RE: MD A metaphysics - Bootstrapping

From: Ian Glendinning (
Date: Sun Aug 17 2003 - 22:33:23 BST

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    -----Original Message-----
    []On Behalf Of David Buchanan
    Sent: 17 August 2003 21:51
    To: ''
    Subject: RE: MD A metaphysics - Bootstrapping

    Glenn and all:

    I'd asked for an explanation of the term "bootstrapping".

    Glenn told dmb to:
    Go to
    And enter the word "bootstrapping".
    You'll find 15 or 20 alternative dictionary defintions of bootstrapping,
    none of them much different from what Pirsig (or I) meant by it. (I still
    don't do long posts)

    dmb says:
    I found definitions that work in the context of business, computers, science
    and boots, but nothing at all about what such a thing means in the context
    of philosophy. Sigh. Just forget it, Ian. I'll just assume that you don't

    Ian replies:
    Look David, I mean it in a systems sense, exactly as Pirsig did. He was a
    technical author you will recall, in the early days of electronic devices
    and computers, bringing a metaphor from one line of his work to another. In
    any self-defining model or system or program, involving any kind of feedback
    loop (like the MoQ) you need to intercept the loop and inject some starting
    values in order to have a meaningful instance of the system or model. The
    bootstrap is that set of starting parameters you inject. My choosing to use
    the metaphor bootstrap (just as Pirsig did) should tell you something about
    how I see the MoQ.

    Ian said:
    I actually don't buy the "we must define and agree our terms before we can
    have a valid (but long) dialectical argument" bit.
    That is actually the Catch-22 from which I wish to free us.
    (And incidentally the one from which I thought the pragmatist Pirsig had
    freed us.)

    dmb says:
    Huh? Are you saying its not important to understand the meaning of the terms
    we use? In any case, what does Joseph Heller have to do with anything? What
    is the catch 22 you refer to here? This makes no sense to me.

    Ian replies:
    Meaning of terms - Yes actually, I am kind of saying that. We cannot expect
    "definitions" of "words" to convey "understanding" of "concepts". All
    discourse starts with words that are only tentatively or partially
    understood by the participants, you and me included.

    [QUOTE]"It often does more harm than good to force definitions on things we
    don't understand. Only in logic and mathematics do definitions ever capture
    concepts perfectly. The things we deal with in practical life are usually
    too complicated to be represented by neat, compact expressions. Especially
    when it comes to understanding minds, we still know so little that we can't
    be sure our ideas about psychology are even aimed in the right directions.
    One must not mistake defining things for knowing what they are."[UNQUOTE]
    Marvin Minsky - The Society of Mind - 1985.

    Catch22 - that's my shorthand for "The rationalist trap" exactly as Heller
    used it. Can we start a separate thread on this at some opportune moment,
    rather than expand on it here (you'll find dozens of posts about this in my
    blog if you're really interested.)

    Ian said:
    I personally believe in many short exchanges where we each share our own
    half-meanings, until concensus is discovered. One man's "valuable shortcut"
    is another man's "jargon" until this happens.

    dmb says:
    Short exhanges to share half-meanings? What the heck is a half-meaning? You
    speak in riddles, brown eyes. I'm not impressed.

    Ian replies:
    I speak in riddles do I ? You prove my point. You only partly understand
    what I'm saying. All I'm saying is that's normal. What I'm also saying is
    that the best way to increase that limited common understanding is to
    continue the discourse. Stopping to write "objective" definitions of terms
    is a very inefficient (positively misleading) way to arrive at

    Ian concludes:
    Thanks for helping me make my points.

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