“Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino

From the foot of the Great Khan’s throne a majolica pavement extended. Marco Polo, mute informant, spread out on it the samples of the wares he had brought back from his journeys to the ends of the empire: a helmet, a seashell, a coconut, a fan. Arranging the objects in a certain order on the black and white tiles, and occasionally shifting them with studied moves, the ambassador tried to depict for the monarch’s eyes the vicissitudes of his travels, the conditions of the empire, the prerogatives of the distant provincial seats.

Kublai was a keen chess player; following Marco’s movements, he observed that certain pieces implied or excluded the vicinity of other pieces and were shifted along certain lines. Ignoring the objects’ variety of form, he could grasp the system of arranging one with respect to the others on the majolica floor. He thought: “If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.”

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“Cybernetics and Ghosts” by Italo Calvino

Shannon, Weiner, von Neumann, and Turing have radically altered our image of our mental processes. In the place of the ever-changing cloud that we carried in our heads until the other day, the condensing and dispersal of which we attempted to understand by describing impalpable psychological states and shadowy landscapes of the soul–in the place of all this we now feel the rapid passage of signals on the intricate circuits that connect the relays, the diodes, the transistors with which or skulls are crammed. Just as no chess player will ever live long enough to exhaust all the combinations of possible moves for the thirty-two pieces on the chessboard, so we know (given the fact that our minds are chessboards with hundreds of billions of pieces) that not even in a lifetime lasting as long as the universe would one ever manage to make all possible plays. But we also know that all these are implicit in the overall code of mental plays, according to the rules by which each of us, from one moment to the next, formulates his thoughts, swift or sluggish, cloudy or crystalline as they may be.


Kuhn’s scientific values for theory-choice

First, Kuhn’s argument was that there was no way to use theories to choose from amongst conflicting theories.  Well taken.

Second, Kuhn advanced ‘scientific values’ as influential of choice of paradigm:

  • Accuracy
  • Consistency
  • Scope
  • Simplicity
  • Fruitfulness

Kuhn contrasts ‘values’ with ‘rules’.  Interesting to note here both Wittgenstein’s fascination with rules and Kripke’s interpretation of them within the context of the private language argument.  Wittgenstein laid ‘values’ outside the proper bounds of language, and reserved a deep silence for them.  I’ve always thought that the vast majority, less principled than he, make liberal use of their ‘values’ both when deciding which rule-systems to select, and in deciding how to apply rules.

These are from the Structure of Scientific revolutions, as cited in Rorty’s ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’

Rorty on Hermeneutics

from ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” p. 325


“Hermeneutics does not need a new epistemology any more than liberal political thought needs a new paradigm of sovereignty.  Hermeneutics, rather, is what we get when we are no longer epistemological.”


The post-epistemological human.  Left with only hermeneutics.


I have a striking thought here that there has been/should be a post-epistemological AI.

Rorty on Pragmatism

from ‘Pragmatism as Romantic Polytheism’ in The Revival of Pragmatism


“Poetry cannot be a substitute for monotheistic religion, but it can serve the purposes of a secular version of polytheism.” p. 23


“There is no such thing as truth.  What has been called by that name is a mixture of agreement, the love of gaining mastery over a recalcitrant set of data, the love of winning arguments, and the love of synthesizing little theories into big theories.” p. 28


These quotes aren’t directly related to this class, but I’m pulling out all of the works I interleaved annotations into over winter break and mining them for quotes.  We’ll see what pattern emerges.


The interesting thing about Rorty’s position in this article (and true about much of his work, the later Wittgenstein, etc) is that it never seeks to justify.  It’s purely descriptive, and then there’s a little persuasion.  There’s no need to controls or rules, only the agreement attendant to sufficient communication.  By that I mean Rorty is interested in us understanding him, but never does he attempt to defend theses, or begin from first principles.  The focus is different than in other philosophers and in much of the dialog between humans, especially in the religious and political realms.


But Rorty’s disposition is at home at a cocktail party, or a barbeque, or a lighthearted discussion amongst friends.  And the capacity to assume that disposition is something very necessary for sentience.  In a way, it is sentience poking out from underneath language, systems, intelligence.  And now you see where I’m going with this- how could we get Rorty’s disposition to poke out from a system?

Neosentience and Umwelt



“biological foundations that lie at the very epicenter of the study of both communication and signification in the human [and non-human] animal.”


Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok


Each organism has a distinct way of interacting with the world.  This defines the possibility space of their consciousness.  Each sensory faculty and integrative neuronal function an organism possesses creates a Cartesian product of these possibility spaces.  This yields a massive space for sentience and also reinforces Seaman and Rossler’s focus on multimodal sensations for neosentient systems.


“…truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power:… truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.” (Foucault 131 “Truth & Power” from Power/Knowledge 1980)


I found this quote to be strangely relevant in creating the “system” for memory particularly because I am trying (and I believe we in this class are often trying) to pull pieces of “truth” out of a multiplicity of regimes and find how they might intersect.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sets of micro/macro, digital/analogue, analytic/wholistic  systems of looking & trying to make truth out of our experiences of the world.