Saturday, February 12, 2011

Terry Talks

Terry Presents

Terry Bristol is sequestered with some of his friends, and visiting guest speaker Nancy Cartwright, to go through some of his philosophy of science banter. Terry Talks are not TED Talks, though we do have a camera going (the same tiny Canon that Glenn Stockton controlled when Nancy Cartwright lectured at the Schnitzer).

He's working on a book, somewhat like Mindwalk (Capra brothers) and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig) in that it weaves biography, real world characters (Stephen Hawking especially) into a kind of reverie on the history of "western" thinking (scare quotes because east met west quite awhile ago by now).

Terry has been fortunate to hang out with quite a few big name contemporaries, the guests he brings to Portland, Seattle, San Jose and other places (Portland is the hub of this activity, but does not define the outer boundary of his show). He also considers himself a serious philosopher in his own right. Given these two ingredients, it's not far-fetched to expect the kind of book that brings Terry's reverie into the foreground, against a backdrop of stellar figures.

I was quickly introduced to the assembly, by Terry, as a big wheel in the Bucky Fuller subdomain, and as a student of Rorty's at Princeton. The latter tagging was for Dr. Cartwright's benefit. The credential (studied with Rorty) got me a lot of cred with Dr. Haack when she was here, because she'd sparred with the guy, in print and in person.

Pragmatism is much on the table here, through Dewey, and Karl Popper especially. Wittgenstein is at "the far end of the fire poker" here, kept at arm's length for the purposes of this discussion. Bucky Fuller's thinking will only appear here, in my blogs (on-line journals).

Fuller's philosophy is somewhat unique in the "western" tradition in that it subtracts away any static all-encompassing "thing" that is "the universe". We experience Universe (Fuller assigns it a proper place name (532.18)) yet it's eternally aconceptual, a context for our systems, our partially overlapping time tunnels (scenarios) without being point-to-able as some "elephant" or "thing".

Terry's philosophy is somewhat similar in that he's skeptical that "a theory of everything" is a necessary goal of the sciences. He's content to let our systems stay special case. That may be the more pragmatic stance, I agree. When empirical theories become intrinsically intolerant of counter-cultures and complementary "insanity" they've likely reached the rigor mortis stage of some "empire", an endgame.

Anthropologically speaking, perhaps the urge for a totalistic TOE is the urge to build a Tower of Babel, with human cogitation at the apex. What seems to happen at the apex is thermodynamic noise, or is that pure signal? Systems tend to dissolve, in any case. Humanly contrived systems have a finite half-life, tend to meltdown at "the top" (another meaning of "trickle down").

Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript could be another puzzle piece here?

Terry's style is to speak quickly in a colloquial style. He says the word "thing" with high frequency, and might end a sentence with "da da da" (similar to "yada yada"), the sense being he's been over this turf so many times, it's somewhat a waste of time to say it again. If one hasn't bounced around in this namespace, it may sound like noise. Having been to several Terry Talks over the years, I feel on familiar ground.

On the pragmatic front, a service guy from Montag keeps coming back to fix our furnace. He has theories as to why it's not coming on. A rational tree structure diagrams the possibilities. The art of furnace maintenance may be subtle sometimes. Lets hope our experienced repair guy doesn't snap under pressure.

Nancy had an interesting necklace worth commenting upon. A large puzzle piece around her neck. I felt we'd won something important while geo-caching, couldn't say what exactly. A cosmic fish perhaps.

Nancy Ankorn was also present, meaning both XXs were named Nancy. The rest were XYs of high mental caliber and engaged in contradictory exchange. Both Nancys are quite up to co-managing in this guyish world in my judgement. Good seeing Bruce Adams, Mark Martin.