Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cinematic representation

What makes it the case that a picture of Grandma represents Grandma?  That it looks like her, you might say.  But that can’t be the right answer, or at least not the whole answer.  The picture might look like any of several people; still, it represents only Grandma.  Or it might not look much like her at all -- consider a bad drawing, or even a photograph taken at an odd angle or in unusual lighting or while the subject is wearing a very unusual expression -- yet still represent her.  Indeed, that resemblance of any sort is neither sufficient nor necessary for representation is about as settled a philosophical thesis as there is.  (The reasons are many.  An object might resemble all sorts of things without representing them.  Resemblance is a symmetrical relationship, but representation is not: If a certain picture resembles Grandma, Grandma also resembles the picture; but while the picture might represent Grandma, Grandma does not represent the picture.  There are many things we can represent in thought or language -- the absence of something, a certain point in time, conditional statements, disjunctions, conjunctions, etc. -- without these representations resembling their objects, either pictorially or in any other way.  And so forth.  Chapter 1 of Tim Crane’s The Mechanical Mind provides a useful discussion of the issue.)

Nevertheless, there are certain kinds of representation of which resemblance is an important component, even if it is not the whole story.  Movies provide some useful examples, the most obvious of which is the biopic.  Now, an attempt at perfect imitation of the subject of such a movie is neither necessary nor always desirable.  Patton would not have been as effective as it is had George C. Scott tried to capture the General’s somewhat nasal voice.  Still, verisimilitude can be very effective -- Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher has justly been praised.  And to fail to capture in at least a general and impressionistic way the appearance and mannerisms of the subject will make it impossible to suspend disbelief.  (Cliff Robertson as JFK, anyone?)

There are more complex and interesting ways in which resemblance plays (or does not play) a role in effective cinematic representation.  Consider the comic book flick, about which I’ve written before.  On the one hand, Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk and Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers could plausibly portray the same character -- the Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner -- in what was in effect the same multi-part story, though the two actors do not much look like each other.  On the other hand, the CGI Hulk in the latter movie better represents the character precisely because its features were made to resemble Ruffalo’s.  (All of this works, perhaps, because we’ve got something like a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” between the various “players” -- Ruffalo facially resembles the CGI Hulk in The Avengers, who in other respects resembles the CGI Hulk in The Incredible Hulk, whom Norton is seen transforming into in the latter movie.)

A uniquely cinematic representational technique can be found in Arachnophobia, which I recently watched for the first time in years.  There’s a nicely executed scene in which Jeff Daniels’ character sees what he takes to be a tarantula-sized spider on the wall of his bedroom, and nervously approaches it only to find that it is merely the shadow of a clothes’ hanger affixed to the wall.  Now when you go back and watch the scene again and freeze the relevant frames, it seems pretty clear that it really was a spider (or perhaps a fake spider) rather than a clothes’ hanger that we, the audience, were originally looking at.  But of course, that doesn’t mean that Daniels’ character was wrong to conclude that it was just a hanger.  Though there does not seem to have been any trick photography in any of the relevant shots, the photography is nevertheless representing different things in the shots. The earlier shots are intended to represent the character’s perception of what was on the wall.  The later shots are intended to represent what really was on the wall.  Each shot crucially relies on resemblance, but in different ways -- resemblance to reality in the latter case, resemblance to someone’s perception of reality in the former.  

There’s a similar technique in David Mamet’s terrific movie The Spanish Prisoner.  Or maybe there isn’t -- the ambiguity is itself a further iteration of this uniquely cinematic method of representation via resemblance.  (Major plot spoilers follow!)  Campbell Scott’s character Joe Ross is the victim of an elaborate con game.  There’s a scene where the (ostensible) wealthy businessman Jimmy Dell, played by Steve Martin, gets Ross to sign what he takes to be a membership application in order to join (what is ostensibly) Dell’s private club.  (This is a completely straight role, by the way, and it may be my favorite Steve Martin performance.)  Ross finds out later, however, that what he had really signed was a document requesting political asylum in Venezuela -- an act which, given the details of the plot, is incriminating and gets him in trouble with the police.  The “application” (like the phony club and like Dell himself) was all part of the con.

Or was it?  If, via the magic of DVD, you go back and review the earlier signing scene, it is clear that the document Ross signed really was in fact labeled “Club Membership Decree,” and is not the similar-looking form requesting political asylum the police present him with later.  Now probably, as with Arachnophobia, the earlier scene is intended to represent, not what the character actually saw, but what he thought he saw -- though in this case most of the audience themselves won’t really notice the words “Club Membership Decree” (since they are largely obscured) until the second viewing.  So perhaps Ross really did see what he originally thought he saw, and the later document presented by the police is a forgery -- a con within a con?  Probably not -- but you’re not sure.

There are other elements like this in the movie.  For example, a crucial plot twist involves the subtle switching of a book Ross has in his custody, which contains the details of “The Process” he has developed for the company he works for, and which the con men are attempting to steal.  Yet if you watch the relevant scenes a second time, you find that there seems to be no point at which the switch could have been made.  Probably these scenes too are intended to represent, not what actually happened -- for the book really was switched -- but only Ross’s misperception of what happened, his failure to perceive the switch when it occurred.  And of course, Mamet knows that most people won’t go back obsessively to review the scenes and look for the switch: What matters to the story is what you think you’re seeing earlier versus what you find out later.  

Again, though, you aren’t sure, precisely because there are enough twists in the con that you come to question everything you think you’ve seen, including every apparent revelation of earlier deception.  Hence, the ending of the movie appears to tie things up more or less tidily; I’ve seen the movie several times and I don’t see any clear way in which the denouement could be other than it seems.  Yet I’m not certain Mamet hasn’t somehow conned us, the audience, one last time with this apparent tidiness -- which is, perhaps, the point.  And a point that probably couldn’t be made as effectively in a medium other than film, with its unique ability to make use of resemblance as a means of representing or misrepresenting reality.  

