Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Avatars of the Tortoise

In "Avatars of the Tortoise," Borges traces Zeno's paradox throughout the history of philosophy. Zeno argued that movement was impossible. Aristotle explains the paradox as follows: "In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead."

Borges reflects that the applications of the paradox are inexhaustable. He says, "the vertiginous regressus in infinitum is perhaps applicable to all subjects." One such application is, "the problem of knowledge: cognition is recognition, but it is necessary to have known in order to recognize, but cognition is recognition..."

He finds in Sextus Empiricus an argument for the uselessness of definitions, "since one will have to define each of the words used and then define the definition."

[[ I'll expand on the following at a later time. Right now I'm just sketching out an idea ]]

I'm reminded of Dreyfus and wonder if we find a little of Zeno in his argument. A key objection to Minsky's framework of knowledge is its inability to give a way of translating perception (what Borges called 'recognition') into formal representations (ie terminals in a frame). And the objection to using formal representions, in principle, to create intelligence is reminiscent of Sextus Empiricus's reasoning about the futility of definitions.

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