Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

I’ve got a piece entitled “Look and Feel” in preparation. I deliberately pre-announced it as a way of forcing myself to finish it off. However, the idea hinges on the difference between visual and “kinesthetic”(visceral/tactile/proprioceptive) thinking, and so might require me to talk about neurolinguistic programming. To be honest, I’ve had more than my fill of non-religiously spiritual waffle just recently, so I think I’ll give it a miss—for the time being, at least.

So instead, I’m going to talk about something completely different. I’m going to talk about cynicism.

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In the light of Venkat Rao’s theory of gollumization and raving fandom, it’s reasonable to ask the question: “Am I a raving Venkat Rao fan?”

There’s evidence on both sides, but here’s my case against.

Admittedly, I dutifully gave away my stealth edition of Tempo, and claimed my free Kindle edition to replace it. But, although the content was all very interesting, there was something I didn’t quite like about either edition. I didn’t like the way they smelled. To quote Rupert Giles:

Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a — it, uh, it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly.

Let’s pick a different example. Perhaps a neglected difference between a satnav nomad’s understanding of a city, and The Knowledge of London is in smell: fried breakfast, stale cigarettes, diesel, piss.

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This from Learning from Las Vegas, quoted in Edward R. Tufte’s classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (in the section about “self-promoting graphics”):

It is now time to reevaluate the once horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction, but we should append the warning of Pugin: It is all right to decorate a construction but never construct a decoration.

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Matthew Stewart, The Management Myth:

The recognition that management theory is a sadly neglected subdiscipline of philosophy began with an experience of déjà vu. As I plowed through my shelfload of bad management books, I beheld a discipline that consists mainly of unverifiable propositions and cryptic anecdotes, is rarely if ever held accountable, and produces an inordinate number of catastrophically bad writers. It was all too familiar. There are, however, at least two crucial differences between philosophers and their wayward cousins. The first and most important is that philosophers are much better at knowing what they don’t know. The second is money. In a sense, management theory is what happens to philosophers when you pay them too much.

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Related to this, from Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps by Peter Galison:

Over the last thirty years it has become a commonplace to pit bottom-up against top-down explanations. Neither will do in accounting for time. A medieval saying aimed at capturing the links between alchemy and astronomy put it this way: in looking down, we see up; in looking up, we see down. That vision of knowledge serves us well. For in looking down (to the electromagnetically regulated clock networks) we see up: to images of empire, metaphysics, and civil society. In looking up (to the philosophy of Einstein and Poincaré’s procedural concepts of time, space, and simultaneity) we see down: to the wires, gears, and pulses passing through the Bern patent office and the Paris Bureau of Longitude. We find metaphysics in machines, and machines in metaphysics. Modernity, just in time.

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Mathematics as Sign, Brian Rotman, pp112-113:

What would top-down over bottom-up—as an intellectual method, organizing metaphor, or cognitive style—mean? One might gloss it as the ranking of the global, panoptic, abstractly analytic over the concrete, limited, and locally synthetic; of posterior description, morphology, and structure over history, evolution, and genesis; of plans over objectives and goals; of general laws over incidents and cases; of context-free reason over situated knowledge; of realist truth over constructive emergence. But the figure is also reflexive and applies at once to descriptions of itself; the summary I have just given (which is perhaps less than helpful as an explication) is very much a top-down take on the top-down / bottom-up difference.

Michael Oakenshot—an introduction, Paul Franco, p12:

Nevertheless, despite many similarities between Hayek’s critique of central social planning and his own, Oakeshott criticized The Road to Serfdom for ultimately being too ideological. The main significance of Hayek’s book, he wrote, is “not the cogency of the doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine. A plan to resist all planning may be better than it’s opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics.”

Michael Oakenshot—an introduction, Paul Franco, pp177-178:

The dominant idea of Berlin’s philosophy is, of course, value pluralism. Almost everthing he wrote, from The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953) to The Pursuit of the Ideal (1988), involves an attack on monism … and a defense of pluralism … So prevalent is this master dichotomy in Berlin’s thought that is can become rather monotonous. And as many commentators have noted, though Berlin identifies with the fox who knows many things, he himself turns out to be something of a hedgehog who knows one big thing: that values are plural, and that rationalistic monism is a mistake.

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