(Nor is The Spanish Prisoner of merely epistemological interest.  The compelling aesthetic of this movie -- its look and especially its stylized dialogue, which is unusual even for a Mamet screenplay -- deserves a write-up of its own.)

65 comments:

Sean Robsville said...

One possibility is that the mind doesn't identify the various views of Grandma with an internal 'positive' image of Grandma, but maps her onto a minimalistic, logically-constructed double negative. Grandma is represented in the mind by non-non-Grandma.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the 'universal' (known as a 'generic image') of Grandma is the exclusion of everything that is non-Grandma. This may seem freaky, but it's been shown to be a very efficient way for the mind to work.

David T said...

I read your link, but still have the same question I raised the last time you brought this up: If identifying Grandma necessarily involves reference to everything non-Grandma, how does the process ever get started?

Suppose a universe about which we as yet know nothing. In reality, it is composed of two things, A and B, but we don't even know that yet. How does knowledge get started? Suppose I try to know A. Under your hypothesis, I can know it only by excluding everything not-A. In this hypothetical universe, this would be B, but as yet I don't know B (or even how many other things are in this universe.) So first I've got to know B in order to know A so I can exclude B in knowing A. (At least, I've got to know enough about B to distinguish it from A). So I try to know B, but in doing that, I've got to exclude A, since by hypothesis I can only know B by excluding A. So I am back where I started, trying to know A without having made any progress.

The problem with any theory of knowledge that says that knowing A is a process that must first go through B (and C,D,E,F...) is that an infinite regress is implied unless there is something we know simply and through itself, rather than with reference to something else.

David T said...

The 20 questions game rather proves the point, since it only works because we have prior knowledge of the objects involved that allows exclusion through the questioning process. The game isn't about learning new things, but about identifying some one thing among the many things we already know.

Eduardo said...

Wow .. I haven't noticed it just yet XD but we fall on circular reasoning forever.

So it follow that there is no knowledge; ever.

Sean Robsville said...

@ David T

Of course a child must first of all have Grandma defined. But he will then construct a generic image that allows instances of Grandma viwed from other angles etc to be mapped.

At a more generic level, a child will learn from his mother that a particular utensil is a 'bowl', but from this he will be able to construct a generic image to which all bowls of different shapes, sizes and colors can be mapped using 20 or so taxonomic branch points.

machinephilosophy said...

The problem with any theory of knowledge that says that knowing A is a process that must first go through B (and C,D,E,F...) is that an infinite regress is implied unless there is something we know simply and through itself, rather than with reference to something else.

The problem is that you're giving knowledge of the implication of infinite regress ITSELF a free ride, exempting IT from such a regress, and then going on as if knowledge of IT has been obtained without that same problem just alleged about all knowledge.

Same thing happens in Zeno's paradox, whereby antecedents of the conditionals used to infer the paradox are arbitrarily exempted in order to merely state the alleged paradox in the first place.

David T said...

Machine, that would be true if I was criticizing the theory in question from the inside (i.e. if I accepted its premises.) But I don't, and can freely help myself to the truth known thru ways excluded by the theory under criticism.

Tony said...

At a more generic level, a child will learn from his mother that a particular utensil is a 'bowl', but from this he will be able to construct a generic image to which all bowls of different shapes, sizes and colors can be mapped using 20 or so taxonomic branch points.

But that just isn't what happens. When one bowl is identified and called "bowl", it is not of itself clear to the child whether "bowl" means "blue dish" or "shiny dish" or "hard object" yet. Place another bowl of different shape, or different color, size, or whatever, and call that one "bowl', and the kid begins to *get* what bowl means: somewhat rounded dish that holds liquids or many small objects. He DOESN'T get "bowl" by excluding "blue" and "shiny" and "hard" until he has multiple instances of "bowl" formally, because he would go on forever excluding things without ever coming to a resting point, and yet he does have a stable notion of "bowl" after only half a dozen cases (or less). Furthermore, the kid doesn't land on "dish that holds liquids" by exclusion because exclusion of various aspects of reality doesn't lead to "holds liquids" in any intelligible sense: maybe there was NOTHING designed to hold liquids, so excluding other things CAN'T lead us toward that concept. Show Isaac Newton a cell phone, and see if his exclusion of *everything else* enables him to conclude: oh, this is a CELL PHONE!

Exclusion is't a positive principle of being, and it is being that causes knowledge properly.

Sean Robsville said...

By encountering multiple instances of bowl, the child will learn to exclude those properties (blue,shiny, etc)that don't contribute to a useful concept of bowl.

Eduardo said...

Still Sean, not the same thing as saying that he knows what the bowls is because he know what is not the bowl.

Mark Szlazak said...

Rules of visual and auditory perception are:

1. Similarity
2. Continuity
3. Proximity
4. Symmetry
5. Closure.

That gets IDing granny right most of the time. Another place to look might be algorithms used by companies like Google in there online image search. Motor learning and control probably works the same. You get better at playing tennis by practicing tennis and not by practicing playing the piano.

Glenn said...

Grandma - n., that which is excluded from the set of all things which are non-Grandma.

Sherlock Holmes: When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

A Robsvillian paraphrase: When you have eliminated all which is non-Grandma, then whatever remains, however exhausted you may be, must be Grandma.

Rudolf Arnheim: In logic, nobody contends that the generality of a concept makes for vagueness because it is devoid of particularized detail: on the contrary, the concentration on a few essentials is recognized as a means of sharpening the concept. Why are we reluctant to admit that the same can be true for the mental image? In the arts, the reduction of a human figure to the simple geometry of an expressive gesture or posture can sharpen the image in precisely this way. Why should it not do the same in mental imagery?

