Nederlog

 

 March 31, 2011

 

On an interview with John Searle



It seems I am in a philosophical mood the last days, so I do some more. On March 29 I linked three (sets of) articles about philosophers that I liked. One was about John Searle, in a six  part series of interviews by Harry Kreisler, in a bit I repeat here, mostly:

John Searle (<- Wikipedia) is of the minority of academic tenured philosophers of the last 50 years who made sense and wrote clearly. He got most famous for his Chinese Room argument (<- Wikipedia), that I dealt with in my comments on Leibniz's Monadology and in On the question why human beings cannot be computers (parts 3 and 4).

Searle thinks the answer to the last question is "No", as I do, but not quite for the same reasons as I, it seems. But Searle is an interesting and sensible man, and the following six-part interview by Harry Kreisler is well worth reading if you are interested in modern analytical philosophy, consciousness, philosophy of mind, or cognitive science:

Yesterday I translated my "Body AND mind?" of 1989, that treats some of the problems Searle spoke of in the above linked interview, and that he wrote several books and a lot of papers about. 

So today I will consider some of Searle's sayings in that interview, that as I said runs over 6 files, totalling 67 Kb, and dates back to 1999, that is, the previous millenium and century, though just, and after the arrival of postmodernism, that Searle also discussed.

I link the originals I quote, which I quote because I have to say something about what I quote, indented and blue, and link them before quoting as follows, with the questions by Harry Kreisler in another font.

A. Searle-interview 1 of 6 - Background
B. Searle-interview 2 of 6 - Philosophical Problems
C. Searle-interview 4 of 6 - The Chinese Room Argument
D. Searle-interview 5 of 6 - The University
E. Searle-interview 6 of 6 - Conclusion
F. Afterword

I have no remarks to part 3 of 6 (Being a philosopher) and do not quote it. I quote from all the other parts, and do so in the order they appear in the text of the interview. For each part, the section title is a link to the original of the part from which I quote. Finally, I have quoted most from "The University" part, for a reason I explain in my Afterword.

A. Searle-interview 1 of 6 - Background

- I think a kind of wanting to know how things work has infected my philosophy, which I got from both of my parents (...)

I think the same holds for me, though this is by the way. As it was, my parents were practical philosophers, and communists, as they also had been in WW-II, in the Dutch communist resistance. They were moral idealists, and quite intelligent, but unlike Searle's parents not intellectuals nor highly educated, and were formed, besides by WW II, by the economical crisis of the 1930ies.

- Now it all comes together for me. I don't see any distinction between, let's say, mathematics, literature, and neurobiology. Now I have a big enough scope and a big enough view of human intellectual enterprise that I don't make the distinction between these things. And I think my problem, a problem for every philosopher, is that to do philosophy well you have to know everything. And I don't know everything. Neither does any other philosopher. And there's a bad inference from that. That is, it looks like we've got a built-in problem.

Here Searle is speaking of what made him a philosopher rather than anything else: wide and varied intellectual interests. The same holds for me.

Next, Searle is talking about his teens, in the late 1940ies:

- And we were, now that I think about it, for sixteen-year-olds, we were pretty self-consciously intellectual. That is, we hated American popular culture. We had nothing to do with the culture of the fifties. We threw up when we heard Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. We thought that was just dreck, we wanted nothing to do with that. And we were self-consciously intellectual in our interests, and I think that was healthy.

I think it's healthy, especially when you're young, to feel that you're different and unique and not just part of a great mass of people flowing forward. I think it's good to fight against the current.

Quite so, and it is what makes a genuine intellectual, which is a human being that tries to understand things as well as he or she can, and to think and judge as an individual, rather than as a conforming member of some community, which is the ordinary way of ordinary men to belong and be someone socially.

- I got used to arguing. I do not feel uncomfortable when people challenge my views. And I don't feel uncomfortable if it turns out I'm in a minority. That doesn't bother me.

That is also the same for me: My family was a talking and argueing family, so I learned to do that well from an early age. And since my parents stood out as non-conformists, it was natural for me to be one, and not to accept social things because they were fashionable or approved by the current authorities.

- Everything interested me, and it still does. I mean this is part of my problem, everything interests me.

And also for me, and probably what made Searle a philosopher rather than some other sort of scholar. As it happens, Searle doesn't say more about it in the interview, but judging from myself, at nearly 61, I'd say this is considerably rarer than he and I thought in our youths, for it was my experience that anyone I met of around my age, from 15 onwards, without any variation, was less interested and less variously well-read than I am. Most, including most intellectuals and academics I met, were well-read in their own (sub-)field of study, and in some class of literature, like Dutch literature, or modern English literature, but had done little reading in other matters. I've read systematically in 14 subjects: Real science.

