Sunday, August 18, 2013

prospecting a conception of cognitive artistry

I was enthused by the appearance in English of Media of Reason, reviewed last week, which may be closer to my post-Habermasian interests than anything I’ve read before, if the review serves the author well.

August 14, I posted to “my” Habermas discussion list about the book: first thoughts in light of the review. Since the archival version at the site has garbage characters for commas, apostrophes and quote marks, the entire posting is below. Then, I’ll move on to what I wrote to Vogel today, after he responded warmly to an earlier note from me. The August 14 posting:

reason for aesthetic thinking

Media of Reason: a theory of rationality

Matthias Vogel,

Columbia UP 2012 (German, 2001)

“Vogel takes much of his theoretical inspiration from work by Habermas, Davidson, and Dewey,” writes the reviewer. “In fact, the ambitious scope of the book is not unlike work by Habermas,...”

“One of [the book’s] central claims is that artistic action and aesthetic experience are essential dimensions of rationality and must be incorporated into a comprehensive theory of rationality.”

I agree!—at least because expressive potential for [self] representation is vast, a potential deserving to be implied by genuineness in valid interaction: that I can be, in principle, completely open about high engagement in vulnerable venturing. A good life can include all manner of valid openness, non-linguistic as well as linguistic. 

“...Vogel engages analytic philosophy of mind and language, postmodern critiques of reason, social theory, media theory, aesthetics, and empirical research on cognitive development.”

Yet, all of these modes of discursive attention have come a long way since Habermas’ work of the ‘80s. But I can’t overemphasize the potential value—to me at least—of “the idea of art as a communicative activity,” which is also about the scale of artistry in communication (integral to rhetoric and literary studies, which can be rich venues for understanding the scale of possible understanding). 

“Though Vogel finds [Dewey’s] approach underdeveloped, Dewey’s idea that the communicative aspects of aesthetic experience are dependent on certain ‘mediating elements’ (98) provides the model for developing a more general specification of media as ‘“instruments” for individuating higher-level intentional states’ (141). The goal of the rest of the book is to develop and defend such a general theory of media.”

I’ve noticed lately a Deweyan approach to the aesthetic which seems very ambitious: 

The Human Eros: eco-ontology and the aesthetics of existence

I’ve not read in it, because I’m not much inspired by Deweyan excursions, but I recognize that there’s much to Dewey beyond some broad-stroke representations of him.

But I think that media/aesthetic theory after the Internet becomes regressive in terms of early-to-mid-century thinking. When Vogel was writing Media…, the Web was still a child. 

However, Vogel is probably an excellent passageway for a Habermasian son working with anxiety of influence. Davidson, after cognitive science, seems to be prolegomenous, but I should be so able to regard him that way substantively someday.

I’m afraid that merely saying that risks seeming arrogant, as if I’ve grasped something I have not yet grasped. 

In any case, venturing to appreciate the artistic mind conceptually easily looks like exercises in rhetoric that have no philosophical merit, a fate I’m prepared to live with. So, I’m delighted to see in English a study that is allegedly a good Habermasian approach to reason for thinking artfully. 


The next day, I sent a note to Matthias (addressed as “Professor Vogel,” but he replied as “Matthias”), here minus details about obtaining his book:
Subject: Habermas and Internet value

Dear Professor Vogel,

I was delighted to see the review of Media of Reason at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. …. It was written over a decade ago, so I’m wondering how the evolution of the Internet has affected your thinking, in relation to Habermas, whose work I’ve been a student of for several decades.


...I’m very interested to know your view of your book 12 years later.

Best regards,

Gary Davis
He replied today. There’s nothing personal in his reply, unsurprisingly; so, I’m taking the liberty of quoting his note before I have a chance to ask for his permission, because I can’t imagine he’d object.
Re: Habermas and Internet value

Dear Gary,

Thank you very much for your e-mail, which in fact made me aware of the review of Media of Reason on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

As Jeffrey Flynn points out in his review, I tried to develop a rather fundamental concept of media, that allows [one] to address certain questions in the philosophy of mind and reason.

In my view, the internet itself is not a medium but a complex network of so called medial tools, that allows to distribute and access articulations expressed in first and second order media. I do not provide any critical analyses of the internet or internet practices within the book, my aim has been to firstly develop a conceptual framework that allows us to address phenomena on the different levels of communicative practices.

Of course there would be much to say concerning the evolution of the internet within the last ten years, but even a reasonably appropriate description of these developments would be a complex task, that I should better leave to sociologists. As far as I can see, there are quite divergent processes, as for example a strong tendency to develop individual forms of publication (blog), forms of collaborative work (boards, wikis, open source programming projects) as well as irritating forms of individualized advertisement and surveillance. Anyway, I think that Habermas sees the internet partly as a form of organizing the public -- allowing to publicly discuss ideas.

