[Humanist] 25.38 in denial

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri May 20 22:36:13 CEST 2011

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 38.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 20 May 2011 09:00:25 -0400
        From: Haines Brown <brownh at historicalmaterialism.info>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.34 in denial
        In-Reply-To: <20110519222508.A8D50148596 at woodward.joyent.us>

>         Date: Wed, 18 May 2011 10:01:37 -0300
>         From: Matt Huculak <huculak at dal.ca>
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.31 in denial
>         In-Reply-To: <20110518060337.21524145B53 at woodward.joyent.us>
> I think we are forgetting an important part of the human/tool 
> relationship in this discussion (and I apologize if I missed a 
> thread in which this is discussed): in practical terms, we tend to 
> become _emotionally_ involved with our tools so that they no longer 
> represent some "thing", rather they become "our thing" and 
> extensions of our imaginations. It's a form of pathetic fallacy of 
> tool-use.

I regret not having followed the thread closely, but this message 
caught my eye. I assume the pathetic fallacy is the attribution of 
human mental modalities to inanimate objects.

I'm not much drawn to the reductionism of neuroscience or to the 
explicit or implicit dualism of its alternatives, but the former does 
make clear that emotion is a connection of the brainstem with the body 
and is the motivator of action. Since tool use involves action, 
emotion is always involved. There's also the pleasure of an endorphin 
reward for having manipulated the world to meet one's needs.

True, the message spoke of an emotional attachment to a tool rather 
than from its use, but it makes sense that if we get a chemical high 
from the use of a tool and if a tool enhances our powers in the world, 
we would become rather attached to it, as we do to other physical 
objects such as our home or environs. If a tool is a material object 
that enhances my powers to act on the world, why not see it as a 
material extension of self? The real issue here is whether an effect 
embodies the (mental) properties of its cause, or is the effect only 
constrained and enabled by those properties? More specifically, some 
people (although not I) see intentionality as the cause of our 
actions, and the result of our action is a material embodiment of a 
mental modality. However, that it expresses our intentions does not 
mean the object has intentionality.

One can approach this issue in philosophical or in economic terms.

There's an old Hegelian notion that by acting on the world it becomes 
a material expression or objectification of self. If this only means a 
causal interaction of entities such as self-other or mind-body, the 
point rings hollow and perhaps gets close to a pathetic fallacy 
(exactly what about self becomes embedded in the world?). There are 
alternatives (a non-reductionist processual superposition being my 
favorite). The tool is the primary interface with our world, and if 
that relation is the precondition for our development as human beings 
and enhances our powers to actualizes the world's possibilities, the 
tool is critically important to us. Should we not become emotionally 
attached to it because of its enlargement of self? This hardly 
attributes the properties of mind to a tool.

The other side of this coin is economic. I assume that any action is 
simultaneously creative and conservative because any action draws on 
real possibilities in the world to produce a new state of affairs, and 
at the same time it is constrained by existing structures, which are 
thought of as the past state of affairs. Given this assumption, 
because a tool by itself can only frame existing structures, it is 
intrinsically conservative of value. Put in old fashioned terms, the 
tool therefore cannot itself create new value (a "surplus value" 
beyond the value of existing structures). Economic value over and 
above existing value can only be an actualization of the world's real 
possibilities by the person using the tool and aware of the world's 
possibilities, and the tool is a means for the development of self 
through the actualization of these real possibilities.

This is contrary to a common belief of economists that technology 
itself is the source of new value. This would make tools creative, 
which indeed would be a pathetic fallacy.

Haines Brown

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