B. Searle-interview 2 of 6

This is mostly about philosophy, and especially philosophy of mind and consciousness:

- We're all conscious and it's real. All you do is pinch yourself and you know this is real. How can matter be conscious? You know, what you've got in your skull is about a kilogram and a half, three pounds of this gook. It's about the texture of English oatmeal -- it's slimier. And it's gray and white. And now how can this three pounds of gook in your skull, how can that have all these thoughts and feelings and anxieties and aspirations? How can all of the variety of our conscious life be produced by this squishy stuff blasting away at the synapses? A hundred billion neurons, glial cells, synapses, how does that produce consciousness? And that's typical of philosophical problems. On the one had you want to say, well, consciousness couldn't exist because, you know, how does it fit in with the physical world? On the other hand we all know it does exist, so you have to find some way to resolve that. That's a typical philosophical problem.

See my "Body AND mind?" of 1989, that I translated yesterday for Nederlog, where there also are more links to relevant texts on my site. Also, Searle wrote two books about it I can recommend: "Minds, Brains and Science" and "The rediscovery of mind".

- We've inherited this vocabulary that makes it look as if mental and physical name different realms. And it's part of our popular culture, so we sing songs about your body and your soul or we have saying about how your mind is willing but your flesh is weak, and sometimes the other way around, the flesh is willing but the mind is weak. And we have inherited, not only philosophically but in our religious tradition, we've inherited the idea that there are two quite distinct realms, a realm of the spiritual and a realm of the physical. And I'm fighting against that. I want to say we live in one realm, it's got all of these features, and once you see that then the philosophical mind-body problem dissolves. You're still left with a terrible problem in neurobiology, namely, how does the brain do it, in detail?

Quite so, and more or less what I also think - and I say "more or less" because both Searle and I could say or write a lot here, and I take it here he is explaining things to a wide audience.

But indeed: There is no soul and no mind other than as processes of brains, and so far the knowledge of the brain and of these processes is only a very small part of all there is to be known to understand how the human mind works, and is carried, manifested, spun, experienced by the activities of the human brain.

This is relevant in two practical ways: It makes the claims of rather a lot of pseudoscience, such as large parts of modern psychiatry and psychology, vain and unfounded speculations, that cannot be relied upon as either capable of explaining or capable of curing almost anything of human psychological (mis)functioning.

Searle explains what the real problem is and how to go about solving it, in principle:

- What are the specific neurotransmitters? What's the neuronal architecture? But I think the philosophical problem, how is it possible that the mental can be a real part of a world that's entirely physical, I think that problem I can solve.

And how?

The way I solve it is to get rid of the traditional categories. Forget about Descartes's categories of res existence and res cogitance, that is, the extended reality of the material and the thinking reality of the mental. Once you get rid of the categories and you ask yourself how it works, then it seems to me there are two principles which, if properly understood (it's not all that easy to understand them, but if properly understood --) provide you with a solution to the traditional mind-body problem. Those principles are first, all of our mental processes are caused by lower-level neuronal processes in the brain. We assume that it's at the level of neurons, but that's for the specialists to settle in the end. Neurons and synapses -- maybe you've got to go higher, maybe you've got to go lower -- but some sorts of lower-level processes in the brain, whether it's clusters of neurons or subneuronal parts or neurons and synapses, their behavior causes all of your mental life. Everything from feeling pains and tickles and itches, pick your favorite, to suffering the angst of post-industrial man under late capitalism, whatever is your favorite.

Indeed, it's not merely that the "behavior" of "clusters of neurons or subneuronal parts or neurons and synapses" "causes all of your mental life": It is your mental life, as you experience it, and besides, the brain does much more that you don't experience, but that contributes the parts of its actions you do experience, or that are your experiences.

- Okay, that's principle number one. Brains cause minds. All of our mental life is causally explained by the behavior of neuronal systems.

Or put otherwise: Mental life is part of what living brains produce, rather like behaviour is what living bodies produce. Incidentally, it also makes sense to assume that some of whatever interacting systems and parts of the brain may act as units of their own, with properties and relations to other units that their functioning parts, that together form that unit, do not have severally, but only cooperatively.

The second principle is just as important: the mental reality which is caused by the neurobiological phenomena is not a separate substance that's squirted out. It isn't some kind of juice that's squirted out by the neurons. It's just the state that the system is in. That is to say, the behavior of the microelements causes a feature of the entire system at a macro level, even though the system is made up entirely of those elements that cause the higher level behavior. Now that's hard for most people to grasp, that you can accept both that the relation between the brain and the mind is causal, and that the mind is just a feature of the brain. But if you think about it, nature is full of stuff like that.

Searle will explain his last quoted remark in a moment in the next quote, but here I want to interpose that I do assume there are units and levels of interacting systems in the brain, that have their own properties and regularities that their proper parts do not have. Indeed, Searle now explains this rather well:

- Look at this glass of water, for example. It's liquid. Now, liquidity is a real feature, but the liquidity is explained by the behavior of the molecules, that is, the liquid behavior is explained by the behavior of the molecules, even though the liquidity is just a feature of the whole system of molecules. I can't find a single molecule and say "This one is liquid, this one is wet, I'll see if I can find you a dry one." Similarly, I can't find a single neuron and say "This one is conscious or this one is unconscious." We're talking about features of whole systems that are explained by the behavior of the microelements of those systems. So I think the philosophical problem is resolved. That is, I don't have any worry about the philosophical mind-body problem. But the scientific problem -- how exactly does the machinery do it? -- that's still very much up for grabs.

