[Firstly, I will admit that this post is part of the problem it diagnoses.] Recently watching Hans Rosling‘s rather fun “The Joy of Stats”, I encountered Microsoft Research‘s Head of Computational Science, Stephen Emmott, discussing how advances in statistics and computation are leading the way towards a new model of science. Where previously, he says, science worked according to experiment and hypothesis, our new ability to process vast amounts of data as never before is in fact opoening up new realms of study, allowing us to make new proposals and even to ask entirely new kinds of questions. We have changed the words, and now we are playing around with the syntax and grammar. (Link to Dr. Nico Sommerdijk of Eindhoven University of Technology discussing the same matter here) Continue reading
The technological perspective requires that we engage with the history of technology, to unwittingly effect a rapprochement between the analytic and continental perspectives. Of course, some have been calling for a dismissal of such distinctions, saying they are meaningless, that any such distance between these two schools is manufactured and (if existent) exaggerated. Brian Leiter sticks in mind for this, but his position is interesting for suggesting that it is a one-way distinction, made my “continentals” to preserve themselves, to stand apart from criticism. I can agree with elements of Leiter’s specific charge, but I would disagree with the wider notion that the distinction is some hangover of the culture wars, as would any number of students wishing to take one or the other approach to a specific problem, and being sidelined in a department for this crime (and this is by no means solely one-way, as Leiter suggests). This fairy-tale of sorority and fraternity tells us that we are all lovers of wisdom together, and so we should de facto be friends by virtue of this. This is not what I propose.
The best known recent (!) critique of the metaphors we use in our thought is probably Rorty‘s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, after which we are rightly wary of the implications of our various figures of speech. This has been a big part of what Ricoeur calls the hermeneutics of suspicion, all the the various structuralists and post-structuralists and the we-haven’t-even-heard-of-structuralism-so-don’t-you-dare-lump-us-in-with-those-guys-ists. We know that style in philosophy is never neutral, that what we say is influenced by how we say it. There was a hope that some other metaphors might set the tone for a departure from old ways of saying and thus give us new ways of thinking.