So, concerning your second question, I have to say that the evolution of internet didn’t change my idea of media. My recent view of the mind however cherish the doubt that I have not been radical enough in breaking with the language paradigm orthodoxy in philosophy.

Best regards,

So, I spent the afternoon writing this:
Re: Media of Reason (Flynn’s review)

Dear Mathias,

Thank you very much for your comments. That will be helpful for me, when I read your book soon. 

One can’t do much with a review, except be enthused. Your book evidently will be immensely thought provoking for me. So, please regard the following as an enthused identification with a project that is at once child developmental, Habermasian, philosophy of mind, and cognitive aesthetics.

I wrote a portion that I decided to delete (on Internet life, directly in response to your note). Then I later found that my discussion of mind, relative to Flynn’s review (as much as this was useful), led me back to what I deleted. So, I’m dividing my comments into PART 1 (written later) and PART 2 (appended), not to be pretentious, just indicative.


I’m deeply interested in Habermas’ philosophical modality apart from (but not exclusive of) his political interest. Yet, cognitive theory is transforming our sense of the semiotics of selves or minds in ways not anticipated by Habermas’ work of the ‘80s and ‘90s. For me, as Habermasian, the pertinence of Habermasian work is enriched.  

You end your note today by saying “My recent view of the mind however cherish[es] the doubt that I have not been radical enough in breaking with the language paradigm orthodoxy in philosophy.” So, I take that to imply that you’re enthused by recent developments outside that orthodoxy. I have a lot of enthusiasm in this regard, too. Cognitive linguistics tends to be about modeling grammars of mind, yet as derivative of cognitive science generally, which attends to all modes/media of sensibility, each of which is communicable in its own way. The “language” of intelligence is kinesthetic, emotional, spatial, auditory, logical and linguistic. (These are the “multiple intelligences” that Howard Gardner—at Harvard, well-regarded in U.S. educational psychology—uses to understand child development.)

I won’t presume to understand your sense of levels of intentionality through Flynn’s review, but this kind of notion (levels) is very important to me. I recall Michael Bratman’s notion of higher-level desire in his theory of intentional plans (where levels of action reflect levels of scale in project-iveness or nested action plans in a life). And I think of levels of self-reflectivity in literary cognition (e.g., movement from presentational stance to persona, to character, to authorship, and to self-generative authoriality—to my mind, at least). The “medium” here is a matter of scale in psychological recursiveness, a capacity of intelligent action as such. For mature individuation, this implies (as a matter of theory) background levels/horizons of development in self-identity that are nebulously social vs. highly individuated. (For the talented child, does socialization through individuation trump Habermas/Mead’s “individuation through socialization”?) Relative to theory of mind (or mental presence), this involves (for theory) appreciating that intentionality belongs to pre-conscious dispositions (which imply a containing horizon of relevance), as well as to conscious dispositions; moreover, non-conscious (constitutive) dispositions are intrinsically intentional (e.g., re: conceivability of phenomena, which is a containing horizon for pre-conscious dispositions), which is no matter of unconscious intentionality which excludes meaning as outside acknowledgeable horizons (or as belonging to a devalued Other). There are already always levels/horizons of intentionality implicitly expressed and reflected in perception and understanding. 

So, the distribution of intentionality is interpsychically fluid and multi-leveled. For the highly-individuated sensibility (relevant to artistry), “socially conferred content” gets highly appropriated to manifold intentional engagement with one’s life or with levels of project-ivity. In other words, socialization through individuation trumps individuation through socialization. 

I anticipate that you’re doing profound things with a developmental view of intentionality. There is already ontogencially-efficacious intentionality in an infant’s expressiveness, which mother reinforces mimetically. Instrumentality is intrinsic to effective action, which pertains to quickly learning to employ emotional behavior to communicate, as well as learning to point (long after recognizing that mother’s eye movements are a pointing behavior). I think this kind of thing was integral to Merleau-Ponty’s original notion of embodied perceivability, where appreciating the touch of one finger on another models the “medium” for discovering differences of inside/outside, expressive “I” and represented “me,” I/me and not-me. 

I think that a fleshed-out theory of intelligence is really about the media/means of efficacious action, which is about the media of cognition in action. Derivatively, cognitive linguistics is not basically about cognition being linguistic, rather the converse: about linguisticality being constitutively cognitive. So, ontogeny of linguistic capability is awash in embodied schematicity, “force dynamics,“ “mental spaces,” “attentional perspectivization,” “entrenchment,” “salience,” “frames,” “idealized cognitive models,” “domains,” “spatial semantics,” “prototypes,” and richly variable “conceptual integrations” (rubrics here lifted from the 2007 Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics). So, linguistic language is a medium for the language of intelligent action generally, which (for socialization through individuation) adapts to and accommodates normative constraints in learning to be understandably reasonable with and for others. No wonder, then—or, perhaps, wondrous it is—that artwork can be, as you say, the “means of a form of communication that is deeply rooted in fundamental processes of interaction through which we become beings with minds.” 

