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About Pfeilstorch

By suspendedreason2021-02-20 17:25:19.812Z2021-04-04 17:20:07.477Z

This is an in-progress info page. Feel free to direct any questions or comments to, or post in the comments.

All knowledge is about the same thing, which is the working of the world. And since the workings of the world are bound up in one another—with kinships in material, property, and dynamic relation, owing to the shared constraints and incentives of physics, the shared ancestry of all things—knowledge from one one subject can be brought to bear on many others. Lenses like "games," pragmatic truth, and the layers of organization metaphor favored by SFI can be fruitfully applied to many realms of complex organization.

Our ongoing conversation about these workings of the world is simultaneously held at many levels and registers of precision, literalism, and abstraction. Much of our "scientific" discourse is still too impossibly vague and imprecise in carving its objects of inquiry, or describing their behavior to ever make reliable, bettable prediction; these are the domains of psychology, philosophy, sociology, art criticism—the inexact sciences. Still more “wild” and untamed are fields like art and literature themselves, which discuss at high levels of abstraction and metaphor the social patterns and archetypes of personhood. Art and literary criticism are a sort of gateway realm, discerning demonstrated patterns within the nebulosity of artistic creations, and compressing and analyzing their patterns into more formal systems of knowledge: Balzac’s opinions on social relations, Dostoevsky’s on psychology, Euripides' on the human condition, Austen's on manners and class, Beckett on modernity. The use of Shakespeare (Hamlet) or Sophocles (Oedipus) in psychoanalytic theory is one example of what we might call a "pipeline" of knowledge in play, from arts, to criticism, to social sciences, and finally to the material sciences.

This pipeline connects the realms of the inexact to exactitude, hooks up "mere" description to testing and methodology. The philosopher Kevin Scharp, in a Reddit AMA, writes:

For the past 400 years, philosophy has been shrinking. That is a sociological fact. Physics, geology, chemistry, economics, biology, anthropology, sociology, meteorology, psychology, linguistics, computer science, cognitive science—these subject matters were all part of philosophy in 1600. As the scientific revolution ground on, more and more sciences were born. This process is essentially philosophy outsourcing its subject matter as something new—sciences.

This is the idea that the goal of philosophy should be to kill itself: that philosophy just is the study of the vague and unverifiable, and that its purpose is dealing with this vagueness in order to demystify the subject domain.

There are many obstacles to this process, reasons why the inexact sciences cannot yet be formally studied. One is scale and computation: certain levels of abstraction are more or less tractable. Another is the problem of words, emphasized recently by Sarah Perry in her series of essays for Carcinisation, which has been acknowledged far longer than its most recent 20th C advocates, like Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, or William James. This may be the most important problem to overcome; as institutes like Santa Fe are making headway on attempts to solve the computing-complexity problem, the language problem remains unsolved, and inexact science disciplines push forward with shoddy equipment and slippery tools. They believe that by gripping these tools all the more tightly, they will gain control over them, when really the opposite occurs: the words gain control over their incompetent wielders. A "therapeutic" approach to concepts, much like the idea of "conceptual engineering" in philosophy, is important in hammering out concepts that are rigorously enough defined in order to support empirical work on their behalf. Kevin Scharp again:

The [rigorizing] process is rather complicated, but the most important part of it is getting straight on the right concepts to use so that the subject matter can be brought under scientific methodology. Ultimately, the radical therapeutic program – showing the fly the way out of the fly bottle – is taking an active role in this outsourcing process. Identify conceptual defects (Socratic idea) and craft new concepts that avoid the old defects (Nietzschean idea) with an eye toward preparing that philosophical subject matter for outsourcing as a science. The ultimate goal of this process is the potential end of philosophy – escape for the fly...

At the same time, there are the many institutional problems—of selection, self-selection, incentive structure, and methodology—that plague Game A, from the halls of psychiatry and sociology to the armchairs of conceptual-analyst philosophers. There is our limited conceptual understanding of the statistics we wield—what one member of Pfeilstorch has termed our "adolescent quantitative society."

Almost two hundred years ago, a stork flew over Germany with an African spear in its neck. It was shot down, and passed on to museum hands. Its discovery revolutionized our understanding of bird migration: at the time, no one was quite sure where birds even went come winter; serious thinkers had even proposed the moon. We're hoping to make similar leaps in understanding—by watching, noticing, and minding the details.

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  • 2 replies
  1. hazard2021-02-20 21:46:19.320Z

    The use of Shakespeare (Hamlet) or Sophocles (Oedipus) in psychoanalytic theory is one example of this pipeline, though perhaps not its most outstanding.

    I almost missed the pipeline idea here. The whole paragraph I thought was just about "People investigate on diff levels of abstraction" but didn't get the sense of movement. It was only on the second read I saw the pipeline part

    1. In reply tosuspendedreason:
      hazard2021-02-20 21:47:48.573Z

      They believe that by gripping these tools all the more tightly, they will gain control over them, when really the opposite occurs: the words gain control over their incompetent wielders.

      Feels like the place to talk about the faux-objectivism of social sciences and it's negative effects.