Playtester Profile: Cyber-Dave

In this week's Playtester Profile, Wizards community member Cyber-Dave talks about literary influences and D&D Next as a storytelling medium.

Discuss this blog here. 

All around helpful simian

Hey...it's Dave!
Good interview!
"The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind." - H.P. Lovecraft
Indeed, congrorats Cyber-Dave.
Congrats, Dave.  Thought-provoking discussion!
Hey, a fellow literature PhD candidate with an inappropriate fondness for dice probability math!

Eeeks. I have noticed (at least one) typo on my part. In my second last response "periods of times" should read "periods of time." Also, the blog seems to have done something odd to my paragraph structure. 

In any case, thank you for the experience crazy_monkey; it was fun!

And yes ClockworkNetcktie, that does describe me to a T. I take it me and you walk in similar shoes? May I ask, what field of specialization has caught your interest? 

CD is a baddie;)

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 Fear is the Mind Killer  

And yes ClockworkNetcktie, that does describe me to a T. I take it me and you walk in similar shoes? May I ask, what field of specialization has caught your interest? 



Comparative literature (mostly Latin American). We get to teach a lot of fun "world literature" type survey classes, which leaks into my roleplaying in weird ways...
And yes ClockworkNetcktie, that does describe me to a T. I take it me and you walk in similar shoes? May I ask, what field of specialization has caught your interest? 



Comparative literature (mostly Latin American). We get to teach a lot of fun "world literature" type survey classes, which leaks into my roleplaying in weird ways...



Neat! I am a contemporary literature geek myself; I tend to focus on philosophical and cybernetic influences on fiction. 

And yes ClockworkNetcktie, that does describe me to a T. I take it me and you walk in similar shoes? May I ask, what field of specialization has caught your interest? 



Comparative literature (mostly Latin American). We get to teach a lot of fun "world literature" type survey classes, which leaks into my roleplaying in weird ways...



Neat! I am a contemporary literature geek myself; I tend to focus on philosophical and cybernetic influences on fiction. 




Snow Craaaaash!
Nice article dave. I will admit though, my brain has never worked so hard keeping up with any of these articles. It had to pull words out of the crevices I haven't used since I took the SAT o_O
My two copper.
Interesting to know your BG, cyber.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Very nice article, CD.  Well done.

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

And yes ClockworkNetcktie, that does describe me to a T. I take it me and you walk in similar shoes? May I ask, what field of specialization has caught your interest? 



Comparative literature (mostly Latin American). We get to teach a lot of fun "world literature" type survey classes, which leaks into my roleplaying in weird ways...



Neat! I am a contemporary literature geek myself; I tend to focus on philosophical and cybernetic influences on fiction. 




Snow Craaaaash!



Neal Stephenson is a god among men. God I tell you. I may or may not have a shrine to him in my house. If that shrine exists, I call that shrine my bookshelf.

I was actually just writing a dissertation chapter talking about Buadrillard's use of Borges in "Simulacra and Simulation." Good stuff.

So yeah... D&D! 

I was actually just writing a dissertation chapter talking about Buadrillard's use of Borges in "Simulacra and Simulation." Good stuff.

So yeah... D&D! 



I can't wait to start working on my dissertation. I just finished doing the course work component of my PhD. I am currently studying for my first comprehensive exam. I am, however, reading Simulacra and Simulation for that. And, I recently wrote a creative travel article about Paris that made heavy use Simulacra and Simulation and Barthes's "Myth Today." Still, the texts that have really floated my boat recently are Heidegger’s On Being and Time and "On Technology." Of course, now everything seems to be a ge-stell or a destining, which is sort of ironic considering the subject matter...
I can't agree more with the idea of using abstractions for determining range instead of unit most people outside US never use.

Using lasting conditions is something I play with since 2nd edition.
It works very well to simulate broken bones and other sources of pain that don't justify slowing HPs recuperation. The most common penalty we use at out tables is movement reductions. It also nicely works with critical hit tables.

If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.

Good interview, grats Dave!

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

Good chat - i too prefer theatre of the mind to grids and am looking forward to lasting wounds/critical hit/fumble options. I think 5e will be great as long as there are plenty of optional rules to pick and choose from.
Just came out of hibernation to say congrats to Dave for the good interview.
A wonderful addition to the Playtester Profile alumni.
Okay...back into hiding. My parole officer might be reading.

I was actually just writing a dissertation chapter talking about Buadrillard's use of Borges in "Simulacra and Simulation." Good stuff.

So yeah... D&D! 



I can't wait to start working on my dissertation. I just finished doing the course work component of my PhD. I am currently studying for my first comprehensive exam. I am, however, reading Simulacra and Simulation for that. And, I recently wrote a creative travel article about Paris that made heavy use Simulacra and Simulation and Barthes's "Myth Today." Still, the texts that have really floated my boat recently are Heidegger’s On Being and Time and "On Technology." Of course, now everything seems to be a ge-stell or a destining, which is sort of ironic considering the subject matter...