I agree mostly, except for my repeated remark about levels, for which also see my On Philosophical Assumptions and yesterday's Body AND mind?

- Philosophy is, in part, the name for a whole lot of subject matters that we really don't know how to settle the issues in, where we don't have established methods for resolving questions. Now for me that's part of the fun, it's wide open. You're not hemmed in, you're not trapped in a narrow little research program. But a lot of people find that uncomfortable, that you can't fall back on an established body of philosophical truths.

Yes, I mostly agree: When problems get fundamentally clarified, they turn into the subject of some empirical science, or into mathematics or logic.

C. Searle-interview 4 of 6

I do not quote from Searle-interview 3 of 6, but this was the link. Section 4 is about the Chinese Room Argument  (<- Wikipedia) in Searle's own words, as follows:

- Now if somebody tells you, "Well, really your mind is just a computer program, so when you understand something, you're just running the steps in the program," try it out. Take some area which you don't understand and imagine you carry out the steps in the computer program. Now, I don't understand Chinese. I'm hopeless at it. I can't even tell Chinese writing from Japanese writing. So I imagine that I'm locked in a room with a lot of Chinese symbols (that's the database) and I've got a rule book for shuffling the symbols (that's the program) and I get Chinese symbols put in the room through a slit, and those are questions put to me in Chinese. And then I look up in the rule book what I'm supposed to do with these symbols and then I give them back symbols and unknown to me, the stuff that comes in are questions and the stuff I give back are answers.

Note that this is all clear and commonsensical enough, as is this conclusion:

- All the same, I don't understand a word of Chinese. And the bottom line is, if I don't understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the computer program for understanding Chinese, then neither does any other digital computer on that basis, because no computer's got anything that I don't have. That's the power of the computer, it just shuffles symbols. It just manipulates symbols. So I am a computer for understanding Chinese, but I don't understand a word of Chinese.

And that is the Chinese Room argument, that shows computers donot understand anything about the translations they may make quite successfully, as judged by humans who know the languages translated from and to.

I do have one minor niggle: A computer does not "just shuffle symbols" - it does and can even less, for it doesn't understand symbols either: It shuffles electrical pulses - on and off states of bits and bytes in its chips. What it all means, or is supposed to mean, and why it happens, in the end is due to someone who programmed it to shuffle in those ways.

But here is what the Chinese Room Argument's conclusion amounts to:

- In English I am a human being who understands English; in Chinese I'm just a computer. Computers, therefore -- and this really is the decisive point -- just in virtue of implementing a program, the computer is not guaranteed understanding. It might have understanding for some other reason but just going through the steps of in the formal program is not sufficient for the mind.

In brief other terms: A computer knows and understands as much or as little of what it is doing as a mechanical cash register understands of mathematics, even if both embody human understanding of mathematics and physics to work as they do.

D. Searle-interview 5 of 6

- I am not basically a very political person. Given a choice between intellectual life and political life, I'd take intellectual life any time. It's more fun. In the long run it's more satisfying.

Quite so, and that's what I always felt once I understood what science is about: Rational understanding and explanation of anything whatsoever. Incidentally, this is inkeeping with Plato's and Aristotle's kinds of men: There are philosopher/scientists, whose life is dedicated to the search for knowledge; politicians/managers, whose life is dedicated to the search for power or money; and artisans/workers, whose life is made by exercising some art or craft involving physical labour, and who form in fact the majority of those who do the work that's necessary to produce the goods and amenities of a society (if there are no slaves).

Next, we arrive in the interview at the Free Speech Movement (<- Wikipedia) aka FSM, that started the student radicalism and revolts in the USA in the 1960ies, in which Searle was rather prominently involved, in its very beginning. Growing up in a leftist environment in Amsterdam, I did know some about it as it happened.

- The Free Speech Movement, within its own initial objectives, was successful.
(...)
However, two other things happened that really we couldn't have predicted and they were not so fortunate. One is, we created a whole lot of radical expectations. This is characteristic of revolutionary movements; people involved get a sense of enormous possibility. "All kinds of exciting things are going to happen, we can create a new kind of a university. We can create a new kind of a society. It's all going to start right here in Berkeley." That's one thing that happened: we created unreasonable expectations about what could be achieved by a student movement of this sort. And a lot of people wanted to keep going after the FSM because we had this marvelous student movement here, we've got all this energy and idealism. It's very hard after you've had the heady and exhilarating triumph of overthrowing the university administration to then go back to your classes and start doing homework, taking notes, and writing term papers. A lot of people found that very hard.

