Re: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Mon Jan 02 2006 - 18:45:39 EST

Hello Antonio

Apologies for my delayed replies.

> Freud's text was devoted to the interpretation of
> dreams: there certainly is an ontology there, the biology of the
> brain, in which is included the idea that dreams (most of them)
> camouflage themselves.

This may not be important, but Freud's ontology breaks with biology.
His metapsychology explicitly unveils an emergent-powers ontology not
reducible to biology or neuro-physiology. Freud thought that
explanantion of the mind in terms of biology was inadequte. But
lacking an understanding of the software/hardware distinction Freud
drew on various mechanical analogies -- `energy', `flows', economic
processes, and even once, the pseudopodia projected by an amoeba when
striving to move -- in order to describe cognitive mechanisms. Freud's
work is an example of what Bhaskar calls `retroduction' -- the
creative modelling phase of science, in which existing knowledge in
the transitive (social) domain is used, via metaphor and analogy, to
posit new ontologies in the intransitive (real, or independent of
thought) domain. In my opinion, one of Freud's great advances was to
take seriously the idea that the mind itself is highly ontologically
stratified. In general, this research programme has been vindicated
post-war by the field of cognitive science, which posits all kinds of
novel information processing mechanisms to account for mental

I note your point about dreams not having a single interpretation.
However, on my reading of Freud there is an underlying ontology of
dreams. Freud's metaphsychology (id, ego, super-ego, libidinal energy,
reinforcers, processes of repression and displacement, etc.) is the
underlying "syntax" of dreams -- dreams are the "semantics" that are
implemented upon this machinery. One of the important advances of
cognitive science is to understand better how semantics (that is,
intentional contents of the mind) supervene on syntax (that is,
non-intentional information processing mechanisms). The fact that the
interpretation of dreams is fluid, indeterminate and the very process
itself can affect the rememberance of the dream does not, in my view,
have much consequence for, say, social ontology. (There are lot's of
mundane examples of situations in which an act of observation can
affect the object of observation in a non-reversible manner -- the
recourse to quantum mechanics is not really needed here).

> It means that, while there is a specification of general social
> process (that there are various processes: cultural, political,
> economic, etc.) in the constitution of a social body, when we
> interpret that society, (if we are using the mode of
> overdetermination) it is not possible to fix the meaning of a social
> event/process in an a-priori way, according to any one fixed model of
> social relationships. The meaning emerges only out of a particular
> process of interpretation and pertains to that process of
> interpretation (there can be no ontological proof/status to it beyond
> the general social process). Of course, there can be different
> processes of interpretation, and this is where Resnick and Wolff's
> idea of an "Entry point" comes: for a Marxist interpretation of
> society, "Class" is the entry point into the process of
> interpretation.

This is the kind of relativism I reject. More on this in another post,
which I'll hopefully post shortly.


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