Thursday, October 08, 2009

Peirce: Notes on 'The Fixation of Belief' & 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear.'

Peirce, C. S. (1931-1935). The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vols. I-VI, edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Here is a cutdown of two of the greatest papers written by Charles Sanders Peirce, removing a few digressions whilst retaining the essential shape of the argument.

§5. 374. The irritation of doubt causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. I shall term this struggle Inquiry, though it must be admitted that this is sometimes not a very apt designation.

The sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion…. as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false.

§5.375 That the settlement of opinion is the sole end of inquiry is a very important proposition. It sweeps away, at once, various vague and erroneous conceptions of proof.

§5.376 the mere putting of a proposition into the interrogative form does not stimulate the mind to any struggle after belief. There must be a real and living doubt, and without this all discussion is idle.

§5.379 the problem becomes how to fix belief, not in the individual merely, but in the community.

There are three methods:

1. The method of authority
§5.379 This method has, from the earliest times, been one of the chief means of upholding correct theological and political doctrines, and of preserving their universal or catholic character….wherever there is a priesthood -- and no religion has been without one -- this method has been more or less made use of…. Wherever there is an aristocracy, or a guild, or any association of a class of men whose interests depend, or are supposed to depend, on certain propositions, there will be inevitably found some traces of this natural product of social feeling. Cruelties always accompany this system; and when it is consistently carried out, they become atrocities of the most horrible kind in the eyes of any rational man….§5.380 It has over and over again worked the most majestic results. The mere structures of stone which it has caused to be put together -- in Siam, for example, in Egypt, and in Europe -- have many of them a sublimity hardly more than rivaled by the greatest works of Nature. And, except the geological epochs, there are no periods of time so vast as those which are measured by some of these organized faiths

2. The method of belief (or what Peirce calls the priori method)
§5.383 This method resembles [the way in which] conceptions of art have been brought to maturity. Systems of this sort have not usually rested upon any observed facts, at least not in any great degree. They have been chiefly adopted because their fundamental propositions seemed "agreeable to reason." This is an apt expression; it does not mean that which agrees with experience, but that which we find ourselves inclined to believe. Plato, for example, finds it agreeable to reason that the distances of the celestial spheres from one another should be proportional to the different lengths of strings which produce harmonious chords. Many philosophers have been led to their main conclusions by considerations like this. ... This method is far more intellectual and respectable from the point of view of reason … It makes of inquiry something similar to the development of taste; but taste, unfortunately, is always more or less a matter of fashion, and accordingly metaphysicians have never come to any fixed agreement, but the pendulum has swung backward and forward between a more material and a more spiritual philosophy, from the earliest times to the latest….not usually rested upon any observed facts… fundamental propositions seemed "agreeable to reason."

3. The scientific method
§5.384. To satisfy our doubts, therefore, it is necessary that a method should be found by which our beliefs may be determined by nothing human, but by some external permanency -- by something upon which our thinking has no effect. It must be something which affects, or might affect, every man. And, though these affections are necessarily as various as are individual conditions, yet the method must be such that the ultimate conclusion of every man shall be the same. Such is the method of science. Its fundamental hypothesis, restated in more familiar language, is this: There are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those Reals affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really and †3 truly †4 are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and he reasons enough about it, will be led to the one True conclusion.

Q It may be asked how I know that there are any Reals.

A If investigation cannot be regarded as proving that there are Real things, it at least does not lead to a contrary conclusion; but the method and the conception on which it is based remain ever in harmony.

I may start with known and observed facts to proceed to the unknown; and yet the rules which I follow in doing so may not be such as investigation would approve. The test of whether I am truly following the method is not an immediate appeal to my feelings and purposes, but, on the contrary, itself involves the application of the method. Hence it is that bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic.

§5. 394. The principles set forth in the first part of this essay lead, at once, to a method of reaching a clearness of thought of higher grade than the "distinctness" of the logicians. It was there noticed that the action of thought is excited by the irritation of doubt, and ceases when belief is attained; so that the production of belief is the sole function of thought

Images pass rapidly through consciousness, one incessantly melting into another, until at last, when all is over -- it may be in a fraction of a second, in an hour, or after long years -- we find ourselves decided as to how we should act under such circumstances as those which occasioned our hesitation. In other words, we have attained belief.

