LS Re: (Fwd) Relationship between intellect and society

Jonathan B. Marder (
Sun, 23 Aug 1998 11:46:25 +0100

Hi Bo and Squad,

Bo, I won't continue the "neurology" discussion (on Libet's) work, since
I don't really know enough about it. Suffice to say that "sequence of
events" as reconstructed by the brain, and as measured by other means
are not necessarily the same. This doesn't surprise me.

>You went on:
>> I've yet to see an explanation either from Pirsig or anyone else on
>> the intellect came from SoPoV!
>> Sure, intellectual discplines have social components, but thought
>> itself?

>I will try to answer the Intellect from Society question, but must
>start with the "thought itself" remark. What is 'thought itself'

Bo, forgive me if I seem to be retelling the obvious, or repeating what
you and others have already said, but despite all my protestations, I DO
see a dependence of intellect on social patterns. I regard "thought
itself" as manipulation of abstract patterns, which take the form of
language. I know for sure that my own reasoning takes the form of
"talking to myself" with real words and sentences in my thoughts.
Furthermore, I admit that without language, I'd be intellectually
crippled. I think that there is know way I could have "invented" a
language from scratch, let alone the languages of mathematics etc. A
good part of academia seems to be the invention of new languages for
pattern manipulation.

Now I have to admit that language must have first evolved as a tool for
(social) communication, not for thought.
The same happened in electronics. Valves and transistors were first used
for communications, and only later became important in the logic
circuits of computers. Language is interesting in that it involves a
process of encoding and decoding. Encoding is an abstraction of the
initial experience being communicated. Decoding is the reverse -
understanding of the abstract idea.
Let me be the first in this discussion to bring up the name of Shannon.
He worked on the mathematics of information transfer via communication
channels and came up with some very pratical tools for communications
design. At the heart of his approach was an absolute separation between
"information content" of a message and "meaning" (which he deliberately
ignored). His main concern was transmission of the encoded message, not
the encoding process itself. What is interesting is that Shannon's
"information content" is inversely related to algorithmic entropy
(information sometimes called "NEGentropy") and the equations for its
manipulation are directly analogous to those used in thermodynamics.
Interestingly, Shannon's approach is now being applied to the analysis
of DNA sequences.

>Along with "ability to think", "mental activity" it is a
>SOM platypi of great size, but not to be difficult I guess you mean
>self-consciousness or awareness. As has been repeated many times Q-
>Intellect is not SOM's "conscious of objective reality", but
>merely awareness of self as an entity of higher value than other
I wouldn't call it a platypus. Shannon's distinction between message
"information content" and "meaning" would seem to be a legitimate SO
split. The objective part of the message is its bits and bytes, but its
meaning (dare I say "value") is in the way the listener understands it
(i.e. strong overtones of subjectivity). The expression "don't shoot the
messenger if you don't like his message" would seem to be a clear
expression of this SO split.

>Once the notion of IntPoV as 'thought itself' is dropped one can
>see that in pre-historic time our ancestors spoke; they "thought";
>they painted great "frescos", but their language their thoughts and
>their art were tied to the common tribal (social) mythology: how they
>came to be, how thunder and lightning, the heavenly bodies and each
>and every natural phenomenon (of course, they knew nothing of
>'natural phenomenons' that's Intellect!) portended for their tribal
>fate. There was no reality outside the myth.

I'd say that all that still applies. What has happened is that the
language has evolved and become more powerful and also the communication
tools (co-evolution). That's why humans have been able to organise
progressively into clans, tribes, villages, cities, states, empires, and
conferederations. It's not just technology! Suppose you went back 50
millenia and gave each caveman a cellular phone. I doubt they would have
found much use for it - verbal language was just too primitive.

>Intellect at that
>stage was totally in the service of society (see Donald Palmgren's
>message of 20 Aug).
>But over the tens of thousand of years Intellect's power of
>abstraction grew and finally it reached such proportions that it
>broke free from its mythical (social) clutches, the first Greek
>philosophers started to search for THE TRUTH - independent of myth.
>Phaedrus of ZMM identifies this with the birth of Subject-Object
>Metaphysics, but IMO it is as much the birth of Intellect...... AS A

I disagree with your analysis. I think that empirical observations made
it clear that existing myths were of little use to predict the future.
If sacrifices to the rain god bring no rain, then the ritual is useless.
Humans have abandoned certain myths and adopted new ones since the
earliest times (way before the Greeks). I suppose that what changed in
the first millenium BC was an explosive increase in communication
between different cultures which forced a synthesis of myths to create
something quite new. Another big change was written language - the
recording of events into a communications channel that was preserved
across many generations. Prior to this, the only myths to survive were
those understood by at least one member of each generation!

>This is Pirsig's "intellect from society". But society's sway was not
>over, it continued - got a comeback in form of the Middle Age when
>the religious myth dominated the scene, but Intellect re-emerged in
>Renaissance and Enlightenment ...and now it is so entrenched that
>even Jonathan has a hard time imagine what it was like before ;-).

Interesting word that, "imagine". So our view of history is IMAGINARY? A
resounding YES from me.
The real platypus in SOM is the distinction between imaginary and real.
Is this distinction real or imaginary;-).
Yes, I do have a hard time reconstructing the ancient past. My view is
fuzzy through lack of information, and I even doubt that the meaning I
derive from the ancient texts is exactly what the authors intended.

>You ended thus:
>> Intellect designs, society ritualizes!

>When birds learn to open milk bottles and a monkey colony finds
>a way to rinse food and it becomes standard procedure, it is
>NOT intellect in the Q-sense that have designed the ritual? In my
>opinion it is biological ability to react to changes in environment
>plus social interaction.

Remember the opening scene from 2001 when ancestral man looks at a
branch and REALISES that it can be used to kill i.e. the thought
precedes the action. I believe that there is evidence that other mammals
have this capacity to construct a priori and not just reconstruct. I
didn't say that ALL social patterns are ritualization of intellectual
design, but as society evolves, design plays an ever increasing role.
Pirsig himself picks armistice day 1918 as the landmark where
intellectual design became dominant.


>Your turn.

This may be impertinent of me, but I think that what I said above is
what Pisrig SHOULD have said.

Regards, Jonathan

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