Response #1 to the Question of What is Thought?

Barry Mauer replied immediately to my whacky question with the following response:

Excellent start. I think you are already hinting at an answer here, which is to move away from defining thought as something that can be understood as an “object” (in terms of exclusive features) and towards an understanding of thought as it is understood “in language” (and other sign systems). Also, you suggest (at least to me) that perhaps thought is understood in terms of what it does rather than what it is.

And another “thought”: what if we de-center human beings from thought about thought? If thought does something, can a machine or animal do it? Can space itself think?

And what are the limits of thought? What is outside it? How does it overlap with other concepts (like “sense” and “reason”)?

Just some thoughts. (invent-l list, 28 May 2007)

Just a (gossipy, blog-like?) aside–I love Barry. He’s absolutely great. We were in Ulmer’s dissertation seminar together (with Michelle Glaros and Richard Howard, among others), and I always enjoyed hanging out with him. It was *so* great being with him again during the conference. We plunged into some serious discussion about the conference topics. . . I scratched one note down during our conversation (Bill Stephenson was there–another brilliant guy who I had a lot of classes with back in graduate school): “What do we want to remember?” and “moving through loss is equivalent to moving through information.” At one point Barry suggested that in the age of literacy, logos was the gold standard, but in the age of electracy, pathos and ethos will be the gold standard. Now that’s putting it in terms I can understand!

Barry also mentioned psycho-pharmacological interventions that suppress the amygdala so that there is no affect, no emotional involvement, and how that can affect one’s ability to remember: we attach mood to information.

Anyway, to comment on Barry’s response: he attributes too much to me when he suggests that I “hint at an answer.” I did want to imply that thought is more about what it does than what it is, but this is probably more a result of reading Manuel DeLanda on Deleuze (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History; Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy). Deleuze is always pushing us to create new concepts (thereby making something happen in the world–me having thoughts, making concepts/philosophy), and I am impressed by the idea of the “materiality of the concept“. I’m not articulating this very well, so I’ll just stop now.

I do want to mention that I was reading Douglas Hofstadter’s book on Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies recently, so Barry’s suggestion of thought de-coupled from human wet-ware definitely resonates with the work that he and the “Fluid Analogies Research Group” was doing when they tried (and succeeded to some extent) to get computers to perform higher-order thinking skills (a.k.a. thinking via analogies).


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