§5.395. In this process we observe two sorts of elements of consciousness, the distinction between which may best be made clear by means of an illustration. In a piece of music there are the separate notes, and there is the air. A single tone may be prolonged for an hour or a day, and it exists as perfectly in each second of that time as in the whole taken together; so that, as long as it is sounding, it might be present to a sense from which everything in the past was as completely absent as the future itself. But it is different with the air, the performance of which occupies a certain time, during the portions of which only portions of it are played. It consists in an orderliness in the succession of sounds which strike the ear at different times; and to perceive it there must be some continuity of consciousness which makes the events of a lapse of time present to us. We certainly only perceive the air by hearing the separate notes; yet we cannot be said to directly hear it, for we hear only what is present at the instant, and an orderliness of succession cannot exist in an instant. These two sorts of objects, what we are immediately conscious of and what we are mediately conscious of, are found in all consciousness. Some elements (the sensations) are completely present at every instant so long as they last, while others (like thought) are actions having beginning, middle, and end, and consist in a congruence in the succession of sensations which flow through the mind. They cannot be immediately present to us, but must cover some portion of the past or future. Thought is a thread of melody running through the succession of our sensations.

§5. 396. We may add that just as a piece of music may be written in parts, each part having its own air, so various systems of relationship of succession subsist together between the same sensations. These different systems are distinguished by having different motives, ideas, or functions. Thought is only one such system, for its sole motive, idea, and function is to produce belief, and whatever does not concern that purpose belongs to some other system of relations…. the soul and meaning of thought, abstracted from the other elements which accompany it, though it may be voluntarily thwarted, can never be made to direct itself toward anything but the production of belief. Thought in action has for its only possible motive the attainment of thought at rest; and whatever does not refer to belief is no part of the thought itself.

§5. 397. And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. We have seen that it has just three properties: First, it is something that we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and, third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, say for short, a habit…. belief is a rule for action, the application of which involves further doubt and further thought, at the same time that it is a stopping-place, it is also a new starting-place for thought. The final upshot of thinking is the exercise of volition, and of this thought no longer forms a part; but belief is only a stadium of mental action, an effect upon our nature due to thought, which will influence future thinking.

§5. 398. The essence of belief is the establishment of a habit; and different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise. If beliefs do not differ in this respect, if they appease the same doubt by producing the same rule of action, then no mere differences in the manner of consciousness of them can make them different beliefs, any more than playing a tune in different keys is playing different tunes. Imaginary distinctions are often drawn between beliefs which differ only in their mode of expression; -- the wrangling which ensues is real enough, however. To believe that any objects are arranged among themselves and to believe that they are arranged, are one and the same belief; yet it is conceivable that a man should assert one proposition and deny the other. Such false distinctions do as much harm as the confusion of beliefs really different, and are among the pitfalls of which we ought constantly to beware, especially when we are upon metaphysical ground.

§5.399 thought is an action, and that it consists in a relation, although a person performs an action but not a relation, which can only be the result of an action, yet there was no inconsistency in what I said.

§5.400 the whole function of thought is to produce habits of action… whatever there is connected with a thought, but irrelevant to its purpose, is an accretion to it, but no part of it.

If there be a unity among our sensations which has no reference to how we shall act on a given occasion, as when we listen to a piece of music, why we do not call that thinking. To develop its meaning, we have, therefore, simply to determine what habits it produces, for what a thing means is simply what habits it involves.

Now, the identity of a habit depends on how it might lead us to act, not merely under such circumstances as are likely to arise, but under such as might possibly occur, no matter how improbable they may be. What the habit is depends on when and how it causes us to act.

What the habit is depends on when and how it causes us to act.
As for the when, every stimulus to action is derived from perception; as for the how, every purpose of action is to produce some sensible result. Thus, we come down to what is tangible and conceivably practical, as the root of every real distinction of thought, no matter how subtile it may be; and there is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.

