The BBT and Performative Contradiction

Over at Footnotes2Plato, Matt made a post linking to Adam Robbert’s Noë and Uexküll: Ecology, Style, and Meaning on Knowledge Ecology. Scott’s response to Matt is in the comments and I’m re-posting my response to Scott here. The post is below – de-personalized a little and with some minor edits:

If I verbally state “I’m speaking French [in English]” and mean to claim that I am literally speaking French, it is a performative contradiction. If someone responds by pointing out that I’m speaking English, responding that they’ve begged the question because they have assumed that language exists and that I’m speaking English is ludicrous. You have spoken English.

That’s the simple part.

In effect Matt is asserting the opposite, explaining that you cannot say what you’re saying without first having a mind. In much the same sense that one could assert validly that you could not even say the English sentence “I’m speaking French” without speaking English. If Matt simply asserted that the mind exists as an immaterial entity, that it exists as a brute fact, QED. Then your charge would make sense. But he’s not doing that. He’s claiming, effectively, that you could no do what you’re doing without assuming what you explicitly deny even though you verbally claim not to.

Now, of course, there is a dispute about the nature of the mind as such. This is where charges of question begging actually make sense since it is the nature of the mind that is up for dispute. However, the BBT is not simply making a claim about the nature of the mind but making claims about cognition and thinking as such. BBT explains why the mind seems to be the way it is by explaining away its existence; as a result of neglect, the mind and all its intentional facades arises heuristically, which of course, meta-cognition confuses as substance.

The claim of performative contradiction, particular to BBT, is the fact that it depends on resources it explicitly tries to deny. For example, the distinctions between first and third person, natural/scientific and “meta-cognition” with the expressed purpose of denying the validity of first-person and meta-cognition. Questions you have yet to satisfactorily answer, for example, are (1) how what you’re doing is not meta-cognition and (2) how your distinction between Scientific and meta-cognition is valid.

On (1): the distinctions between first and third person could not have come to be without the first person regardless of its nature. If the first-person is systematically confused then the validity of its initial distinctions are open to question – the distinction between how the brain cognizes the environment generally and how it cognizes itself, for example. This cannot get of the ground without conferring validity on which is denied in total ( the first person and meta-cognition).

On (2): How, for example, is scientific cognition not a just a particularization of meta-cognition? Why is the former more akin to “how the brain cognizes the environment generally” and not “how the brain cognizes itself cognizing the environment generally”? Making the distinction superfluous? That is, it is just a meta-cognition of itself cognizing the environment and the ‘hook’the BBT purports to make to the environment evaporates because it has not shown how the brain has managed to cognize the environment independently of cognizing itself. If there is question begging, it is in areas like this and the guilty party is the BBT.

Since you’re not an alien (assumption) I assume you’re making use of the same resources as everyone else and just as susceptible to meta-cognitive neglect as everyone else. The point being that you undercut your own argument against the validity of meta-cognition by meta-cognizing scientific results and shouting at everyone that does not come to the same conclusions you do. In much the same sense, for example, that no one has seen a Brandomnian norm ( as you’ve said elsewhere), no one has ever ‘seen’ the Blind Brain Theory in a lab. If BBT can continue to postulate unknown causes, depending as it does on meta-cognition, then there is no reason why other, different ideas can’t also attempt to explain why things appear the way they do, namely, because they are that way. Or for some other reason. What cannot be done is to pretend as if the issue is already settled, that one meta-cognitive idea rules them all, especially when it undercuts its very ability to make such claims.

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8 Responses to The BBT and Performative Contradiction

  1. terenceblake says:

    Reblogged this on AGENT SWARM and commented:
    The paradoxes of speculative eliminativism are based on avoiding all meta-cognitive discussion of the so-called “theory” that generates them. Such a theory can never be enounced without its incoherence being apparent to all. Recent appeals to a meta-cognitive phantasm, “cognitive science” taken as a unified homogeneous entity, to legitimate the continued hammering out of such elementary paradoxes are themselves incoherent. “Cognitive science” cannot show that cognition is theoretically incomptetent, as cognitive science does not exist without cognitive scientists who cognize all day long: they know how to get to their lab, to do their experiments, to write their reports and get them published, to eat what will keep them alive, etc. We cognize successfully all the time. No cognitive scientist could conclude, without performative contradiction, that cognition is illusory, as this is itself a cognitive claim.

  2. rsbakker says:

    This has bite, I think: “Questions you have yet to satisfactorily answer, for example, are (1) how what you’re doing is not meta-cognition and (2) how your distinction between Scientific and meta-cognition is valid.” The questions are fair, and deserve answering.

    Regarding (1), saying deliberative theoretical metacognition is problematic is not saying its impossible, only that we should qualify our claims. My thesis is that deliberative theoretical metacognition that fails to acknowledge the problem of neglect is bound to suffer problems like supernaturalism, theoretical underdetermination, and practical inapplicability. As an empirical theory, it’s nothing more than a theoretical promissory note, one that seeks to minimize commitments beyond necessity. In short, it refrains from doing all the things phenomenology does–including placing itself beyond the pale of empirical arbitration! The question is what else should I do?

