Friday, September 10, 2010

The Science and Art of Minds: Theory and Practice in the Social World

I fell apart at the end of this essay. There is so much to articulate here. But I'm so tired and can't muster my thoughts right now and want to be done with this one. I finished it. But there should be sub sections in each chapter, but I can't do that right now.

Table of Contents:
Military Theory and the Relationship Between Theory and Practice
Life and Decision Making as the Art of Minds
3. Theory of Mind as the Science of Minds
4. The Conflict Between the Art and Science of Minds
5. Uniting the Science and Art of Minds: Zen and the Creative Application of Principles
6. The Content of a Theory of Mind: Science and Genealogical History
7. The Application of a Theory of Mind: Theoretically Supported Study of Our Own and Other People's Experience

This essay has been prompted by my essay of 8/30/10 called 'The Genealogy of the Modern Mind'. In that essay I tried to argue that theory of mind needed to be conceptualized as a fundamentally historical project that should be focused on the study of the humanities. I tried to explain how history was essential to the construction of a theoretical body of knowledge about minds. I then tried to argue that this body of theory should be applied primarily to the study of the humanities with the goal of acquiring synthetic experience that would lead to an increased capacity for empathy and judgment.

I am now realizing that I can perhaps frame these difficulties in terms of science and art. Frankly, I think that these two terms are inadequate and are partially escaping my grasp at this point. But the general idea is that with theory of mind there is a noticeable tension between theory and practice. Theory of mind seems to amount to a body of theoretical knowledge that is constructed primarily out of scientific and philosophical evidence. But the application of that theory is not clear. So when I say the science of minds I am generally referring to the creation of systematic knowledge about minds. But I think that the real application of that theory can only happen through daily life and decision making, through the art of minds. And right here I am exploring the idea that daily life and social decision making can be considered an art of minds. If that phrase is appropriate. At this moment I sort of like it.

I suppose right now I'm not necessarily exploring the historical component of theory of mind. I do believe that I made some alright arguments about why history has to be incorporated into theory of mind. Interestingly, I think it needs to be incorporated at both levels – both in the construction of theoretical knowledge about minds and in the application of that theory to the study of the humanities.

But here I suppose I am more interested in exploring this relationship between technical knowledge (science/theory) and practical and creative living (practice/art). I want to explore this relationship both generally and specifically as it relates to theory of mind. First I am going to explain how military theory initially introduced me to the theory/practice, science/art dichotomy and the solution that I favor. Then I'd like to elaborate on this idea that theory of mind is somehow the science of minds, and that real living and decision making is an art of minds. After that I'll try to use zen to explain how the science of minds can be applied to the art of minds (i.e. how theory of mind can help us make better decisions in the social world). After that I'll attempt to more clearly restate the ideas that I first came upon in my GOMM essay. I'll try to explain succinctly how theoretical knowledge of minds needs to be constructed of both scientific knowledge about brains/minds and from historical knowledge that tells us about the contemporary states of minds. Lastly I'll try to explain more clearly how this theory of mind (which is both scientific and historical) should be applied to the study of the humanities with the goal of improving sensitivity, empathy, and intuitive judgment.

Military Theory and the Relationship Between Theory and Practice
So the conflict between theory and practice, and some solutions to the problem, have been highlighted by my work in military history. Military decision making has two traits that make it valuable in this discussion of theory and practice – it is a field that involves an overwhelming amount of practical decision making, and it has been subjected to a plethora of theorizing. This makes it a very useful field for gauging this relationship between theory and practice. Another important thing to note is that military practice is often about decision making. Because my main concern here is the theory and practice of social decision making, military history offers a nice lens for this focus on decision making.

There are two military theorists that I want to discuss, both of which I learned about from Jon Sumida, Alfred Mahan and Carl von Clausewitz. Both of these authors were concerned primarily with the education of command ability – they wanted to figure out the best way to train people to make difficult military decisions. Both authors were also concerned with how theoretical/technical knowledge could be used to train the decision making ability of commanders. The biggest problem in educating command with theory has to do with the role of language: theory relies entirely on language, while command decision making relies mostly on intuition, which is decision making without the aid of language and rationality. So the problem becomes bridging this gap between the strictly articulable nature of theory with the intuitive nature of command decision making. How to use language to train a form of decision making that doesn't rely on language?

Then the question for military theory becomes that of intuition. How is intuition trained? How do you train this creative and intuitive form of decision making? The short answer is experience. You need experience in order to get better at intuitive decision making. So then the crucial thing becomes the relationship between theory and experience: How does theory help describe experience? How does theory help us learn from experience? How does theory help us replicate/synthesize experience?