This is also more or less what happened in Europe a little later, where there also were studentprotests, that also were tied in with protests against the Vietnam War, and "against the establishment". Here is more by Searle:

- The second thing that happened was an issue came up that really made it impossible to carry on a normal civil life in the United States, and that was the Vietnam War. By the late sixties, from '66 afterwards, it became progressively more difficult to run the university in the face of the amount of protest that went on against the Vietnam War. So the FSM, by providing an example of successful student protest, created imitators all over the United States, and it was possible for a lot of people to have the illusion that, well, we have created a national student movement, and this national student movement is going to have an enormous change, an enormous effect on the process of change in American life, beginning with the Vietnam War.

Yes, and this in part created and in part was meshed up in "the counterculture of The Sixties". The last links are to the Wikipedia on the subjects, that comprises much more than student demonstrations and changes in the universities.(As often, especially in the first of these two, Wikipedia is too postmodern for my tastes.) To quote from the beginnning of The Sixties Wikipedia article:

The 1960s term also refers to an era more often called The Sixties, denoting the complex of inter-related cultural and political trends across the globe. This "cultural decade" is a bit later than the actual decade, beginning around 1963 and ending around 1973, and in particular the years 1965-73 are sometimes referred as the "High Sixties".[2]

In the United States, "the Sixties", as they are known in popular culture, is a term used by historians, journalists, and other objective academics; in some cases nostalgically to describe the counterculture and social revolution near the end of the decade; and pejoratively to describe the era as one of irresponsible excess and flamboyance. The decade was also labeled the Swinging Sixties because of the fall or relaxation of some social taboos especially relating to sexism and racism that occurred during this time.

The 1960s have become synonymous with all the new, exciting, radical, and subversive events and trends of the period, which continued to develop in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and beyond.

One reason to link and quote this is Searle's:

- I mentioned two things; actually there was a third thing that happened, and that is the set of totally dreadful vulgarizations of culture that occurred under the general name of "the sixties." In the sixties, people had a whole lot of really quite stupid theories about life. They thought, you get immediate gratification through drugs, and indeed if you can't get immediate gratification through drugs then you get it through some other equally instantaneous form of gratification. The idea that satisfactions in life normally take a lot of work, you have to do years of preparation to do anything worthwhile, in the sixties it was very hard to convince people of that.

There was more to it than that, but this too, and indeed one fairly adequate comprehensive statement about what Searle calls "totally dreadful vulgarizations of culture", is that the baby-boom generation (those born between 1945 and 1955, in the wake of WW II) questioned and discarded many of the values and practices of the previous generations, but did not succeed in replacing it by new ideas and values to replace the old ones. Instead, what came about was a sort of combination of relativism of all standards, values and knowledge and a levelling (*) of all. Neither was completely successful, but that was what it intellectually came down to, for most.

To continue with Searle, and a question by the interviewer:

- And you, in your analysis of that period, you do believe that in many ways the major institutions, especially in the university, were unresponsive.

Yes, well, for a number of reasons. In part because they'd never seen anything like this. They were themselves creatures of the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties, and there hadn't been anything like the student protest movement of the sixties. Now you might say, well what about the thirties? Didn't you have a lot of student activism in the thirties? There was a fundamental difference between the student protests of the sixties and earlier generations. And that you can state in one sentence. The student protesters of the sixties identified the university itself, as an institution, with the forces of evil that they thought of themselves as fighting against. So in the thirties, students who were militating against fascism or trying to overthrow capitalism didn't think of the university as their enemy. But in the sixties, people who thought we are fighting for the liberation of the blacks, or we are fighting against the war in Vietnam saw the university as the enemy. And the university was a much more vulnerable target than, let's say, the Pentagon. So whereas in a traditional student movement if you had a national issue like foreign policy or the economic system, you didn't think of the university as the institution you should attack. And in the sixties it was the institution that was attacked.

That seems quite correct to me and a relevant difference between the thirties and the sixties. It should also be remarked that a relevant difference between European and US universities is that the former were much more tied in with state funding than the latter, while as social institutions this made it in fact easier to break European universities than the US ones.

Then something else was due to the baby-boom generation (and the one before it, that could't come up with good replies, neither in practice nor in theory) that I called relativization and levelling above, and that Searle, with considerable justification, called vulgarization:

- What happened after the FSM, though, was not that there was a general decline in the IQ, but somehow or another this became, so to speak, an undergraduate career option. That is, it became something you could "do" as a student. And the role models had already been created, so all kinds of people who really hadn't paid their dues fighting southern sheriffs and so on, as the original leaders of the FSM had, could then become prominent student radical leaders. (..) But there was a kind of opportunism and a sort of, I don't want to use the word careerism exactly, because it's not a normal career, but a model of opportunity was created by the FSM that didn't exist before and it attracted all sorts of mediocre people.

Quite so, and the main reasons or enablers were economical and demographical: The baby-boom generation caused a large influx into the universities, where standards were lowered to satisfy the demand for degrees. The complimentary cause was that the baby-boomers themselves were much in favour of levelling, that they did in the names of "equality" and "democratization", and also strongly tended to relativism from the beginning, since they questioned all, while such answers as they offered were mostly rehashed radical alternatives from the past, indeed of all kinds: vegetarianism, alternative medicine, meditation, food fads, spiritualism, alternative philosophies, enlightenment by psychotropic drugs, eastern philosophies, marxism, anarchism, environmentalism a.s.o. all quite  suddenly flourished on the waves of radicalism that moved through the sixties.

