But I’m not ‘saying’ anything…Some thoughts on Eliminativism. Part 1

I’m rather amused and intrigued by the ubiquitous use of ‘scare quotes’ in defending seemingly self-contradictory positions. I’m thinking generally here of Eliminative Materialisms whether from the Churchlands to Scott Bakker’s Blind Brain theory. It is characterized by suggesting or arguing forthright that performative contradictions and the like are “seemings” but more to the point, any suggestion, that a certain form of discourse undermines itself is simply dismissed by suggesting that the contradiction arises because of built-in presuppositions of current  discourse and it is entirely possible other discourse, other descriptions, are perfectly capable of capturing what we mean or removing it altogether.Suppose it is argued that there are no “Intentions.” One obvious rejoinder is to query about how this argument itself came to be. The act at first blush seems self-undermining. But nothing that brackets and quotes can’t fix!

When confronted or asked to explain the fact that they have an intention in making the argument that there are no intentions the rejoinder is simply to bracket the original argument. The ‘intention’ had in making the argument is bracketed so we are not thereby committed thereby to having an intention…as is usually supposed. With this bracketing, one is able then to avoid a contradiction because the language with which they make this claim is now tenuous – it will have to undergo revision based on what they’re arguing. One then is stating their arguments in “quotes.” In other words, it will be furthered argued that the language with which the argument is made presupposes a certain way of talking that is being called into question from within and thus cannot, without question-begging, be called wrong. It is an ingenious tactic, and more-so because it is valid. After all, by stipulation one is able to suspend discussion of the doer, sayer and focus entirely on the content: “There are no intentions.” Once granted we can begin the thought experiments in earnest.

I suppose where I get lost is on how one is able to operate on so many levels of metaphors, and hintings globally – because in understanding these arguments we must be able to (1) understand what it is literally saying “There are no intentions” (2) disregard immediately what is literally saying “I have no intentions ( in trying to understand or respond to this argument)” in order to (3) ponder about just it is saying in the future, in a different language game ” I may or may not have Intentions. Or they are something different entirely”. I suppose one could cease on the term “literally” here since its presupposed invariance in (1) and (2) is what generates the performative contradiction. But no need to, stipulation does the same thing as said earlier. Of course, the problem here is that we’re not talking about classically ‘external’ things like rocks [which are easy to eliminate] but indexicals like “I” and in the sense I mean, the very language we’re using. It is this capability for metaphors, this ability to be ‘literal’ then non-literal and back again [ and the consciousness involved in doing all this], that needs to be explained and which is precisely not explained by positing some supposedly ‘literal’ mechanism or real world deception that is at the substratum. We have destroyed the thing by ‘explaining’ it. And this because everything that is being said is under erasure, not just the specific claims. Owen Barfield:

You cannot study anything without speaking and reading and writing about it. And you cannot speak or read or write without using language, without using the language of today, as your medium. But the language of today is itself the product, the manifestation, of the very thing you are trying to undermine, so to speak, with your historical depiction of the way in which it came into being. You can dig into the earth with a spade in order to get beneath the surface. The spade is itself a product of the earth, but that does not bother you. But if, by some mysterious dispensation, the spade were part of the very path of earth you were splitting up, you would be rather nonplussed, because you would destroy the instrument by using it. And that is the sort of difficulty you are up against when it is not the earth you are digging into, but consciousness; and when it is not a spade you are digging with, but language. . . . However quickly you turn around, you can never see the back of your own head

I consider the above description of a “spade…[being ] a part of the very path of earth you were splitting up” the essence of eliminatvist positions. Of course, the elimininativist says “No big deal” we didn’t believe the spade was part of the earth in the first place” and now proceeds to claim radical immanence, as Bakker does. The image above, of course, is exactly what the claim of ‘immanence’ proposes. Through theory, we have freed ourselves of fanciful notions and have smelted into the very earth- conceptual reductions of the antiquated notion of ‘mind’ ‘intentions’ ‘self’ ‘language’ smelt into the evolved brain and its machinery and we’re better for it. But this is not the case. Immanence, as such, entails the actual participation of the currently hapless subject ‘in’ the world – conceptual reductions still make no contact with the real. What would be immanent would be to directly introspect a brain state without intermediary – to introspect neurons as such, not to introspect, as we now do, and theorize it as behavior of neurons ( and whatever evolutionary mechanism and story accompanies this) but to intuit this neuronal apparatus itself. This is at the point where I generally reject Materialisms of any stripe because what is left over from the re-descriptions and corrections is not anything resembling subjectivity, but death. From this perspective, true immanence would be achieved by dying – since there is hardly any cogent description of what life is ( much less mind) what the materialist achieves is explaining exactly how our dead body is more ‘immanent’ with the world that our ‘lived’ body since it suffers under no illusions. The body, as such, is still subject to the same chemical and earthly processes ‘alive’ or dead. Only difference, it seems, is the former comes with a host of delusions of grandeur and error while the latter peacefully rests, one with the earth.

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