The Tetrast2 - Speculation Lounge
Sketcher of various interrelated fourfolds.


March 25, 2010.
Recentest change: March 26, 2010.

I can see four general inquiry-stimulating “unsettlings” at least:

1. Bafflement, perplexity, at the complex or complicated. E.g.: What has happened?

2. Surprise at the anomalous, the seemingly unlikely. E.g: What is happening?

3. Suspense, impatience, over the vague. E.g.: What’s going to happen?

4. Hesitancy, inagency, about the unfamiliar, the uncolligated, that whose lessons have not been learnt. E.g.: What would happen (if…)?

And searches for at least four kinds of answer: In what light would the unsettling phenomenon seem (1) simpler? (2) more usual or normal? (3) clearer, more clarificatory, more significant or informative? and (4) deeper, less trivial? – each of which can be helpful in any of the above questions.

Note the conceptual opposition or tension between (1) simpler and (4) deeper, less trivial. And also that between (2) more usual or normal and (3) more significant or informative. A kind of double chiasm.

1. Simplicity, optimality, etc.

2. Likeliness, probability, etc.
X of crossing diagonals. Each diagonal itself is a narrow X.3. Informativeness, significance, etc.

4. Nontriviality, depth, etc.

C. S. Peirce says that all inquiry begins with irritation by doubt as a result of surprising observations and that it struggles toward belief - a fixation of belief, which is to say, a settlement of belief (a settlement at least for the time being). (See his 1877 "The Fixation of Belief"). So it seems to me appropriate to think of inquiry as beginning with an unsettling. But Peirce is more specific. Yet that word "irritation" irritates me there, it sounds unnecessarily negative. One could say that at least some inquiry begins with temptation by doubt.

Is curiosity merely a kind of irritation? Some people regard all desires as irritations. Desire is the positive version of averseness, while pleasure is the positive version of pain. Yet desire - as we say, the pangs of desire - correlates also with pain, desire as a pain of lacking something that one would like. There's something negative or privative about the would-be in contrast to the is, whether one responds with desire or averseness. Averseness, as opposite of desire, could suggest a pleasure of lacking something that one would dislike. The idea of averseness doesn't particularly suggest that to me, except when I consider the idea of contentment and satiety, but those aren't the same thing as positive pleasure. Of course, the idea of desire doesn't always bring the idea of pain strongly to mind, but still, something seems not quite symmetrical here. Looking it up, I find pang defined as an ache or twinge, and its antonym given as tingle. A tingle of aversion or disgust? A pleasurable tingle of aversion? A delighted scorn? There are threads of sense in all this but somehow they don't come together as truistically as I'd like. Maybe one of these days I'll figure it out. Anyway, since curiosity is a desire to know, one can see it as involving desire's pain and irritation, yet desire is not merely pain and irritation, the feeling of actual ill. Instead it's to feel drawn toward the potential positive presence of something that would be pleasing. Desire and pain logically involve each other but are not flatly equivalent.

Now, Peirce frames inquiry generally in terms which do not portray the inquirer as searching for truth per se, just for truth's sake, as if in some sort of idleness. Peirce holds that genuine inquiry is struggle and that inquiry based on merely verbal doubts is normally fruitless. He wants to show inquiry as a struggle driven by strong motivations yet capable of eventually attaining considerable objectivity. Quoting myself from a few articles at Wikipedia: "Starting from the idea that people seek not truth per se but instead to subdue doubt's irritation, Peirce shows how this can lead some to submit to truth." One does often notice that people are concerned to maintain beliefs in which they are invested by practices built upon those beliefs - so, doubts irritate them. But suspicions also excite people, so that many a person seeks to dampen such distracting suspicions, excitements, sneaking hopes in himself or herself, or in others, i.e., tries to keep eyes on the ball. So, I think that "irritation" is too negative a word there. Unfortunately I can't think of a more general word that covers both irritation and excitement. It's like trying to think of a word that means specifically both desire and averseness, that is to say, a word that has the meaning of the phrase affectivity oriented toward the would-be.