Why? Because, we are told, it is, a) necessary to have a super-humongous set of everything that is not the image ere we can know what the image is; and, b) maintaining and consulting such a super-humongous set for each and every image has [been claimed to have] been shown to be a very efficient way for the mind to work.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Glenn
The effectiveness of a taxonomic identification doesn't require any knowlwdge of the things excluded.

You can follow a few branch points in the taxonomic tree of the heather family to arrive at the identification of a rhododendron without needing to know anything about tea, blueberries or carnivorous pitcher plants.

Glenn said...

The effectiveness of a taxonomic identification doesn't require any knowlwdge of the things excluded.

I'm glad you've quickly grapsed the implied point. How do you reconcile it with your earlier statement (According to Buddhist philosophy, the 'universal' (known as a 'generic image') of Grandma is the exclusion of everything that is non-Grandma. This may seem freaky, but it's been shown to be a very efficient way for the mind to work.)?

machinephilosophy said...

that would be true if I was criticizing the theory in question from the inside (i.e. if I accepted its premises.) But I don't, and can freely help myself to the truth known thru ways excluded by the theory under criticism.

Your statement is about ANY theory of knowledge. Consequently your theory of knowledge about theories of knowledge is just as problematic. The only way to avoid the self-reference issue is to skip using universal quantifiers in making epistemological claims.

Tony said...

By encountering multiple instances of bowl, the child will learn to exclude those properties (blue,shiny, etc)that don't contribute to a useful concept of bowl.

Yesssss, and by encountering multiple instances of bowl, you formulate in the mind what it is that makes "bowl" to BE bowl, and then it is easy to exclude "everything else". It is completely unnecessary to the act of coming to know "bowl" to formally exclude grass, mercy, chartreuse, Stokes Theorem, charitable deductions, Black-Sholes method, and so on. The child doesn't go through the process of considering "everything else" to eliminate them, and even if he went through everything else that he knew, that exclusion process wouldn't tell him about a BRAND NEW CONCEPT that he hadn't considered before.

Tony said...

You can follow a few branch points in the taxonomic tree of the heather family to arrive at the identification of a rhododendron

But that requires knowing something of a taxonomic tree, and knowing what it means to the overall process that when you exclude one branch, you exclude ALL THE OTHER branchings off that one branch, and thus you presume a moderate level of knowledge. This is something a 2-year old is supposed to be able to do? Not hardly.

David T said...

Machine Philosophy,

Uh, no, I didn't propose a theory about theories of knowledge, because I don't think you necessarily need a theory of knowledge to have knowledge. Some knowledge is known immediately without a mediating theory. That's my point.

Glenn said...

@Sean... 'tis better if the question is posed like this: How do you reconcile your earlier statement with the implied point?

machinephilosophy said...

I misread the original claim, Glenn.

But an infinite regress is not implied merely because B is required to know A. That would have to be proved. Just because a conclusion requires premises in order to be justified, that in itself does not imply any kind of regress of premises, prior conclusions, those conclusions' premises, etc.

If that were true, the original argument ITSELF concerning such alleged regresses would have the same problem it alleges about other views.

machinephilosophy said...

SOME kind of theory is necessary if one is to distinguish their knowledge from heartburn.

People operate intuitively in knowing things, but they still use distinctions that make up the theory that would justify knowing those things. Those people may not psychologically need to have a conscious awareness of the epistemic structure of their own conceptualizing, but that structure must be there to ground distinctions between knowable objects, give meaning to the known object in an overall system, and so on.

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony
In the taxonomic model (which we know works from the game of Twenty Questions), it isn't necessary to know everything about 'bowl', or everything about 'non-bowl', just the significant differences between bowl and non-bowl.

To quote the Wiki article
"The game suggests that the information (as measured by Shannon's entropy statistic) required to identify an arbitrary object is at most 20 bits. The game is often used as an example when teaching people about information theory. Mathematically, if each question is structured to eliminate half the objects, 20 questions will allow the questioner to distinguish between 2**20 or 1,048,576 objects. Accordingly, the most effective strategy for Twenty Questions is to ask questions that will split the field of remaining possibilities roughly in half each time. The process is analogous to a binary search algorithm in computer science or successive approximation ADC in analog-to-digital signal conversion." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty_Questions

machinephilosophy said...

I agree about the necessity of epistemic termination points on pain of regress, but once you get to those points, there's still justification needed, it's just of a different sort: namely, a set of architectonic principles and cross-defined terms, any one of which when challenged necessarily depends on all the rest. This would be a fallacy ordinarily---except that both the challenge, and the appeal to circularity as a falsifying mechanism would themselves assume the same thing as the originally challenge epistemic bedrock components.

reighley said...

@Sean,
I'm interested in this taxonomic line you are going down. In particular that we do not require that everything falls into the taxonomy, only those things which we want to identify.

If human knowledge actually worked like this, then clearly at the root of the tree would be our understanding of the term "thing".

Because it would make the database impractically large, some things must be left out of the tree.

Does this mean that we should assume the reality of concepts which do not even fall under the main heading of "thing"?

To put it most provocatively, where should the question "does it fall in the taxonomic question tree?" fall in the taxonomic question tree?

Eduardo said...

I guess it is just how the mind works... perhaps you never come to the point of asking if the taxonomic tree is indeed part of a taxonomic tree.

Perhaps the mind simply goes there naturally so there is no need to ask the question... maybe.

Tony said...

Sean, your still missing my point. Let's say that the kid tries to use a taxonomical approach, and he starts out with one of the standard (but slightly different) versions, "animal, vegetable, or mineral". That's great, unless the thing to be grasped is a wholly new concept (say it is "justice" - neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral). If your already known taxonomy isn't aware of a new kingdom, or phylum, or genus, you may not be able to properly locate the thing by elimination at all. After going through the process, all you will be able to say is: it isn't on the list at all. But many different kinds of things can be not on the list, so "not being on the list" cannot tell you what kind of thing it is, either.

