Re: [xmca] Epistemic hospitability

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Sun Oct 21 2007 - 17:46:29 PDT

I thought that Kai's connecting here to Pierre Levy makes a very
interesting contribution.

I've also read some of Levy's work, which is quite akin, though from
different sources, to notions of "distributed cognition" or perhaps
to ideas like those Wolf-Michael has expressed about "scientific
literacy" being a collective characteristic of a community, rather
than something we should attribute to or aim to teach to individuals.

As a critique of the notion of "intelligence" itself, it adds to an
older viewpoint, namely that intelligence is not "a trait" but rather
a response to a situation, and not invariable, even for individuals,
across all possible situations. I am very smart at some things, and
no doubt much less so about others. What is added here is that one
reason I am more successful some of the time is because of the ways
in which I connect with others (Latour might add that those 'others'
need not be humans, but any sort of semiotic mediational means). I am
smart in large part because I operate in "smart" communities (again,
no community is smart about everything), and especially insofar as I
and others in these communities know how to synergize and leverage
our collective intellectual (and other) resources.

So from this point of view, a smarter community probably also needs
to be a more diverse one ... diverse in ideas and perspectives. Not
because of the joys of moral tolerance, or because tolerance for
others helps insure tolerance for me, but because in the long run I
benefit from having all sorts of ideas, even detestable and crackpot
ones, available in the public space.

What kinds of principles for operating as an intellectual community
make a community more collectively intelligent across the widest
possible range of problems, issues, and situations?

Epistemic hospitability might well be one. But it seems to me that it
means not just that we "welcome" in some sense the views we think are
foolish or even immoral, but that we also denounce them, or endorse
them, or withhold judgment, or engage with them ... each of us,
according to our viewpoints, so as to make the community richer by
way of the presence in it of ANY viewpoint.

I've also found, over the years, that it's a good intellectual
exercise to try to figure out why someone would HOLD or espouse views
that I consider to be crazy, stupid, uninformed, or recklessly
amoral. I think most of us do this with respect to views held in the
past, or in other cultures. I think it is MORE rather than less
appropriate to do the same for today's range of views, AND to refrain
from the easy dismissals from which we learn nothing as a community.
We all know what those dismissals are: he's stupid, he's uninformed,
he's immoral, he's pursuing self-interest, etc. (BTW, gender of
pronouns chosen advisedly.)

I suppose in many ways those are mostly the 'ad hominem' arguments,
but they are unwise, not because they are untrue (often they are),
nor because the source does not matter to an argument (in many ways
it does, and we all recognize this in practice), but because we learn
nothing from making such arguments.

We say to our students that there are no dumb questions, even if we
don't quite believe that, because we want to promote a dialogue in
which learning can occur. There are pernicious beliefs, surely, (and
even true beliefs can be pernicious, unfortunately) but there are, I
think, no beliefs that are not also opportunities for the community
to learn something from. IF others in the community find the right
ways to respond.

All that said, why is The Times still interviewing this guy, at 79,
and more than a half-century after his important scientific work?
especially given that most of his unorthodox views do him no credit?
Are they being epistemically hospitable? or seeking to profit from a
long period of capitalist investment in his "celebrity"? -- or is
that another dismissal? (I hope not.)


