, no skyhook, no omniscient narrator.

Oz Fritz said...

Thank-you for expanding upon Lakoff's position.