RE: PHIL: Dynamic Optimism as a tool in logical reasoning

From: Frank Prengel (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 12:21:59 MST

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Menno Rubingh
> Hi Frank !,
> nice to meet you again, by the way !

It's my pleasure :)
(And I'm still grateful for that copy of ch. 7 of
"Consciousness Explained" that you gave me in Weesp :)

> On Thu, 13 Jan 2000, Frank Prengel wrote:
> > 1. It is well known (I think :) that in many
> circumstances
> > *pessimism* is a better tool for success
> I disagree, I maintain that (rational) optimism
> (which is different from
> naivete') is *always* a better tool for success.

Well, that raises the question how much of what's usually
called "pessimism" can be understood as "rational optimism"

> Disprove it.

There are psychological studies (can't cite any, read this
some time ago in a news magazine) showing that pessimistic
people perform better than those who call themselves
optimists in some tasks (among them being certain branches
of science). But you could of course call those optimists
"naive optimists". Nevertheless, I think there is a strong
link between criticism and pessimism. It would be fine to
develop a kind of optimism that is equally critical, without
the downsides of pessimism.

> I agree that criticizing hypotheses *is* highly
> necessary in science (as well
> as in other areas of life, I think), but that
> doesn't say that for example
> criticizing hypotheses is the *most important*
> goal or thing.

It's one side of the medal. The other side is creating sound
hypotheses - *that* certainly needs optimism.

> > (That's what science is
> > about: make hypotheses and try to disprove them.)
> No, I think that the goal which people try to
> achieve in science through this
> process (of making hypotheses and trying to
> disprove them) is not to falsify
> or disprove hypotheses, but a more positive goal,
> namely: to find new useful
> hypotheses that work !

See above. Some might be more inclined to making hypotheses,
others may prefer criticizing and disproving them.

> > 2.
> > Actually, I feel that LIVING D.O. is more
> advanced than just
> > THINKING optimistically. You can do the latter
> and still
> > fail to put it into practice, but hardly vice versa.
> Whatever. It is just an arbitrary epithet
> labelling either thinking or living
> as ''higher''. I'm not sanguine about which of
> the two (living or thinking)
> should be labelled as ''higher'' than the other.

What I'm trying to say is that I see optimistic *thinking*
as a prerequisite for an optimistic *life*. Methinks the
opposite doesn't have to be true. But you're probably right,
we shouldn't argue about this.

> optimistically''. *Some* people who hardly ever
> seem to think in their lives
> (and who never heard of philosophy) do, I think,
> exhibit a marvellously D.O.
> kind of living -- they just go do things without
> thinking too much about
> possible bad outcomes. That kind of D.O. living
> / D.O. action is possible
> without thinking deeply.

But that's what I would label "naive optimism". D.O.
certainly involves (rational) thinking and decision-making.

> > Point (2) should be: "Do not believe anything
> that has been falsified."
> I think that's an unnecessarily pessimistic view
> :-)<grin>:-). I think that a
> ''proof'' *can* be constructive. I mean, I think
> that a proof can
> legitimately consist of showing that something
> *can* be done -- instead of
> always showing only that something is
> 'falsified'. I even think that it is
> not very well possible to advance into new areas
> without this kind of positive proof.

Here we have to distinguish between science and technology.

Science generally makes statements which use "all"
quantifiers: a law must hold for *all* the objects it is
supposed to describe. Since there usually is a (practically)
infinite number of them (all atoms, all wavefunctions...),
you can never prove that the law is correct - that would
imply showing that it holds for every single object. What
you can do is disprove it - it is sufficient to find *one*
case where it does not hold.

Technology, on the other hand, is about showing that
is possible, it uses "existential" quantifiers. You can
never disprove a technology since you can't show that it is
impossible to realize forever, everywhere. You can, however,
"prove" it by producing one working sample.

So, to conclude, it seems to me that optimism is well suited
for technologists, but not necessarily for scientists. :)

> Only *dis*proving things (finding out how a
> theory could be false)
> does, I think, not generate enough ''trust'' in a
> theory to go build on
> top of it or advance from it (using the theory as
> a secure base) in other ways.

No, you can rely on it (use it as a working hypothesis) as
long as it has not been disproven. You won't get a more
secure base.

> I think we *need* this kind of
> ''justificationalism'', that we cannot do
> without it.

That is because we grew up with it, we are familiar with it.
Bartley describes this as one possible metacontext and lists
two others:
- the metacontext of nonattachment (example: Zen)
- the metacontext of fallibilism (or pancritical

The first two are supported by religions (in the West and
East, resp.), while PCR is incompatible with religion and
therefore is fairly new. And it fits Extropianism perfectly.

> In what way do *you* get to new positive theories
> with using as your tools
> only disproving things; and *without* ever using
> positive, supportive proof ?

I didn't say that criticism is my *only* tool. But I
certainly don't try to look for proofs that can't be given.


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