§5.401 how impossible it is that we should have an idea in our minds which relates to anything but conceived sensible effects of things. Our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects; and if we fancy that we have any other we deceive ourselves, and mistake a mere sensation accompanying the thought for a part of the thought itself.

It is absurd to say that thought has any meaning unrelated to its only function

§5.402 The rule for attaining the third grade of clearness of apprehension is as follows: Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

§5. 403. Let us illustrate this rule by some examples; and, to begin with the simplest one possible, let us ask what we mean by calling a thing hard. Evidently that it will not be scratched by many other substances. The whole conception of this quality, as of every other, lies in its conceived effects. There is absolutely no difference between a hard thing and a soft thing so long as they are not brought to the test.

[We may] ask what prevents us from saying that all hard bodies remain perfectly soft until they are touched, when their hardness increases with the pressure until they are scratched. Reflection will show that the reply is this: there would be no falsity in such modes of speech. They would involve a modification of our present usage of speech with regard to the words hard and soft, but not of their meanings. For they represent no fact to be different from what it is; only they involve arrangements of facts which would be exceedingly maladroit.

[This] is not a question of fact, but only of the most perspicuous arrangement of them.

For example, the question of free-will and fate in its simplest form, stripped of verbiage, is something like this: I have done something of which I am ashamed; could I, by an effort of the will, have resisted the temptation, and done otherwise?

The philosophical reply is, that this is not a question of fact, but only of the arrangement of facts. Arranging them so as to exhibit what is particularly pertinent to my question -- namely, that I ought to blame myself for having done wrong -- it is perfectly true to say that, if I had willed to do otherwise than I did, I should have done otherwise. On the other hand, arranging the facts so as to exhibit another important consideration, it is equally true that, when a temptation has once been allowed to work, it will, if it has a certain force, produce its effect, let me struggle how I may.

Many questions are involved in the free-will discussion, and I am far from desiring to say that both sides are equally right. On the contrary, I am of opinion that one side denies important facts, and that the other does not. But what I do say is, that the above single question was the origin of the whole doubt; that, had it not been for this question, the controversy would never have arisen; and that this question is perfectly solved in the manner which I have indicated.

There is no objection to a contradiction in what would result from a false supposition. The reductio ad absurdum consists in showing that contradictory results would follow from a hypothesis which is consequently judged to be false.

§5.404 the idea of Force in general.
This is the great conception which, developed in the early part of the seventeenth century from the rude idea of a cause, and constantly improved upon since, has shown us how to explain all the changes of motion which bodies experience, and how to think about all physical phenomena; which has given birth to modern science, and changed the face of the globe; and which, aside from its more special uses, has played a principal part in directing the course of modern thought, and in furthering modern social development.

§5.404 The idea which the word force excites in our minds has no other function than to affect our actions, and these actions can have no reference to force otherwise than through its effects. Consequently, if we know what the effects of force are, we are acquainted with every fact which is implied in saying that a force exists, and there is nothing more to know.

§5. 405. Let us now approach the subject of logic, and consider a conception which particularly concerns it, that of reality.

A definition may perhaps be reached by considering the points of difference between reality and its opposite, fiction.

A figment is a product of somebody's imagination; it has such characters as his thought impresses upon it. That those characters are independent of how you or I think is an external reality. There are, however, phenomena within our own minds, dependent upon our thought, which are at the same time real in the sense that we really think them. But though their characters depend on how we think, they do not depend on what we think those characters to be. Thus, a dream has a real existence as a mental phenomenon, if somebody has really dreamt it; that he dreamt so and so, does not depend on what anybody thinks was dreamt, but is completely independent of all opinion on the subject. On the other hand, considering, not the fact of dreaming, but the thing dreamt, it retains its peculiarities by virtue of no other fact than that it was dreamt to possess them.

Thus we may define the real as that whose characters are independent of what anybody may think them to be.

§5.406 it would be a great mistake to suppose that it makes the idea of reality perfectly clear... reality, like every other quality, consists in the peculiar sensible effects which things partaking of it produce. The only effect which real things have is to cause belief, for all the sensations which they excite emerge into consciousness in the form of beliefs. The question therefore is, how is true belief (or belief in the real) distinguished from false belief (or belief in fiction).

