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Book review: Darwinia
Reviewed: Friday, August 11, 2006

Summer reading: Spin
Reviewed: Saturday, August 5, 2006

Runner
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tinderbox

An old review of Philip Agre's Portents of Planning
Philip Agre, 1999 , (Paper URL)
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Agre critically reviews Miller, Galanter and Pribram's "Plans and the Structure of Behavior" by deconstructing the first paragraph of their introduction. The central hypothesis of their work is that "behavior has the structure that it does as the result of Plans" (note the capital 'P').

AI introductions typically merge (awkwardly and with distortions) technical and vernacular vocabularies. They "introduce and institutionalize distortions of genre, rhetoric, and logic" which require a "depth of rethinking and redoing" to put right.

P&SB merge 'deciding what to do' and 'describing what is done'. The "subject matter is not activity in the narrative present tense but rather thought about activity in the future tense." Your day has "a structure of its own, independently of you."

The irreconcilability of the formal and figurative modes of language:

Here, "propositions that are contradictory when stated in ordinary language become consistent when converted to the categories of the formal theories the text will later elaborate." "When a way of speaking so readily subsumes its negation, what could possibly falsify it?" "P&SB is a theory which seems somehow both vacuous and universal"!

P&SB divides cognition and activity in a gross Cartesian sense. But "human beings are, by nature and necessity, intimately involved with their surroundings in the physical and social world."

"Setting things straight requires an admission that things are just harder than [blurring the boundaries between representation and reality]. Living in the world requires a dialectical engagement, not just a fantasy merger. Using representations, whether of circumstances or of actions, requires the continual practical work of interpretation, not just the passive appeal to unmeditated correspondences."

(Note that my quotes are from a draft of Agre's paper and should not be used directly).


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