At 07:06 AM 10/21/2007, you wrote:
>Dear friends,
>I have just joined this list and do not know the earlier discussion.
>Nevertheless I wanted to share with you some quotations that I found from
>Peirre Levy's (1997) Collective Intelligence book, quotations that may get
>discussion toward a more positive trajectory than mere focusing on Watson's
>remarks appear to do. From Pierre Levy's perspective Watson's remark and all
>other corresponding remarks are violations of epistemic or cognitive
>hospitability. Just like any other kind of human activity, epistemic affairs
>require us to provide hospitability to our fellow human beings. When we fail
>to acknowledge someone's intelligence because he does not have our own
>cognitive socialization or our kind of "proper" education, it is violation
>of epistemic hospitability. Racism implies, of course, an extreme lack of
>such epistemic desirability.
>"My initial premise is based on the notion of a universally distributed
>intelligence. No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all
>knowledge resides in humanity. . The light of mind shines even where we
>attempt to persuade other that no intelligence exists: "educational
>failure", "rote execution", "underdevelopment". The overarching judgment of
>ignorance turns against the judges. If you are tempted to judge someone as
>ignorant, look for the context in which his knowledge can be turned into
>gold." (Levy, 1997, p. 14)
>"Regardless of my temporary social position, regardless of the judgment of
>an educational institution about my abilities, I can also become an
>opportunity for learning to someone else. Through my experience of life, my
>professional career, my social and cultural habits, I can - since knowledge
>is coextensive with life - provide knowledge resources for community. Even
>if I am unemployed, or without money or a diploma, condemned to life in
>ghetto, illiterate, I am not useless. I am not interchangeable. I have an
>image, a position, dignity, a personal and positive value within the
>knowledge space. All of us have the right to be acknowledged as a knowledge
>identity." (Levy, 1997, P. 13)
>As Levy argued, "in the age of knowledge, failure to recognize the other as
>an intelligent being is to deny his true social identity" (Levy, 1997, p.
>I have used the epistemic-hospitability metaphor in many public talks in
>Finland; it appears to make people to question at least some of their
>presuppositions concerning intelligence. As psychologist, I consider talking
>about these issues to be very important. Together with my colleagues I have
>investigated conceptions of intelligence of students and teachers of my
>country that revealed a strong gender and age effect: Males (both students
>and teachers) appear to think that inherited and fixed abilities determine
>what you may intellectually achieve whereas females tend to think that your
>own epistemic efforts are crucial. Perhaps this is one of reason for the
>female students becoming a large majority in high schools and universities.
>Further, older generations of teachers represent the fixed-abilities view
>much more strongly than younger generations (the latter ones are likely to
>be used to surpass themselves). Watson is clearly a representative of his
>own gender & generation in terms of having a non-dynamic view of
>intelligence as a fixed and given entity.
>I am bringing these issues up because I feel that not only racism is at
>stake here but also assumptions concerning the very nature of human
>intelligence that make it hard to overcome racist tendencies. Together with
>my colleagues, I have developed a framework of networked intelligence so as
>to contribute to problematizing the received conceptions of intelligence
> It
>is just a preliminary sketch based on premises probably well known in this
>circle about relevant issues; I am interested in parallel and, perhaps, more
>mature cultural-psychological reconceptualizations concerning what
>intelligence is all about.
>Sincerely yours,
>Kai Hakkarainen, Ph.D.
>Professor (Learning and Learning Environments)
>Savonlinna Department of Teacher Education
>University of Joensuu
>Kuninkaankartanonkatu 5, P.O. Box 55
>FIN-57101 Savonlinna, Finland
>GSM +358 50 4129572
>Tel +358-15-5117686
>Fax +358 15 53 1060
>Director, Centre for Research on Networked Learning and Knowledge Building,
>Department of Psychology
>Address: P.O. Box 9 (Siltavuorenpenger 20D),
>FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
>GSM: +358-50-4129572
>Fax: +358-9-19129443
>-----Original Message-----
>From: [] On
>Behalf Of E. Knutsson
>Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2007 12:31 PM
>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>Subject: Re: [xmca] Nobel prize talks stupid things about human intelligence
>This is highly irrelevant and biased, Andy, a special case of irrelevant
>conclusion, a so-called fallacy of relevance: Argumentum ad populum and
>argumentum ad hominem (speaking "against the man" rather than to the issue).
>Attacking the premises of an argument by casting aspersions on the character
>the proponent of the argument, would usually be characterized as committing
>ad hominem fallacy. The (supposed) character of the proponent of an argument
>has no relevance to the validity of the argument.
>On 2007-10-21, at 10:42, Andy Blunden wrote:
> > Eric, I was not following this debate closely. This post clearly explains
> > where you are coming from, so my "What's the problem?" response was
> > uncalled for. I guess I was not reacting to Watson as a "grand old man"
> > "non-conformist" who "made a mistake" but rather as one of many people who
> > follow unthinkingly in the trend of which Watson was a contributor, to the
> > effect that it is "all in the genes." So of course in his "correction" he
> > only repeats what caused offence: "Africans aren't inferior, just
> > ... because of their genes."
> > I should apologise for using derogatory words about anyone on this list, I
> > suppose, but any specialist who thinks that their own particular
> > explains everything is not in my humble opinion worthy of very much
> > Andy
>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
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Received on Sun Oct 21 17:50 PDT 2007

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