Flynn’s review is admirably charitable, as he is wise to be “left with more questions than answers,” rather than presuming to conclude anything. (By the way, I have no problem finding commensurability between French postmodernists and Habermas, contrary to Habermas himself.) 

Flynn’s review shows clearly that one can be easily confused about the resonant notion of “media.” When he asks “why should media theorists care about the conditions for individuating thoughts,” associating that with “media studies more generally,” he’s bringing the fluidity of the notion into play, which one might think you intended, by turning to arts for understanding non-linguistic levels of intentionality, especially inasmuch as Flynn is right to say that you aim “to unify, under a single concept of media,...institutionalized media like money,” a Habermasian stance. 

It all seems like a global semiotics as cognitive aesthetics, which I welcome. Yet, given that mind emerges from the ontogeny of the brain, and the global Internet is increasingly modeled as being like a planetary brain (“The Singularity is near”?), an emergent sociality of all this begins to look like the popular culture of global mind, i.e., the boundary between semiotics of individuation and semiotics of socialization becomes increasingly consanguineous in lives entwined with Internet life from early childhood onward. This may have profound implications for the sense of immanence in a semiotics of socialization through highly-engaged individuation. 

As I noted at the outset here, I was going to delete the following, written before the above, but I’ve written myself back to it....


I agree with your depiction of the Internet in your note. But, whatever one’s view of the network, its evolution has been astounding, and this has a recursive effect on our sense of social presence. Inasmuch as a “medium is the message” in the general market, as well as in much contemporary art, there may be important network effects for a conception of contemporary media. I look forward to seeing how your conceptual framework is detailed. 

I can easily agree that Habermas would understand the Internet relative to his interest in organizing the public. I don’t recall anything in English where Habermas expresses a substantial view of Internet life. Perhaps you know of something. His 2007 discussion of “the market of ideas” was focused on the politics of corporate journalism. 

Looking at Flynn’s review, I’m caused to recall my problems with sociocentrism in the human sciences, in light of developmental psychology (and cognitive science) [which I’ve now rendered above]. Inasmuch as—“you” write, in translation—“thinking is an ability that is acquired by internalizing social processes of interpretation,” the issue there is the internalizing, which is at best, I would argue, enactive learning, interested engagement, and project-ive valuing, which may altogether appropriate social processes for the sake of self-enhancive individuation (thinking of the highly talented child who is growing to become very inquiry-oriented and creative). This kind of stance is important for the young field of positive psychology.

The Internet has revolutionized the profession of communication arts, especially graphically, but has done so throughout the arts’ sense of presentation (having textuality/virtuality in all modes: visual semiotics, movement semiotics, etc.). I suspect that a school of design now swims in recursive effects of new modes of presentation. In the market, now as a matter of normal business practice, a professional identification with a major project is increasingly an engagement with a highly-distributed organization of that identification in a landscape of distributed cognition. Leading voices find their reward in the hybrid collaboration, but the value of the hybrid is a function of its leading voices, which are at best, I would argue, protean.

For art, exemplification through assemblage can be transformed by forms of Internet glyphicality. A collaboration today between a Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage would be highly engaged with electronic self-referentiality of the artistry, I imagine. (Such collaborations are marginal to art history, but are exemplars of creative collaboration that seeks hybridity.)

What’s devalued in “classical” Critical Theory as simulacral (relative to presumptions of naturalism in genuine meaning) may become normal medial elements in virtualized “realities” (normativities?) which become integral to one’s interactive presence, then substantive for one’s sense of identity.

Commonly, Internet life is transforming the character of interaction making lives increasingly hybrids of what’s virtual and real, dramatizing (to my mind) a Derridean textuality to all speech, as social lives may be highly individuated assemblages of hybrid sociality. What began as an avatar may become highly embodied as one persona among several, if not personality itself becoming a medium of protean art for protean senses of self (a dramaturgical view of action theory).

This may get bizarre (if not depressive for the average Internet user), but there may be a growing tendency with “higher level intentional states” to seek highly individuated, artistic appropriation of modes of semiosis in a Facebook-Google+-Tumblr sociality, where everything gets reposted countless times in a stylized space of one’s own that becomes as real as the fashions one is “to die for.” 

I know I’m probably being excessive. But it’s good to do thought experiments with what I have (an inspiring philosophical review). Anyway, I’ve enjoyed this, and it’s clear that I look forward to dwelling with your conceptual work. 

Best regards for your present work,

So, there things are so far. Yet, the “are” is a narration, the letter here reassembled in the latter paragraphs from the same elements in the latter paragraphs of my actual e-mail to Matthias (from “The Internet has revolutionized…” through “…‘to die for’”), in order to better convey what I had in mind by thinking through-and-with Flynn’s review. So, in a trivial sense, the latter of the later letter is a fiction based in an actual ladder. (And I’m so cute.)