Mahan and Clausewitz both posed different sorts of answers to this question of how to best use theory to learn from experience. My understanding of Mahan is rough and only second hand from Sumida's book. My understanding of Clausewitz is a bit better because I have read large portions of his writing. That being said, Mahan believed that technical and theoretical knowledge could be used to help us learn more from actual experience. Further, Mahan also believed that history could be a source of experience that theory could help us learn from. Mahan believed that by learning the technical and theoretical aspects of command, and applying them to the study of historical and real experience, one could learn to exercise the art of command. So for Mahan the study of scientific ideas was meant only to improve your ability to exercise the art of decision making. Sumida compares Mahan's views on theory and experience to zen. Sumida says that zen similarly provides rules for conduct, but that they must be applied only loosely and leave room for judgment and creativity. I'll explore this comparison to zen more closely when I talk about theory of mind more closely.

Clausewitz also believed that theoretical and technical knowledge was useful only so long as it facilitated an education that was grounded in experience. Clausewitz, however, believed that history could not only help us learn from experience, but that history could provide an adequate substitute for experience. He believed that historical study combined with intelligent theoretical historical surmise could provide a synthetic experience of sorts. If we were to study history with the intention of reenacting/simulating the thoughts of past commanders we would be gaining access to the difficulties of high command and thus a synthetic experience.

So based on what Mahan and Clausewitz said about military theory I want to make a few things clear. 1. Military decision making is about the social world and therefore cannot be a matter of applying rigid technical or theoretical ideas, but rather intuitive decision making. 2. Because military command requires intuition it has to be trained primarily through experience. 3. Theoretical knowledge thus has to be directed towards either the acquisition of real experience or synthetic experience. 4. Because it is about intuitive decision making it is akin to an art form, the art of command social decision making.

So then, military theory offers me a model of how to conceptualize the relationship between scientific/theoretical knowledge and the art/practice of decision making. I want to import these general conclusions to what I am calling the science and art of minds. I'm trying to explain how there exists a similar gap between theory and practice with theory of mind. I think that decision making in the social world, like in the military world, has to be intuitive and creative. This means that experience is also a valued commodity in the social world just like it is in the military world. I will therefore argue that theory of mind has to be directed at the acquisition of real experience or synthetic experience. And I think that because social decision making is intuitive and creative, and because it revolves mainly around minds, can be considered an art of minds. So then from here, using this model from military theory, I'm going to talk about how to unite the science/theory of minds with the art/practice of minds. How to unite theoretical knowledge about minds with their practical engagement in the social world.

First I'm going to dwell for a bit longer on this notion of social decision making as the art of minds. Then I'm going to spend some time with this idea of theory of mind as a body of scientific knowledge. So I just want to really ground these terms art and science in theory of mind. From there I will explain the connection to zen more clearly. After that I'm going to rehash what this has to do with a genealogical theory of mind that is aimed at acquiring synthetic experience for the purpose of becoming more sensitive.

Life and Decision Making as the Art of Minds
So how is it that life can be considered an art form? Is it possible that all of life and decision making can be an art form? If so, can it be considered an art of minds? My sense for all of this is yes. Life can indeed be an art form, and it can be an art form that is executed as an art of minds.

I think there are probably two different things I want to talk about to make my case for this. I think this is probably weak evidence, but I'm very new to this idea that life is the art of minds. But I will talk about Foucault's notion of the 'aesthetics of existence', and then I'll talk about Collingwood and the few parts of The Principles of Art that I have looked at.

Now in The Use of Pleasure Foucault discusses ancient Greek sexual practices. He talks about how their major concern was not to master their desires, but to use pleasure. They were engaging in self-disciplined use of food, alcohol, and sex. This self-disciplined engagement with pleasure was meant to build a beautiful reputation. Foucault claims that they were engaging in this disciplined lifestyle so that they could have a beautiful reputation in their community that would then allow them to exercise political power with more authority, and it would allow them to leave a beautiful legacy for future generations. Foucault says that this can be called an aesthetics of existence. Why does art need to stop at painting, sculpting, or the other accepted mediums? Why can't life itself become a form of creative expression? Why can't life be an art form? The ancient Greeks provide some strong evidence that life can indeed become an art form, that it is possible to try and beautify your existence for yourself and for those around you.

Now accept for a moment that life can indeed be an art form. Accept that there is such a thing as the aesthetics of existence. Ask the question, How would this aesthetics of existence be actualized? Or how is any aesthetic affect realized? It would be realized in the mental world. How could this aesthetics of existence exist anywhere other than in minds? The art would be taking place in the mind of the individual that is trying to build a beautiful reputation and existence, and it would take place in the minds of the individuals who recognized that someone had achieved a beautiful existence. In short, based on this short line of reasoning I feel comfortable concluding that life can be considered the art of minds. It would be a way to produce a beautiful life both in your own mind and in the minds of others.

