At IDSVA's January 12, 2019 Commencement in New York City, board member Edgar Coons announced his One Million Dollar Gift to IDSVA. The gift will fund the Edgar E. Coons, Jr., Professorship of New Philosophy.
On behalf of the board of trustees, Coons named IDSVA founder and president George Smith as IDSVA's first Edgar E. Coons, Jr., Professor of New Philosophy.
Smith is author of the recently published The Artist-Philosopher and New Philosophy.
Ted Coons Commencement Address 2019
Hello, I’m Ted or Edgar Coons. I’m an NYU Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience since 1965.
This is a talk about why I am setting up a Professorship in New Philosophy, the first of its kind, at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, the first occupant of which will be George Smith, the Founder and Head of that Institute, known for short as IDSVA. The bizarre title of my talk which hopefully will rationalize itself by my talk’s end is:
So what is the “NEW” Philosophy that I am funding? To start explaining, let’s consider what’s OLD Philosophy that it’s new from?
What are some of the questions that traditional philosophy deals with? Perhaps the quickest answer is to list here the principal sub-areas of philosophy into which its practitioners can be sorted as follows: Aestheticians (re beauty), Epistemologists (re knowing), Ethicists (re morals), Logicians (re math), Metaphysicians (re making sense of it all), and various Social and political philosophers.
To mention a select few by name in historical order: the Pre-Socratics Heraclitus & Parmenides, of course Plato (Socrates) and Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Anselm, Saint Aquinas, Descartes, Leibnitz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger
Why NEW?...two big issues as outlined below:
A. It’s about who’s allowed to do philosophy – meaning in part by what methods
Deductive Inference and/or Inductive Inference
B. But mainly it’s about the subject matter – Not what’s IN but what’s been left OUT
- - - - - - - - - -
A. So, what are the methods of inference used by philosophers and who uses them?
What follows will be a discussion of them according to outlines shown on SLIDE #3.
The Syllogistic / Logic Method
What it’s good at doing: drawing out (“uncovering”)
What its limitations are (Gödel’s Incompleteness)
Historical prejudices favoring its use and who can do it
The Scientific Method
What its limitations are: what to do with its products and their successes
Historical prejudices regarding its cultural dangers and who can use it
Beginning with Plato and Aristotle—the focus, after accepting a few empirical observations as inherently true (for example, the axioms of Euclid’s geometry), has been on treating them syllogistically as premises from which other—otherwise latent—truths can be logically deduced or, as Heidegger would say, ‘uncovered’. The use of the syllogistic method, by virtue of the authority accorded Plato and Aristotle, and it’s undisputed successes in uncovering otherwise hard or impossible to realize important interactions between truths has continued almost monopolistically as the way of reasoning in philosophy ever since. A famous example of this deductive method is René Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum” syllogism (SLIDE #4) in which from the truth of his two empirical observations, “All thinking things exist” and “I think,” he could indisputably prove that “I exist.” At the heart of much progress in math were sophisticated applications of the deductive method, especially during the 19th Century. This gave rise to the Logical Positivists’ optimistic hypotheses epitomized by Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica that all mathematics could be derivable by logical analysis. However, in 1931, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem proved definitively that PM, and in fact any other attempt, could never achieve this lofty goal; that is, for any set of axioms and inference rules proposed to encapsulate mathematics, either the system must be inconsistent, or there must in fact be some truths of mathematics which cannot be deduced from them.
Finally, a prejudice started by Plato and Aristotle was that the highest form of reasoning in philosophy is of the deductive sort which by implication was against the type of reasoning that had been used by their pre-Socratic forerunners whose focus was more on the natural world and in the used of mythologizing and poiesis rather than logic to try to understand it.
