Zo, vhere vere ve? 
I've been reading Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box, a popularized discussion of significant experiments in 20th-century psychology. The book is best when it presents facts and background, and worst when it tries to pose philosophical questions. One chapter is about Elizabeth Loftus' work to debunk repressed memories. Loftus points out that there is no plausibly mechanism whereby repressed memories would be stored in the brain.

Slater believes in a repressed memories nonetheless, and mentions Van der Kolk with approval. Der Kolk's view is that "the body keeps score." Anything that is too traumatic to be remembered is stored nonnarratively, to return later as muscle aches or panic attacks. The solution to such problematic, visceral memories is to recover them narratively. Fess up to the traumatic event, and the aches will go away.

So this has me thinking: Suppose that der Kolk is right, that there are separate centers of episodic and visceral memory, and that eliminating bad visceral memories is just a matter of thinking through the story of the traumatic event. There is nothing in such an approach that requires the story you think through to be true. Since there is no episodic memory of the event to compare to the recollection, your body has no way of checking.

I suggest the obvious therapeutic approach: Tell yourself a story about any bad visceral memories that your body has stored up. The beauty is that any story will do, as along as you meditate on it and process it through the narrative parts of your brain. I dub this innovation Bogus Scenario Therapy. A session might go like this:

Me: [In a silly mock-Austrian accent, because it enhances the therapeutic value of balderdash.] Zo, you haff been havink these panik attacks. Tell me about ze aliens from your memories.

Patient: [Lying back on a couch, like in a New Yorker cartoon.] What aliens?

Me: Ze traumatic ones. Ze ones from your memory. Vork mit me.

Patient: Oh. They were grey, I guess.

Me: Excellent. And zeir heads? Big or zmall?

Patient: ...um... big.

Me: [writing down 'big' in my notebook.] Vider zan zeir shoulders?

Patient: ...yes.

Me: And their arms: articulated like a humans?or did zey bend backvards?

Patient: [more confident now.] Backwards.

Me: And vat sounds did zey make?

And so it would go, with me billing hourly for little games of make believe. There would be money in it, if only I could keep a straight face.

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The Hamlet antinomy 
At lunch, discussion led to this question: Is the world that 'Rosencrantz&Guildenstern are Dead' is set in the same world that 'Hamlet' is set in?

Thesis: They are the same world. Tom Stoppard took great care in making the events that happen in 'R&G' intersect and overlap events that happen in 'Hamlet'. Stoppard's project requires that the world of his play be the same as the world of Shakespeare's play. Stoppard's play is a brilliant success, so it follows immediately that the two plays take place in the same fictional world.

Antithesis: They are not the same world. Stoppard adds shenanigans that Shakespeare clearly did not have in mind. They reach beyond, and some of them perhaps directly violate, Shakespeare's authorial intention.*

The question puts us in a bind, because both the thesis and the antithesis are plausible. The problem, I think, is that they both presuppose that there is one fictional world picked out by 'R&G' and one picked out by 'Hamlet'. Only on that assumption does it make sense to ask whether the worlds are the same world.

Suppose instead we treat 'Hamlet' as picking out a set of possible worlds; call them the Hamlet-worlds. Similarly, 'R&G' picks out a set of worlds; call them the RG-worlds.**

We can do justice to the intuition behind the thesis by saying that all RG-worlds are Hamlet-worlds.

We can do justice to the intuition behind the antithesis in this way: The Hamlet-worlds are a mixed bag, with some of them having very little detail beyond what is specified in the script and with others filled out in exotic detail. The more conservative Hamlet-worlds are the ones with which Shakespeare would have been most comfortable. The RG-worlds are exotic Hamlet-worlds, and most Hamlet-worlds are not RG-worlds.

Antinomy resolved.

* Shades of Brian Weatherson's fourth objection to the Westphall Hypothesis.

** This connects nicely to the previous entry. The asymmetry turns out to have a deeper importance, in a way I had not considered. The argument could have gone like this: (1) A theory is associated with a set of models/worlds. (2) A theory is a story. (3) Therefore, a story is associated with a set of worlds rather than with a single world.

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Tell me a story 
Last May, Carl Sachs asked me what I thought the difference was between a story and a theory. I replied along these lines: A story specifies what its world is like. A theory conjectures what our world is like. Put differently, a theory is a story which we take to be about our actual world.

It now occurs to me that there is an asymmetry between familiar philosophical accounts of stories and of theories: One talks of a story specifying a single world. One asks: What is it like in Sherlock Holmes' London? Of course, the answer cannot be entirely determinate. There are things that the story does not tell us.

According to the semantic conception of theories, a theory can be identified with its models. One might say that the theory is the set of worlds that behave in accord with the theory. The theory is right if the actual world is one of the worlds in that set.

So we are tempted to say that there is the world described by the Holmes stories, although it is described incompletely, but there are many worlds specified when specifying a scientific theory. This difference may simply be superficial. If it is not, then either: (A) A theory is not a story; or (B) it is wrong to think of a theory as the set of its models.

(I suspect the difference is superficial. That, after all, is why this is mentioned in a blog rather than in a paper.)

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Tom Reid meets Tom Bayes 
I have finally closed all the open references in my paper on Thomas Reid and dogmatism. The new version has been sent off to scout for rejection notices.

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