Reading Notes 2016.10.19


---A Life Beyond Boundaries, by Benedict Anderson 
[p.191] War, travel, trade and reading kept polities of divergent sizes in constant, if often hostile, contact. Characteristic of this situation is the relation of English to Dutch. Most English people today have no idea that hundreds of English words come from what the huge Oxford English Dictionary categorizes as Old Dutch, but they treasure the hostile expressions 'Dutch courage' (bravery based on drunkenness), 'Dutch treat' (inviting a woman to dinner and insisting that she half the bill) and 'Dutch wives' (solid, hard bolsters for comfortable sleeping).
[p.124-125] The debate was really triggered by Nairn's polemical The Break-up of Britian, which argued that the UK was a fossilized, conservative and imperialistic relic of the past, doomed to break up into its four constituent underlying nations, with Scotland leading the way. The book was strongly attacked, especially by Hobsbawm, who declared that no true Marxist could be a nationalist; Marxiam had been committed from the start to internationalism. I like the book very much, for its own sake, but also as an Irishman (Southern Ireland, after centuries of English colonial rule, had only won its independence, by armed struggle, in 1922).


Reading Notes 2016.10.13

---The empty brain, by Robert Epstein

此文區分了兩種理解大腦運作的方式,一種是把大腦當成電腦,可以儲存與處理資訊,因此有可能想像下載或複製資訊,甚至把某人的心智整個傳上網路。另一種是把大腦當成某種因應刺激做出反應的有機體 (organism),這有機體不斷地隨著學習與經驗改變自己,因此每個人都是獨特的,以獨特的方式構成,不可能任意加裝或傳輸甚麼資訊。

雖然作者寫得很有趣,但我有點懷疑這種區分在實際研究上有甚麼助益。可能是因為我對認知科學了解很少,我不太懂第二種假說在研究設計上要處理的是甚麼問題。其次,在我看來,這兩種 "假說" 似乎是可以合併的,只要在第一種假說中加上 "大腦這電腦會隨學習與經驗不斷生成變化,而其牽一髮而動全身的複雜性遠非我們目前能掌握" 即可。作者提到的打棒球比喻,在第一種假說的架構中可能只是個演算法問題。至於大腦中是不是有甚麼特殊內核儲存與處理資訊,並不那麼重要。

當然,第一種假說顯然是適應於我們目前對大腦乃至身體運作方式的粗淺認識,失之於靜態與機械。第二種假說反映了對認知運作方式的動態或 "有機" 的想像,看起來確實比較有趣,而且在某些方面更直觀。隨著研究的進展,很可能第一種假說會被逐漸拋棄。但是否就會轉向第二種假說?從科學史的一些例子來看,我仍是存疑的。

和朋友聊到此文,得到另一個看法。電腦的發展可能本就有一部分是希望模擬人腦的運作 (例如文中 von Neumann 的話似可作此解) 。AI 大概是很明顯的例子。因此,與其說研究者把人腦看作電腦來研究,不如說研究者的目標其實是想讓電腦更像人腦。


---A Life Beyond Boundaries, by Benedict Anderson 
[pp.193-194] Though European nationalism adopted key ideas from the Creole nationalism of the America, it was deeply affected by early-nineteenth-century Romanticism, which was foreign to its predecessors. It had huge appeal for outstanding poets, novelists, dramatists, composers and painters. It was also quite aware of, and felt solidarity with (though not always, of course), other popular nationalisms as fellow movements for the emancipation of the people from despotic dynasties - a solidarity later expressed institutionally in the League of Nations, the United Nations, and many other forms. 
After the world wars of the twentieth century, however, many young nationalisms typically got married to prey-beard states. Today, nationalism has became a powerful tool of the state and the institutions attached to it: the military, the media, schools and universities, religious establishments, and so on. I emphasize tools because the basic logic of the state's being remains that of rasion d'etat - ensuring its own survival and power, especially over its own subjects.* Hence contemporary nationalism is easily harnessed by repressive and conservative forces, which, unlike earlier anti-dynastic nationalism, have little interest in cross-national solidarities. The consequences are visible in many countries. One has only to think of state-sponsored myths about national histories of China, Burma, both Koreas, Siam, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, or Sri Lanka for Asian examples. The intended effect is an unexamined, hypersensitive provinciality and narrow-mindedness. The signs are usually the presence of taboos (don't write about this!, don't talk about that!) and the censorship to enforce them. 
For a long time, different forms of socialism - anarchist, Leninist, New Leftist, social-democratic - provided a 'global' framework in which a progressive, emancipationist nationalism could flourish. Since the fall of 'communism' there has been a global vacuum, partially filled by feminism, environmentalism, neo-anarchism and various other 'isms', fighting in different and not always cooperative ways against the barrenness of neoliberalism and hypocritical 'human rights' interventionism. But a lot of work, over a long period of time, will be needed to fill the vacuum. 
* This is not to deny that contemporary nationalism does not still contain a powerful emancipatory and egalitarian element - the huge modern gains in relation to the position of women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, for example, would have been unimaginable without its help.
這段很有趣,也很令人懷疑。19 世紀的民族主義真與國際主義結合嗎?在成功奪取或建造國家機器之前,與其他反封建力量互通聲息可以想像 (你那裡的封建王朝倒台,我這裡的也會難再撐下去),但奪權之後就是另一回事了。至於當代的民權運動,除了利用公民身分主張權利這一點之外,跟民族主義運動有甚麼直接關係?除非他想的是為了對抗外敵,於是藉由擴大賦權進行社會動員的情況。但那也多半是 1970 年代以前的事了吧。