I disagree with Peirce's claim that surprise is the universal occasion of inquiry. Some sort of unsettling, yes, but not always surprise. Inquiry does not always begin with the improbable, the unlikely, the anomalous, as if a person had a plenum of beliefs or expectations for all occasions. Instead one is sometimes aware of things about which one has no particular expectations, things which are standing mysteries. How did some island get where it is? Etc. One is puzzled or baffled, the puzzling thing complicates one's understanding of things. One seeks a simplifying explanation. Peirce tries to account for such things as "passive" surprises, things that happen in the absence of expectations specifically of their happening. (For Peirce, "active" surprises are things that happen in the presence of expectations specifically of their not happening.) I don't think that it's a simplification to regard bafflement as passive surprise. That's like regarding fancy or supposition as passive expectation. The anomalous goes against particular expectations. Not only does the baffling complexity or complication elude particular expectations, it more actively goes against fancies or suppositions about what most simply would be.

From the start the claim of surprise as occasion for all inquiry involves idea of expectations about the future, the probable, the likely. So, from the start, in order to check that claim, one should consider whether other time ideas and modality ideas can also be found as occasions of inquiry. One such is bafflement, defiance of simplifying supposition about what most simply would be. Here the time is the would-be and the modality is simpleness, facility (to the point where it's hard not to do it), a kind of optimality. Note that surprise occurs when that which comes to light defies expectations, and bafflement, perplexity occurs when that which is (more or less) familiar defies suppositions and simplifying fancies.

So there are two other times right there to consider: the present in its coming to light, and the past. The two correlated modalities are informativeness and nontriviality, depth. Sometimes currently gained information is insufficiently clarifying as to what is going to happen, what is "coming down the pike." One becomes impatient. And sometimes one's established facts, one's remembered past, aren't deep enough to offer lessons, conclusions to be drawn, about what in a current case would happen if one were to do certain things - so that one hesitates, for instance to walk across a log bridge, or to build a bridge out of some curious material.

So, once more from the top, unsettlements that stimulate inquiry:

1. Bafflement, perplexity, at the seemingly complex or complicated, defying one's best simplifying suppositions. E.g.: What has happened?

2. Surprise at the anomalous, the seemingly unlikely, defying one's expectations. E.g: What is happening?

3. Suspense, impatience, over the vague, the seemingly uninformative, defying one's discernment. E.g.: What’s going to happen?

4. Hesitancy, inagency, about the unfamiliar, the uncolligated, the seemingly trivially-connected, that whose lessons have not been learnt, defying one's remindedness. E.g.: What would happen (if…)?

Generalizable spacetime stucture of communication and cause & effect. Light cone times: Almost now (feasibles & optimals). Later (probabilities). Barely Now (news, information). Earlier (bases, facts, data, for logical conclusions).Note: I understand the would-be, in those contexts, as corresponding roughly to the surface of the future light cone, in a sense the present, but the present to which one appears and into which one acts directly. That present, one's presence to others, is the surface of one's future. This is as opposed to the present as it comes to light to one - that coming-to-light present is the surface of one's past (corresponding roughly to the surface of the past light cone). I say "roughly" because, for example regarding the analogy to the future light cone's surface, one's outgoing most-feasible, optimal or extremal, or best "shots" don't always travel at lightspeed, yet the difference between such and the later future, the future as probabilities, parallels the difference between the future light cone's surface and the future light cone's inside. Thus a difference between desire and trying for what is almost now, on the one hand, and hope and pursuit toward a later goal on the other hand. In that sense, where one is distinguishing between that which has happened, that which is happening, that which is going to happen, and that which would happen, I'd like a conditional participle, so that it's clear that I'm talking about a would-be based in the concrete situation. (Informal Esperanto would allow it - tio, kio estas pasunta.)
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