Forming new concepts comes first from positive apprehension, upon which we then apply negative clarification for refinement. The negative does not constitute the heart of the new apprehension.

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony,
"Forming new concepts comes first from positive apprehension, upon which we then apply negative clarification for refinement. The negative does not constitute the heart of the new apprehension."

True. The Buddhist idea of 'universal' (generic image) is not a negative, but a double negative.

The generic image of 'bowl' is the opposite of non-bowl. It's a kind of mentally-constructed logical shadow that occupies the Boolean hole of 'non-bowl' derived by a '20 Questions' type process of taxonomic elimination: http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/10/generic-images-in-buddhism.html

Anonymous said...

Professor Feser,

I was wondering you've tackled the "default position" argument perpetuated by many atheists these days on the basis of Antony Flew's arguments for Negative Theism?

I would like to see your response to these claims if you haven't already addressed them.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Anonymous
Do you mean 'Negative Atheism'?

To quote Wiki: "Positive atheism is a term used to describe the form of atheism that asserts that no deity exists.[1] Negative atheism refers to any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deity, but without asserting there to be none.[1][2]

Strong atheism and hard atheism are alternates for the term positive atheism, whereas weak atheism and soft atheism are alternates for negative atheism.[3] The terms negative atheism and positive atheism were used by Antony Flew in 1976,[1] and are the more common usage in scholarly writing, appearing again in Michael Martin's writings in 1990."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism

Tony said...

The generic image of 'bowl' is the opposite of non-bowl. It's a kind of mentally-constructed logical shadow that occupies the Boolean hole of 'non-bowl'

Because, after all, "non-bowl" is so much more intuitive, so definitely prior to "bowl". See, when we process "non-bowl", being the negation of a positive, it works better to understand the positive "it" as the negation of "non-bowl". Negation is what we apprehend primarily, of course, and anti-negation comes a lot easier than the positive being. Just like it works with color, and heat, and sound: hearing a trumpet voluntary and processing it as trumpet is done by negating all the other inputs: it ain't white, and it ain't hot, and it ain't sweet, and it ain't boolean logic, so heck, it must be a trumpet voluntary.

Tony said...

Sean, you make an extremely good case against Buddhism. Thank you.

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony
The majority of 'universals' can be categorized by approximately 20 questions having YES/NO answers, which function by eliminating alternatives, not by actually defining anything positive. This is established by the widespread experience of many people with the game.

So what do you make of it?

Tony said...

I don't make of it the manner in which people usually come to the concept of the thing to begin with. Ask yourself: how would this work for the first concepts a person grasps? He has nothing to eliminate against it. You would be forced to say that the first concept EVERYONE comes up with is "IT", and the second would of necessity have to be "not IT", and the third would be "not It and not 'not IT' ". Tell me when you have something positive.

Babies learning their first concepts do not play 20 questions.

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony
Babies learning their first concepts do not play 20 questions.

Not consciously of course. But the efficiency of this method of information retrieval makes me wonder whether down below the threshhold of awareness, the brain is using similar tricks to present its conclusions to the mind.

Glenn said...

Sean,

1. Perhaps non-non-Anonymous was testing you. Or, perhaps, and more non-non-likely, he wasn't; but his question, though having non-non-nothing to do with non-non-you, nonetheless was non-non-useful as a test for you. Whichever non-non-way it goes, you seem to not non-non-realize that Negative Theism is non-non-Positive Atheism.

I'd have spoken in a more discursively simplified manner, thus avoiding the apparent nonsense--but it is really non-nonsense, or, rather, and to be more accurate, non-non-sense. Besides, isn't it non-non-best to appeal to the non-non-understanding of the very non-non-efficient way the non-non-mind has non-non-been non-non-said to non-non-work?

There are the cataphatic and apophatic approaches. And then there is the neologistic NonNonNeitherCatophaticNorApophatic approach, which, apparently, goes something like this:

One windy day two monks were arguing about a flapping flag.

The first said, "I say the flag is moving, not the wind."

The second said, "I say the wind is moving, not the flag."

A third monk passed by and said, “The wind is not moving. The flag is not moving. Your minds are moving."


Neti neti.

2. What has the epiphenomenon of elimination got to do with double negation?

3. Since the twenty questions game has been brought up, I played it twice last night (here), and once earlier today, having the same object in mind. It was stumped after 30 questions and gave up both times last night. It fared better today, though only somewhat, having guessed correctly after more than 20 questions. Here are the questions and answers from earlier today, followed by responses to what it deemed to have been contradictions:

_1. It is classified as Other.
_2. Is it white? Sometimes.
_3. Do you open and close it? Yes.
_4. Can it be refilled? No.
_5. Does it bring joy to people? No.
_6. Does it have seeds? No.
_7. Does it taste sweet? No.
_8. Is it found on a desk? Yes.
_9. Is it used by the police? Yes.
10. Is it yellow? Sometimes.
11. Can it fit in an envelope? Yes.
12. Do you write on it? No.
13. Does it have cash value? No.
14. Can you recycle it? Yes.
15. Would you use it daily? Maybe.
16. Is it something you bring along? Maybe.
17. I guessed that it was a map? Wrong.
18. Is it used for communications? No.
19. Does it come in specific sizes? Yes.
20. I guessed that it was a passport? Wrong.
21. Does it shine? Sometimes.
22. I guessed that it was a gum wrapper? Wrong.
23. Is it smaller than a golf ball? Yes.
24. Is it gray? Sometimes.
25. Does it have lots of seeds? No.
26. I am guessing that it is a paper clip? Right.

(cont)

Glenn said...

According to the feedback, I provided 5 answers that were contradictions:

a) Is it white? You said Sometimes, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is No.