The ideas of truth and falsehood, in their full development, appertain exclusively to the experiential method of settling opinion.

§5.407 all the followers of science are animated by a cheerful hope that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to each question to which they apply it

Different methods… may at first obtain different results, but, as each perfects his method and his processes, the results are found to move †4 steadily together toward a destined centre. So with all scientific research. Different minds may set out with the most antagonistic views, but the progress of investigation carries them by a force outside of themselves to one and the same conclusion.

This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion.

This great hope is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality.

§5.408 But it may be said that this view is directly opposed to the abstract definition which we have given of reality, inasmuch as it makes the characters of the real depend on what is ultimately thought about them.

But the answer to this is that, on the one hand, reality is independent, not necessarily of thought in general, but only of what you or I or any finite number of men may think about it; and that, on the other hand, though the object of the final opinion depends on what that opinion is, yet what that opinion is does not depend on what you or I or any man thinks.

Our perversity and that of others may indefinitely postpone the settlement of opinion; it might even conceivably cause an arbitrary proposition to be universally accepted as long as the human race should last. Yet even that would not change the nature of the belief, which alone could be the result of investigation carried sufficiently far; and if, after the extinction of our race, another should arise with faculties and disposition for investigation, that true opinion must be the one to which they would ultimately come.

The opinion which would finally result from investigation does not depend on how anybody may actually think. But the reality of that which is real does depend on the real fact that investigation is destined to lead, at last, if continued long enough, to a belief in it.

§5.409 Do these things not really exist because they are hopelessly beyond the reach of our knowledge? To this I reply that, though in no possible state of knowledge can any number be great enough to express the relation between the amount of what rests unknown to the amount of the known, yet it is unphilosophical to suppose that, with regard to any given question (which has any clear meaning), investigation would not bring forth a solution of it, if it were carried far enough.

5410 It is certainly important to know how to make our ideas clear, but they may be ever so clear without being true.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Type that question into Google and this is what you get…

Here are my attempts at answering these questions.

1. Why is the sky blue?

The sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light (This is known as Rayleigh’s effect).

2. Why do men have nipples?

Men have nipples because all humans begin life in the womb as females. In foetuses in possession of a Y chromosome (men in other words) testosterone kicks in at around 8 weeks and the foetus is remodeled with its male attributes, but this remodeling does not eliminate entirely its innate female sex characteristics. That is why men have nipples but not breasts (have they not heard of moobs??)

3. Why do cats purr?

Purring is a reflex that does not just occur when the cat is happy and relaxed, cats have reportedly purred in labour, when they are frightened, ill and even when they are near death. The psychology of why they do this is not completely understood, but common explanations mention a desire to communicate and as a way of reassuring themselves.

4. Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side of course, but go here for a more amusing (if dated) set of theories.

5. Why do we yawn?

The best guess from science are that when we are tired, we breathe less vigorously and low oxygen levels in the lungs trigger yawning as a reflex to bring more oxygen into the body. Yawning and stretching also increase blood pressure and heart rate, as does flexing muscles and joints.

6. Why so serious?

Because we all love the Joker's catch phrase from the Dark Knight, and because Heath Ledger who played him is dead (no laughing matter).

7. Why do people smoke?

Physiological reason – nicotine is an addictive substance.

Sociological reason – because they think it’s cool. Is this due to the power of advertising and marketing? Well maybe, although most countries have banned cigarette advertising and people still smoke. Peer pressure and growing up with parents who are smokers are other factors.

Psychological reason – because young people think they are immortal and therefore do not consider the health risks (most smokers get into the habit before they are 18). Also there is a sense of being in control (the same phenomenon that leads more people to be scared of flying than driving, despite road deaths outnumbering aeroplane deaths worldwide by some 2000 to 1).

8. Why recycle?

Recycling is claimed to be better for the environment because it reduces waste and saves energy--since packaging does not have to be manufactured each time from scratch. It also helps to raise awareness about the environment in general at an everyday level.

