Clerestory

Dry November: Day 11

November 11, 2019

Dry in the pub tonight at Darkly as we discussed the ideas of Andy Clark — a really interesting discussion. It began with where to draw the boundary of the mind, and whether this could be usefully done at all. If the mind includes everything we come in contact with, doesn’t it lose all meaning? But some felt Clark was just pushing the boundaries out, showing that thinking doesn’t occur solely in our head.

Most didn’t like Clark’s rather naive assumption that interconnectedness would mean a bigger and better connected public sphere, and felt that instead surveillance had gotten stronger without improvement in civic engagement.

We discussed absolutism in digital domains, the ways in which extremism can grow, and may be fostered in echo chambers. We considered whether we select friends based on cognitive compatibility, and whether we can (or should) resist this temptation. Much time was spent on how far afield one can go in terms of confronting opposing views, and how communication differs among adults of different backgrounds, and between adults and children.

I was a bit disturbed by the notion that logic can’t properly be done without technology (i.e., paper). It seemed to me a blow against the enlightenment, against any attempt to ground the future in rationality. Descartes’ demon had seemingly sunk his teeth less deeply into the others, who felt that logic was possible without writing, And to them it was more obvious than it was to me that ponderous rational thinking is recent and tenuous.

Is writing a process of looping between mind and page? Can long composition happen at all in the absence of writing technology? Of course an oral tradition of literature can form, but perhaps it’s restricted to verse, and prose requires paper. Maybe writing is not so different from recitation, thoughts can be rehearsed and edited in conversation. The difference may just be in the speed of the loop: re-reading and re-writing can happen dozens of times an hour, whereas a conversation is unlikely to reach that level of refinement.

We grappled with Friston’s free energy principle, private language and inside jokes, and the sweet (or sour) spot we find with friends: familiar, but not too familiar. We like some randomness, but also efficient comms. We had one of our many goes at entropy, this time less steam-powered, based on ice in hot tea, and thought about how and whether to expose oneself to contradictory viewpoints.

We went on to deliberate practice, how it must necessarily be uncomfortable, and thought about whether genius might not be a practice rather than an attribute. Or perhaps it’s just a very high tolerance for discomfort? We thought a bit about whether it might be easier to incentivize better thinking at an organisational level than in one’s own mind, wherever that might reside.

And of course on Remembrance Day we spent a lot of time on memory, whether it was what separated us from computers. Artificial Intelligence came up quite often too, as it usually does: enactivist, cognitivist and connectionist paradigms.

Overall a great conversation, great people, great ideas. Next time will be our one-year anniversary, as our first meeting was on 26th November 2018. The group has been a really positive thing in my life, one to which I always look forward, one which has challenged me intellectually. I am better for it. I’m grateful to everyone who has made it possible, and I hope they’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.