Comments on “In the cells of the eggplant”



Matt's picture

An ebook in pdf format would be great, I don’t know how many people own Kindles but I’m sure there would be lots of people who would like to read it who don’t.

You don't need a Kindle...

Thank you for letting me know!

Just so you know, you don’t need a Kindle device to read Kindle books. There are free Kindle apps that let you read Kindle books on pretty much any device that has a screen.

Yes Please.

Alex's picture

I’d buy an ebook or a paper version. But I’d prefer it on paper.

And let me emphasize how stoked I’d be: yahooo!!


Dan's picture

Excited to see a coherent bounded work come out of your site! I get lost in from time to time but my consumption pattern Always leads to fuzzy beginnings and endings. Any idea when it will be available?

+1 for paper

Pat's picture

I’d be interested in a trade paperback, if we can be so specific, and I’m definitely willing to pay $12.


I’m aiming for early December, but schedules always slip!

Alternate perspective on "Cells of the Eggplant"

I remember Flores using this whatever-you-may-call-it (intuition pump maybe?) in workshops. He had a pretty bad accent despite perfect command of English so that “bullshit” came out as “boosheee”. He called himself a “Mexican from Chile” maybe because he spent so much time in California, where it maybe was still true that Hispanics were overwhelmingly Mexican, so people would assume that of him, and he liked to address us as “American Cowboys”, referring I think to hyper-individualism.

Anyway, his lessons have stuck in my mind since the 80s. He threw off muttered references to Heidegger, Austin, Searle, and Habermas, but mostly stuck to his own clearer way of getting ideas across.

My recent reading, however has me looking at this mini-vignette from a different perspective. In the viewpoint presented by Dan Sperber - cf Sperber & Wilson, Relevance…, partly derived from another UCB philosopher Paul Grice (Flores went there and got his doctorate in philosophy right after being released from prison under Pinochet), and expressed in a maddeningly abstract way IMO, and gotten at from an empirical perspective by Tomasello, and blended in the short and clear book Speaking Our Minds by Thom Scott-Phillips, I would see it this way: You don’t just speak to another person, but speak to your mental model of them. If you coinhabit a world in which one goes to the refrigerator to pour a glass of water out of a pitcher, “Is there water in the refrigerator?” means one thing, and the eggplant is irrelevant. If they coinhabit a laboratory environment in which the refrigerator needs to have 0% humidity, it means something else, and the eggplant is quite relevant. “OMG you stuck an eggplant in the refrigerator? That will contaminate the samples!”.

It is probable that in neither case does anyone think of definitions. Unless you live in a literate culture, I doubt you have any such category as definition. In the situation, no other interpretation of “Is there water in the refrigerator?” occurs. The predominant thing is the world the speaker and listener co-inhabit, and the practices that occur there, and one might inhabit a lab environment and a home environment and ask the question both ways on different occasions, without any awareness of oddity (or of the one mode while operating in the other).

The idea of mental models, or “avatars” of familiar people inhabiting ones mind is developed (by me) with extensive references in the Ribbonfarm essay “From Monkey Neurons to the Meta-Brain”.

I love the experience of

Michael Francis Cameron Rose's picture

I love the experience of reading on a web connected Kindle. In fact, for a long time, I have been using Instapaper to turn your webpages into Kindle articles - the only problem
problem (perhaps caused by Javasript not rendering the text before passing it to other services) is all glossaried terms are removed.

In short a Kindle eBook would fix this for me and I’d be happy to sent some dollars your way to thank you for your wonderful, wise words.

Kudos and slight reservations

Since finding your “Building a Bridge to Meta-Rationality” piece, I have been a pretty close follower, to the point of getting and reading the 2 key works of Kagan you mentioned between that and perhaps an earlier essay, and Garfinkel and Schön are now on my list.

It takes me a long time to be able to say anything coherent about a new domain of thought, so sometimes out of frustration, I will go off half-cocked, which perhaps my previous comment illustrates.

In my teens and early 20s (late 1960s/early 70s), I read Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers and The Act of Creation. You could say that that put me on the road to Meta-rationality though it didn’t emerge with great urgency until recently. I only read Kuhn later, and have since been immersed in Kuhn, have read much from both the Alvin Goldman and Steve Fuller schools of Social Epistemology. Among others, I read a book: Naturalizing Epistemology, by Hilary Kornblith, and tried to write about its issues myself which might have some bearing on a particular point in the “Ontological Remodeling” essay. It might have some bearing on how far to go in the direction of “naturalizing epistemology” or making it all about “how people do it”(science), so that you don’t end up with some of the excesses of SST (Sociology of Science and Technology), e.g. Steve Fuller’s getting too cozy with creationists.

