Tuesday, 03 June 2008

Fun and Games from Mind & Language; or, What Arguments with Stakes Look Like To misquote Henry Kissinger: "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue—that is why academic politics are so bitter."[1] Academic politics, absolutely, but the same doesn't obtain in academic publications (at least not in the humanities). Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.[2] I understandably relish the rare opportunities to watch as knives slide from their sheaths in preparation for battle. None of this "Building X upon the contradictory theories of Y and Z by resolving an irrelevant debate between A and B on the important but unrelated matter of C to demonstrate the significance of D in the context of E to the mutually exclusive discourses of F and G without falling into the easily avoidable trap set by G and H that I and J mistakenly attribute to K but which is actually based on the misinterpretation of L by M in his slavish devotion to N's conception of an O mediated by the P that Q insisted to R was all that maintained S's theory of T in light of the contributions of U and V to the marginalized discipline of W" stuff. As entertaining as it may be to watch such material collapse under the weight of its own absurdity, it lacks the visceral pleasure afforded by an old-fashioned academic knifing. To wit: Jerry Fodor steps into the circle: When [adaptationist explanations of the evolution of heritable traits] work it's because they provide plausible historical narratives, not because they cite covering laws. In particular, pace Darwinists, adaptationism doesn't articulate the mechanisms of the selection of heritable phenotypic traits; it couldn't because there aren't any mechanisms of the selection of heritable phenotypic traits (as such). All there are is the many, many different ways in which various creatures manage to flourish in the many, many environmental situations in which the do so. Diamond remarks that Darwin didn't just present 'a well-thought-out theory of evolution. Most importantly, he also proposed a theory of causation, the theory of natural selection.' Well, if I'm right, that's exactly what Darwin didn't do; a 'theory of causation' is exactly what the theory of natural selection isn't. Well, if he's right, I'm a scientist. If he's right, we all ought to write totally informally like all the time. Furthermore, if he's right, well, Daniel Dennett must be wrong: As often before, Jerry Fodor makes my life easier, this time by (1) figuring out a persuasive reductio ad absurdum argument for my views, (2) absolving me of any suspicion that I'm creating a straw man by resolutely embracing the absurd conclusion, and (3) providing along the way some vivid lessons in How Not to Do Philosophy. The only work left for me to do is (a) draw attention to these useful pedagogical aids, (b) point out the absurdity of Jerry's expressed position and (c) remind you that I told you so. [...] Now this really is absurd. Silly absurd. Preposterous....
Acephalous's Index V (V?) (XIX?) In months, the time between Scott is awarded his doctorate and the day a stranger hands it to him in a pointless public spectacle: 9 The humorlessness, with reference to to this, of this stolid soul when measured in joules per kilowatt miles per hour: 1,941 The chance Jeffrey Cohen's "pleasure reading" does not result in an intellectually rich and professionally stimulating synthesis of something-or-other: 0 The number of seconds after a barely perceptible drizzle misted Scott's windshield it took Californians to remind him they are incapable of driving in weather: 0.01 The number of hours Scott estimates he spent trapped in a car listening to Larry Mantle's tensive enthusiasm for the most important and vital issues confronting the Southland today because Californians refuse to acknowledge that liquids lower the coefficient of friction: 4,189,019 The actual number of hours Scott spent trapped according to Larry Mantle, who is always already really sorry but running out of time now: Consult The Oracle According to Warren Ellis, the number of centuries removed from our own the "fucked-up paralogia [that] seemed to infect the Clinton campaign" set sanitation back: 3 The average time it has taken Scott to complete a chapter, calculated in agony: 91 The normative time to complete a chapter, according to UC administration, calculated in months: 5 According to Joe Poz, the percentage of conservative commentators bemoaning the "elitism" of Obama who would prefer they be operated on by the kind of cardiologist with whom they could drink a beer: 0 The percentage of conservative commentators who would prefer the person with the power to raze and salt the planet fifty-times over be the kind of guy with whom they could drink a beer: 100 The percentage of David Brookses who believe Obama is unfit to be President because he would stick his sore thumb in the eyes of the simple people patronizing the Applebee's salad bar: 100 The number of Applebee's in the Lower Forty-Eight States that have salad bars: 0 Combined, the number of Applebee's in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam that have salad bars: 0 The odds that David Brooks has been in an Applebee's in a century whose first or first two digits were not prime numbers: 0 in 1,000 The likelihood this ignorant display of faux-populism will dissuade him and his from claiming that because they are The Salt of the Earth, they ought to be the ones with the power to permanently salt it: 0 in 1,000,000,000 Measured in awesome, the superiority of earlier versions of this parlor trick: ∞ UPDATE: The number of items Scott had to edit above before it made any sense: 4 and counting

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