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GIF Minutes for November 2, 2004

Prepared by Corey Shdaimah

Graduate Idea Forum, November 2, 2004
"Writing Descartes: I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ..."

Participants: Anne Dalke, Tom Young, Roland Stahl, Judie McCoyd, Corey Shdaimah

For today's discussion we read the following article:

Paul Grobstein, "Writing Descartes: I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ..."


Tom: I privilege critical thinking over evidence based practice; if it works in 40% of the cases then it doesn’t work in 60%, and social work serve heterogeneous populations. Climate prediction is based on the past but can’t assume that conditions remain the same. “Come join me in the present, it’s where possibility exists.” Tom will send us suggestions for reading.

General discussion (didn’t attribute to individual speakers)
Thinking about the way we tell history: we think of audience, purpose, who is telling the story. Often history will tell us more about the source or teller of the history than about the events of the past.
Thinking about history as a platform for future experiments, not necessarily as accurate memory. But when we look at what is the reality of the events. Does this matter? What matters is a force that creates a pattern for the future. But does this matter or does what is in the present force?
Is it a deformative or transformative force? The facts are less important. We choose from a menu of stories, and the “I” is the arbiter of usefulness.

General discussion not attributed to individuals:
Psychoanalytic literature: whether we take a memory to court. Most analysts therapeutically make the mistake of actually believing they have to discover the past. But doing history as an historian is different than doing it as a therapist. As a historian, it matters whether the Holocaust took place. As a therapist you can circumvent this argument. Historian serves another function and the function tells us something about the goal of each. One difference almost always is concerned with the individual whereas the historian is concerned with social practices.

In the faculty discussion group on cultural studies, some of the literature professors will do courses on varieties of fiction and assign histories. Historians refuse the distinction between fiction and fact. Is there a difference between Rashomon-like descriptions or saying that something did or did not happen? Is it different if it is political? Issues of power- back to the thread for Serendip. The group story is a synthesis of individual stories people may strive to have their story told or represent the group. We then don’t lose the struggle of individual to be part of the group story. Shift focus, no longer regard the story as truth or not but rather treat it as a vie for influence.

Conversation between Paul and Roland on Serendip: gets to the teleological nature of the statement of I am and I can think therefore I can change who I am. Focus is making of something in the future, a future orientation but no telos, no point of destination.

1. I can construct a story in the present; I can construct a menu of stories.
2. I can choose which story I want to proceed into the future on this. So I am the arbiter of usefulness.

The thing which does the choosing of the story in the present is part of the story and so the basis of the story is part of what is in flux. So choice – no telos anywhere in the future, there is only the part of oneself in the present and that element is modified.

No telos; just a journey, experimentation. One can conclude that the criteria should be the experimentalist’s (not the conservator’s- less risk-averse) criteria. The experimentalist’s criteria seem to generate the widest possible array of stories.

So you are trying to dictate my choice. Why do I have to choose the experimentalist’s choice?

Distinguish between the story and Paul’s personal way of responding to the notion that that’s all there is. If that is the human condition, to opt for a generic strategy of acting in ways to maximize future choices is not a mandate. Different individuals can and should do different things.

So the possibility: I am I think and if I wish to I can chose to remain the same.

But biologically this is not the same. I am and I can think and I can act to try and resist change. Neither one can ever be completely possible.

Middlesex, link to this.

If there is any normative element in the statement it implies telos. Paul seems to prioritize change over stasis and that seems normative.

Paul: Change is constantly happening, but the only role telos plays is that brains have a particular structure and this creates choices- but this then creates on a fluid telos- there is no single telos.

Roland: so I am, I think and I can choose.

Paul: Can separate the story of the brain from my story/my telos that says change is what we want to maximize.

Roland: So the choice is to maximize choice.

Paul: Confusion is the essay between a state (way of being) with my particular telos of maximizing change

Corey: Can’t we say the same about this future telos as we do to the past – i.e. if the way we interpret history says more about us doesn’t how we look to the future tell us more about who we are right now?

Anne: And this is not determinative.

Roland: We are and we can think so we can choose

Anne: We or I?

Paul: I will accept “I can choose” as an amendment not we. Individual stories and group stories both exist and are distinct- can’t valorize either. Both start influencing one another.

Roland: So I am and we are; I think and we think but I can choose.

Paul: No such thing as group-think.

Judie: The irony of that statement on Election Day.

Corey: But both individuals and groups influence each other – so somehow the I’s are creating a group-think.

Paul: But we have to keep distinct because they are distinct.