Hardly any of these movements and points of views got a firm hold, at least apart from some sects of various kinds and in some universities or departments of universities, but all together strongly supported a climate of intellectual and moral relativism ("freedom", "anti-authoritarianism") and levelling ("democratization", "equality"), both of which were in part phony and pretentious, but both of which got a wide following and quick rather general social acceptation, because it so easily fit the prejudices and interests of the majority: Nobody can be better than you, for all are equal, and nobody is right, for everything is relative, so you may do and say as you please.

One of the many things this carried along socially, e.g. in Holland, was an enormous levelling of education, in both the preparatory schools and the universities: By 1984, the average IQ of the students at the UvA was 115: Mandarins with an IQ of 115 - which I wrote in 1989 with this concluding part:

For in fact everywhere those who have the highest education do get the highest jobs, that is: the functions in society in which individuals have most power or most influence over their fellow human beings; that have the highest status; and that are paid best - doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists of all kinds.

Such as M.A.-degreed psychologists, for example, capable of deciding matters of life and wellbeing of people with problems. With the insight, the knowledge, the thinking power, the intellectual talent of a shopkeeper or clerk. On average 115 miserable IQ-points and the total absence of a bright intellect that is implied thereby.

Frightening, as I said.

The result will be what can be seen now, after some 25 years of postmodern levelling education: [4]

Moronic academics; complete, half and threequarter charlatans as Masters of Art in psychology or sociology; academically titled pseudo-intellectuals who hardly know foreign languages and claim to be "too busy" to read; who cannot write, and do not speak good Dutch (of the kind of honourable Members of Parliament - an asylum filled with selfenamoured yahoos that unfortunately has room for only a few hundred minibrains); semi-scientific but heavily subsidized research that never yields anything but above average incomes for "scientists" of very average grocerly brains, and unreadable research reports in awful bureaucratic cant "to help the feminist movement, the trade union movement, and the environmental movement" (as the central aims of the University of Amsterdam were for many years) - in brief, The Netherlands will be governed by corrupt mandarins with an average IQ of 115. And the usual hypocritical impostures and backhanded greed, that is to say "in the name of our exemplary Dutch dumbocray, sorry: democracy".

Nothing new? Real science will become even rarer than it is, in an atmosphere filled with tenthousands, possinly hundreds of thousands Masters of Art of minimal brainsize and maximal greed - for an average IQ of 115 does not precisely exclude greed, ambition, intrigue and that delicious species-searches-species trade unionist mentality).

The cultural level of societies will sink until public mediawhores on the dreambox can move the population to any form of unreason. Public gangsters, frauds, parasites and eagerly upcoming dictators will be left free to do as they please - and the only social group that could have opposed them with rational arguments based on real knowledge and understanding of human civilization, will have been reduced to a set of stammering know-nothings, precisely of the level of people's parlementarians there is already.

Nothing new, I ask again? No, indeed: Virtually the only thing we do not have yet is a populist would-be dictator that abuses the opportunity. For we have had already 25 years of postmodern education. And we live in  moronified society, that moronifies further incessantly.

Thanks to the present so called academic elite, that has let it happen while they parasited upon it: The present generation of university professors and lecturers. Après vous le déluge, quoi?

In the 21 years since then, this did happen, and the Dutch educational system can be regarded as ruined for generations - that may not agree, for they all got miseducated, got undereducated, got "educated" by propaganda and bullshit in most studies that provide career- prospects in society, but believed what they received, i.e. believed that "everybody is equal" (and no one better than you) and so universities should be open to all, as should be academic titles, and believed that "everything is relative", so the only norms that count are conformism sauced by public shows of "respect" to anyone around, for anything whatsoever.

- One of the things that struck me in all of this period was how resilient the university was. We just went on with the sheer glacial force of academia, with its budgets and its committees and its procedures for promotions and tenure. So at one level, the university proved itself remarkably strong in fighting this stuff off. In this respect American universities were better than European universities, because we had a kind of self-confidence in the traditional institutional structures and we just kept marching on.

Well... it's not so much "self-confidence in the traditional institutional structures", it would seem to me, as the differences in funding and legal status of the US universities, that made them stand farther away from state and municipal bureaucracies compared with Europe: It was easier for universities to set out their own courses than it was in Europe.

- All of the basic apparatus remained unchanged. However, there were forces at work in the larger society that combined with the radicalism of the sixties, that, I think, made serious long-term damage to the university.

Well... yes and no: Formally "the basic apparatus remained unchanged" - but in the universities since the 1970ies, at least in Holland, the ends had changed, the standards crumbled, the students levelled, the courses moronified, and in effect the universities changed into something like colleges, a few departments were real talent and hard work still counted, such as physics and mathematics, excepted.

