Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Defeating Cartesianism

Pragmatism contra Cartesian on Experience

I offer a new metaphor and analogy to think through the difference between the pragmatist vs. post-Cartesian conception of experience, a mathematical function.
A common metaphor for thinking “experience” is to think an experience or phenomenon as the output of a biological function. The world is the input, the body processes the input, and the output is conscious experience. We all remember our basic algebra when we “crunched” numbers by replacing x’s or “inputs” with numbers to get y’s or “outputs.” This is not a pragmatic conception of experience; is not the output of a biological function.

Experience is not a translated output, which treats mind and world as dyad of one thing becoming another. Experience, if we use the metaphor of a function, is the functioning itself. That is, the post-Cartesian conception views something in the world as input, the body as function, and experience as output. In contrast, pragmatism views experience as functional itself: it does not have a determinate output given an input. The whole analogy breaks down.

How could we revive the analogy? If experience is a function itself—not the input or output of a function—then experience only has a given value when it is interpreted, which is always a contextual and perspectival affair. However, here is where the analogy to functions breaks down entirely, and we would need to move to set theory or probabilistic functions to keep the analogy alive.

What’s the point? Thinking of experience as a simple function just does not work within a pragmatist context.

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