    Regarding (2), it seems clear that our neural systems (and prostheses) solve for behaviour on the basis of environmentally sourced information and on the basis of neurally sourced behaviour. Awareness of anger or ‘redness’ is metacognitive. Awareness of trees or whiskey is cognitive. It really doesn’t matter to my thesis how many ‘tweeners’ there are, so long as this principled distinction can be made–so long as our brain solves itself and its environments. BBT is entirely amenable to learned heuristics cobbled together in hybrid ways and canonized due to *actual problem-solving capacity.*

    The way you cash this out into a(nother) tu quoque argument makes very little sense to me. In fact, it pretty clearly seems based on a strawman interpretation of my position: to whit, that my claims that we drastically curtail our theoretical activity renders the kind of drastically curtailed theoretical activity I engage in impossible.

    Science is speculation, and yet, quite unlike philosophy, it plainly solves in decisive and dramatic fashion. Thus my naturalism, which is to say, my insistance on making claims that will be scientifically sorted in the course of time. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were suggesting this is a liability of my position.

    Compared to what? Positions that will never be sorted, ever?

  3. Pingback: CHEN’S DIALOGUE WITH BAKKER: Meta-cognition is not just a fancy name for introspection | AGENT SWARM

  4. modvs1 says:

    You might find a short paper by Michael Anderson and Don Perlis of interest, entitled: “What puts the “meta” in metacognition”.

    • Chen says:

      Thanks. I’ll take a look.

    • terenceblake says:

      Very interesting as it shows that metacognition is a “pharmakon” capable of being toxic and producing stupidity or of being therapeutic and producing intelligence. Bakker has no idea of its positive effects, while relying on them in every sentence. His is a one-dimensional interpretation tending, as Chen remarked to “imprison” both meta-cognition and cognition in dogmatic constraints.

  5. Chen says:

    I think of Scott took the content of his theory, the conclusion he makes about brains and then began with those conclusions and subsequently applied them he’d realize that he can’t yoke “metacognition” to super-naturalism in contrast to scientific cognition – everything goes. The easiest way to see this is to hone in on (2) where Scott has given examples without providing reasons for the distinction, just a prior definition that doesn’t, on the face of it, license the provided examples. It is not simply a matter of unpacking “our neural systems (and prostheses) solve for behaviour on the basis of environmentally sourced information and on the basis of neurally sourced behaviour..” to ” Awareness of anger or ‘redness’ is metacognitive. Awareness of trees or whiskey is cognitive.” What is the distinction between between anger and whiskey, as metacognitive and cognitive, for example, tracking? Why is one not the other? But more to the point, the distinction as such is what?

    I’m wavering on a longer, more involved post simply because it’ll be a reiteration of the same things that Scott continues to hand-wave away. Nevertheless, while this blog is littered with unfulfilled promissory notes, the recent activity and discussion ( Thanks Terence!) is encouraging. I will attempt to work through some Semiotic ideas that I think better grounds some of the issues that have come up here – namely, the concept of an Umwelt and its relation to how humans, in particular, are related to their environment in distinct ( and non-illusory) ways from other animals.

  6. terenceblake says:

    I think that the argument over “meta-cognition” has been done to death, as it is evident that Bakker has no idea what the word means. However, the Semiotic (or what I would call the hermeneutic) argument is worth developping. Bakker is indulging in the same begging the question as OOO: selective anti-intellectualism. He maintains a hostility to transcendental interpretations while promoting his own interpretation as not an interpretation at all, but as a forced conclusion. There is no semiosis, no ambiguity and polyvocity, in his BBT, but an attempt at a univocal synthesis of selected findings of cognitive and neural sciences. The Umwelt argument is telling as well – Bakker sets up the “brain” (a totally fictitious brain emerging from just his say-so) in opposition to the environment, when the brain has no sense outside its environmental embedding, thus recreating in naturalised form the old problematic of a subject set against an object. Bakker challenged me to cite research that he was ignoring. I adduced research on the reading brain as presented in Maryanne Wolf’s book PROUST AND THE SQUID. He just ignored my counter-example. Wolf presents the image of the brain as a messy heterogeneous assemblage of sub-systems developped for quite different purposes, that are dis-assembled and re-assembled ad hoc to permit one of our richest cognitive acts: reading. This cognitive competence is not innate, but is put together out of sub-systems evolved with quite other competences, and the result is not cognitive incomptence and failure but cognitive success: we learn to read despite the fact that our brain is not initially adapted to that particular competence. Bakker’s fallacy is one of the confusion between algorithm and heuristics. We are not algorithmically evolved to read, but we can heuristically adapt our cognitive resources to develop this new competence.

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