Friday, May 11, 2012

Book note: "In Praise of Reason" by Michael P. Lynch

One of the most mundane activities that humans engage in is reasoning. We do it all the time. We try to find reasons for our own actions and for others (strange) behavior. At the same time, reasoning can be seen as the most advanced activity that humans engage in.

Reasons are the intellectual tools we use to convince others about our own perspective or solution. According the Michael P. Lynch, our society is facing a serious problem related to this daily human activity of reasoning. He argues that we have entered an era when many individuals and large groups do not accept the reasons of others as valid. There is a decrease in the trust of what he sees as the "common currency of reason", that is, there is less acceptance of the idea that we all, despite opinions and beliefs, are using the same fundamental set of rules and principles upon which we can constructively reason around a particular topic in a productive way. Instead, he argues that we see more people and groups expressing the idea that reasons are just a matter of belief. This leads to a situation where people do not have to listen to each others reason, not have to reflects upon the strength of their arguments, etc. Instead people take the position that they are just wrong or even stupid. Lynch shows how this have become common even in parts of our society that are supposed to rest on reasoning and the exchange of ideas, such as in politics.

Lynch book gives a thorough and detailed account for the existence of objective reasoning that we all have to relate to and "obey". Even though Lynch is a professional philosopher and the topic is advanced, he manages to make his case understandable and exciting. To me, his argumentation seems both solid and convincing. His evidence for the existence of reason as something that is possible to see as common to all of us is both elaborate and elegant, but at the same time accessible. His description of the problems that will arise if we do not accept a common understanding of reason is straightforward and should give us all reason to fear the future.

Lynch also writes about something that I find extra interesting and that is a clear definition of science. He makes the case that a common understanding of reason can and should be based on an abstracted version of what constitutes the scientific approach. He writes "part of what makes scientific practice distinctive is that it is comparatively intersubjective, transparent, repeatable, natural, and adaptable." (p 93). These features gives science the core quality that Lynch argues for which is an "open character". His detailed discussion about these qualities of science is highly interesting and is also relevant in a discussion about the difference between science and design.

At the end of the book, Lynch discusses the notion of truth especially in relation to Richard Rorty's idea of truth. Very interesting for those who are familiar with Rorty. He ends with a plea. He asks our society to seriously consider reason as a precondition for an open and democratic society. He argues that it is not just possible to develop a common ground and understanding about reason--it is necessary. Otherwise our society will slide further down into a state when reason is not respected and other forms of convincing becomes tools, such as, money, power, violence.

I highly recommend this book. The points I mentioned above are just some from Lynch rich text. Read and think.

1 comment:

Gim, Hyewon said...

I was willing to read that book, when I looked at it cited in the several papers that I read. But I have forgotten it for a while. Thank you for sharing your thought of it.

As you recommended, this book seems to be very helpful for those who have concerned with constructing a common ground among many others, especially for designers who always have to juggle the complex matter between aesthetics of individual users and production system of products. I think they can have principle of making good reasoning of their design.

The emergent of new technology systems (e.g., things of the Internet) spurs diverse thinking and catalytic conversations among different groups and members without physical limitations. My own intuitions resonate with Karl Popper's words at this point. In his theory, this phenomenon could be the World 3, which is the world of objective knowledge, the products of the human mind as recorded in language, the arts, or the sciences, the technologies, in all the artifacts humans have stored or scattered around the Earth.

In my opinion, nascent stage of HCI design’s diverse paradigm or patterns will go into the discussion of what is meant by objectivism of knowledge or reasoning of their products. So, any line of thought which claims to be logic of scientific reasoning or designing should be dealing with objectivities as preconditioned knowledge for users rather than with subjectivities, but the objectivities come from the interaction with physical world and subjective world.

Actually, I don’t exactly understand what is meant by the notion of objectivism. (Still hard to understand what it is) Of course, I do believe there is definitely a common ground among many others. For example, with relation to objects or artifacts, I have seen that archaeologists, HCI researchers, and industrial designers have their own perspectives and offer their own terminologies of a certain matter, but for me, they are similar to each other, which means people tend to think in similar ways to some extent. Perhaps, some people like me would reluctant to use the term ‘objectivism’ of a certain matter. Instead, we have many other terms, such as rhetoric, politics, inter-body, inter-subjective or more broadly, inter-objective, consensual domain, or collective thinking like you said whatsoever.

I think I need to read this book seriously. Thank you!! :)