Big Mood: Peli's theory of vibe


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"a kind of clicking of mind... an onto-somethingness, a resonance, a pleasurable hint of an unspeakable coherence. Art, and poetry especially, is partial speech of this unspeakable coherence"

Peli says, look, it's a sociological fact that the many pre-modern, magical or religious ways of viewing the world are being eaten by the "scientific" image and the "manifest" image. The former is what it says on the tin—behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, etc. The latter is a certain liberal rationalist view of man as someone who can participate in liberal society—who can behave rationally, make true or false statements, etc. The image of man that the courtroom presumes.

What poetry offers is another perspective, another way of knowing, which Peli wants to argue/show is not "romantic" or "wooey," but actually mathematically and scientifically defensible. Even if the insights of poetry can't be reduced to a mathematical or scientific formulation (or wouldn't be useful to fine-grain/reduce in this way), the way-of-generating-insights that poetry peddles can be explained and thereby justified scientifically.


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He's gonna draw on theories and mathematics of machine learning (specifically autoencoders) to make this argument. We could get into the technical details, but he covered them very very thoroughly in his Harvard dissertation, which I can link if folks are interested.

But the short of it is that Peli believes we can transmit ways of seeing by transmitting curated sets of concretia which this way of seeing sees best. That poetry can represent a lifeworld or subjectivity which is "world-making, life-making, meaning-making." It is partly descriptive, partly idealistic/normative. It both represents real patterns in the world, but also provides an image or ideal to be aspired to.

This highly compressive subjectivity—a way of seeing which lossily represents the world in all its vast unknowability—is represented through a complex graph of associations. They are not just causal, mechanical relationships of the sort science might offer: "To think a lot but all at once we have to think associatively, self-referentially, vividly, temporally, spatially, emotionally, analogically, particularly, generally, recursively—anything and everything that keeps our thoughts interconnected in a living whole." Any relationship between parts carries information. (In this sense, I think Big Mood is very much in a William James cognition-as-brute-association psychological lineage.)

And they are not laws that can be spoken in scientific language, or perhaps any language. They are not "ideas of reason." An aesthetic idea, he quotes Kant as stating, is "a representation of the imagination which prompts a wealth of thought to which no concept can be adequate, and which no language can name."

Peli doesn't give many examples, but one that comes to my mind is an outfit. Imagine how many words could be dedicated to "unpacking" (i.e. decompressing) the "meanings" of a preppy New England pastel-polo salmon shorts getup. There would be an "infinitely thorough panorama of... implications and affinities" to be analyzed. But when we meet such a person, we only get a feeling, a vibe. And this informs how we model and act towards the person. Under symbolic cognition, there is something subsymbolic, highly associative, highly compressive and abstract going on.

This sort of claim/aesthetic idea has a "foothold" in the scientific image, insofar as it proxies for realities in the world. But it gives us something extra science can't: subjectivity, or "lifeworld." A sense of coherence perspective that, when carried out, makes our lives feel meaningful. And perhaps we can transmit and share these lifeworlds or subjectivities through poetry.


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So, in short @linebaugh :

- "poetry is "nothing but good thinking of a special kind," an "infinitely thorough panorama of... implications and affinities"
- "the aesthetic unit or 'vibe' of an artistic work can grasp the causal-material structure of a lifeworld"
- "the dense vibe of a work of art is, we might say, a blueprint for cognizing an endemic loose vibe in the world"
- "you can learn a way of seeing by immersing yourself in the objects that this way of seeing sees best"
- "a work of literature communicates ineffable moods that express a subject's overall 'world feeling' or sense of reality... other individuals can learn [a person's] compression fo the world by trying to very exactingly compress the artefactual world she produced"
- "the vibe-coherence of [a way of life] is a kind of regulative idea: partly assumption, partly method, partly hope"


is not like other people
So I think there are two vital questions this book will attempt to answer

(A) Are feelings to be believed? What is the relationship between truth and feeling?

(B) Is there a way of knowing, and of transmitting knowledge, which poetry is capable of, which is not accessible via scientific or rational ("manifest") methods

These are linked insofar as poetry, Peli claims, is about building aesthetic coherence or unity. The question goes: Does this aesthetic coherence/unity—what we might call vibe, or mood, or feeling—tell us something about the world? Is it not just aesthetic, but also informational?
i can answer both these questions with a single word



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"Poetry as I understand it in this book is, in important part, the promise that we can have sacred mystery without the metaphysical, religious, or supernatural baggage"


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im in the same boat as everyone else. i can't read this cos of how it's unreadable. but it did occur to me that it might represent an autistic trying to understand and explain art to other autistics from the outside. in the same way you hear autistics talking about how they had to crack the code of human interaction from the outside. a painstaking procedure of observation and inference.


we murder to dissect
I am coming around to the view that Peli is right about the visual domain - autoencoders do seem to be uncannily good at extricating the whatness of images - but possibly not about poetry. I mean I'm sympathetic to the argument that poetry is what he says it is, but unpersuaded by any AI so far that its whatness can be characterised by the same means.

Benny B

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A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.


"Reality is not simply there, it has to be searched and won."


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