9. Why did Chris Brown beat up Rianna?

Well, according to the deeply penetrating analysis of it was because “Chris has been cheating on Rihanna, [and his lover?] called while they were in the car. Apparently Rihanna figured it out got upset hit him while he was driving and he flipped and beat her up.” I guess Chris is just a bad person, or maybe a good person in a bad place, (either way just remember that violence is never the answer kids!).

10. Why not Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is a lovely place to visit, but I can think of several reasons why someone would not want to go there: because they want a sun-kissed Caribbean holiday, because they hate local resident JK Rowling and everything associated with Harry Potter, because Castles do nothing for them…. Oh, wait a minute, ‘Why Not?’ turns out to be the name of a nightclub franchise that operates out of Edinburgh. Now somehow that's not half as interesting…

Monday, July 06, 2009

What if Michel Gondry discoverd YouTube? The result is here (and it's cute)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

RIP Pina Bausch

Amongst all the celebrity deaths of late, this one stands out. During my adolescence, the choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch occupied for me the place of worship that Michael Jackson occupies for may others (judging by the amount of grief generated by his demise). Her style of choreography was totally captivating to my friends and I, and we even attempted to stage pale imitations to her work in my hometown of Swindon and at the Edinburgh festival. When I moved to London in the mid 1980s, Bausch had assumed the status of a near deity and seemed to be an influence on many of the other avant garde performers that I saw at the ICA, such as Jan Fabre, Bow Gamalan and La Fura dels Baus.

Here are some quotes from articles as well as links to YouTube clips that testify to her extraordinary genius:

She was known for her extravagant staging - in Nelken (1982), 21 dancers, four professional stunt men and four Alsatian dogs performed on a stage covered with thousands of pink carnations, while in Palermo (1989) dancers picked their way through dust and debris.

Each piece had its own character dictated by its setting – the carnations covering the stage in Nelken, the wall that falls as rubble in Palermo,the peat-covered floor of her Rite of Spring. (source BBC)

In 1998 Bausch revived Kontakthof a show she had made 20 years previously which explored the impossibilities of love in the setting of a dance hall. Then her dancers were young; when she revived the work she cast it with non-dancers, aged 65 or over. As the elderly performers enacted the hopeful rituals of courtship, they were at once laughably frail and endlessly touching (source telegraph online).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If Songsmith is a crime against humanity, humans are fighting back!

Microsoft Inc. cements its reputation as the antidote to cool with 'Songsmith.' According to the Microsoft site, Songsmith generates a musical accompaniment to match a singer's voice.’ But what the Microsoft technicians have in fact created is a time-warp back to the 80s and the days of the Casio VL-Tone. If you don't believe me, check out this cringe-o-rama commercial on YouTube . Still, just as an arrow once fired takes on an intentionality of its own, a piece of technology once the public domain can be subverted to fulfilling functions its creators had not envisaged....

Hence the emergence a meme that combines famous vocal performance from pop classics to a 'swinging' songsmith beat (which spookily always appears to be a variation on the bossanova). As Techcrunch opined, this creates ‘a twisted breed of classic hits that are fascinating in the same way that terrible automobile accidents are.’

Check out these example of 'songsmith mashups' before the inevitable ‘copyright violation’ notices are posted:

"Roxanne" (The Police)

"We will rock you" (Queen)

"Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (The Clash)

"Somebody Told Me" (The Killers)

and best of all...

"Hurt" (Johnny Cash) "the needle tears a hole..." (salsa baby!)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Smith Recall Has anyone noticed the striking similarity between the former Home Secretary, Jackie Smith, and that woman in Total Recall (who is actually a robot disguise used by Arnold Schwarzenegger's character to travel to Mars)? Every time I see Jackie Smith on television I keep expecting her head to hinge open to reveal Arnie, and then explode.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peirce – firstness, secondness, thirdness

All of Pierce’s philosophical thought emerges out of his categories. At a trivial level anyone who has undertaken even a cursory study of Peirce is immediately struck by his seeming obsession with the number three. This is explained simply because his categories are three in number. Peirce defines categories as a “table of conceptions drawn from the logical analysis of thought and regarded as applicable to being” (CP 1.300). In other words, if you want to understand life the universe and everything, you need to understand first how thought functions; whether in relation to perceptions about the world outside or to the ideas inside your head. Peirce asserts that all thought can be broken down into three component parts, which he calls firstness secondness and thirdness.