Oh what fun.  Which do you take? the existentialist, the anti-machinist, or the organicist/emergentist interpretation?  For Heidegger I mean.  I used to lean toward the existentialist, but after a lot of Husserl and a lot more Heidegger, I think that the organicist/emergentist interpretation makes more sense.  I would be curious to know your thoughts since I rarely have a chance to talk this sort of shop.
Cool interview. This is a nice quote:

“As for the balance point between game and story, I don't think there is one. I think that the binary ‘game and story’ is a false dichotomy. In the case of pencil and paper role playing games, the game is the medium by which you tell a story. So, asking ‘what is the balance point between game and story’ is like asking ‘what is the balance point between prose and plot.’ I don't know how to answer that, as I don't think such a point exists.”

The game is the “medium” for generating a story. Well said.

On the one hand, the mechanics generate the story. Players explain the results of the mechanics within their collective narrative context. But on the other hand, the story generates the mechanics. The mechanics must be flexible enough for players to bring them into play, on the fly, whenever the narrative context seems to demand them to resolve outcomes that are narratively uncertain. Improvisation in 5e is good at this, available on the fly and encouraging creative explanations for advantage or disadvantage.



I strongly agree here:

“I like it when events at the table occur primarily through narration. I mean to say, I like theater of the mind game-play, and I like mechanics that are rewarded or imposed based on a player’s dialogue with a Dungeon Master. ... Prolonged square counting and geometric board-play breaks my immersion in the  narrative experience.”

I also find “square counting” on a gridded map to disrupt my narrative immersion. The following solution is important:

“I would still like to see more abstract measurements (such as engaged, close range, long range, extended range) that would help simplify theater of the mind game-play. Hopefully we will get something like that in one of the game’s modules.” 



Specifically, I hope to see something like the following:

Engaged (within 1 yard) - hand range, hand-to-hand combat, melee weapons, sometimes called “melee range”
Close (within 10 yards) - throw range, move action, close quarters combat, sometimes called “very short range”
• Distant (within 100 yards) - bow range (one city block), sometimes called “short range”
Long Range (within 1000 yards) - town range (medieval townwall diameter, ten city blocks), modern long range rifle
• Remote (anywhere)



I find yards less distracting from the story, when estimating and mentally tracking distances. Of course, yards are easier for metric users. But it is easy for me to think in yards. A door knob is about a yard high, a door about two yards high, a ceiling about three yards high. A football field is roughly 100 yards, about the distance of a bow shot. Also, it is easy for me think about the length of a normal move per turn, and then divide this into subunits of ten. So someone who splits their move can spend half of their move to travel about 5 yards, then still have 5 yards to travel after their standard wield action.

The abstract measurements are so simple. Something is either within a move action (Close) or beyond it (Distant). These rough distances are great for visualizing and immersing in a narrative scene.

These simple measurements (Engaged, Close, Distant) are especially helpful for spellcasting. It is easy for me to visualize whether the spell range is more like a hand-to-hand attack, a dagger throw, or a bow shot. Some spells might even can cover a town.
 
Designwise, it seems easier to use these rough approximations for distances in Basic rules: Engaged, Close, Distant. These ballpark measurements are friendly for narrative style (theater of the mind).

A separate module is easy to add to such Basic rules. Grid-map wargaming can easily “square count” these 10 yards precisely. The wargame module can also add tables for more precise measurements, such as to distinguish a punch (1 yard), from a sword (2 yards), or a polearm (3 yards), a spear throw (7 yards) from a dagger throw (10 yards), a crossbow shot from a bow shot, and so on.
Just came out of hibernation to say congrats to Dave for the good interview.
A wonderful addition to the Playtester Profile alumni.
Okay...back into hiding. My parole officer might be reading.


Holy crap it's Hocus Smokus! I thought he was just a rumor!
My two copper.
@Cyber-Dave: It took me a while to actually understand the complicated English (damn PHDs) but I actually like your views on the game.
Oh what fun.  Which do you take? the existentialist, the anti-machinist, or the organicist/emergentist interpretation?  For Heidegger I mean.  I used to lean toward the existentialist, but after a lot of Husserl and a lot more Heidegger, I think that the organicist/emergentist interpretation makes more sense.  I would be curious to know your thoughts since I rarely have a chance to talk this sort of shop.


Honestly, I am still too much of a laymen in regards to Heidegger to steak a specific interpretation. I am still working through On Being and Time. I don't feel that I understand that text well enough to talk about it at all yet. I can tell that it is going to become one of my major influences. I am having the same reaction to it that I had to N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman, and that text ended up shaping the direction of a lot of my research after I read it. But, I don't understand it well enough, yet, to feel comfortable engaging in a discussion about it. I am far more comfortable with "On Technology," so I am going to limit my response to that.