Discussion re the outline for Inductive Inference shown on the slide #5:
At the heart of inductive inference is 1) careful observation and 2) the application of the Scientific Method to determine the cause of a phenomenon under consideration. The beginning of its formulation (one of the truly great accomplishments of us humans) is credited to Sir Francis Bacon in Queen Elizabeth’s court in the early 16 Hundreds. I learned how to use it from Professor Neal Miller, my psychology research advisor at Yale in the late 1950’s. In our weekly lab meetings, if we were planning an experiment, Neal first had us students carefully consider what could be the possible cause of the matter in question. Then he had us explore what might be the mediating mechanisms and processes by which the prospective cause exerted its self so as to find ways to manipulate them. His reasoning was that, when actually manipulated, the mechanisms and processes resulting in an essential change in the matter of interest would indicate on which of them, in their un-manipulated states, the matter was in fact dependent—that is, which was its cause, its controlling variable.
Because of the success of its use in identifying what causes what and the means by which this occurs, discoveries can be made the applications of which can sometimes prove commercially very profitable. But should they be made? Not always; as for example, the very profitable over-production of the invention of plastic is proving to be so threatening to the Earth’s environment. But the motive for capitalist profit has set up a conflict with the restraint on plastic production that solving this pollution requires.
There is yet other problems (one dating back to Plato) concerning the possible dangers of “change” inherent in using inductive inference: 1) an emphasis on paying attention to the here’s and now’s this “change” encourages and 2) allowing artists—those most likely to be the practitioners of “change”—unsupervised freedom to use it. Indeed, in The Republic Plato disparaged those who pay too much attention to the immediacies (the Now’s) of experience, the artists and poets and the Greek philosophers who preceded him—the Pre-Socratics. He claimed them to be inferior in their judgements and, moreover, dangerous practitioners of change that could destabilize a society. The dangers he saw in change lay in the mysterious tendency of our souls to vibrate in resonance with each other like Pythagoras had shown the strings of one harp to do in resonance with those of another. All the more reasons to assure that the vibrations were in simple, i.e. not too adventurous, harmonious ratios with each other. The determinants of these he credited to the eternal and unchangingly transcendent Forms (geometric and mathematical in nature) he saw as underlying reality and revealed to us either by a mysterious go-between called a Demiurge. All the more reason to protect a society from the dis-harmonically, destructive influences of changes in these Forms and from the artists, poets, and thinkers inclined to promote those changes. Historically, these views of Plato are to be understood originally as legitimate and even admirable attempts on his part to protect his Athenian culture from the threats being posed then by invasions from Assyrian military and internal social factors. Yet, the authority accorded to these views ever since has justified the aggressive use of art censorship by various governments, like the Soviet Union during much of its existence, and other controlling groups to help maintain themselves in power.
In other words, what’s wrong with Philosophy so that a New Philosophy is needed? (SLIDE #6)
B. Mainly it’s about the subject matter – Not what’s IN but what’s been left OUT
BEING: Heidegger’s complaint of philosophy’s neglect of experience’s NOWness
Its subject matter: Qualia and their defining characteristics including privacy
Who can investigate them
Psychologists, Neuroscientists, Philosophers but inadequately why?
Artists? But why are they at all qualified (QUALIAFIED)?
Answers lie in history of Homo sapiens’ discovery of how to ...
... make the privacy of qualia at least somewhat public and ... ... the huge benefits this yielded and makes us so UNIQUE
... the huge benefits this yielded and makes us so UNIQUE
Discussion re the outline for the B. section of ‘Why NEW?’ shown on the SLIDE #6
In Martin Heidegger’s book Being and Time published in 1927 he observed that, over the past 2,000 years, philosophy has attended to all the beings that can be found in the world (including the world itself), but has forgotten to ask what Being itself is. By this he meant that there has been in Philosophy an abysmal lack of focus on the essential stop-action ‘NOWness’ of experience—its position moments. Rather, he said, instances of Being have been treated as hardly noticeable stepping-stone Things only instrumentally necessary for forging forward with momentum toward a goal.