Each of the categories governs a particular domain of thought. 'Firstness' governs qualities, 'secondness,' forces and 'thirdness,' mediation. Firstness is a quality, Peirce says firstness does not refer to anything nor does it lie behind anything else. The first is that which whose being is simply in itself (1. 356). It is the sensation of having only one thing occupying your thoughts and permeating your consciousness; you are so mesmerized that you are not even aware of anything else. For example if you stare at the colour red, so that your mind becomes so infused with the redness of that red: you are not actually aware that you are experiencing anything else (This is not actually firstness but it gives you a metaphorical sense or what it is). Another example of firstness is experiencing the absolute present directly (if that were ever possible!). It is a kind of unmediated meditative state without unity and without parts, it just "is."

Now imagine being in this rapturous state of firstness and suddenly walking slap-bang into a lamppost. The shock of that experience, as you actually experience it, is secondness. Secondness is existential: a physical force, a shock that strikes you. Secondness is what makes a baby first realize (no doubt after it has hurt itself) that it is not the whole universe, but is part of a universe that has its own agenda, and one that is not necessarily conducive to the safety and comfort of the baby.

Now for thirdness, imagine seeing someone else walking down the street and smacking slap bang into a lamppost. We might say, 'Oh that must have hurt!' In other words, we would be putting ourselves in the place of that person and imagining their pain. Thirdness is the mediating category, it speaks of events happening of things acting upon us of things that happen in the past or (speculatively) in the future. Thirdness deals in representations not in things. When we think about something we are in the realm of representation and therefore also in thirdness. All culture to the extent that it is something communicated is thirdness. All norms, language, all expression, everything we consciously think is thirdness. This includes the experiencing of our lives. There cannot be any hard an fast ontological distinction between a physical, virtual or mental happening in the retrospective terms of memory.

More information on the Peircean categories can be found here.

Peircean categories and virtual reality

Virtual reality emphasizes the experiential, rather than the communicative, or informational aspects of media. The notion of telepresence contends that information is not just transmitted from senders to receivers; but rather that mediated environments are created and then experienced by users. Consequently, the experiences of the individual user becomes the 'unit' of analysis for virtual reality researchers (e.g. Steuer 1992). But two questions arise – first, how is one to distinguish between virtual reality and real reality? And second, if presence is to be the agreed measure, how is one to measure presence itself? These are areas where the semeiotic of Charles Peirce can make a positive contribution.

To answer question one, Peirce asks by what evidence can we immediately know what is "present" to the mind? His answer is that reality and existence are actually two different things. Existence is a special mode of reality, which, whatever other characteristics it possesses, has that of being absolutely determinate. Reality, on the other hand is a special mode of being, the characteristic of which is that things that are real independently of any assertion we can make about them (CP 7.349). Applying Peirce's rules to virtual reality, one can say firstly that direct experience is neither certain nor uncertain, because it affirms and denies nothing (CP 1.145). As Deledalle remarks, reality is not making signs to us, it is we who provide the interpretants which become signs (Deledalle 2000, 21) Everything that is thought or experienced has a reality of a kind and this includes real life, dreams or virtual reality. Therefore if we want to distinguish virtual reality from real reality, we must become aware of the particular resistances each version of reality offers - for these resistances are what shows us that something independent of us is there (CP 1.431). And moreover their relative strengths and weaknesses can determine to what degree an environment can be said to be existent.

As to the second question, Peirce avoids dualistic or subjective interpretations of Being. There is no duality between Being and existence because epistemology and ontology are in fact the same thing (Deledalle 2000, 70). The conception of Being is nothing more than a conception about a sign. Different predicates may be attached to a subject, and the job of each is to make some conception applicable to the subject. Therefore we are able to imagine that a subject has something true of it, merely due to the fact that a predicate can be attached to it - and that is what we call Being (CP 5.294).

So presence is definable in terms of signs and by its qualities, resistances and the laws which govern them, or to put this another way, by the Peircean categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness.