Also, unlike before, when mostly the professors decided what the universities taught and required, the power in the universities shifted radically, first to the students and their elected bodies, and in Holland for 25 years to the university-parliaments, in which students, staff and ordinary personnel could get elected every year on a "one man, one vote" basis, which worked out so that in effect key members of the Dutch socialist, communist and green parties had the power in the universities from 1971 to 1995, and then, already in the eighties, the power fell in the hands of the bureaucracies, that was in Holland, and still is in Amsterdam and most cities with universities, bureaucrats from the Dutch Labour Party, who got the say so about virtually all bureaucratic and staff appointments, and effectively own the university as members of the nobility owed a lien of land in the Middle Ages.

Another effect, in Holland at least, is that very soon in the seventies and eighties of the 20th C, the PC language was very widely adopted, again because of its levelling and relativistic appeal: Suddenly, even children of 5 were said to "study" and "sit for examinations" in terms that until then had been reserved to students of universities: Suddenly everyone "studied", and "sat for examinations", even though in the same years the schools ceased to teach arithmetic for the most part, and ceased to teach foreign languages mostly, at least as part of the curriculum.

But then the "democratic" "advantages" were obvious to all: Suddenly at least 50% of the population of the right age was "entitled" to "university education", and could fairly expect, even with an IQ of 110, to be a doctor of philosophy or master of arts in one or several of the very many new "university studies" that were created for just that purpose: One could and can get degrees in "European Studies", "Pop Music", "Freedom Theology", "Sports Studies" etc. - and once being "a doctor" or "professor" in that one had arrived at the place that formerly were in the hands of persons who had least had good intellect, whatever their personal merits, and one was regarded by "laymen" - effectively, everyone not having a degree in that "science" - as "an academic" and "an intellectual", worthy of respect and high remuneration.

Back to Searle, and the damages done to the university, who did see most of what I just sketched in 1999:

- And what was that damage?

Well, again, it's very hard to summarize but I would say the university became less self-confident in its elitism. By definition a university has to strive for the best. If you're not striving for the best you're not the best university, you're not doing all that you can. But the best means that some things are better than others. Some professors are better than other professors, some books are better than other books. Some ideas are intelligent, other ideas are stupid. And a university has to be committed to quality. It's nothing mysterious, it's like the San Francisco '49ers. They try to get the best coaches and the best players and make them do the best they can. Well we're supposedly trying to get the very best professors and the very best students, and that means intellectually the best -- the intellectual elite of the country as the professors, and the intellectual elite of the state and people from out of state as the students -- and make them perform at the highest possible level. Well, we're still committed to that but we're more bashful about saying it in public. And there is a sort of an undercurrent that, well, maybe that's all a really kind of disguised power structure and maybe it's all a sort of disguised oppression and colonialism, and we've got to get out of this idea that some books are really superior to others, and some students are superior to others, and some professors are better than others. And that's bad. I mean, if you don't believe in quality, and you don't believe that the ultimate criterion of success in this game is what's better and what's worse, what has the quality and what lacks the quality, then you've given up on the ideal of academic life.

And that is what has happened, in Holland certainly, and as far as I can see also in Western Europe and the US, the last with some qualifications, because in the US universities are more independent from the state: The universities have "given up on the ideal of academic life" - and in Holland this happened already in the 1970ies, and with a sense of great pride and moral urgency in the battle for "democratization", "equality", "equivalence", and "social relevance", against the powers of "fascism" and "elitism", for everybody who was not with the postmodern rot, for that is what it was, was accused of being "a fascist" and an "elitist" - even though all could see and appreciate that in sports elitism is what they all wanted, just as in illness all wanted the very best of medical doctors. The problems was only that the democratic majorities agreed that it was very unfair, quite elitist, and very fascistic, if they, with their IQs of 105 or so, were excluded from "the right" of getting a university degree, which the democratic majorities agreed they all wanted, for the chances and pay an academic degree offered, and not because they were, for the most part, in any way interested in real science, in civilization, or even in the history of ideas: They considered it their "democratic right" to get an M.A. or Ph.D. because that would help them make more money, so anyone who excluded them from those chances, clearly must be a "fascist elitist".

And that is also why I was thrown from the University of Amsterdam's philosophy department, briefly before taking my M.A. there, because I said these things in public, therefore opposed the career prospects of the democratic majority of local morons, and therefore, by inescapable political propaganda logic, must be "a fascist elitist" fit for removal from the university, and fit for denying an M.A. degree in philosophy: 39 Questions (public speech, May 1988).

Back to Searle and a question by the interviewer Kreisler, for another very unfortunate consequence of egalitarian leveling, for which also see my Yahooism and Democracy, written not long after the 39 Questions, and my satirical take on what I had seen and experienced in the University of Amsterdam.

