June 16th, 2010

a selection of quotes

First a big thank you to byrdie, for the lovely birthday presents. I'm about to complain about the book, but that doesn't mean in any way I'm not extremely pleased with receiving it as a gift. And I'm tremendously excited about listening to the Costello album.

Here's the quote on p 31 of _The Adaptive Unconscious_ that pushed me to post: "In many hackneyed works of science fiction"

I'll take a breather here to note that, much like commentary about romance novels with hunky guys on the cover, a sentence that starts like this isn't going to go anywhere good, and will be shockingly inaccurate about both the science fiction and whatever the analogy is to.

"human emotions are treated as excess baggage that get [sic: http://nativeenglishteacher.blogspot.com/2007/07/singular-vs-plural.html, unless "get" refers to emotions, which is a problem of antecedence] in the way of efficient decisionmaking [sic]. Invariably [that's a fancy word for always, isn't it? And aren't sentences that start with "Always" usually suspicious?] there is an android that is a much better thinker and decisionmaker [sic] than its human counterparts, because it has no emotions to muck up things. By the end of the story, we come to realize [what you didn't start there? Oh, wait, you did.] that we would never trade our lives for the android's. Even though emotions cause us to act irrationally and to make bad decisions [are we _reading_ the same sf? Or even watching the same sf?], we are willing to sacrifice precision and accuracy for the richness of love, passion, and art. Who would want to live the stark, emotionless life of an android?"

To be fair to Wilson, he goes on to note that unconscious/emotional/non-rational/wtf decision making (that compound noun is just giving me the heebies. This is English. Not German. Come on.) does a high-quality job. That's not my issue. My issue has several parts to it. First, there's the invariably. The vast majority of science fiction, hackneyed or otherwise, _does not_ include some robot/android/alien lacking in emotions and teaching us to appreciate our emotions. If he's thinking along the lines of Data and Spock, and thinks that is the lesson of Data and Spock, he's been seriously suckered by an ironic surface interpretation concealing a whole wealth of complexity and ambiguity: Spock and Data are _not_ lacking in emotions, and display a host of ways of managing non-standard emotional reactions in a social context (and given the number of women who respond by wanting to have sex with them, I seriously doubt there's a lesson being taught here about not trading our lives for theirs).

Second, there's the grammar thing that I pointed out. He's committed similar grammar weirdness earlier and it is starting to get on my nerves.

Third, and overwhelmingly most importantly, he's produced an analogy inaccurate in all important components that distracts from his point. He's not arguing that emotions help us love and wtf; he's arguing that without the adaptive unconscious, we wouldn't be able to stand up, make sense of speech or otherwise get through the day. And if he'd contemplated what his point was versus the content of his analogy, he'd have recognized the severity of the problem he'd introduced into his exposition.

But then, if he'd recognized it here, he would have recognized it sooner. Like when he said:

p 16 ""Making the unconscious conscious" may be no easier than viewing and understanding the assembly language controlling our word-processing computer program."

Or when he said on p 19 regarding proprioception, "We are completely unaware of this critical sensory system..."It is only the loss of the hidden proprioceptive system...that demonstrates how important it is." Having spent a number of years explicitly learning about mine, how to train it, and what its limitations are in the context of martial arts, I don't feel particularly unaware of mine, nor did I have to lose it to understand its importance.

Finally, on p 26: "Children do not spend hours studying vocabulary lists"

Not sure what universe Wilson lives in, but it sure isn't mine.

ETA: p 32

"It is now clear that feelings are functional, not excess baggage that impedes decisionmaking."

He's not even consistent. I blame the publisher. In fact, I'm going to haul out a couple HUP books that I've had for a while (_Red Hot and Righteous_ and _Righteous Discontent_) and not yet read and see if they have as many problems as Wilson and Gabaccio (sp?) do.

gail collins on last night's speech

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/opinion/17collins.html

That's better than a lot of what I've been hearing. I still feel like a lot of people are sort of missing what he's really doing. He splits the difference, so he sounds all reasonable. Then he waits. A bunch of people on one side say he's not going nearly far enough. A bunch of people on the other side say he's doing something completely crazy and unrelated to what he's actually doing. He repeats himself. The first group of people reiterate that he's not going nearly far enough. The second group of people ratchet it up a bit further into Crazy Town. Meanwhile, the extremely busy people in the middle go, what, hunh? And they pay attention to one of the major speeches, listen to the people saying he's not going far enough, and the crazy people who are just making shit up, and go, well, go on already, that makes sense -- and at the end of the process, that position in the middle has about 80% of the population on his side and the 20% opposed is accurately perceived as batshit crazy.

Do you think he cries at night, whenever a successful primary challenge moves us a bit further in the direction of the you're-not-going-far-enough territory? I don't.