I see white paper clips here.

b) Do you open and close it? You said Yes, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is No.

According to How to Clean an iPhone's Headphone Jack, "Tools needed: Tape and a paperclip. We call this last option 'The Homemade Lint Roller Technique'. First, open a paperclip into a straight line..." If a paperclip can be opened into a straight line, it can be opened though not into a straight line. And if it can be opened though not into a straight line, surely it can be bent back into shape, i.e., closed (even if somewhat imperfectly).

c) Is it used by the police? You said Yes, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is No.

From the Oelwein Police Department Annual Report 2010,

"The Oelwein Police Department continues to strive to provide high quality police services to the community in a professional manner yet efficiently for the taxpayer. In 2010, the Oelwein Police Department had an annual per officer cost of approximately $84,566 with a per capita cost of approximately $143.The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics figures available are from 2003. Using a conservative 2.5% cost of living increase each year through 2010, the national average calculates out to $110,905 per officer and $237 per capita in 2010. Please keep in mind, these figures are not the salaries of the officers. These figures are based on the number of officers divided out of the entire police budget. This covers everything from payroll, fuel, utilities all the way down to paper clips..."

d) Is it yellow? You said Sometimes, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is No.

I see yellow paper clips here.

e) Is it something you bring along? You said Maybe, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is No.

According to Ten Things to Keep in Your Briefcase,

"As lawyers, we are constantly on the run, flying to depositions, driving to hearings, running off to meet witnesses. Emergencies come up and we don't always have time to plan. To avoid being caught flat-footed during your next emergency, keep the following 10 items in your briefcase:... 6. Office supplies. Keep extra legal pads, pens, post its, paper clips, etc...."

Brandon said...

That's actually kind of awesome, Glenn.

Daniel Smith said...

The generic image of 'bowl' is the opposite of non-bowl. It's a kind of mentally-constructed logical shadow that occupies the Boolean hole of 'non-bowl' derived by a '20 Questions' type process of taxonomic elimination...
The majority of 'universals' can be categorized by approximately 20 questions having YES/NO answers, which function by eliminating alternatives, not by actually defining anything positive. This is established by the widespread experience of many people with the game.


Or you could just ask "what is it?" and receive the answer "it's a bowl."

Tony said...

Not consciously of course. But the efficiency of this method of information retrieval makes me wonder whether down below the threshhold of awareness, the brain is using similar tricks to present its conclusions to the mind.

GAAAGGGGHH! Sean, how the dang heck is a baby going to start excluding things by some hierarchical tree of distinctions when IT HAS YET TO FORM ANY OF CONCEPTS OF THE DISTINCTIONS?

For the first concepts you cannot start using exclusion because you cannot yet know the sorts of things that need to be used to distinguish.

Look, Dr. Feser's post was on representation. An exclusionary process of 20-questions is not ABOUT representation, so stop wasting our time with your pet theories that have no place in this discussion.

Eduardo said...

hmmm the water seem to be going into a boil XD

Glenn said...

As for The Spanish Prisoner, it is one of my favorite movies, one of only two or three I have ever watched, then watched immediately again.

One intriguing aspect regarding the book switch that does take place is that the viewer is subtly lured (this viewer certainly was) into thinking it could only have taken place after a certain moment in time.

However, if one does go back and view the scene, then, with the aid of inference based on a certain fact picked up from an earlier viewing, it becomes clear when and how the book was switched, and one can see that there is no apparent incongruity here as there is with the signing of the "Club Membership Decree".

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony
Look, Dr. Feser's post was on representation. An exclusionary process of 20-questions is not ABOUT representation, so stop wasting our time with your pet theories that have no place in this discussion.


Dr Feser said:
"There are many things we can represent in thought or language -- the absence of something, a certain point in time, conditional statements, disjunctions, conjunctions, etc. -- without these representations resembling their objects, either pictorially or in any other way. And so forth."

Taxonomic methods of identification are such types of representation which 'do not resemble their objects, either pictorially or in any other way' .

As said earlier, if you follow a taxonomic flowchart to identify a botanical specimen, the sum of the branch-points representing the specimen as eventually identified is not a botanical description of the species, but a datastructure representing the exclusion of all other plants.

A botanical description of Rhododendron groenlandicum with lots of pretty pictures is exactly that.

In contrast, the taxonomic representation of the species is nothing other than the opposite of non-Rhododendron groenlandicum

Eduardo said...

personally I think the problem here is a matter of interpretation. Just imagine two groups without interesections, A and B. if we say A we know it is not B.

Now I think we could try to know the internal chracteristics of A which adds new groups to our description. Imagine if we were to find out what was in A by simply denying what is B. B has a wrench.... therefore we have no idea there is in A. but if we were to know all possible objects that could be in A and B, boom we could know what there is in A looking in B.

Now just notice that we know A because we know what to exclude form it. The idea to know things through exclusion only works to know with small precision what we are talking about or know exactly what meant given that we know the entire group that the entity is part of.

The amount of information about a spoon that you gain when I say, it is not a Knive is much smaller compared to: Given that we area talking about silverware, it is not a Knive.

Knowing the boundaries of the group is fundamental. Now how do we know boundaries of a group? Imagine you trying to conclude where the boudanries are by trying to know it's elements, and each element you have to know without knowing the boundaries, you will never know the boundaries or the elements with precision. Actually we will most likely never know them at all XD

I think Sean reached the baoundaries of the group coming from the outside, and we reach it coming from the inside ... in the end is the same thing just spoken differently. However I don't think Sean's idea is all that perfected. There is something awkward really.

Untenured said...

@Glenn:

That fisking of twenty questions makes you boss mofo of the month as far as I'm concerned.

Glenn said...

Sean,

Three things:

(1) I have found the work you have quoted from elsewhere, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's
Understanding the Mind
. Here is my reading of (part of) the relevant chapter,

"The definition of conceptual mind is a thought that apprehends its object through a generic image...