But I will corroborate this slightly with what I have read in Collingwood's The Principles of Art. Collingwood basically says that art has to meet two criteria: it has to be expressive and imaginative. I think that Collingwood also says that art has to be 'language' of some sort, which does not mean just words. Anything can be language. Now what is to prevent me from thinking that life and the decisions that are made in life cannot be both expressive, imaginative, and linguistic? Well, my essay On Creativity was a lot of fun to write and I really feel like I made a good case that all of life, language, and decision making could be creative. I also feel that life and decision making can be expressive, imaginative, and creative. I plan on reading The Principles of Art once I finish what I'm reading right now. But even my skimming seems to suggest that life itself can be an art in Collingwood's eyes. Furthermore, with Collingwood's emphasis on minds, I have no problem concluding that living and making decisions in the social world should be considered the art of minds.

I also want to point out real quickly that I have already said in numerous places that minds function intuitively. That the art of minds is not something that could happen deliberately or rationally. We have to learn to do this sort of expressive and creative social interaction on an intuitive level.

Now let me talk about how theory of mind is more so the science of minds.

Theory of Mind as the Science of Minds
Now here when I am talking about science I mean it in in its most general form. Even with that being said, I fear that the term doesn't quite apply to what I'm talking about here. But I'm talking about science as the production of a systematized body of knowledge that is supposed to achieve the full explanation of a phenomena, and often the prediction of that phenomena, and even prescription for action within that phenomena.

So is theory of mind really a science of mind? For one thing I can say that theory of mind draws primarily on scientific and technical information. Theory of mind typically uses the results of neuroscience or psychology, and also utilizes armchair thought experiments. But in any case, theory of mind is an articulated body of knowledge. Alvin Goldman does say explicitly that he is trying to create a comprehensive theory of mind. What that means, I'm not sure.

In this section I'm going to make a quick concession: I think this term is 1. eluding my grasp for the most part, and 2. probably inadequate for what I'm trying to talk about.

Basically I'm just saying here that theory of mind is an articulated body of knowledge that relies primarily on scientific evidence. And it is therefore in contrast to the actual practice of minds.

I think that calling theory of mind a science of mind will make more sense if I explain the conflict between the science and art of minds.

The Conflict Between the Art and Science of Minds
What I'm trying to talk about is how theory of mind is a clearly articulated body of knowledge about minds. It is always rooted in language, in articulation. And seeing that real interaction of minds functions primarily on an intuitive level (i.e. it functions without language), there is conflict between the theory and practice of minds. I am using the terms science and art to highlight the conflict between the theory and practice of minds.

Having established that engaging with minds can be an art, I want to figure out how to contrast that well. Mahan talked about the art and science of command. So I am talking about the art and science of minds. But I don't know if that makes sense.

But again, the point is this: theory of mind is an articulated body of knowledge that does not translate into real action in any clear way. Theory of mind is incapable of providing any kind of prescriptive action for the real world of minds. So there is a clear conflict between the theory of minds and the practice of minds. I want to specify the pragmatics of theory of mind more clearly. That is why these terms science and art are useful right now. Because I'm trying to explain how social decision making is an intuitive, creative, and expressive process that is akin to an art form, but that theory of mind is a systematized and articulated body of knowledge that has no direct connection to actual practice of minds, which is something like a science. So I'm using this dichotomy of science/art to explain how I want to turn theory of mind into a practical guide to daily living. I'm trying to unite the science and the art of minds. I'm trying to make it so that theory of mind can help us exercise the art of minds. I think this can be done. But it is tricky. I'm struggling with it, obviously. As I should be, right?

So generally the conflict is between theory of mind and the practice of minds: theory of mind is a clearly articulated and scientific body of knowledge, but the practice of minds is an intuitive process of social interaction that does not rely on language or reason. Theory of mind is like a science, while living in the world of minds is something like an art. Theory of mind does not lead to any obvious form of action. So I want to find a way to make this science of minds helpful in the art of minds.

I'm going to move on and try to clarify how I want to do this. I'm going to explain this unification of the science and art of minds in three sections. First, I'm going to scrape the surface a little bit with a reference to zen. Then I'm going to talk about how I want to reconfigure the body of theory that a theory of mind would use. Then I'll talk exactly about how I think it should be applied.