I haven't read any Husserl yet (it is on my to-do list, but it will have to wait until after I finish researching/reading all the texts for my first comp). And, I haven't read (and understood) enough Heidegger to talk about Heidegger in general. I don't see a strong justification, however, for an "anti-machinist" interpretation of "On Technology" (assuming, of course, that I understand your use of the term correctly). Certainly the text speaks about the danger that a technological paradigm brings to contemporary culture, and its explicit thesis is that it is in the arts and philosophy that culture finds an integral and necessary component of thought that the technological ge-stell threatens to erase. But, it is important to remember that the technological ge-stell predates actual scientific or technological innovation; it is a particular paradigm that has informed how we have engaged in scientific and technological innovation, and as such exists as part of the essence of technology, but it is still a component of the human paradigm (and thus thought process). The danger of the technological ge-stell seems to me to be less of a danger brought about by technology and more of a danger brought about by the way we, humans, think about things and organize our thoughts.


Now, insofar as I have just rooted the essence of technology in human thought, it would seem I am coming to an existentialist conclusion. I don’t know if I think that is accurate, however. Much of his tool theory in On Being and Time (I know, I know, I said I would stay away from it for now, and for the most part I will) seems to be rooted in networks. I mean, there is a reason someone like Graham Harman talks about Heidegger’s tool theory in “On the Road to Objects.” Object oriented ontology would seem to be a prime example of an emergentist philosophy, no? I mean, it claims that all combinations of objects (understood in a platonic/philosophically idealist sense) form new objects with new essences. While Heidegger never really says that himself, even in “On Technology” there is a strong sense that what is important is a complex relationship between a number of different elements. For example, it is a human paradigm that shapes the essence of technology. But, that paradigm is build on a destining that could not really happen without a sequence of interactions that first involves the guild-specialist (in ancient Greece), then the scientist attempting and successfully creating the standing reserve, and finally technology like the oil-fields and the airplane. Would the ge-stell be occurring without a complete sequence and a number of reifications that support the trajectory of a particular destining? I don’t know that it would, and it doesn’t seem to me that Heidegger is saying that it would.


So, I think I agree with you. I think an emergetist interpretation makes the most sense. But, like I said, I am a layman when it comes to Heidegger. So, what do I know? I still have way more reading to do before I am convinced that any of my musings in this post have any intellectual validity.   

@Cyber-Dave: It took me a while to actually understand the complicated English (damn PHDs) but I actually like your views on the game.




Heh. I didn't think my vocabulary in that interview was that dense. I mean, I used the term “verisimilitude,” but then that gets thrown around on these boards a lot. “Probabilistic” seems like a word that anyone who loves dice would know. I can understand if my use of “artifact” confused some readers. I didn’t use the version of it commonly employed by D&D (though the version I used is very strongly related to the version used by D&D, as both refer to something left over by something else). But, I pretty much just responded to questions the way I would write on the boards. It even seems that I included a few dyslexic typos. Yea, being a mildly dyslexic English Literature PhD makes me something of a sit-com character…


Anyway, thanks for all the kind words everyone, and I hope I was not too confusing.

Oh what fun.  Which do you take? the existentialist, the anti-machinist, or the organicist/emergentist interpretation?  For Heidegger I mean.  I used to lean toward the existentialist, but after a lot of Husserl and a lot more Heidegger, I think that the organicist/emergentist interpretation makes more sense.  I would be curious to know your thoughts since I rarely have a chance to talk this sort of shop.


Honestly, I am still too much of a laymen in regards to Heidegger to steak a specific interpretation. I am still working through On Being and Time. I don't feel that I understand that text well enough to talk about it at all yet. I can tell that it is going to become one of my major influences. I am having the same reaction to it that I had to N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman, and that text ended up shaping the direction of a lot of my research after I read it. But, I don't understand it well enough, yet, to feel comfortable engaging in a discussion about it. I am far more comfortable with "On Technology," so I am going to limit my response to that.

I haven't read any Husserl yet (it is on my to-do list, but it will have to wait until after I finish researching/reading all the texts for my first comp). And, I haven't read (and understood) enough Heidegger to talk about Heidegger in general. I don't see a strong justification, however, for an "anti-machinist" interpretation of "On Technology" (assuming, of course, that I understand your use of the term correctly). Certainly the text speaks about the danger that a technological paradigm brings to contemporary culture, and its explicit thesis is that it is in the arts and philosophy that culture finds an integral and necessary component of thought that the technological ge-stell threatens to erase. But, it is important to remember that the technological ge-stell predates actual scientific or technological innovation; it is a particular paradigm that has informed how we have engaged in scientific and technological innovation, and as such exists as part of the essence of technology, but it is still a component of the human paradigm (and thus thought process). The danger of the technological ge-stell seems to me to be less of a danger brought about by technology and more of a danger brought about by the way we, humans, think about things and organize our thoughts.