"When we think of or remember an object, say an elephant, there appears to our conceptual mind... the generic image of elephant. Even though there is no actual elephant in front of us, nevertheless there is a generic image of elephant appearing to our mind. Thus our conceptual mind apprehends elephant through the generic image of elephant. We can apply this to all other phenomena...

"When [we see] a table we may develop the thought 'This is a table.' This thought is a conceptual mind that apprehends the table through a generic image of the table...

"A generic image of an object is like a reflection of that object. When we look in a mirror we see directly the reflection of our face, and through this we know what our actual face looks like. In a similar way, conceptual minds know their object through the appearance of a generic image of that object, not by seeing the object directly... The general aspect of table and the generic image of table are synonyms."

This seems to me to be saying simply that the table in my thought of a table is not a physically real table, but a non-specific, general idea of 'table'.

(2) I have also found Daniel Perdue's Debate in Tibetan Buddhism, wherein he seems to be saying something similar, at least with respect to the generalness of an object of thought,

"The appearing object of a thought consciousness is necessarily a generally characterized phenomenon[.] Generally characterized phenomena are so called because their characters are realized not by way of their own entities but by way of a generality. They are realized in a general way... [I]ce cream is not understood together with all of its specific qualities but merely in a general way, as the elimination of non-ice cream. Thus, a conceptual consciousness can know something in only a general way rather than appreciating its object's freshness and fullness."

(cont)

Glenn said...

(3) Based on a cursory review of their work, the appearance is that Perdue and Gyatso each seem to either not understand what they themselves are saying or be lax in not making themselves clearer to their readers.

For example, while Perdue does say that, "[I]ce cream is not understood together with all of is specific qualities, but merely in a general way, as the elimination of non-ice cream," his immediately prior statement (not included above in (2)) is, "For instance, the thought consciousness apprehending ice cream understands it through the elimination of a mental image of something which is the opposite of non-ice cream."

I have to wonder which it is. Is the understanding of ice cream through the elimination of non-ice cream? Or is the understanding of ice cream through the elimination of something which is opposite of non-ice cream? And if something is left after eliminating both non-ice cream and that which is opposite of non-ice cream, would we in fact recognize it as, or understand it to be, ice cream?

And though Gyatso says that, "A generic image of an object is like a reflection of that object," he does so only after his earlier statement (not included above in (1)) that, "When we think of or remember an object, say an elephant, there appears to our conceptual mind an object that is the opposite of non-elephant."

Again, I have to wonder, this time what is a 'generic image'. Is it the opposite of non-elephant? Or is it like a reflection of an elephant? Or is it that Gyatso does mean to suggest that "the opposite of non-elephant" and "like a reflection of an elephant" are equivalent?

If the two are equivalent, then speaking of a generic image in terms of its being like a reflection of some object would, from a Buddhist perspective, seem to be fine. But if they are not equivalent, and if from a Buddhist perspective speaking of a generic image in terms of its being like a reflection of some object is not fine, then it would have to shown why Gyatso, in explicating a Buddhist understanding of mind, is wrong in taking the position that, "A generic image of an object is like a reflection of that object."

Edward Feser said...

Glenn wrote:

One intriguing aspect regarding the book switch that does take place is that the viewer is subtly lured (this viewer certainly was) into thinking it could only have taken place after a certain moment in time.

However, if one does go back and view the scene, then, with the aid of inference based on a certain fact picked up from an earlier viewing, it becomes clear when and how the book was switched

Alright! It took 40+ comments to get there, but someone finally wants to talk about Mamet!

I'm intrigued, Glenn -- when do you think the switch occurred? Surely it has to be after the Ed O'Neill character flips through the book, no? But maybe that's just what you are denying?

Glenn said...

Okie-doke. First order of business is to hedge me bets. Though I have seen the movie six or seven times, it's been several years since I last watched it. That's the hedge. 'tis the best I can do in the way of hedging, but good enough I'm sure (i.e., I'm claiming)--for if there is denial, it isn't really denial, but an appearance of denial, aka a time-lapse induced forgetfulness and/or memory distortion.

Now, this is the way I remember it (mops brow):

After realizing he'd been swindled, Joe calls the FBI in order to speak with agent Pat McCune. Pat McCune comes on the line, and Joe is surprised. He, Joe, wants to be sure there's been no mistake, and that it is indeed Pat McCune on the line. McCune assures Joe that, yes, he is Pat McCune. But hold on a sec. Not so fast. Hold your horses. Pat McCune--agent involved in getting Joe to participate in an operation to snag criminals--is the woman with blonde hair who gave him her card back in the beginning of the movie on the tropical island, right? So, the team of FBI agents readying Joe for the supposed contact to take place, weren't FBI agents, and the book switch was effected by some member of this team before Joe was left alone to wait for the supposed contact to show up.

When I said, the viewer is subtly lured (this viewer certainly was) into thinking it could only have taken place after a certain moment in time, the 'moment in time' I had in mind was when the last faux FBI agent left Joe alone.

But you've hit me with a précising question ("Surely [the book switch] has to be after the Ed O'Neill character flips through the book, no?"), and this is why I'm now mopping my brow.

Hmm... I could 'cheat' and watch the movie again, but that wouldn't be fair... hmm... hmm... well... hmm... no, I'm not able to recall the point in the scene where E.O. flipped through the book. If at the beginning of the team fussing over Joe, then--for better or worse--yes, the switch was subsequent. But if near the end of their fussing over Joe, then the switch had already taken place, and the flipping was meant to strengthen the misimpression that all was well with the book at that point. Either way, the switch did take place before Joe was left fully alone.

So... was I bamboozled but good? Have I been led to participate in that most embarrassing of all cons, that of conning oneself while thinking he's not? Or, have I, somehow, lucked out?