You've written that "Traditionally, one of the aims of humanistic education was to get the student to overcome the accidents of his or her background. You are invited to redefine yourself as an individual in light of a universal human civilization and cultural tradition." And then you go on to say, "Emphasis was on the individual within the universal. Now you derive your identity not from individual efforts at self-definition, but rather from the group to which you belong."

Yes, well now this is a particular manifestation of what I was talking about, and I think, in a way, it's the worst single manifestation of this. We have abandoned the idea that the university invites the student to become part of a universal community of scholars, part of a universal community of human civilization, where you achieve individual self-definition through participating in a universal human civilization. Now what we tell you is, what's your ethnicity? What's your race? What's your gender? That's who you are. You don't define yourself. You are defined by race, gender, class, ethnicity, and cultural background. And that isn't just stupid, that's evil.

Quite so - but I, who said such thing at around the same time as professor Searle said them, but as a student, was removed from the university for saying these things, which could happen because in Holland the vast majority of the scientific staffs of the universities collaborated with the radical students. See my Whores of Reason of 1988, in fact little but parts of letters I had written to the Board of Directors of the University of Amsterdam, including this - and the doctrines I summarize in quotes were then part and parcel of the teaching everybody in the UvA received and taught, the last with a very few exceptions, and mostly by professors who were not Dutch themselves:

A large part of the education you receive in the UvA has little to do with science and has everything to do with political  superstitions: you are studying in a faculty that is still dominated by the political folklore from the 1960's.

This leads to totalitarian education, in which university lecturers try to convince students of the more blatant nonsense, such as "truth does not exist", which is highly useful argues for feminists and the ASVA, but comes straight from the pen of Mao; "science and rational thought are morally irresponsible", because the mentally retarded abhor everything that conflicts with their prejudices, and "all standards are culturally relative", which makes it very easy for one to do as one damned well pleases without listening to arguments.

Back to Searle's interview:

- The serious professional intellectual regards it as an accidental fact that he or she was born of a particular race or a particular gender. You create yourself as an individual intellect and that's what counts, and we will invite you into membership into a universal human community of advanced culture. And within that community you can create yourself as a serious individual. But now we're telling otherwise innocent children, "Look, you came from this background, that's who you really are." And I think to say that is to abandon one of the fundamental advantages of the university education, namely, before we told you, yes, okay, you came from this background, you can be proud of this background, we'll offer you something better. We'll let you redefine yourself, giving you the resources of the whole of human history to redefine yourself. Now we've even got this stupid Ethnic Studies requirement where we make people study American cultures where the idea is you're supposed to celebrate various forms of really quite ordinary phenomena. There's nothing intellectually special about having been born a certain race or a certain gender.

Again: Quite so. But in Holland now the universities are ruled by bureaucrats, and occupied by professors, who have an average IQ of 115 at the most, no interest or knowledge whatsoever of real science - see my: Real Science and real psychology = joy - and nearly all possessed of a membership card of the Dutch Labour Party or Green Party (former CP).

Here is how it worked out in the US - and for background see my Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism and Morningstar shines a bright light on postmodernism and also, since Searle speaks of "the classics" my Some Favourite Books & Authors:

- There were something called "the classics," and the idea was that there were a collection of works of human civilization that, because of their intellectual quality or their historical importance, or both their intellectual quality and importance, were regarded as an essential part of education. So Plato is both important historically and has high intellectual quality. Marx is certainly important historically; you can have debates about the intellectual quality of the work. But both of those are important for people to read. The idea is that we are conveying to you a human civilization with a number of cultural and intellectual achievements of quality and importance. And now that's challenged. Now the idea is, oh well, one book is as good as another. I debated a guy once at another university who said, "Well, you know, Bugs Bunny is as good as Shakespeare. I mean these are all just texts. One text is as much of a text as another text." And indeed one English department at one university said, "We really shouldn't call ourselves the Department of English Language and Literature, we should be called the Department of Textual Studies." And from the point of view of textual studies, well, a cereal box is as good as a sonnet by Shakespeare. It's all just some nonsense. You can always say in French, "C'est la textualité du texte." A certain kind of textuality is all that counts. So that, I think, is ... that isn't just stupid, it's self-destructive. Because if you don't believe that there's a distinction in quality then why on earth would the taxpayers pay you, why would the students pay you to teach this stuff, if one opinion is as good as another and one text is as good as another? That is, I think that the mission that we're engaged in is predicated on a belief in quality.

Not in Holland anymore, though there will be the pretensions, and I still might be called "a fascist" or "elitist" in public discussions: Since decades, the Dutch universities are, on average, completely fit and easily passable by yahoos of an average IQ between 100 and 115, who each and all take great pride in their academic degrees and qualifications in "Media Studies", "Pop Music", "European Studies", or "Business Administration", and who get mightily offended if one as much as suggests to them that they are neither intellectually nor morally fit to lead or discover or clarify or explain anything, at least rationally and reasonably.

- And teaching students how to think.

Well absolutely. But there are different ways of thinking.

