The first essay presented in IMPASSES ”On Questions and Answers: Some Notes on How To Do Ideas” offers a compelling call to reject all ideologies and to engage in “continued experiments in ways-of-life.” (page 23).
“Ideology is theory that has escaped study” (page 18) is an excellent working definition of ideology. It specifically captures the main issue with any and all ideologies – a truth reduction. Ideologies are not representative of how anything completely works except in only the most trivial of cases. Figuring out what is a trivial case is much harder than one might think. Take an example from mathematics – is arithmetic consistent? Meaning is the whole of arithmetic free of any internal contradictions. It’s still unresolved. Yes, there are a couple of proofs of the consistency of arithmetic but they are complicated and not 100% accepted as final proof. If we can’t be 100% sure of something as “simple” as arithmetic what hope is there of assurance of truth about concepts as vague as God, country, knowledge, etc.
As beings with finite resources (lives and means) we must take shortcuts aka make assumptions and have representations. We wouldn’t get through a day in our life if we tried to work out the complete truth of everything around us. Truth reductions are useful to survival in that we have to behave with imperfect information. But truth reductions can also be extremely dangerous, particularly around complicated issues involving how we relate to the planet and each other. We must always question and re-question what we’ve decided advertently or inadvertently as an acceptable truth reduction. Not doing so may make it such that we miss key information about the world around us and do things that increase suffering and/or reduce the possibility of survival. Consider that for thousands of years slavery was mostly unquestioned and that it took a massive effort in 20th century to educate the population that inhaling tobacco was generally bad for your health.
Our methods of questioning must also be critically analyzed. For a stale approach to questioning may be as misleading as truth reductions. A biased approach to asking questions, such as at a biased university, whose primary objective is to keep operating as a university and needs to “[produce] results that maintain the university.” (page 19) Confirmation biases seep into a huge chunk of scientific research and policy creation (great paper here.). Even when our research is relatively free of flaws we certainly are all guilty of not knowing what we don’t know and are likely not even asking the best questions in which to go research. It seems like a worthwhile approach to “increase our capacity for experimentation.” (page 24).
The essay itself poses a great critical question about methods of study but also confuses the matter with a muddled discussion about Politics and dualism. While certainly useful topics to question and discuss the details covered add little to the main point of the essay other than to be examples of reductionist thinking in a pool of infinite examples. It actually does something I believe the author specifically would like not to do – it politicized the essay a little into a bit of anti-government reduction. There’s simply no need to single out politics as any more reductive and misleading than religion or a billion other ideology laced approaches to going through life.
Math and science as tools comes up a couple of times in the essay and with the questions at the end of the essays. Math and science are also under constant review for their usefulness in not reducing truth. There certainly have been many periods in history where math and science have gone through shocks calling into question their validity as truth seeking approaches. Mathematics, in particular, was shaken very much when Godel unveiled his incompleteness theorems. Far from destroying mathematics as a useful paradigm to form worthwhile questions and work towards useful and true solutions “incompleteness” actually enriched mathematical thinking’s capacity to ask important questions.
The questions at the end of the essay are worth a response. and offer an opportunity to “test out” the ideas of the essay and my own ideations.
1) If theory is merely a tool, how do we prevent it from becoming an apparatus (of control, of power, of ideology) like math and science?
This question seems to misunderstand the main points of the article. The question is reducing the concept of theory established in the essay. Labeling theory with a word phrase like “merely a tool” suggests that there’s something more useful than a tool or that a tool is mere. Theories help us establish models and experiments in which we can go falsify or confirm and refine. The prevention the question asker seems to seek is some prescription for not letting theories turn into ideologies (truth reductions). And it seems the essays answers that quite clearly – always study, always question. In other words there isn’t a single prescription. The prevention of reduction is about re-questioning in every changing ways.
Secondly math and science CAN be apparatuses of control but that doesn’t mean they are a priori. Math and science are various questioning and experimentation approaches also subject to refinement.
2) Academic study (and perhaps this could be said of study more generally) is oftentimes just a regurgitation of previously thought-up ideals. Is novelty as a result of study necessary or is fluctuating between already-done ideas enough?
Again here the questioner assumes too much. Where is the source of this novelty? All thoughts and knowledge are the evolution of previous thoughts and/or responses to the environment. The novelty suggested is emergent over time through the transmission and mutation of information. It’s a non question when thought/ideas are viewed that way and it’s a confusing question period without a definition of thought and ideas.
3) Is study solitary or communal? What is the relation between “spreading anarchy” and others participating in critical studying? Is there a set of values being set up around study whereby those who don’t participate in it (or participate in the “proper” ways) are seen as less credible, or is the questioning of this itself falling into the trap of movement-building?
This is a juicy set of questions. Study is both a solitary and communal (and environmental activity). We are all people within a world of other people. I think it would be useless contradiction to define proper way of studying. There are an infinite number of ways to explore this world. The end goal being finding ever changing experiments on ways-to-live. Particular methods of study might be viewed as inconsistent or improper within their method but it doesn’t invalidate them in the general idea of “studying”. Fiction is a useful critical synthesis of the world. So is non fiction and a painting or a music piece or a poem or science experiment. The keys seem to be participation and being ever critical. The more variation the more possible a real exploration of possibilities.