Now, insofar as I have just rooted the essence of technology in human thought, it would seem I am coming to an existentialist conclusion. I don’t know if I think that is accurate, however. Much of his tool theory in On Being and Time (I know, I know, I said I would stay away from it for now, and for the most part I will) seems to be rooted in networks. I mean, there is a reason someone like Graham Harman talks about Heidegger’s tool theory in “On the Road to Objects.” Object oriented ontology would seem to be a prime example of an emergentist philosophy, no? I mean, it claims that all combinations of objects (understood in a platonic/philosophically idealist sense) form new objects with new essences. While Heidegger never really says that himself, even in “On Technology” there is a strong sense that what is important is a complex relationship between a number of different elements. For example, it is a human paradigm that shapes the essence of technology. But, that paradigm is build on a destining that could not really happen without a sequence of interactions that first involves the guild-specialist (in ancient Greece), then the scientist attempting and successfully creating the standing reserve, and finally technology like the oil-fields and the airplane. Would the ge-stell be occurring without a complete sequence and a number of reifications that support the trajectory of a particular destining? I don’t know that it would, and it doesn’t seem to me that Heidegger is saying that it would.


So, I think I agree with you. I think an emergetist interpretation makes the most sense. But, like I said, I am a layman when it comes to Heidegger. So, what do I know? I still have way more reading to do before I am convinced that any of my musings in this post have any intellectual validity.   




Well, when I say anti-machinist, it is with regard to thought (or the Seinfrage if you like).  The main tenant of emergentism, that entities can have emergent properties not predicted or derived by their consumate parts, is never directly addressed by Heidegger, but you can see it woven throughout his writings.  It helps to read him with that in mind, and eases an understanding of his great dislike of metaphysics.  The machinist view in his era was very popular.  You could argue that it has won the fight for visibility, since it now dominates our culture.  The machinist view gels nicely with the scientific dream that all things are predictable from one state to the next.  The brain-as-a-computer view would probably be the last thing Heidegger would agree with.
It's actually fascinating to me that he was so opposed to something that eventually became such a widely held view, even for the layman.  The popularity of that sort of machinist thinking is understandable, since it creates a concrete and logical system to contain the world, but it runs out of steam very quickly when specific instances of emergent properties are brought up.  Matter, combined in the appropriate amounts generates a human bieng... ostensibly we could create many human beings, but could we ever create a particular human?  Recreate the entirety of a specific spirit?  Even science has finally caught up with the emergent view when it goes beyond Newtonian limits.  Schrodingers Cat, the impossible duality of a photon, the defraction of light when it leaves a medium (light enters glass at angle A, moves through the glass at angle B and can go right back to angle A when it leaves).  We accept these things once they are observed, and attempt to explain them afterward, but even the very begining of the universe was an emergent event with no catalyst.  The laws of physics that would seem to support a mechanist viewpoint are, themselves, emergent properties not derived from separate parts.
So, emergentism and mechanicism are opposing views.  Heidegger was not anti-technology, and in his writings I always took away that he was trying to alleviate the predictable backlash from the scientific community.  Machinist thinking is not always wrong.  It applies very well in many areas, and can do much to explain the phenomenological occurences in the predictable physical world.  I think his objection was that behind scientific thought there are laws of the universe that cannot be explained mechanically even if they can be applied that way.  And mostly, that behind and before all of that lies the question of Being, which cannot be discussed in Mechanical terms.  It is a question that precedes all others.  It is the beggining, the root of everything in the world, and we should be trying to understand it.
I think the takeaway from Heideggers whole body of work is that this question is important.  He never answers the question of Being (Seinsfrage).  He mostly tries to figure out how the question can even be asked or approached, believing that the right questions will point backward in the right direction.
From an emergentist view, this is almost ridiculous, and I think he missed that.  If the world is an emergent consequence of Being, then it could not be predicted by an examination of being; how then could an examination of the world give us an answer to the question of Being?  

Anyway, I wish you much luck with Marty H.  He is difficult to read, and even more difficult to understand, but very worth it.  If you haven't read Sartre's Being and Nothingness I would greatly suggest doing so once you have finished  Beng and Time.  And if you keep that emergentist thought-process in the back of your mind, you will come up with some very interesting results.  It  was only after doing just that, that I finally understood Sartre's refusal to call that piece an existentialist book (because it is one, but it is also an emergentist view of Being).
Cyber and Malkov, I appreciate the distillation of concepts I've read about, but never specifically studied.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls


Well, when I say anti-machinist, it is with regard to thought (or the Seinfrage if you like).  The main tenant of emergentism, that entities can have emergent properties not predicted or derived by their consumate parts, is never directly addressed by Heidegger, but you can see it woven throughout his writings.  It helps to read him with that in mind, and eases an understanding of his great dislike of metaphysics.  The machinist view in his era was very popular.  You could argue that it has won the fight for visibility, since it now dominates our culture.  The machinist view gels nicely with the scientific dream that all things are predictable from one state to the next.  The brain-as-a-computer view would probably be the last thing Heidegger would agree with.