Uniting the Science and Art of Minds: Zen and the Creative Application of Principles
I only want to briefly compare this whole thing to zen. I haven't read nearly enough on zen, so I won't even try to make this clear or long. But I will say that when I read Jon Sumida's book on Alfred Mahan, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, I was struck by the way that zen can be applied to this issue of the 'science' and 'art' of something. Sumida describes how Mahan's views on naval command were similar to the way that zen approaches formal propositions. Mahan believed that formal rules could not be rigidly applied to command decision making. They rather had to be used as a set of principles that allowed room for flexibility and creative judgment. Zen regards moral principles in the same way. Zen has a certain number of things that it holds to be true about good or proper living. But these rules are never to be rigidly applied to life. They are to be applied loosely, flexibly, and creatively. Judgment is supreme, and rules are only useful so long as they aid in the process of judgment.

I think that theory of mind should have a similar goal in mind. I think that theory of mind should come up with a series of propositions about the ways that minds work. It should explain as best we can how they work, and how we can interact with them. But theory of mind can never be prescriptive, so it needs to be an aid to judgment. The social world is about exercising judgment in relations of minds. But I bet theory of mind could be an aid to judgment in the social world, the world of minds.

But what principles should theory of mind use? Let me explore.

The Content of a Theory of Mind: Science and Genealogical History
I think that a theory of mind should consist of at least two elements that are somewhat distinct. The first is what theory of mind typically revolves around: scientific and philosophical evidence. Theory of mind typically draws on evidence from psychology, neuroscience, and general philosophical arguments. These traditional elements are crucial to theory of mind, obviously. The discovery of mirror neurons, neuroplasticity, all kinds of psychological experiments–all of this offers a lot to a theory of mind.

But I believe that a theory of mind also has to contain historical information. It needs to use genealogical historical methods to try and figure out what exactly is going on with minds in the present. It needs to figure out what minds in the past were like, and use that information to determine how minds have developed historically, and exactly how they are functioning in this historical moment. Culture has so much to do with minds, I don't see any way that a theory of mind could really function without historical study.

So I'm proposing that the content of theory of mind needs to be expanded to include historical information. I argued all of this in my essay 'The Genealogy of the Modern Mind'.

The Application of a Theory of Mind: Theoretically Supported Study of Our Own and Other People's Experience
So, I've told you in these last two sections that theory of mind needs to be regarded as a loose set of rules and principles that are to be intuitively and creatively applied in the social world as aids to judgment, and that a theory of mind can't possibly be adequate unless it uses historical evidence in conjunction with scientific evidence and philosophical argument. Now I just want to explain briefly how I think this theory of mind should be used as an aid to the study of our own and other people's experience. I think that the study of our own experience can be accomplished through mindfulness and reflection, while the study of other people's experience is to be found in the humanities and in social interaction. The goal with all of this talk of theory of mind is to make it so that theory of mind becomes part of our unconscious decision making apparatus. We need to make it so that theoretical lessons are absorbed into the mind at an unconscious level so that we can simply act those ways intuitively.

I think that the best way to absorb theory into the unconscious is by engaging in deliberate reflection on our own thought and deliberate simulation on other people's thoughts. In other words, we can't make our actions reflect our theoretical values unless we are willing to engage in mindfulness and empathy. Unless we take the time to really think about our own minds and think about other people's minds we won't be able to intuitively enact our moral values.

So we can use theory of mind to equip our minds with a conceptual tool kit that is both scientific and historical. We would learn about simulation theory, about mirror neurons and empathy, about social classifications, about the history of our thought. But that theoretical knowledge about minds isn't any good unless we can somehow transform it into the art of minds. It isn't any help unless it helps us live differently in the social world. We act intuitively in the social world, so we need to use it to transform our intuitive behavior. I think that is best done through reflection on our own experience and through the acquisition of synthetic experience from the humanities.

I'm so tired from starting my new job and from being stressed out and confused. I can't think clearly and want to publish this essay. I'm exploring fruitful things here. I'm articulating good stuff about how theory of mind needs to be reconceptualized both in terms of content and pragmatics. But I don't care to chase this post anymore. I want it to be done. I'll leave my original notes below. I'll stop here.

Original Notes of 9/1/10
- Theoretical ideas and being primed to learn from our own experience
- Mahan and learning from our own experience
- The humanities and synthetic experience
- Sensitivity
- Judgement

Zen and principles as guides to learning from experience. Principles as a means of creativity. These are some questions prompted by GOMM

This is really about the theory of mind. What are the propositions that theory of mind elaborates? And what are there use? What is the body of theory like? What is the use of that body of theory? Theory of mind has to be a zen like project.

Life is an art. Theory of mind is a science. But. Just like Mahan and Clausewitz, you can't have this type of theory for minds. You need a theory of mind that 1. helps you learn from real experience better and 2. helps you gain synthetic experience

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