Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Eric Watt Forste (
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 17:17:39 -0800

Lee Daniel Crocker writes:
>So in that sense, it is clear that "emotions"--which we will
>have to identify ostensively for now lacking more precise
>definition--"have a role to play" in cognition, to the extent
>that they affect it. I am also well aware that the esthetic
>value of ideas can guide one into which areas to research.

And of course "reason" can only be identified in the same manner:
ostensively. When the nature of reason is pinned down precisely (as
Bartley has done to some degree), its fundamentally communicative,
social, and critical nature becomes apparent. Reason is founded in the
very processes of communication that your attitudes undermine.

>All I am trying to say is that there must be a final arbiter
>of what to call "knowledge", and that however emotion may have
>helped or hindered the process of getting there, somebody has
>to be the last guard at the gate.

This is exactly wrong. First of all, you're duplicating the arguments
of the old Continental Rationalists, against whom the British
empiricists argued that the senses are the final arbiter of what
to call knowledge. Frankly, I'm more sympathetic to the empiricists
on this issue than to the rationalists, but I think they're both
wrong. There is no single final arbiter. Knowledge is produced by
the cooperation of a broad variety of distinct cognitive and sensory
skills, and the subset of these skills which may fall under your
rubric of "reason" is only one of the players in the knowledge
production process.

>Right now, I have given
>those keys to a guy called "reason", because he has served me
>well. The vast torrent of concepts and percepts may compete
>among themselves by any means available, but whatever winners
>come to the gate of knowledge, only one test lets them in.

Now you're recycling the tired old dualistic homunculus theory of
consciousness, except as a theory of epistemology rather than of
consciousness. If I hadn't already dragged out the word "idol" I
would do so at this point. This is not "reason", this is superstition!
Reason is a vast and glorious school, a tradition, a broad social
phenomenon, not some robot in your head.

>I cannot disagree, but until that understanding comes, I'm stuck
>with what I have. If someone finds a more precise definition of
>knowledge or better methods judging reality, his burden is simple:
>show me.

What I have to show is all inside your head. I can't make you look
at it. If you want to go through life as a cognitive cripple with
half your brain chopped out because you will only listen to the
part of your brain that you have packaged up and labeled "reason",
that's not my loss. You have a whole brain, and you know very well
that there are large chunks of it which do not correspond to what
you call "reason" but which have had survival value for your
ancestors (or they wouldn't be there). I would not be so cavalier
about ignoring them as you seem to be.

>Science never produces false knowledge, because it never produces /any/
>knowledge. Scientists are generally skeptics, afraid to commit to
>anything. Scientists say things like "Our current best understanding,
>based on these data, is..." What I have called "knowledge" in the
>foregoing discussion is what a scientist calls "data", but not quite.
>The conclusions drawn from that are useful, justifiable, guesses that
>can be used to accomplish things, but I'm not sure I would elevate
>them quite to the level of "knowledge". Perhaps we need more words
>for these fine distinctions.

Well, now you're really at sea. Data are produced by the senses,
not by reason... otherwise Aristotle's theory of what we now call
gravitation would be true today. We don't need more words for these
fine distinctions, we need more empirical neuropsychology research.

And as for your claim that science does not produce knowledge, that
is a rhetorical flourish that showed up for the wrong argument.
I am not representing the logical positivist position here. If we
aren't discussing scientific knowledge, what precisely are we
discussing? Theological knowledge? Your knowledge of your underwear
size? Bill Clinton's knowledge of economics?

>Like I said, when you find something better, show me. I do not deny
>that it might exist, I only state what I have seen to be the best so far,
>and since 90% of the population hasn't even accepted that yet, and there
>is still much to be accomplished with it, I find it more profitable to
>invest my time in reason as I know it than in speculation about something
>better, until I find some limitation of it to inspire the search.

Okay, so now you've backed down to the classic relativist position:
"it works for me". In that case, why are you going around verbally
attacking people for using more than *just* their reason? It works
for them, right? This much should be obvious.

>If an honest expression causes someone to "close off" his mind, then
>that fact in itself is dangerous and needs to be dealt with.

This is sheer sanctimony, Lee. Perhaps you might better tend to
"dealing with" your own mind, rather than "dealing with" the minds of
others. Dangerous? What is dangerous about someone choosing not to
listen to a boorish, rude, sanctimonious, disrespectful lout? I'm
sorry, but I can't see any danger in this. Actually, I think this is
quite healthy, especially if the lout in question is working for the

>I suspect
>the opposite: I suspect that a shocking fact or opinion actually draws
>attention to itself and increases the chance of the listener really
>thinking about it. Maybe I'll call it the Geraldo effect :)

My chiefest charge was that your insulting mode of giving orders to
other people about how to organize the contents of their own minds is not
going to change any minds. Your manner of speaking is self-defeating and
self-stultifying: it prevents the communication of the information you
are trying to communicate, and no amount of wishful daydreaming on your
part about how people ought to work harder to emulate Spock is going to
make your style of argumentation any more effective. I'm personally
annoyed with this (and you're getting the brunt of it, because you've
obviously been spoiling for a fight with someone) because whenever I let
people know that I'm a libertarian, I usually have to deal with the
reaction "Oh, you mean you're one of those sanctimonious know-it-all
aggressively rude Randroids?" And it is people who have been using the
style of argumentation that you recommend which create this reaction for
me. And people using the style of argumentation that you recommend have
done far more harm than good for the political causes that you and I
both support. Hence my anger.

If you ever want to change your ways and start actually producing the
changes you want to see in the world instead of shooting yourself in the
foot and arming the world against you, the Advocates for Self-Government
have some pamphlets you might want to look at.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++