But (SLIDES #7-#10) what are the information’s imbedded in each Now moment we experience? In the intense solipsistic privacy of each person’s immediate experiencing’s only directly accessible to him or her, these information’s are what are called qualia. They are the feelings of our sensations, our urges, our thoughts, our intentions and our memories as at that moment before us. Before we had ways of externalizing our experiences to ourselves and other people, qualia were the so-called coins of the realm, the only denominations, for coding experiences and registering them in memory for the possibility of re-access to one’s self but, originally in human evolution, only to one’s self...the utter privacy of one’s self.
Despite the fact that today we can and do invade the privacy of those qualia somewhat, as witnessed by the flood of probing research currently being done of them by psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers, these qualia in their inner sanctum mode are still the way a person’s experience sensations, urges, thoughts, intentions, and memories of them most deeply converse with each other. To illustrate, I once asked a friend who was a specialist of the neurology of pain what it meant to his own personal experience of pain to know so much about the neural mechanisms of pain processing involved. He answered that to a degree it helped distract himself a bit from the personal experience of pain but that when it came to the raw sensations of a real tooth ache and its qualia, all his acquired neurophysiological sophistication be damned. In those moments, the ache and its qualia’s compelling immediacy was where he lived his life...like everybody else, all alone.
But back to the ways we do manage to at least partly express to each other our qualia in all their privacy, how do we do it? In very primitive ways such as facial expressions, body movements, postures, and vocalizations each of us via neural re-afferent feedback from these behaviors could externalize something of these qualia objectively to our own selves. By noting the correlations of these qualia with our own behaviors and the resulting behaviors of other people toward us, we could begin to express our feelings and accommodate our behaviors to each other well enough to exist helpfully to each other in tribes. But the real social genius of us Homo Sapiens in our social evolution was in finding ways—as will follow—to express our qualia to each other yet even more directly......ways in fact that artists, not characteristically philosophers, are (HINT) still so good at.
What did we do and how did we do it? Let’s go back 100,000 years to the Blombos Cave at the southern tip of Africa. There, anthropologists are finding evidence that early Homo sapiens made and wore bead-like things, decorated themselves red with ochre, and scratched symmetric markings on a stone. Were these possibly in the service of peacock-like sexual courtship displays or were they expressive of non-utilitarian internal qualia experiences that those early Homo sapiens somehow wanted to make public to each other in a very personal “Kilroy was here” sense? If the latter was indeed their motive, it was for us Homo sapiens the beginning of a great break-through achievement over an otherwise “helplessly locked-in though rich qualia ‘life of the mind’ existence”.
Now skip ahead to deep inside the Chauvet Cave 36,000 years ago in France. There on the cave’s walls were painted the most beautiful displays of primarily the animal life of that time and region. We today would have no trouble hanging these displays in our finest museums and calling them great art probably worth millions if put on the auction block. But what were they to their creators then? Were they taken in their realistic displays as totems which, if you successfully shot an arrow at them, would magically result later in a successful kill in a hunt in the great outdoors overhead? But if that were so (as later indeed such displays as totems came to be), why would the artists have needed to display successive overlapping displays of an animal as if it was running? This and a variety of other theories have been proposed. But what I’m imagining was that the meaning of these displays for their creators was the absolute magic of their discovering the ability to portray validly in amazing external detail on the cave’s walls for themselves and others to view a replica of the internal qualia they had of these creatures and their movements inside the otherwise very private qualia of their minds. I’m imaging that for these creators it was a truly sublimely creative experience not utilitarian except perhaps in a dim realization that they had been able to make a private qualia experience of the mind amazingly and communicatively public, though still not completely...as it probably never can be. They even may have been so proud of their discovery that they wanted somehow to indicate it was quite really individually but now publically of their own mind to their compatriots who also in realization of this amazing accomplishment’s similarity to qualia in their own minds were its reverent viewers in the cave...hence this signature of a hand of a presumed like-minded artist outlined in ochre on the wall of another cave museum of that era.