Alan Aversa said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned semiotics and John of St. Thomas (John Poinsot) here. He says in his Tractatus de Signis (9a14-19) {my emphasis related to this post}:

"The sign […] admits of the following general definition: 'That which represents something other than itself to a cognitive power.'
"To better understand this definition, one must consider that there is a fourfold cause of knowledge namely, a productive, objective, formal, and instrumental cause. The productive or efficient cause is the power itself which elicits an act of knowledge, for example, the eye, the ear, the understanding. The object is the thing which stimulates or toward which a cognition tends, as when I see a stone or a man. The formal cause is the awareness itself whereby a power is rendered cognizant, as the sight itself of the stone or of the man. The instrumental cause is the means by which the object is represented to the power, as a picture of Caesar represents Caesar. The object is threefold, to wit, stimulative only, terminative only, both stimulative and terminative at once. An object that is only a stimulus is one that arouses a power to form an awareness not of the stimulating object itself, but of another object, as, for example, the picture of the emperor, which moves the power to know the emperor. An object that is terminative only is a thing known through an awareness produced by some other object, for example, the emperor known through the picture. An object that is simultaneously terminative and stimulative is one that arouses a power to form a cognition of the very object stimulating, as when the wall is seen in itself."

Also, regarding Aristotle's category of relation, Thomist semiotician John Deely says that "a fictitious relation is not real but is still really a relation, while a fictitious individual is not really an individual" (Deely Reader p. 336-7).

sean Robsville said...

@ Glenn

I think the analogies for generic image such as 'reflection', 'shadow', 'outline' etc are used because we don't have a precise single word that describes a generic image left by elimination of non-object. And we also need to remember that we are making visual analogies of what is fundamentally a Boolean datastructure in the form of branch points of a taxonomic tree (many of the relevant qualities of ice-cream are non-visual).

The best visual analogy for this concept that I can think of is that of figure/ground equivalence. Depending on various mental predispositions, either figure or ground can be regarded as positive, but the information in each is complementary and equivalent.

In mapping a newly perceived object to a universal, the mind would seem to have two options available:

(1) Positive/Encyclopedic: Review the object against every universal specification in memory and find the best match, figure to figure.

(2) Negative/Taxonomic: Eliminate from consideration everything that is irrelevant, and arrive at an approximation to the figure as being the opposite of ground.

Method 1 is accurate but slow. Method 2 is innaccurate but fast (for example mistaking a coiled rope at dusk for a snake). I would guess that (2) has the evolutionary advantage in terms of survival value.

Eduardo said...

mistaking the snake for the rope though ... kills you.

Glenn said...

I think the analogies for generic image such as 'reflection', 'shadow', 'outline' etc are used because we don't have a precise single word that describes a generic image left by elimination of non-object.

Perhaps the generic image is not something left after elimination of non-object, but a cognitive after-image persisting after exposure to object.

Susan said...

These comments are so interesting! Thanks, Sean, for starting the thread, and for all the clever people who followed you.

Maybe a generic image is more about the convention between two or more people and less about the object or its non-object.

The key to the story of the bowl is the mother. Our generic images are conventions we have picked up from others. The mother knows 'bowl' as a category and passes that on to the baby. He closely watches and learns what is important (to his mother in this case).

I'll bet we never pick up one generic image on our own. So, in a way it really is the non-non bowl. Our companion person has picked one item out of the fog of reality suggested a convention. I convene, therefore I am.

Glenn said...

In suggesting Perhaps the generic image is... a cognitive after-image persisting after exposure to object, I was attempting to speak in terms (possibly) familiar to Sean, and not intending to deny or discount what Alan has emphasized, namely,

An object that is only a stimulus is one that arouses a power to form an awareness not of the stimulating object itself, but of another object, as, for example, the picture of the emperor, which moves the power to know the emperor. An object that is terminative only is a thing known through an awareness produced by some other object, for example, the emperor known through the picture.

Daniel Smith said...

Off topic...
Dr. Feser, have you seen this?
Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration by Jack Mahoney (reviewed here)

From the review:
For Mahoney, altruism is the key human characteristic around which he makes his case for re-examining two core doctrines of traditional Christianity: 1. Original Sin, which he argues may be dispensed with in light of modern science and 2. the over-emphasis that traditional Christianity places on the sacrificial character of the Incarnation.

Tony said...

And we also need to remember that we are making visual analogies of what is fundamentally a Boolean datastructure in the form of branch points of a taxonomic tree (many of the relevant qualities of ice-cream are non-visual).

Sean, by what argument have you established that the data structure is a fundamentally a taxonomic tree, and (MUCH MORE) that it is Boolean? It is certainly possible to have branch points that are mutli-valent instead of bi-polar (let's see, there are over 15 phyla in the animal kingdom...) You are assuming what you have not established by argument.

Anthony said...

Feser said: "So perhaps Ross really did see what he originally thought he saw, and the later document presented by the police is a forgery -- a con within a con? Probably not -- but you’re not sure."

I don't understand this way of talking. Ross is a fictional character. There is no 'real' to what he thought - only a 'supposed'. One can ask "perhaps Ross was supposed to really see ..."

Here, then, the answer comes down to the intentions or thoughts of the script-writer, director, or whomever. In this sense, asking what was supposed to really happen
may not have a definitive answer .. or it may, depending on the thoughts and intentions of the creators of the movie.

Sean Robsville said...

@Tony
Multivalent branch points are all reducible to a set of binary/booleans, like those fancy CASE statements in modern high level computer languages which sit on top of a series of 'Branch on Zero' or similar good old fashioned binary machine code instructions.

Tony said...

Yes, they probably all can be re-constructed that way. What I asked is how you can assume the data structure as it rests in individuals is Boolean. And how you can assume that it sits as a taxonomic tree. The fact that my apprehensions can, in you, be re-organized in such a tree doesn't provide much evidence that my apprehensions are in me organized in that tree.

