Sunday, June 17, 2007

Creative Taxonomy



feeling/thinking

A Christian told me that God loves taxonomy. It's a necessary practice, of course, for concretely living in the world. But more often, I think, where taxonomies proliferate, seperated from actual practice, yet inviting this solicitude, they constitute an ersatz science, and an impediment to science. They represent a mannerist, or purely ornamental kind of science.

The simplest form of ornamental taxonomy has one distinction and two species, so this is what I'll consider here, though multipart taxonomies work in exactly the same way. In advertising, the elaboration of a multi-part taxonomy can sometimes be used as a hook, for instance in ads for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The most influential recent example of a two part ornamental taxonomy is probably The Female Brain, a fake psychology book. Another example can be found in C G Jung's late essay Approaching the Unconscious. Here Jung explains the distinction between "thinking" and "feeling" types of people:

"I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. I was also surprised to find many intelligent and wide-awake people who lived (as far as one could make out) as if they had never learned to use their sense organs. They did not see the things before their eyes, hear the words sounding in their ears, or notice the things they touched or tasted. Some lived without being aware of the state of their own bodies.

There are others who seemed to live in a most curious condition of consciousness, as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, or as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever. They seemed devoid of all imagination, and they entirely and exclusively depended on their sense-perception. Chances and possibilities did not exist in their world, and in "today" there was no real "tomorrow". The future was just the repetition of the past.

I am trying to give the reader a glimpse of my own first impressions when I began to observe the many people I met. It soon became clear to me, however, that the people who used their minds were those who thought - that is, who applied their intellectual faculty in trying to adapt themselves to people and circumstances. And the equally intelligent people who did not think were those who sought and found their way by feeling

"Feeling is a word that needs some explanation. For instance, one speaks of "feeling" when it is a matter of "sentiment" (corresponding to the French term sentiment). But one also applies the same word to define an opinion; for example, a communication from the White House may begin: "The President feels..." Furthermore, the word may be used to express an intuition: "I had a feeling as if..."

When I use the word "feeling" in contrast to "thinking," I refer to a judgement of value - for instance, agreeable or disagreeable, good or bad, and so on. Feeling according to that definition is not an emotion (which, as the word conveys, is involuntary). Feeling as I mean it is (like thinking) a rational (i.e., ordering) function, whereas intuition is an irrational (i.e., perceiving) function. In so far as intuition is a "hunch," it is not the product of a voluntary act; it is rather an involuntary event, which depends upon different external or internal circumstances instead of an act of judgement. Intuition is more like a sense-perception, which is also an irrational event in so far as it depends esthetically upon objective stimuli, which owe their existence to physical and not to mental causes."

The taxonomy works this way: the auditor is invited to identify with one of the species established; to identify themself as a "thinking" or "feeling" type. Now, belonging to either species identifies one as possessing both the positive and negative attributes pertaining to that species (it's necessary for these attributes to be both positive and negative). The system works where the auditor is seduced enough by the positive things said about them to accord some validity to the negative things. According to the heuristic approach necessary to make the mass media intelligible, negative characterisations of the auditor are always afforded a degree of absolute validity. Also the auditor is most likely ill equipped to theorise an alternative conceptual basis for system laid out.

So, the auditor is offered this role, the role of a "thinking" type, for instance. The auditor is both seduced and repulsed by this designation, but cannot make a judgement on its validity, only partially accept it. But this partial acceptance of the application of a concept in particular, implies the validity of the concept in general. It is accepted that there is a "thinking" type, and so correlatively, a "feeling" type.

(I know this sounds idealist and cruel, but you've got to bear in mind that I'm describing the psychology of the mousetrap not the psychology of the mouse)

The effect of this is to reproduce the field of psychology in a distorted way. The division of humanity into different species, each coherent only with respect to others has the effect of:

1. obfuscating genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness

2. offering spurious justifications for the political application of division of labour

3. eternalising and mystifying historically conditioned states of human development

4. offering spurious justification for the idea that humanity is comprehended by its philosophers, and by implication that society is comprehended by its owners

"as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever"

(subject to modification, if I can think of any better way to express these ideas)

9 comments:

catmint said...