Now we will fast-forward through subsequent history to consider the implications of the above: At some point it was recognized that the visual qualia displays representing animals had parts analogical to the parts of real animals and, as such, could be used denotatively to refer to these parts to other humans. Because of the communicative value of the denotative use of qualia, their representations by the time of the ancient Egyptians had become stylized. These were used to graphically tell stories and relay priestly instructions onto the walls of their temples. As miniaturized these stylizations became the standardized hieroglyphs for use as one of the first written languages.
Although hieroglyphs were, at least in their beginnings, analogical representations of that for which they stood, they could be used to stand for (symbolize) other things as well, although, originally, mainly visual things. At roughly the same time in the Near East it was recognized that, when commonly agreed to, to any mark, such as a cuneiform, could communicatively be made to symbolize any meaning even one arbitrarily assigned it. When different marks were made to stand for different vocalized sound from this evolved our phonetically based written languages. However, probably long before that, it first had to be recognized that our vocal sounds could themselves come to stand symbolically for things. Maybe at first the things we could most easily vocally symbolize were those that had analogical meaning such as “bee” from the buzzing sound it makes.
Now an extremely fast-forward will show where our visual symbolizing abilities in the service of being able to publically externalize/communicate our internal and very private now-like qualia are leading us with increasing momentum...the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (circa 1439), the electrical telegraph (patented by Samuel Morse in 1837), the first commercial typewriter in 1874, the development of the personal computer beginning in the 1960’s and now epitomized by the pc’s and smartphones of Microsoft and Apple, especially the iPhone. It’s a by now a dizzying outcome of Homo sapiens’ discovery of how to make public aspects of the qualia of what otherwise would seem to be a solipsistic lock-in consciousness.
What lies ahead: An overall BIG Problem
Balancing out Now Position and Goal Momentum given Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle”
Making time to consider and integrate: the use or blocking of “Backward Masking”
When and where and the Postponement of Gratification versus reaping Capitalism’s profits
But whoa!, from all this momentum, with—by now—its added commercialization, let’s stop the interruptive supplanting of one qualia rapidly by another and focus on what Heidegger calls the Being of each qualia, the cinematic stop-action slow-down which, as in sleep, allows us to evaluate editorially among our daily experiences and consolidate for future referencing the survivors. Yet we do have to also move on. Would that we could both pause and move at the same time. But unfortunately there’s at least an analogical true to be drawn from the “uncertainty principle” first set forth by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. That principle states that at the quantum level of physical reality one cannot with precision measure at the same time both the position of a particle and its momentum...the more precise the measurement of one the less precise will be the measurement of the other. In what follows, I metaphorically employ the position and momentum issues in the uncertainty principle to consider ‘how to’ and ‘when not to’ live in the BEING of our NOWness moments that Martin Heidegger (in his 1927 book BEING and TIME) complained of traditional philosophy being neglectful of.
So what might be a goal of the New Philosophy for which I am creating a professorship? Hint: to increase a focus on the Nowness of which BEING is composed. One way is to interfere with the processes that backward mask (that is, inhibit) attention on where you are at this moment, processes that thereby leave undistracted your trajectory attention on where you are going, One very natural way to do block this backward masking is to focus your attention on the minute hand of a clock as it progresses from one second to another. When you do that, a passage of a minute seems to take much more time than when the minute hand is unattended to. The saying “A watched pot never boils” boils captures this effect and also accounts for our frustrations with the seeming undue lengthening of time as we are waiting impatiently for an elevator to arrive. These are negative examples of what can be the effects of focusing on the Now’s of time. Another example is the effect the blocking backward masking on our perceptions of our and other people’s movements at a disco while a strobe light is blinking. Movements then across the dance floor seems to progress in slow motion. Another is the effect that marijuana can have on, for example, our experiencing a spoon while eating. While normally it is perceived merely in it utility function of scooping up soup from a bowl into our mouths but, while “under the influence,” we suddenly notice the spoon’s beautiful curvaceous shape otherwise inhibited so as not to distract us from the goal of successfully feeding ourselves. Yet another marijuana effect of interfering with progress toward a goal is the experience of starting to relate story to a friend and finding ourselves stranded in the middle of the conversation with no notion of where we were headed,
While these are some interesting examples of the consequences of breaking the momentum toward a goal by focusing on the positions in time along the way, what for Heidegger would be the important effect of the ‘pausings’ in momentum by the interference with backward masking so that we can focus more on these positions, is an advantage we can thereby garner from these ‘pausings’. First of all, it will allow for greater consolidation of the information these positions contain before the opportunity for consolidation is washed away by the next positional moment on the way to some goal. This hastening from one Now to the next and its interference with the consolidation of the information each Now contains is in fact a danger that is now being perceived in our rush from one media image to the next including those on our iPhones.