You can't just teach a student how to think like that. You've got to teach them how to think in a sensitive and critical fashion about interpreting poetry. You've got to teach him how to think rigorously in analyzing philosophical arguments. You've got to teach him to think in the lab about how to conduct a lab experiment. So the idea that's ... you see, if you just say, well, our method is teaching people how to think, then it seems like these courses that consist of just bull sessions are as good as anything else. People sit around and talk about their upbringing and how they felt oppressed, and what their community was like and so on. That is not, in my opinion, a serious form of intellectually rigorous thinking. That's sort of self-congratulatory introspection.

Quite so - but that - "self-congratulatory introspection": taking pride, for course points, in being a woman, a black or a homosexual - is and has been, the last two or three decades, the standard fare in the largest part of the courses and subjects taught in the Dutch universities: Fashionable bullshit tailored to audiences with an average IQ of 115 at most, and without any interest whatsoever in a real academic education, and mostly also without the capacities for it, for while the average native intelligence probably hasn't changed much, the average intelligence of students has fallen a lot, yet it is to the average that the university cater, and in effect sell degrees to.

So the Dutch universities are dead, as real universities, and except for those small parts that still do require talent, as mathematics and physics, or Chinese. Even so, the output of the universities, namely people with academic degrees, in great majority no longer consists of real intellectuals, or indeed the best and the brightest with the best education: It consists of pseudo-intellectuals who can't do mathematics and don't speak or read foreign languages, English to an extent excepted; who are on average far from bright and mostly proud of that fact; who studied to have a social career with good pay, and not because of any genuine interest in real science or real philosophy; and who did not get a real academic education but a travesty, a mockery, a dumbed down, levelled, and moronified version of it, made fit to be no problem for the very average intellects that desire to graduate in them.

E. Searle-interview 6 of 6

- However, having said all that, I have to say I think the most important thing that I try to convey, and the most important thing any professor can convey, is to exemplify a style of thinking and a mode of sensibility. It's what you provide an example of that is as important, and in some ways more important, than what you actually say explicitly. You convey by example what it's like to actually engage in a process of investigation and research, what it's like to formulate ideas and have them challenged by other ideas, and then deal with the conflicts of these ideas.

Well, I had no such teachers, though I met and talked with more professors in the University of Amsterdam than almost any student, because I was "a student leader", started to study when I was 28, and was more verbally gifted than most, and not afraid to discuss.

As I said, the main result of this was that I found that most men and women, (at least if Dutch), whatever their political or moral convictions or pretensions, are born conformists, born collaborators, and afraid to say what they think and feel even in a state of freedom and legal protection that hardly ever existed in human history, because, it seems to me, at heart most are totalitarian: They find their personal identities in and through groups and groupthinking, much rather than by their own individual efforts, thoughts and choices.

It's only the most intelligent of the species that are - more or less - independent individualists, in inclinations and abilities, and while the most intelligent have had the universities for some 400 years, namely to do the most demanding research and teach the best and the brightest in the common interests of all, my generation and the ones before and after it have managed to ruin the universities into colleges of would-be leaders of small intellect and no intellectual interests.

F. Afterword

As I said, I quoted most and spend most attention on the part on the universities, and that because I have myself had a lot to do with the battle about the universities, which, as I just said, I consider lost by the intelligentsia, that is, by those with the best intellects: They led themselves be ousted from the universities by the born managers and born politicians, who transformed their spoils into colleges for the hardly gifted of their own kind and class, that "educate" to get social status and privileges. rather than to help make the most intelligent make the best of themselves in the interest of all.

Finally, as it happens I found another interesting piece by Searle on the subject, namely

This was written and published quite briefly after I wrote and published my Spiegeloog-columns and it is far more sensible and rational than anything I read by Dutch academics or intellectuals then or since, so I may also pay attention to it in Nederlog, next month. This is also the reason why I quoted and commented so much from this interview.

Maybe I should conclude by saying that I do not have any solutions, except as are indicated here: Mencius on human qualities aka On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals, here: Bureaucracy plan + Democracy plan, and here: On "The Logic of Moral Discourse", but then I do insist that such (partial) solutions as I give are neither irrealistic nor utopian, and indeed they also are not based on a grandiose scheme.


(*) I should maybe say something about the subject of levelling, especially since, in the West, almost everybody tends to lie about it: There is nothing wrong with equality of all for the law (Dutch text, but much to the point) but the reason this is a good ideal is that each and all are not equal: We are all individuals, and all have strengths and weaknesses. The leveling that happened in the universities, by the new left, postmodernists, anti-globalists, feminists etc. is a forced levelling based on envy and resentment of the few whose intellects are better than the great majority. It is completely dishonest, for the very same levellers are against levelling in sports, against levelling in looks, against levelling their incomes to those of the poorer than they are, and love to excel others in fields they happen to be good in themselves. It is also a favourite bloodsport of vulgar, tiny, envious minds, which is why the democratic masses tend to love it, when it concerns intellectuals, and hate it when it is applied to sports' heroes, or their own political or religious leaders, or favourite "media-personalities".


P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
 


    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
"
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 


    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)

 


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources


Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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