Deledalle, GĂ©rard (2000) Charles S. Peirce's Philosophy of Signs - Essays in Comparative Semiotics, Bloomington USA: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1931-1935), The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vols. I-VI, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (editors), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1958), The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vols. VII - VIII, Ed. AW Burks (editor), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Steuer, J. (1992) "Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence" in Journal of Communication, 42(4), 73-93, PDF document, URL

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Very much in the style of a technological johnny come lately, I have just joined twitter. You can follow my tweets here.
There was a fascinating radio documentary broadcast a few months ago on radio four about mix tapes. Journalist David Quantick (fantastic name) reminisced about what has become a lost art. This is where people, usually young, usually male, would sit in their bedrooms all evening with a record player and cassette recorder, making up compilation tapes of their favourite music. The art involved was trying to avoid horribly audible edits between tracks, and timing the thing just right so that the last track ended just as the tape leader spooled into view (this involved a lot of close scrutiny of the tiny cassette window). Tracks of little or no running time were a boon in this regard - "Propaganda" by Sparks and pretty much anything by the Smiths at particular times in their career came in particularly handy. These tapes would be for one's own use or would be given to friends and lovers. They served as an answer to the perennial question of my youth, "So what music do you like then?" and also as a way of sharing a little piece of one's soul with a potentially kindred spirit. Of course there is a gendered aspect to this activity also: girls if you were to receive a mix tape from your man, you have to understand that this is probably the most pure form of romance, certainly a more sincere gesture than them buying you a red rose! Now don't get me wrong, the i-pod is a marvelous thing, and I especially love the way that it instantly makes compilations of your music. When I first got an i-pod, I was struck by the serendipitous way it would reorder my music, juxtaposing tracks in such a way that they unlocked all that was fresh and exciting. However, there is something equally magical about mix tapes. Especially on those admittedly rare occasions when you were the recipient of one and it turns out to contain bands that you grow to love. I do miss them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Charles Sanders Peirce is one of my favourite philosophers, but one whose writings are difficult to get into. This is partly because the corpus of his thought consists of unpublished notes and partly because of his tendency to fly off on tangents when he is outlining an argument. I often find it useful to examine suggestive fragments of his thought as points of departure. To this end, I present here a few of my favourite quotations, in the hope that they might spark a similar curiosity. (The citations are from the Harvard editions of his complete works)

It is certainly important to know how to make our ideas clear, but they may be ever so clear without being true 5.410

All this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs. 4.539

That truth and justice are great powers in the world is no figure of speech, but a plain fact to which theories must accommodate themselves. 1.348

That which gives actuality is opposition. We can only know facts by their acting upon us, and resisting our brute will. 1.432

All human affairs rest upon probabilities, and the same thing is true everywhere. If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery. He would break down, at last, as every great fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does. In place of this we have death. 2.653

The idea that we can immediately perceive only what is present seems to be founded on our ordinary experience that we cannot recall and reexamine the events of yesterday nor know otherwise than by inference what is to happen tomorrow. Obviously, then, the first move toward beating idealism at its own game is to remark that we apprehend our own ideas only as flowing in time, and since neither the future nor the past, however near they may be, is present, there is as much difficulty in conceiving our perception of what passes within us as in conceiving external perception. An immediate, intuitive consciousness of time clearly exists wherever time exists. But once one grants immediate knowledge in time what becomes of the idealist theory that we immediately know only the present? For the present can contain no time. 1.38

Good morals and good manners are identical, except that tradition attaches less importance to the latter. 1.50.

The effect of mixing speculative inquiry with questions of conduct results finally in a sort of half make-believe reasoning which deceives itself in regard to its real character... Men tell themselves they regulate their conduct by reason; but they learn to look forward and see what conclusions a given method will lead to before they give their adhesion to it. In short, it is no longer the reasoning which determines what the conclusion shall be, but it is the conclusion which determines what the reasoning shall be. 1.56.

Conscience really belongs to the subconscious man, to that part of the soul which is hardly distinct in different individuals, a sort of community-consciousness, or public spirit, not absolutely one and the same in different citizens, and yet not by any means independent in them. Conscience has been created by experience just as any knowledge is; but it is modified by further experience only with secular slowness. 1.56

True science is distinctively the study of useless things. For the useful things will get studied without the aid of scientific men. To employ these rare minds on such work is like running a steam engine by burning diamonds. 1.76.

