Sunday, 16 September 2007

Tradition, tradition

In a few days from now the book On the origin of Mind will be available on the Otoom website as an e-book.
The work deals with many areas - science, philosophy, and religion. No matter what the focus however, the framework is a scientific one. This means that assertions are based on observation, analysis, and conclusion. Results are repeatable and falsifiable.
They are also new and radical in the sense that so far no-one has come up with a similarly comprehensive and harmonious description of cognitive processes. Various sections on the Otoom website give a hint of that, but here are all the details.
That raises certain questions, particularly under more traditional auspices.
The familiar path of new scientific discoveries has been from the workbench to the notes to an academic journal. There it is peer-reviewed and if passed goes into publication for all the world to see.
Clearly, this case is different. There has been the 'workbench' of course (the people of this world, existing research, and the computer programming environment), there are the notes, but there are only a few papers in circulation and what's more, none of them provide the overall basis.
For that to be accomplished it needs a book to begin with. Many theories have been advanced over the centuries, with some proving more, others less tenacious. On many occasions the reader needs to reset their conceptualisation of how things are, so ten, twenty, even thirty pages are not enough to explain it all. But book publishers shy away from taking on something about which there had been no preceding awareness. Gleick's Chaos may have been new to many people but the journal articles came long before. And, once published, the book became a huge success.
In addition anything new invites scepticism; that is healthy. It also means the author needs to supply the data and references in abundance so that someone else can indeed follow the path from beginning to end. If there is a mistake it can be handled formally, and if there isn't that also becomes clear.
Here are the figures for the book: Part I (13 chapters, 269 pages, 527 references), Part II (6 chapters, 149 pages, 441 references), Bibliography (61 pages), Index (11 pages, 2-column); total including table of contents, appendix, glossary, overview (25 sections, 520 pages, 970 references).
As for the computer programs OtoomCM and OWorm the figures are: OtoomCM (330 tests), OWorm (320 basic test runs, 560 evaluation test runs); total (1210 tests). OMo runs just as an example of what the system can do.
Such volume would already be a barrier for many. Who has the time to go through all that? Still, the data are there for the taking.
When it comes to peer reviews, the idea is to enable an evaluation by outsiders. They are usually three experts from the field, plus the odd editor or two. Once passed, the paper gets published and hence is seen by many. Nevertheless, there is a pre-existing authority that says, "Read this; it has value". What if the reviewers do not see eye to eye with the material? Let's say already existing frameworks intrude upon their perspectives and the material is judged according to other approaches already done. If those happened to have failed (which is the case when it comes to the workings of the mind) the reviewers' own cognitive space is already pre-loaded with irrelevant data. Semioticians would have a field-day teasing apart the connections between the symbols of one and those of the other.
Just consider the seemingly endless list of papers surrounding the hypotheses categorised variously under such labels as connectionism, dynamicism, etc etc, and read Stevan Harnad's paper Minds, Machines and Searle 2: What's Right and Wrong About the Chinese Room Argument.
Editors of journals want their product to be taken seriously; nothing wrong with that. However, over the years their position has been enhanced by such pressures as 'publish or perish', which forces most academics into a rather servile relationship with the journals. See what Ronald Stamper, a semiotician, has to say about that situation in the footnote to his Stumbling across a "Soft Mathematics"? while Exploring some Issues of Organisation, Law and Metaphysics.
Soon On the origin of Mind can be downloaded from the website by all and read, reviewed, analysed, critiqued and criticised by anyone to their hearts’ content. In the end, that’s how it should be.

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