Ah. I see. So I did misunderstand what you meant when you talked about an anti-mechanist point of view. While I have dealt with a lot of work that thinks of the brain-as-a-computer, almost all of it has been from a “scientific” (though, scientifically philosophical might be a better description of a lot of their work) end (Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, Letvin, and the like) and not the philosophical end. Your reference went right over my head. I am roughly familiar with emergentism. Like I said, I tend to think of object oriented ontology as being philosophically tied to emergentism (as the combined object of any two other objects is always more than the sum of its parts; it has a new essence). What I was trying to get at with my above musings is that a network of thought processes and events seem to be responsible for the technological ge-stell, and I don't think one can clearly map a linear cause and effect sequence to that network. Rereading what I wrote above, though, my intent was not clear. I mean, I sort of did describe a cause and effect sequence, which is not what I was trying to do. 


What is actually kind of weird is that (if I am understanding you correctly) Marvin Minsky's conception of the mind seems to be both emergent and what you are describing as machinist (insofar as he conceives the mind as a computer, and thinks of the operating system as a society of agencies whose final product is more than the sum of any of its parts combined by any linear model). It is sort of interesting that the cyberneticians and the object oriented ontologists often disagree (as the cyberneticians are phenomenological epistemologists by any other name), and yet Minksy’s theories surrounding a society of the mind also produces a potential bridge between those two viewpoints. I have started to toy with the notion that each of the Minksy-described agents in the human mind is an object, and what we understand as the human mind/consciousness is another object composed out of this emergent composite object (that is more than the sum of its parts). Would that make a Minsky inspired philosophy surrounding the mind both emergent and machinist? Minsky’s position surounding the constantly shifting hierarchy of desires, however, seems to be very much in contradiction with the viewpoint of an object oriented ontologist though.  Anyways, this is mostly just me brainstorming. Who knows what position I will settle on 5 years from now? Like you said, it is rare that you get to talk this sort of shop. I like to brainstorm around people who might have interesting input.

Heidegger was not anti-technology, and in his writings I always took away that he was trying to alleviate the predictable backlash from the scientific community.



I agree. And, I hope it did not seem like I was implying that he was. His stance in "On Technology" seems to be more pro the arts and philosophy than anti-technology. I can see why some readers might see the work as being anti-technology. He does warn about the danger present in coming to see everything as a technological process, the human as a standing reserve (or the brain as a computer if you will). But as I said, it seems to be more about the danger present in a particular mode of thinking. I never got the impression that he was anti-technology in general. 

I think the takeaway from Heideggers whole body of work is that this question is important.  He never answers the question of Being (Seinsfrage).  He mostly tries to figure out how the question can even be asked or approached, believing that the right questions will point backward in the right direction.
From an emergentist view, this is almost ridiculous, and I think he missed that.  If the world is an emergent consequence of Being, then it could not be predicted by an examination of being; how then could an examination of the world give us an answer to the question of Being?  

Anyway, I wish you much luck with Marty H.  He is difficult to read, and even more difficult to understand, but very worth it.  If you haven't read Sartre's Being and Nothingness I would greatly suggest doing so once you have finished  Beng and Time.  And if you keep that emergentist thought-process in the back of your mind, you will come up with some very interesting results.  It  was only after doing just that, that I finally understood Sartre's refusal to call that piece an existentialist book (because it is one, but it is also an emergentist view of Being).



Very cool. I will keep all that in mind, and thank you for your input! 
Cyber and Malkov, I appreciate the distillation of concepts I've read about, but never specifically studied.



I've never specifically studied either... I am a painter/illustrator, so its not exactly in my professional purview.  Discussion of art always tends to bleed over into discussions of aesthetics/ethics though, so I have equipped myself appropriately.  But the real fascination began for me at 13 when I first started to read philosophy and became enamored with existentialism and the associated fiction.  I can't say that I really understood most of it back then, but over the years I have read (and re-read) a lot of philosophy texts.  I think that is the wonderful thing about philosophy.  You don't need any a priori knowledge to get something out of a philosophical treatise, just a decent vocabulary and a flexible mind.  The only downfall, for me, is that after over a decade of philosophical readings and musings, I tend to think big-picture thoughts too often.  Unfortunately, no one nearby really cares to discuss these musings with me.  It is always hard when you care really deeply about something and no one you know wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole.  I almost get the sense that those sorts of discussion actually frighten people.
Cyber and Malkov, I appreciate the distillation of concepts I've read about, but never specifically studied.



I've never specifically studied either... I am a painter/illustrator, so its not exactly in my professional purview.  Discussion of art always tends to bleed over into discussions of aesthetics/ethics though, so I have equipped myself appropriately.  But the real fascination began for me at 13 when I first started to read philosophy and became enamored with existentialism and the associated fiction.  I can't say that I really understood most of it back then, but over the years I have read (and re-read) a lot of philosophy texts.  I think that is the wonderful thing about philosophy.  You don't need any a priori knowledge to get something out of a philosophical treatise, just a decent vocabulary and a flexible mind.  The only downfall, for me, is that after over a decade of philosophical readings and musings, I tend to think big-picture thoughts too often.  Unfortunately, no one nearby really cares to discuss these musings with me.  It is always hard when you care really deeply about something and no one you know wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole.  I almost get the sense that those sorts of discussion actually frighten people.



