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Harman on Patterns and Harms - a note

Harman on Patterns and Harms - a note

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Published by David Roden
A discussion of Harman's critique of Structural Realism and Patternist Ontology
A discussion of Harman's critique of Structural Realism and Patternist Ontology

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: David Roden on Dec 17, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/18/2013

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Quentin Meillassoux's
coinage ‘correlationism’ refers to any position which holds that thought can
only think the relation between thought and its object; never the object as an absolute without relationto cognition. Kantianism and transcendental phenomenology are correlationisms. They conceiveobjectivity as an invariant structure of possible experience. Husserl conceives physical objectivity interms of a subjective
synthesis
of experiences and anticipations which never give the thing in itstotality. So for Husserl, there could no thought which lacked this temporal structure, just as therecould be no thing that was not a correlated with it.Graham Harman has recently cited Daniel Dennett's patternist position (Dennett 1991) as well asLadyman and Ross' (L&R) 'Rainforest Realism' as examples of correlationism.Here's Graham from his discussion of 
 Everything Must G 
o:
The sense in which real patterns are “real” is extremely weak in the book (as in Dennett’s article“Real Patterns” where the term seems to have been coined). They are real only because they are th
emost efficient descriptions, such that neither finer-grained nor coarser-grained descriptions of thesame phenomenon allow us as much generalizing power. They are real only in comparisonwith false patterns that 
can be eliminated in the authors’ opinion
(of which sensory qualia is the onlyunadulterated example given in the book).
 
 And this is, I am sorry to say, a clearly correlationist position. These intermediate objects of thespecial sciences exist only for humans and animals who encounter them. The book holds that amountain cannot even be said to be composed of smaller rocks, nor can patterns be linked totheir causal ancestors either.
 There are, arguably, problems with the patternist position. For example, I'm not convinced that it candeal with singularity or novelty or the reality of 'noise'. There are also cases - e.g. in cognitive science - where functional decomposition may have more eliminativist implications than Dennett or L&R allow.Be this as it may, I don't think correlationism is one of the liabilities of patternism. Or rather if Dennett's position is 'correlationist for the reason that Harman gives, then Harman's position is justas correlationist as Dennett's and for the same reasons. If so, we better start being more nuanced inour metaphysical invective. According to Dennett and L&R a pattern exists 'is real' if the compression algorithm required toencode it requires a smaller number of bits than 'bit string' representation of the entire data set in which the pattern resides (Dennett 1991, 34).Both Dennett and L&R argue that compressibility is
a non-observer dependent property of pattern
s -roughly a measure of the computational resources required to produce an encoding of the pattern(Ladyman and Ross, 202). An encoding can be thought of a as a string of 'yes' and 'no' answers (bits)formally isomorphic to the pattern itself (Collier 1999, 6).The correlationist claims that any object of thought is constituted by a noetic relation to a possiblethinker. For example, for Husserl the physical thing is the unity for consciousness of an open-endedmultiplicity of perspectives (Husserl 1970, 64; Roden 2006, 81). To think of a physical object just is -according to Husserl - to think of this unity 
for
a subject (See also Brassier 2010).However, the mapping from pattern to string is not noetic but, as has been stated, purely formal;requiring only a one-one mapping from pattern to encoding string.

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