Mr. Green said...

The Profeser: Alright! It took 40+ comments to get there, but someone finally wants to talk about Mamet!

It took a week+ for me to catch up, but I want to talk about Mamet! Actually, I don't think the phoney (or phonily phoney) membership document is representing what Ross thought he saw, or assumed he saw. It's not a POV-shot (it's an over-the-shoulder shot, but not strictly first person); and in mystery stories like this — assuming the movie-makers play fair — the trick is to mislead you even though everything is shown as it really is. I don't know how first-personal the shot in Arachnophobia was, but it's part of the vocabulary of horror-films to adopt certain "interpretive" shots that way. (Horror vs. mystery is psychological vs. logical, or something like that.)

So what was Mamet doing in that shot? I don't think he simply flubbed an attempted POV-shot, nor cheated by showing us and Ross a false document. Indeed, neither the (non-DVD-obsessing) audience nor Ross has a chance to see what document says. The only people who would see the heading "Club Membership Decree" are p̶e̶d̶a̶n̶t̶s̶the philosophically curious like us, and the actors (as opposed to the characters). It's not a super-secret twist that needed to be withheld even from the actors (they have the script, and movies aren't filmed in order anyway), so I have come to the conclusion that Mamet is simply playing with us. It's a joke. If you're determined enough to go rewatch that scene frame by frame in order to ascertain that the document really was a consular request deliberately obscured by the conspicuously awkward placement of fingers, you will be rewarded with the evidence that… it isn't? There's no reason to do that, other than that it plays with convention. Throughout the film, Mamet treats us to the tropes and cliches of the genre — but like Steve Martin's performance, it's played completely straight. I didn't catch on the first time through, but I think he's just having fun with the process (so to speak).

Glenn: Hmm... I could 'cheat' and watch the movie again, but that wouldn't be fair…[…] But if near the end of their fussing over Joe, then the switch had already taken place, and the flipping was meant to strengthen the misimpression that all was well with the book at that point.

Nah, it's not cheating to check — esp. if I'm right that Mamet deliberately "messed up" some details just for fun. O'Neill's flipping can't be a bluff, because we see it from his perspective (or rather, over his shoulder), and the pages are full. Ross sees only the cover, and it would have been easy to shoot that bit from Ross's side so that we saw the book only from the outside too; to show writing in the book when it was supposed to be empty and when it couldn't be excused as seeing through Ross's eyes would definitely be cheating. Ross does put the book down on top of the pay-phone when he calls the FBI and it mysteriously changes its orientation, but I'm inclined to think that's a genuine continuity goof. There isn't really any moment we see where the switch could have taken place; but I think that's Mamet playing with us again.

Glenn said...

Mr. Green: It's clear that my recollection of the movie doesn't accord well with what occurred therein, as even though it has been mentioned, I still don't remember the over-the-shoulder shot (I (mis)remember a level shot from O'Neil's left about 10 or so feet away). I'll replace my stale memories by watch the movie (yet) again before saying anything more.

Anonymous said...

Regarding how we recognise a bowl, we recognise it because we "run" on a neural net. After seeing a few examples of "bowl" additional examples can be fitted into a broader, implied category of bowl.

In short, we don't do 20 questions. We attempt a close fit to an existing concept. 20 questions might be computationally powerful, but a close fit to known concepts is much quicker.

Survival depends on not wasting kilojoules on powerful, accurate and precise solutions when quick ones are available.

Living things don't act like algorithms searching on databases because the latter will miss all the mates and then starve to death.

Mr. Green said...

Glenn: I still don't remember the over-the-shoulder shot (I (mis)remember a level shot from O'Neil's left about 10 or so feet away).

You're right that most of the scene is filmed that way (or some similar shots facing Ross), but there are a couple of seconds showing O'Neil flipping through the notebook. I checked and there's no moment we can see where the switch could have taken place. (Also, I have to admit that there is no continuity error regarding the book on top of the pay phone — the book moves because Ross pushes it when he tucks the FBI business card under the edge of the book. However, the camera is focussed close-up on the phone so the book is just off-screen at that moment.)

Since the book couldn't have been switched in what we see, is Mamet cheating? I don't think so, because it would have been trivial to arrange things in such a way as to provide for an opportunity. Either nobody noticed (pretty unlikely), or else he's toying with us. Under the theme that "nothing is what it seems", the film seems to be a standard type of mystery, where you could go back and watch it it with hindsight and see where all the trickery happened — but it turns out otherwise.

Glenn said...

Mr. Green,

...--but it turns out otherwise.

Ah, finally, it sinks in; and now I see where I'd been going awry--all along I'd been stuck on the assumption that the actual 'when', 'where' and 'how' of the book-switch truly was there to be discerned, but that I just kept missing (mostly) the 'how' part of it.

(Hmm, hadn't someone said something above about the "most embarassing of all cons"?... I think I'll console myself by noting that Kasper and Cairo are still hot on the trail of the Maltese Falcon. It's fun to think they are, anyway.)

Mr. Green said...

Glenn: (Hmm, hadn't someone said something above about the "most embarassing of all cons"?... I think I'll console myself by noting that Kasper and Cairo are still hot on the trail of the Maltese Falcon. It's fun to think they are, anyway.)

Heh. I also assumed that the switch, the fake "club membership", etc., could be detected by going back and watching the film in slow motion… after all, that's how these movies are supposed to work! The Internet, of course, has all sorts of conspiracy theories (the Japanese did end up with the secret process! …huh??), but in hindsight I've decided that the "con" the movie plays on us is to make us think it's serious when it's a spoof of con movies. Actually, no — it's serious and a parody at the same time. (I'm still not entirely sure how well it all works, but I did underestimate it at first.)