The evolutionary theory in general throws great light upon history and especially upon the history of science -- both its public history and the account of its development in an individual intellect. As great a light is thrown upon the theory of evolution in general by the evolution of history, especially that of science. 1.103 .

It is to be noted that existence is an affair of blind force. "The very hyssop that grows on the wall exists in that chink because the whole universe could not prevent it." 1.329.

Though "desire" implies a tendency to volition, and though it is a natural hypothesis that a man cannot will to do that which he has no sort of desire to do, yet we all know conflicting desires but too well, and how treacherous they are apt to be; and a desire may perfectly well be discontented with volition, i.e., with what the man will do. The consciousness of that truth seems to me to be the root of our consciousness of free will. "Involuntary attention" involves in correct English a contradiction in adjecto. 1.331

Some writers insist that all experience consists in sense-perception; and I think it is probably true that every element of experience is in the first instance applied to an external object. A man who gets up out of the wrong side of the bed, for example, attributes wrongness to almost every object he perceives. That is the way in which he experiences his bad temper. It cannot, however, be said that he perceives the perversity which he wrongly attributes to outward objects. 1. 335.

To be angry with sceptics, who, whether they are aware of it or not, are the best friends of spiritual truth, is a manifest sign that the angry person is himself infected with scepticism. 1.344

All thinking is dialogic in form. Your self of one instant appeals to your deeper self for his assent. Consequently, all thinking is conducted in signs that are mainly of the same general structure as words (symbols) these consist of conventional signs that bare no relation to thier object except by association of habit. 6.338.

Signs, are the only things with which a human being can, without derogation, consent to have any transaction with. The human being is in fact a sign himself. 6.344 .

Existence is a special mode of reality, which, whatever other characteristics it possesses, has that of being absolutely determinate. Reality, in its turn, is a special mode of being, the characteristic of which is that things that are real are whatever they really are, independently of any assertion about them. 6.348

If Man is the measure of things, as Protagoras said, then there is no complete reality; but being there certainly is, even then. 6.348

At first sight it seems no doubt a paradoxical statement that, "The object of final belief which exists only in consequence of the belief, should itself produce the belief"; but there have been a great many instances in which we have adopted a conception of existence similar to this. 7. 340

If it be asked us, whether some realities do not exist, which are entirely independent of thought; I would in turn ask, what is meant by such an expression and what can be meant by it? It is clear that it is quite beyond the power of the mind to have an idea of something entirely independent of thought. 7.345

Metaphysics is a subject much more curious than useful, the knowledge of which, like that of a sunken reef, serves chiefly to enable us to keep clear of it. 5.410

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. 5.2

The essence of truth lies in its resistance to being ignored. 2.139

The first questions which men ask about the universe are naturally the most general and abstract ones. Nor is it true, as has so often been asserted, that these are the most difficult questions to answer. 1.152

[There is a] common aversion to recognizing thought as an active factor in the real world. 1.348.

Those problems that at first blush appear utterly insoluble receive, in that very circumstance.. their smoothly-fitting keys. 6.460

Higher weapons in the arsenal of thought are not playthings but edge-tools. 6.461

With your eyes open, awake to what is about or within you, and open conversation with yourself; for such is all meditation. It is, however, not a conversation in words alone, but is illustrated, like a lecture, with diagrams and with experiments. 6.461

[I]t is almost always found that when a new idea is born into the living world of thought, it labors under all sorts of inconsequential and inconvenient adjuncts. A new machine, for example, is at first needlessly complicated, and has to be simplified later. 4.661

Pragmaticism is not a system of philosophy. It is only a method of thinking 8.206

Every unidealistic philosophy supposes some absolutely inexplicable, unanalyzable ultimate; in short, something resulting from mediation itself not susceptible of mediation. Now that anything is thus inexplicable can only be known by reasoning from signs. But the only justification of an inference from signs is that the conclusion explains the fact. To suppose the fact absolutely inexplicable, is not to explain it, and hence this supposition is never allowable.