Heh. I will happily shoot discussion topics back and forth with you via private messages, if you like. I love these sorts of discussions. You seem to be more comfortable with Mr. H. (Heidegger and Husserl), but I love to gab about ontology and epistemology in general. Someone always has something neat to say in such discussions.  


Ah. I see. So I did misunderstand what you meant when you talked about an anti-mechanist point of view. While I have dealt with a lot of work that thinks of the brain-as-a-computer, almost all of it has been from a “scientific” (though, scientifically philosophical might be a better description of a lot of their work) end (Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, Letvin, and the like) and not the philosophical end. Your reference went right over my head. I am roughly familiar with emergentism. Like I said, I tend to think of object oriented ontology as being philosophically tied to emergentism (as the combined object of any two other objects is always more than the sum of its parts; it has a new essence). What I was trying to get at with my above musings is that a network of thought processes and events seem to be responsible for the technological ge-stell, and I don't think one can clearly map a linear cause and effect sequence to that network. Rereading what I wrote above, though, my intent was not clear. I mean, I sort of did describe a cause and effect sequence, which is not what I was trying to do. 

What is actually kind of weird is that (if I am understanding you correctly) Marvin Minsky's conception of the mind seems to be both emergent and what you are describing as machinist (insofar as he conceives the mind as a computer, and thinks of the operating system as a society of agencies whose final product is more than the sum of any of its parts combined by any linear model). It is sort of interesting that the cyberneticians and the object oriented ontologists often disagree (as the cyberneticians are phenomenological epistemologists by any other name), and yet Minksy’s theories surrounding a society of the mind also produces a potential bridge between those two viewpoints. I have started to toy with the notion that each of the Minksy-described agents in the human mind is an object, and what we understand as the human mind/consciousness is another object composed out of this emergent composite object (that is more than the sum of its parts). Would that make a Minsky inspired philosophy surrounding the mind both emergent and machinist? Minsky’s position surounding the constantly shifting hierarchy of desires, however, seems to be very much in contradiction with the viewpoint of an object oriented ontologist though.  Anyways, this is mostly just me brainstorming. Who knows what position I will settle on 5 years from now? Like you said, it is rare that you get to talk this sort of shop. I like to brainstorm around people who might have interesting input.



Its often argued back and forth that Emergentists must believe in some irrational system of who-the-heck-knows when it comes to emergent properties, and that they are somehow opposed to science.  (I read once a Machinist characterizing an Emergentist by saying that "Emergentists would like to believe that 2+2 = a fish).  Emergentism really just accepts that there are unknowable and unpredictable phenomena that occur in our reality.  This doesn't mean that a set of logical systems can't be used, or even that most things can't accurately be predicited.  Even a pure emergentist will give science and logic its due.  The fact that emergentists are willing to use analytical philosophy is proof of that.  A pure mechanicist would simply argue that the causal chain hasn't been filled in yet.  A Machinicist would say that there is nothing that is unknowable, just that which is unknown currently.  Even the old Platonic heirarchy of Truth, Forms, Objects, Images is a Mechanicist attempt to create a logical system for all of reality (a system Heidegger greatly dislikes and declares that he will "Do violence" to).  Emergentism reckognizes that there are logical systems present, but that the existence of those systems can't be traced back to logical causality.  Most metaphysics are attempts at a Mechanical characterization of reality.

Probably the most interesting discussion of emergentism is dealing with interactions that are not combination but observation and reflection. These are the strongest points of emergentism.  Minsky is following Sartre pretty closely.  Consciousness, for Sartre, is not an object.  It requires an object.  You are not conscious generally, you are conscious of an object.  Anything that can be considered is an object, but even consciousness of the self is an emergent property of this world.  Consciousness of the self requires consciousness of an 'Other' lest the self remain entirely undefined.  This is the root of his investigation into Nothingness and man's power of negation.  There must be something that is not my self for my self to be a self at all. 
If the entire world had nothing in it but a chair in a vacuum, the chair would never be defined as such because there would be no reason to define it.  The chair is everything and everything is the chair.  Every object is defined both by what it is and by what it isn't.  Put a ball into that universe, and the Chair and the ball are now definable because they are separate.  The chair is not the ball and the ball is not the chair.  The existence of two objects also generates the concept of the world that contains them.  Space and distance emerge as a properties to differentiate the two objects.  Similarly, when we talk about human interaction, when I become conscious of you observing me, I immediately generate the concept of the Other.  The existence of the Other generates the existence of the self through negation.  You are not me, but before I knew there was a You I couldn't know that there was a Me that was somehow separate.  And now I know that I am also an Other as percieved by anything else.  I am Other than the chair, the ball and you.  This culminates in the generation of the self.