...this undertaking: dividing humanity into separate species, the coherence of each identity being derived from the dialectic of desire induced in the interpellated spectator (I'm like Buffy/I'm not like Buffy)...

...this undertaking, it's substituting the logic of charlatanism for that of science. I think Bull does this naïvely, as a sort of ornament (he's not a scientist after all), but you can find the same thing in Jung. This is how Jung's aesthetic works.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

thanks! great, gotcha, yes.

re: Bull, naively practising this (kitsch and elite art; modernism and postmodernism; philistine and aesthete etc); it's a pose, as "playing out the hand with (tarot)cards dealt" sort of manoeuvre (I think), and performative. (there are better strategies assuredly).

"...society comprehended by its philosophers...owners" - exactly. And thus the taxonomy kit (in many forms, web questionnaire, fan forums, pop psych personality books, role playing games, who are you on buffy? on trek? in nietzsche? which sephirot? it's astrology) is also a popular commodity in itself.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

apparently voluntary

http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=4215

catmint said...

I think there are definitely good things in Bull. He's very creative. But I feel he's got something of the aesthetic of the period he writes about - Titian to Poussin - technique (manière) for its own sake without the testing needed in scientific work. This is partly what makes him a stylish writer. And sometime he is right.

"Some, indeed, escape into lusciousness and pageant, like Spenser, whose Faerie Queene, however, no one ever read." (Pessoa)

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Which Blattant Beast are you most like? Which modern poet...?

In the Guardian somebody writes if Norman Mailer=the American Byron, Gore Vidal= The American Wilde and on another page another asks himself does George Cloony = our era's Carey Grant? But could Madonna = Lord Byron, this not yet examined...

dejan said...

1. obfuscating genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness

What do you mean? As soon as you dramatize anything, whether in Buffy or in the Wuthering Heights, you've obfuscated genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness??? And what are genuine ideas about human consciousness away?

2. offering spurious justifications for the political application of division of labour

that's far-fetched. For this conclusion to make any sense, you have to accept that the art object in question is only subject to Marxist analysis!

3. eternalising and mystifying historically conditioned states of human development

but all art does that to greater or lesser extent!

4. offering spurious justification for the idea that humanity is comprehended by its philosophers, and by implication that society is comprehended by its owners

"as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever"

conclusion? Abolish art!

catmint said...

"What do you mean? As soon as you dramatize anything, whether in Buffy or in the Wuthering Heights, you've obfuscated genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness???"

well, I'm talking about Jung's essay here, though maybe I didn't make that clear. I had this Jung book I bought in a booksale and got it out because Jung's division of humanity into thinking types and feeling types reminded me of Malcolm Bull's four part division: humanists; philistines, peasants, technocrats. I'm actually quite seduced by Jung's book (it's "Man and his Symbols") by Jung and some of his students) - I think it's actually enjoyable as art, but I don't think Jung was right.

"And what are genuine ideas about human consciousness away?"

while we literally don't know how the brain works I think it's crazy to theorise plural psychologies (e.g. thinking types/feeling types)when it's possible to work with only one sort of type. I wouldn't accept plural types without clear evidence and I don't believe there's been any.

I think Vygoysky was more on the right track though I haven't had a chance to read his books

"that's far-fetched. For this conclusion to make any sense, you have to accept that the art object in question is only subject to Marxist analysis!"

I think it's possible Jung does want to justify division of labour. I think there's an archaic genre of social exegis that Jung's work relates to, through an overt affinity. I think there's a lot of examples from the middle ages / renaissance of works imagining society as being constructed like an organism. Up to Hobbes ["NATURE (the Art whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal"], then the physiocrats, the economists, Hegel's authoritarian society. I think Le Colonel wrote something about this, a while ago.

catmint said...

thanks Chabert

yes, that's the sort of thing

catmint said...

Zizek never writes about Time Tunnel - but it's a concrete expression of these thought processes

it's natural that one week you identify yourself as a roman aristocrat, the next as a bolshevik revolutionary, and so on