Aldo Matteucci   27 Jul 2012   Looking Sideways

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Awh shucks, Katharina!

Not BAUDRILLARD – it is forbidden by the UN Convention Against Mental Anguish. Being subjected to his thoughts is worse than enduring psychological torture at Abu Graib!

BAUDRILLARD’s claim to fame is that every paragraph he writes ends orgasmically – opposing arguments wildly mixing in what the French would call “partouze” - leaving people in a state of ultimate and postcoïtal perplexity and cowering in dejected respect for the author, who pirouettes off the paragraph following his own instruction: RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT (profound insight from his Tour of the US).[This may be a nice metaphor to describe this highly overrated author, whose mental map is strictly self-referential.]

No, Katharina, you’ll never corner me in the mire of post-modernism. As Paul FAYERABEND admitted in private to his wife (whom I know): reality does exist.

Let’s divide sharply the “map of mental maps” into “maps of reality” – which includes e.g. everything that has to do with climate change (your subject) and “cultural maps” we use to organize ourselves as social beings.

The first kind of map in some way is linked to an unmovable  reality – though we may see it through a glass darkly.While I may not know the color of a forest – whatever my eye “sees” is transformed into electric pulses and then a mental map which may not match the external world – the mapping is consistent. It is “green” every time, not just any whimsical color. Nature never deceives - as Einstein said.

The latter are culturally based CONVENTIONS. We drive to the right, the British to the left. Their “mental map” is different than ours. It is a convention among the faithful that God exists. Among the atheists we have the opposite convention. Neither group can show proof of transcendental “reality” – so they both work on “faith” – whatever that maybe.

All these maps are socially CONSTRUCTED, i.e. cannot be verified against an external reality. We can only check them against the original convention, which forever changes as we learn and forget, die, or change our minds: the difference is the whimsical, arbitrary character of such conventions  (1) . We can live happily with such conventions, provided we recognize their character. Most of silent culture is conventions.

True, Katharina, in our social world conventions (mental maps) join the mental maps of reality – but only up to a point. For no convention can contradict the law of scarcity, for instance – that’s where economics comes chiming in. Conventions have to cohabitate with other conventions – as when liberty and justice conflict: logic has to resolve the conundrum, or leave matters undecided, like with all recursive arguments (2).

You have subtly shifted the ground of the debate, Katharina, but hardly caught me off guard I reckon (my implicit metaphor here is Wimbledon). Soon I’ll happily continue my paul-reverian ride through the night hollering among diplomats sleeping in their gilded residences “Analogies are coming!” I’ll comment on a book by David BEERLING  – a paleo-climatologist (4). Your field, Katharina, climate change, is akin to a Flanders graveyard (of WWI soldiers) filled with errant metaphors. As Thomas HUXLEY famously said: The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis with ugly data."

[1]           The ancient philosophers struggled mightily with the “arbitrary” character of such conventions. They introduced “natural law” to escape it. The problem was that “natural law” conflicted with the Christian idea of an “all powerful godhead”.

[2]           Michael C. C. CORBALLIS (2011). The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization . Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

[3]          Davids BEERLIN (2006): The emerald planet. How plants changed earth’s history. Oxford University Press, Oxford.t tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis with ugly data.


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