Corey: But that’s an ideal types; theoretical.

Tom: We’re seeming to enact the problem. We all acknowledge that there are group stories. There is mutual influence.

Paul: No. Our problem’s with group-thinking.

Anne: Reminder of Corey’s Beloved post- tell it and you must hear it. Friend Paul Burgermeier assesses the effectiveness by whether you’re changed by what’s said.

Corey: But there are 3 parts: 1) I need to tell; 2) you need to hear; 3) Then maybe changed

Tom: Story of 38/54 African countries with genital mutilation.

Paul’s story picture: Bio systems= series of elements interacting with outside world as well as with each other. And outside observer can see the boundary of the box but there is nothing inside the box that represents the whole. The only one to which this doesn’t apply is the human brain with new organization. The grain gets input from all the elements, but also gets some influence. But if it becomes a story-teller, telos-finder.
Now creates an internal see-er and not just outside observer. Exterior box=body body interacts with the outside world and body influencing and influenced by the nervous system; and this then includes the brain; story-telling brain. By putting each of these together (people) it becomes a system that determines an output that is the group story (that outside observer).

Corey: Raises power issue, what about if some big boxes vs. small-feeling boxes? (gay teen suicides – whether trying to change story or story trying to change you).

Paul: observer is inferring what group story is, but the group itself interacts with cultural artifacts (books) (group story) and brings conflict to groups. Cultural artifacts says always a group story.

Tom: disagrees, cannot call group story. HAS to be individual story.

Paul: okay, an accretion of individual stories.

Anne: Gender, class talking about intersex individuals. Finding each other- writing of a group story?

Paul: Lots of possible stories.

Corey: But it changes the story

Anne: But this speaks to social action. i.e. don’t genitally mutilate intersex babies. Who gets to write the story?

Corey: So at what point does the individual get to be a story-teller? Since baby has surgery done on it. So group story comes before the individual story.

Tom: Do individuals need a group story?

Corey: So where does the group story come into being?

Paul: Let’s talk about facism- group comes into being that forces group story to replace individual story.

Corey: what about how things like economics, depressions influence? What is the source then?

Paul: Those entities don’t exist independent from story-makers.

Tom: I think individual stories need group stories.

Paul: Agree. Group stories serve useful function – to enhance individual story-telling, “should” best group stories create more individual stories?

Corey: What about genital mutilation?

Paul: Uncertain about usefulness of group story of genital mutilation- since I’m not part of group, can’t know its function.

Tom: If someone creates a group story that’s functional for majority, someone came along saying good to mutilate baby girls. A series of individual stories that lead to a group story.

Roland: But they do it, forget the story, it’s done

Paul: And I’m just saying I can’t decide if it’s a good story since I’m not in the group that created the group story

Corey: So you’re saying one can find “good enough” story even though it’s limiting options for baby girls.

Anne: But you can’t say for someone else.

Tom: Election – 2 competing group stories. Very different telos.

Paul: Exactly. Why I’ve become mellow about this election since I didn’t know which way it comes out but it should be known to the rest of the world what our group story is, so to be able to infer something about our behavior.

For a properly functioning political system, we’d like someone who would help feedback to interact. We need a good storyteller. We’re all writing our individual stories but a large number of individuals will end up without a group story that validates their individual story.

Is this is a “love it or leave it” situation for alternative story tellers?

So Europe, for example, is our outside person.

Aren’t we writing that story ourselves?

Yes but it can be visible to outsiders. I am a contributor to what other people see as the US story. But the US doesn’t have a story.

The best group story is one that allows for the widest range of individual stories which in turn allows for the creation of a maximum number of possible future stories.

What is a group story? Can we look at it? Why don’t we replace this with collective action, so if more people do one thing than another. The story is the thinking, the account. The action is what comes out of it.
This implies that thought is something more than action. Thought is a particular kind of action. Collective action and then thinking similar thoughts of a certain number of people. Thinking about Catherine Mackinnon- who also views word as actions. This makes a difference by going further. Paul has answered the question of the difference between the individual and the social. That fact that this is not readily apparent is maybe because the boundary between action and thought is the boundary between being ad thinking rather than between thought and action.

Presumption that the individual and social are distinct. The useful distinction is between thinking and the collective product. This exists at the individual and social/collective level. Without the fuchsia dot the individual cannot take into account all of the different stories and choose.

Furthermore, most of the social/cultural activity is being rather than thinking. Every once in a while a storyteller will has a distinctive influence on the process and when they do this is by virtue of being a thinker.

Corey Shdaimah, 12/9/2004

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