5 votes

The parable of the pebbles

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  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    [An ancient shepherd] discovers a way to divine whether some sheep are still out grazing, without searching. In the morning, as each sheep leaves one-by-one, he drops a pebble into a bucket by the gate. In the evening, as each returning sheep enters, he takes a pebble out of the bucket. When there are no pebbles left in the bucket, he can close the gate and turn in for the night.


    Why does this method of counting, using external physical counters, work? The usual rationalist story is that the number of pebbles in the bucket represents the number of sheep out to pasture. This representation is a correspondence, a “mirror of nature.”


    But… what about a bucket of pebbles makes them represent a field of sheep? Suppose someone from the next town happens to walk by—on her way to the fair—with a bucket of 37 pebbles. Suppose there happen to be 37 sheep in the pasture; does her bucket represent that?


    It’s not that the shepherd’s bucket or pebbles are different from the fair-goer’s. It’s that he’s doing ongoing work to make them correspond with sheep, and she isn’t. Representation is not a property of the bucket, pebbles, or sheep. It’s a property of the whole history of interaction of the bucket, pebbles, shepherd, sheep, and gate. Likewise, beliefs aren’t in your head; they too are dynamics of interaction. Representation can’t be found in a snapshot of the state of the world, nor in a timeline of brain activity. It’s necessarily a process extended in both time and space.

    Rationality works because we make it work—not because it is eternally, absolutely, ultimately Correct.

    1 vote