It is the ‘pausings’ to recollect BEING that may strengthen in us the ability to postpone gratification in the service of ego, i.e., to resist our momentums toward immediate goals, in order to consider and implement better solutions than blindly giving into the satisfaction now of our primitive needs and capitalist greeds. It is critically important that we humans do so or the consequences in a generation or so may be our complete destruction of at-least all higher life on Earth.
It’s the grand hypothesis of this talk that capturing the grand immediately of Heidegger’s Being the qualia position moments, is what Art is so good at taking over and moving from the syllogistic momentum of RATionalizing to ARTionalizing. It’s where Art is especially good in acting as the thermometer of a culture and measuring its temperature. It’s what I began to realize long ago when as an undergraduate in the music department at Colorado College I was heading to be a composer. It was then that I began to experience how related are form and feeling. It was as a graduate student in the Music School at Yale that I decided to study the underlying informational flow required in binding together the relationship between them. Since in mediating this flow the nervous system was obviously central, I successfully petitioned the Music School to let me take some courses in psychology to learn about the mechanisms and processes of that flow. One thing lead to another and the Psychology Department decided to take a chance on accepting me into its graduate program for a PhD. There after a while I was puzzled to find myself doing research on reward mechanisms in rats. When I asked my research mentor, the great psychology Professor Neal E. Miller about the relevance to my plan of studying rats rather than humans, he smiled quaintly and said don’t worry they have a lot to teach you about the applicable wisdoms of your shift because we humans in all our experiencing are really just complicated rats. Hence the true meaning of the puny title of my talk in its entirety:
“From RATionalize to ARTionalize”—all double-entendrés intended—
Maybe you can now truly understand why I’ve become involved with and on the board of IDSVA. Meeting and becoming a friend of it’s leader and founder George Smith afforded me the opportunity to really dwelling on and realize where my career has been taking me...to a deep appreciation of Being and its importance, not that tracing out the momentum of it is unimportant...on the contrary equally important...and to appreciate the importance of encouraging a philosophy that takes the study of the contributions of artists as its central focus in understanding the meaning of it all as contemplated in George’s recent book, The Artist-Philosopher and New Philosophy. Hence, my deciding to fund a Professorship in New Philosophy.
Briefly (SLIDES #12-#14) the “Me” in all of this...the history of my “makings”...the themes involved...credits due:
My family’s history, upbringing, rebellion, CC, discovery of relation between form & feeling,
Move from Music at Yale to Psychology in pursuit of that relation, Neal E. Miller and the rats,
Choice of NYU and Psychology at NYU...Research in Needs and Reward...Multimedia...Film
My PhD’s, undergraduates & teaching...George Smith...IDSVA...Why finally my talk’s title !!!
(SLIDES #15-#16) with “thanks” to a 3-lettered someone else to call my talk decorously to a close as follows:
no RAT inspires aesthetic thrill
but this one’s tried by dint of will
to package up in permutations
all its qualia combinations
hoping you’ll have at this pARTy
RATionalized them finally ARTy
Edgar E. Coons, Jr.
Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience
New York University