Moving forward you can apply this thinking to the entirety of human interaction and the delicate interplay between the material world in which we express our Being, and the immaterial world where our Being resides.  The nothingness that lies between has emergent properties all its own.  Nothingness creates the Other because it is only an Other by virtue of not being me.  This is the power of neegation.  It ties back in to Heidegger's devotion to the Arts.  Imagination is a powerful force of negation.  We, as humans, can create through the power of negation.  We can fill in the nothingness that separates two objects or object-states in the theatre of the mind.  Effectively imagination is an emergent property of consciousness-of-reality.  The reality that has Being creates a reailty the does ot have Being, and within this negated-reailty lies all possibility.  

Minsky really applies a lot of the interactive emergentism to more productive and applicable systems.  He is an emergentist in my view, and also a phenomenologist.  I think he was attempting to provide some clarity though.  He seems to follow Sartre pretty closely, to me, but wants to add a greater level of specificity to Sartre's concept of Desire.  Sartre states that man desires, at his core, to possess "fully realized being".  In a sense this means that maan wants to be everything that he isn't (to reconcile his negation).  So Sartre is essentially saying that man desires to be God.  Minsky breaks this vague concept into more reasonable bites, and differentiates the various methods that men and society and men-in-society use.  But both seem to reckognize that the similarities we can find in desire and action result from a shared root desire that does not negate the truth of emergentism.


I agree. And, I hope it did not seem like I was implying that he was. His stance in "On Technology" seems to be more pro the arts and philosophy than anti-technology. I can see why some readers might see the work as being anti-technology. He does warn about the danger present in coming to see everything as a technological process, the human as a standing reserve (or the brain as a computer if you will). But as I said, it seems to be more about the danger present in a particular mode of thinking. I never got the impression that he was anti-technology in general. 



It is a delicate dance.  As an artist I find that there is a huge danger in Mechanicist thinking.  Aesthetic philosophies of Formalism that dominate modern and post-modern art are destructive.  Emergentism allows for individuality and potent subjectivity, but the mechanicist attempt to distill the essence of art into a particular arrangement of line, shape, color and value that appropriately engages the senses does great violence to the importance of art.  The poor quality of modern art is a result of this skewed thinking.  The metaphysical approach pushes people to ignore the Object in front of them, and I blame the philosophical attacks on phenomenology for this.  In fact, the mechanicist view tends to completely ignore the importance of artistic content.  A book is to be judged only on its aesthetic quality and not its content.  A painting should be judged the same way.  This has pushed artists, not only to ignore content or subject matter, but to actually abhor any representation at all in art.  I prefer to think of art as Tolstoy did;  a transimission of a state of being, to be judged by the effecacy and power of that transmission.  That is the danger Heidegger saw, and it has already come to pass.  Clement Greenberg and the Guggenheims have seen to that.  It is why Damien Hirst can sell a medicine cabinet as art.  People are too busy looking behind the curtain to notice the thing that is right in front of them.  They have become seduced by a false logical system that ignores the individual object, something an emergentist would never do.


Very cool. I will keep all that in mind, and thank you for your input! 



Hey, thanks for yours.  I never get to talk about these things.  When I bring them up my friends get nervous and change the subject, and my wife just rolls her eyes at me.

@ Lord_Malkov: So, I have more to say on the subject. Minsky is someone I am (at least somewhat) familiar with, and I think you are very wrong to call him an emergentist. There are various elements which are definitely emergentist. Overall, however, that is not the paradigm from which he emerges. For all of his belief that there is an unquantified agent (I am not using this word in a Minsky sense) in consciousness he does not believe that the agent is unquantifiable. Meanwhile, I did not say that he perceives of consciousness as an object. Rather, I was saying that I have toyed with the idea of re-appropriating some of his frameworks from an object oriented ontology perspective to create an object based conception of consciousness. I think such a reorientation can potentially be fruitful, philosophically speaking.

But I am a little too tipsy to really discuss it in detail tonight, and I need to think about how to formulate my response in a little more detail. This discussion is a little (read: lot) more intelligent than what I am used to on these boards, so I don't want to 2 cents it. Give me a bit of time to think about what I want to say and I will be back with a post for thought. 

