Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jerry Fodor's strange logic

So here I am at EuroCogsci 2007 waiting to talk to Gerg Gigerenzer. Gigerenzer just did this amazingly interesting talk about intuition, decision, and his work with those fast and frugal heuristics. So there I am, in line, right after this lady, to ask Gigerenzer about his stance on Gary Klein's work. Quite surprisingly, out of nowhere, jumps out this rather strange, annoyingly enthusiastic stalker, lowdly throwing criticisms towards Gigerenzer's talk:

"You know that all of that is nonsense, right? What you've mentioned that people don't actually use logic in decision-making. After all, logic is the norm to which decisions or choices should be compared to."

At this point I start thinking; hey, fellow, there's a line in here... and so does the lady who was interrupted. Gigerenzer starts to mold a response, only to be interrupted again with something along the lines:

"but it is logic that drives it all; you can't have inconsistencies in the system; logic is the norm; if you drive on the left side of the road and I drive on the left..."

By then, I and the lady are really ready to throw away this uninvited guest to our little chat. She starts mentioning that 'sides of roads' have nothing to do with logic; "these are conventions", she insists. My strategy of driving him away by yawning doesn't work either, so I end up picking up the fight.

"Only in a metaphysical sense logic should be the norm." "For something to have a truth value, even in these modern and quite bizarre forms of logic such as the nonmonotonic ones or fuzzy logic, if you want to say the the water feels warm, any statement will only--or better, can only--have a truth value if there's a precise definition of all the concepts involved; water, feelings, warmth, is-ness, and so on".

His reply, of course, went on like this: "do you know how hard it is to define concepts? how to come up with precise definitions of concepts?", and on and on. Right on display a few feet from us was Jerry Fodor's book, "Concepts: where cognitive science went wrong". At that moment, I was already convinced that this guy was Jerry Fodor himself; and the lady was gone, mad as hell, and Gigerenzer, in a stroke of magic, had disappeared from the freak show. I had written about logic and its unspoken, untenable presupposition of the doctrine of metaphysical realism, so I was feeling really excited to finally show the truth to someone on this world. So after some more voice raising and euphoric defense of radically incompatible positions, Fodor mentions "Gotta go now", and runs to some conference room. Talk about a strange and rather funny experience. Of course I think Fodor is incredibly wrong about most things cog-sci; It's also incomprehensible to me how he can have such influence; but one thing was great, in fact: the guy had no idea who I was, but didn't care at all; all he was in for was a good fight. Kudos to him for that.

After some 5 minutes I can find Gigerenzer, and I finally have a chance to talk to him:

"Was that Jerry Fodor?"
"Yes", he says.
"What a bully!".
"Oh yes, he's a bully", Gigerenzer responds.

In a bizzarre way, I got more respect for Fodor than I had by reading his books and all that foolishness. Despite all the recognition he's got, he's really in for a good fight. He might as well be, I suppose. If you're going to be forever wrong in your scientific career, at least do it in a bizarrely entertaining way, I'd guess.