I’ve been feeling extremely driven since about 2008 when what we now call “fake news” became truly massive in the attempt to prevent Obama’s election and then to block any and all of his programs. At that time it wasn’t so obvious unless you knew where to look for it.

I have only good wishes for the projects of Meaningness and the Eggplant, and think it is a very good move to cross the threshhold into “official” publication. I want to contribute to much the same struggle, but don’t really have a platform, so if I do it will be largely to contributing to others’ efforts if I can.


Hal, thank you for many interesting observations and references! I haven’t had time to follow up on all of them, but have several open in browser tabs.

You don’t just speak to another person, but speak to your mental model of them.

The ethnomethodological literature gives another way of thinking about this, which addresses the same phenomena from a somewhat different angle. Suchman’s “Do categories have politics?” is a critique of the Winograd & Flores work from that perspective.

The predominant thing is the world the speaker and listener co-inhabit, and the practices that occur there

This is exactly what ethnomethodology (and its subdiscipline conversation analysis) address. Relative to speech act theory, they give a more detailed and accurate account, and one better grounded in empirical observation, I think.

Free associations

Suchman’s “Do categories have politics?” sounds interesting but it’s behind a paywall.

Agre, Philip. (1993): From high tech to human tech: on the sudden market for social studies of technology. In the proceedings of the workshopSocial science research, technical systems and cooperative work. Paris, France, pp. 17–30.
also struck me as interesting.

I used to follow Red Rock Eater, must have been 30 years ago. It was a pretty open forum. I once said I was thinking of starting a mailing list called “The Equalizer” to discuss aspects of distributive justice (not words I’d have used back then). To me it had a lot of resonances. (1) You can’t constrain out-of-control inequality without force any more than you can maintain a serious idea of property (as opposed to plain possessing whatever one possesses) without force. (2) attempts to literally make people equal (as opposed to getting back somewhat to the “rough equality” that Tocqueville admired) cause extreme violence (3) the idea of the gun as “equalizer” per NRA romanticism is an incredible folly…

He got the double meaning and was pointing it out, with some alarm, as if I didn’t get it (the resonances were something vague in the back of my head that I hadn’t parsed). Neither the conversation nor the idea went anywhere.

I sort of wondered if Phil Agre was a pseudonym based on “Filigree”. I’m sure it isn’t now.

Paper book to share, ebook for myself

Amy K.'s picture

I’ll buy a paper copy to pass among my epistemophiliac friends. They seem to like hard copies of philosophy books.

meaningless: nihilism
meaningmess: eternalism
meaningness: complete stance

Does this have to be a solo work?

Rufus's picture

You say you don’t think you will ever finish meaningness. What if instead of doing all of it yourself, you let people submit articles? If the readers can vote on submitted articles, you would only have to pay attention to the top ranking ones. Alternatively, you could build a team of people to finish the book. Each being in charge of different sections.

Paying respect where respect is deserved

Emily's picture

Hi David,

I have read (with heartfelt delight!) the majority of your Meaningness posts and want to sincerely thank you for the time you have taken to arrive at the insights, and then to put them down on paper for the rest of us.  Like many of your other readers, I think that the content of Meaningness is extremely important material to put into practice as we attempt to navigate our lives at this time.

I am in North India without central heating and so my fingers are too cold to type much at the moment, but as soon as I get to a warmer place I hope to be able to join the discussion.  Even better, when I resume my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this June (I stopped in the Sierras last summer since the river crossings were sketchy and people I hiked with died) it would be fantastic for me if I could offer you a bottle of good wine when I reach Tahoe, if you’re there, and maybe pose a question or two. 

Best Wishes,



Luke's picture

When will there be pre-order on amazon?

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This page introduces a section containing the following:

This page is in the section ⚒ Fluid understanding: meta-rationality,
      which is in ⚒ Sailing the seas of meaningness,
      which is in Meaningness and Time: past, present, future.

This page’s topic is Rationalism.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2018 David Chapman.