GIF Minutes for September 19, 2003
Prepared by Judie McCoyd
Attending: Cheryl, Roland, Paul, Sam, Judie, Corey, Anne
Readings: Return to Reason- S. Toulmin ; Historical
Science, experimental science and the scientific method- C.
Cleland (from Geology, Nov. 2001)
Update on the teaching certificate
program: the first event was successfully held on Sept.
10, 2003 and the group is actively planning for Catharine
Stimpsons visit on October 29. She will present publicly
from 12-2 at GSSWSR and then meet with campus faculty/ administrators
during the day, followed by dinner with some of the GIF group.
She will then meet with the teaching seminar people in the evening
(7:30) for further discussion.
Discussions about GIF: The Metaphysical Club (Menand)
was chosen for our first Fall 2003 reading group discussion and
will likely continue into the October meeting, with an article suggested
by Anne and written by Liu. The meetings will generally occur mid-month
on Fridays from 1-3 at the GSSWSR. Planned dates for
Fall are October 17, November 14, and December 12.
A broad invitation to the graduate student community will go out
prior to next meeting. Discussions ensued re: allowing people from
off-campus to join our group and it was decided to keep the group
open to all who are interested.
Discussions about whether to keep the teaching certificate group
discussions separate from the GIF discussions on the posting board
occurred and it was decided to keep it together to maximize participation
on the board and will be separated if it becomes too unwieldy in
terms of having two separate streams of discussion.
Roland started discussion by asking what relationship
stability might have to the notions of certainty/ uncertainty and
how this might inform our discussions about the nature of knowledge
and truth. Most agreed that when there is more stability
in a system, it seems to yield more certainty in knowledge development,
however the study of tectonics (sp?) was raised as an example of
an understanding that there is never truly stability and that drift
is a constant.
Most discussion centered on the phrase asymmetry
of overdetermination from the Cleland article (attributed
to David Lewis) and we felt enamored of the phrase but unsure of
the accurate interpretation of its meaning. Discussion led to consideration
of decision-making as a form of potentially over- or under-
determined actions. Corey suggested that Toulmins use
of Aristotles concept of phronesis might be useful- the idea
that we have multiple explanatory and predictive theories floating
in our heads, from which we select and take action (practice).
She further suggested that we need a sense of stability that our
concepts are right enough to make decisions based upon
the theories and used the example of a social worker deciding whether
to remove a child from a potentially unsafe home. She went further
to assert that while we need stability to make these types of required
decisions, we also need to allow uncertainty in order to build new
Paul and Anne had attended a language group meeting
and Paul questioned the notion of stability at all. He reported
a question about whether aesthetics is selectively adapted
and he asserted that it is a fundamental misunderstanding to ask
whether a characteristic is selected for. He claims
evolution happens in the future in that adaptations occur providing
an opening for something further to happen in the future. He argues
that decisions occur as a result NOT of looking back on past
failed experiments but looking toward new experiments to create
new knowledge and to avoid old situations. Corey argued that of
course knowledge is changing, but that there may need to be a contingent
sense of certainty in order to be decisive while Paul argued
back that one can be decisive without certainty.
Anne moved us to a new focus by asking if the right
that kept turning up in the previous conversations might mean something
further. If the idea of right knowledge or decisions
needs to be thrown out, maybe the idea of either of those being
wrong (or failed) would also need to be tossed at that
point. She wondered what criteria are relevant at that point.
Cheryl, also addressing Pauls idea that decisions/ practice
are based on avoiding prior bad examples, questioned whether we
dont have to assume a certain level of creativity on the part
of students if all we do is teach the failed examples as Paul had
suggested. Paul and all agreed, but Corey raised the issue of where
positive role models fit into this model. Anne asserted that we
all recognize the limited nature of knowledge, but that trying to
increase certainty doesnt mean that we lose the uncertainty
that encourages us to keep building new knowledge.
Roland returned us to the example of decision making
and asked why people would then develop new information or try to
make a decision that requires them to take new action and he used
the straight-forward example of choosing to turn right or left.
He suggested one must have some sort of stable sense of reference.
Judie suggested that what is stable has little to do directly with
failed experiments or new experiments in action as much as it has
to do with a stable sense of priority of principles. She cited
the Emergence book from last Fall that claimed that in gaming
theory, there is a tendency for computer models to turn right, consistently
creating certain patterns. She further suggested that human decisions
similarly tend toward the directions of ones principles.
Paul questioned whether these principles arent derived initially
from the awareness of failure in prior actions (experiments). He
claimed that humans are the only animal that thinks about their
own thinking and that we therefore create reasoning for our decisions,
but that it is no more accurate than just flipping a coin- it just
has more rationale associated with it. He told the story of agonizing
over course scheduling as a freshman and being advised by his father
to just flip a coin, and found that it served him well.
Corey challenged this by wondering if certainty (or
relevant criteria) is/are needed in terms of the ability to say
I did the best I could with my knowledge at the time.
Judie also challenged the coin-flip notion citing her dissertation
research where women had to make decisions between concerns for
their own future versus that of a delivering a fetus with anomalies-
often feeling as if their own well-being was in perfect juxtaposition
and balance with the well-being of an anomalous but loved fetus/baby/May-be.
She asserted that these women are trying to prioritize principles
as opposed to doing a coin-flip. Paul claimed that all decisions
are really just a form of coin-flipping and tied this to the asymmetry
of over determination to assert that the future is under-
determined while the past is over-determined.
Sam brought the crime example in the Cleland article
to our attention stating that it seemed a poor example for explaining
the notion of asymmetry of overdetermination (ie there are many
traces to a crime already committed, not committing the crime is
the only way of ensuring that no trace is left). Corey questioned
(and most agreed) that it seemed to be merely a new way of saying
that hindsight is 20/20. We discussed the fact that many of these
discussion points have multiple built in assumptions, not all of
which have been brought to attention. We ended our time, as usual,
with more questions raised, and also with a continued sense of frustration
of the implications of a phrase that seems to have a lot of potential,
and yet much difficulty in interpretation.
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