June 20, 2012

Loughner and Differance

The tragedy that i believe Jared Loughner caused was and remains abhorrent. I am not a doctor but from all accounts, and my impression of his videos, his face and above all his actions, I believe him to be insane.

However, it seems to me that Jared Loughnerfs use of the analogy between gold-standard and fiat currencies, and language may be useful for explaining Derridafs term "differance".

Derrida is well known for being particularly obscure and perhaps even more so than Loughner.

Derrida criticises the Western philosophy of the sign, which in Saussure for instance, consists of signifier and signified, the latter being an idea.

The Saussurian model is fairly straightforward. I have an idea. I choose an appropriate signifier, such as the word gchoose,h and I write it here. You then read my word choose and somehow replicate or at least understand the idea that I wanted to express.

Derrida claimed that this duality of the sign is merely a belief. Despite being one of the most radical critics of Western dualism, Derrida seemed to intimate that it may be an essential belief. He insists that nevertheless dualism does not conform to the reality of the situation. So rather than simply claiming that the world is not dual, that there is no other realm of ideas, of gsignifiedsh (Saussure) or irreels, (Husserl), that there are no transcendental entities, nor Platonic forms, Derrida rather attempts to explain how the belief in these entities came about, and how in Western philosophy the belief in their existence is maintained.

At the same time Derrida does to an extent present a new model of the sign. In place of the idea, Derrida argued I think that signification is always a standing in place of something else. Signs are essentially iterable - they can be repeated. And they can by repeated in other words, perhaps as other things. Signs function because they can be exchanged for other signs (and perhaps images, memories). Thus rather than there being a gdifferenceh between the signifier and the ideal signified, there is a gdifferalh or gdifferance,h a predicted chain of one thing standing-for something else standing for something else.

I donft know if I have understood Derrida at all correctly but this latter notion of gdifferanceh seemed particularly opaque.

However, it seems to me that Loughnerfs analogy between fiat currency and language presents a simple way of explaining the gdifferanceh that Derrida espouses. Loughner seemed to express disappointment that there was no gold standard for language, nothing upon which words are based.

Herein lies the analogy. Economists point out that we suffer from a money illusion, presuming that currency has an intrinsic value, but in fact fiat currencies do not have an intrinsic value but gain their value from an anticipated exchange value, or purchasing power. Similarly, we tend to believe that our words gain their meaning and value by being pegged to ideas, in the treasury of the mind (and if shared, gthe mind of godh) but in fact our language is a fiat language backed up only by the expectation of future exchanges . It is not something different, a gold standard, an irreel standard, an idea, but differance, an anticipation of exchange that gives both our words, and our currency value.

I am not sure how to cite Loughner, or even whether I should. However, if this is the sort of analogy he was attempting to make then I find it a persuasive and explicative one.

There reason why Derrida tends to come out in favour of dualism even as he deconstructs it may be because he recognises himself as part of the system. In "Voice and Phenomena" he argues that the prime motivation for believing in dualism and the idea, is that one of these ideas, that one might debunk, is the one corresponding to "I" when spoken to oneself: oneself.

Should anyone object to the above please let me know.

Posted by timtak at 01:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2012

Deconstruction made simple

Derrida's "deconstruction," and Derrida himself have been called many things: charlatan, unscientific, dishonest etc. but it seemed to me that he was attempting to be honest. It took me a long while to gain even a unclear understanding of what he had to say. Here is my take: a potted Derrida made simple.

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Before my "potted Derrida made simple", here is my road to my appreciation of Derrida. I started reading philosophy with Nietzsche when I was young, when I was 14 and I had read everything he wrote by the time I was about 21. Nietzsche is difficult to understand too. He seems to rant. He seems to have had a very big ego. He quotes all sorts of things that I have not read, so a lot of the time I could not understand what he was on about. But at the same time I thought "Nietzsche is great!" His greatness for me was in his iconoclasm, "How to philosophize with a hammer." I am not sure that I buy into any of the any new things, new inventions, that Nietzsche said: "The will to power (the primary motive for human action is the desire for power)" "The eternal return (what we do now will be repeated over and over again, so take care to act in a way that you want to be repeated)" But the great thing about Nietzsche for me is that he said that pretty much all prior philosophy is bullshit. I had not read Plato or Kant at the time. But Nietzsche's assertion that any idealism, any philosopher who posits another world is a bullshitter, seemed very appealing. A lot of the time Nietzsche was criticising Plato. I thought, as I read Nietzsche, that modern philosophers would be more sensible, less hocus pocus. I thought that modern, non-religious, down-to-earth, sceptical, scientific philosophers, would not posit the existence of "ideas" "forms," "the thing in itself," or any strange other world, metaphysical world. Nietzsche was good at deriding such stuff. But then, I went to university and studied philosophy and found that the things that Nietzsche poked fun of, derided, made silly, were alive and well. Even in the late 10th century, people, philosophers, still believed in the metaphysical! Philosophers still seemed to believe in ghosts.