Since I'm following along at home, and intend to continue, I need to clarify something. It's not a matter of argument so much as making sure I followed something.
Malkov, you mentioned negation after the orange and chair scenario. Is negation the act of differentiating some object as not another object? Would I negate the orange by saying it's not the chair? If so, then negation isn't saying something does not exist (the meaning I am familiar with), but that existing thing is not the other existing thing?
Cyber, since I'm the least read one paying attention, could you explain the Minsky sense of unqualified agent? I would hazard a horribly uninformed guess that it is something which can take actions (sometimes on the behalf of others), but is not explicitly known nor defined, yet.
I'm sure I could google up some things or check Wikipedia, but I'd rather have an explanation in this context.
(Arguments of internet sources being unreliable are ironic here, I know)
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls

@ Lord_Malkov: So, I have more to say on the subject. Minsky is someone I am (at least somewhat) familiar with, and I think you are very wrong to call him an emergentist. There are various elements which are definitely emergentist. Overall, however, that is not the paradigm from which he emerges. For all of his belief that there is an unquantified agent (I am not using this word in a Minsky sense) in consciousness he does not believe that the agent is unquantifiable. Meanwhile, I did not say that he perceives of consciousness as an object. Rather, I was saying that I have toyed with the idea of re-appropriating some of his frameworks from an object oriented ontology perspective to create an object based conception of consciousness. I think such a reorientation can potentially be fruitful, philosophically speaking.

But I am a little too tipsy to really discuss it in detail tonight, and I need to think about how to formulate my response in a little more detail. This discussion is a little (read: lot) more intelligent than what I am used to on these boards, so I don't want to 2 cents it. Give me a bit of time to think about what I want to say and I will be back with a post for thought. 




Hahaha, so I was a little surprised by your response, so I immediately went to the bookshelf to grab The Rediscovery of the Mind, wanting to take a second look after all these years.  Maybe I had missed something, because I swore that it was aligned with an emergentist view of cosciousness.  Then I looked at the author and it was John Searle.  The only Minsky I have is The Society of Mind....so everything I just said would only apply to Searle not Minsky.  Both discuss computation and AI, but Searle is anti-functionalist (look up the Chinese Room thought experiment) and I must have flipped them in my mind.

So, Minsky, yes.  I have read Society of the Mind, and after flipping through a few pages to refresh my memory (its been 7-8 years), I am remembering.  Minsky is a functionalist.  He is a mechanist of sorts.  I think he attempts to avoid some of the reductionist pitfalls, but he never agrees that the Mind is an emergent (I think at some point he flatly denies it)... it is sort of the activity of the brain rather than an object?  Could you make an emergentist interpretation of Minsky?  Eh probably not.  He leaves the door open as I recall, and doesn't tie his concept of mind down to some originating force, so he isn't a metaphysicist.  His approach is phenomenelogical at times and ontological at others.  I think he wants to merge the two but leans toward the latter.  So I think that your thought about creating an object-oriented conception of consiousness would do well to spring from Minsky.  Find the Cartesian overlap as it were.  I think there might be some exclusivity from the Cartesian end, since he demands a sort of separation of body and mind, but if we consider that separation to instead be between external stimuli and internal stimuli as experienced by the organic brain-structure you could probably come up with some interesting results.  The first question I would raise is:  Are both required.  Can there be a consciousness for a brain devoid of external stimuli? (a brain, for example, disconnected entirely from a body with no previous body experiment)

This would tie in really well with current neuroscience which reckognizes the internal struggle for control between the different parts of the brain (each vying for better pathways to the Hypothalamus to control actions), and the slave-master-slave relationship between the body and the mind.  In other words, the mind needs the body to live, but the mind can do violence to the body (choosing to smoke, to overeat, suicide, self-mutilation etc.).  Violence to the body, however, will result in violence to the mind, and so on.  The relationship of mind to body could be an interesting starting point for investigating the mind's relationship to the world at large.  

Formulating an object oriented view of consciousness... that would be interesting.  Many thinkers fall either on the side of: "there really is no such thing as consciousness really, it is a consequence of having senses (or the ability to experience) and not a property or object of itself.  We are incorrectly categorizing it." OR: "Consciousness simply exists as a necessary element of our being".  Neither is satisfactory, and Minsky seems very interested in it vis-a-vis AI.  True AI would have true consciousness, and we aren't even sure what that really is.  You can give a computer senses, but it doesn't gain consciousness or self-awareness as a result, and the other conception of consciousness would just entirely deny the possibility of true AI (Searle actually does deny the possibility.)

I think that consciousness is like the Heideggarian presence that is one of his classifications of Being.  Consciousness is being present to the self, or self aware (it can't be awareness through senses because we could shut off all of our senses and still be conscious of our self).  But again, more problems, because to be self aware, there must first be a self to be aware of.  The self could be a product of consciousness, consciousness of the Other.  Or the Other could be a product of our awareness of the self.  Emergentism tends to solve the circle that causality generates.

I don't remember Minsky ever going this deep.  He seemed more interested in how already existing intelligence operates and evolves, not where it came from.  He categorizes consiousness as a group of activities, a suitcase term encapsulating many neural functions both high and low level.  He does a fairly good job of describing a sort of cosnciousness-functionality, but never of describing consciousness itself.  So an ontological argument is raised, but never really addressed.  He changes gears immediately to "how does consciousness work" in our everyday use of it.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up... had my writers confused... like the big dummy I am. 
Just popping in to say that from this thread alone I have added immensely to my "must read" list.

Oh, and congrats Dave. Good interview.
Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.