There is one argument of Nietzsche that sticks in my mind. It is the one that I think Hitler may have quoted (this aside is a temper-tester!). That humans are 'planetary bacillus'. I call this the argument from humility. We are only a few steps up the evolutionary chain from earth worms, or even bananas, so it seems to me, that we should not know anything about anything for sure. Our knowledge should be, is, radically impaired. Anyone attempting to posit a truth that we can know, anyone claiming to have found a philosophers stone, a rock, a surety, must be wrong, because we humans are so radically insignificant: we are bacillus. The philosophers conclusion should always be "we do not know." Socrates philosophy (prior to Plato's version) just has to be the best we can do. If we find anything that we think we can know, for sure, then we should realise that we are mistaken. Because we are earth worms, bacillus. Because we are an evolutionary blip on a cosmic speck of dust. We do not know anything. There is nothing that we can be sure of. There is no "but this we can not deny." No way. No way hose' !

Being humble then, and reading Western philosophers, it seems that they all attempting to say that they are not earth-worms, to say that they 'know something for sure', that they have found that philosophers' stone. My reaction, having read Nietzsche is, was, "what a bunch of bullshitters".

I am not sure if I read this in Nietzche or Derrida or Foucault or not, but it seems to me that most of what philosophers have to say, have to spout bullshit about, depends upon the "The cogito" and "the liar paradox". Thee latter first, if one claims that one is an earth worm, if one claims that one (me) does no know anything then some bullshitters respond, "then this assertion that you are making is also something you don't know, therefore it is incorrect, it is wrong, we must know something." What dosh. What a silly trick. What crass, dull, argumentation. But that crassness, that joke, that school children's trick seems to be the basis of Western philosophy!

Anyway, I went to study philosophy in an undergraduate course. I did not want to find a stone, or anything sure, but I was very interested questions such as

Now that we can be sure we know very little at all, what difference does this make to the way that we live? Now that we have thrown off our hocus pocus mentality, what changes can we expect of our society? I guess I was interested in ethics in a post bullshit, post-modern world. Alas, this was not the topic of my philosophy lectures.

I was also interested in the question "How did we come to believe in hocus pocus" (metaphysics, ideas, another world, truth, ideas)? Alas the college at which I studied philosophy did not attempt to answer these questions but Derrida does. Incipit Derrida.
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Derrida looks at Western philosophy from the point of view of rhetorician. He too (though not quite) seems to be cynical about the balderdash that Western philosophers speak and as a non-beliver in bullshit, he attempts to demonstrate the ways in which Western philosophers spin their web of bullshit.

He is so right. He says that at base all western philosophers want to protect a certain experience and a certain notion. He calls this experience "listening to oneself speak" and the notion "presence."

I.e. when we speak to ourselves, we like to believe that we creating signs that are accompanied with ideas. In my mind, I call to mind sounds such as "I" or "I think," and this signs are purported to be accompanied by ideas corresponding to the sounds that I am (silently) creating or recalling.

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Another aside
I am not sure how to express the nature of self-speech. We all do it. What are these words in our mind? I can sort of hear them. Obviously they are silent. Are they recollections of words that we have spoken to others? Experiments by Vitgotsky suggest that they are more productive, that is to say that rather than recalling, we are creating these "sounds" silently. Vitgosky found that people whose tongues are held still are worse at math(s). In other words, when we think "silently" we are in fact making noises every so quietly. We are speaking and the lowest possible level such that our vocal cords hardly move at all. Other experiments investigating those, schizophrenics that hear voices, find that when they hear voices, their vocal cords are moving a little. In other words, self speech is not recalling speech but speaking in a radically quiet voice. The same parts of our brain, the same effort, the same act, is taking place but without the sonic production.
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Derrida is the guy that questioned, that saw as problematic, the act of self speech. More than that, he described (I think) the act of self speech as akin to masturbation.

We normally think that thinking is thinking! We normally think that our self-speech is something that we do in order to process, to increase our processing power, to understand. But is this the reason why we make this silent speeches to ourselves?

Most importantly, to cut to the chase, to Derrida's conclusion speech is surely about communication. And communication suggests, implies, a distance, a transferral of information. Why do we speak to ourselves, why do we engage in a sort of communication when there is nothing to communicate? Why do I speak to myself when I know everything that I have to say. What can I convey to myself? Anything I say is something that I should know already.

Posted by timtak at 10:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack