Popper's 'Scientific' Irrationalism

Crosby_M (CrosbyM@po1.cpi.bls.gov)
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 10:58:44 -0500

On Sunday, March 16, 1997 5:55 AM, Reilly Jones wrote:
<Radical skepticism is indistinguishable from nihilism.
[SNIP - Kimball/Stove: "a form of irrationalism whose philosophical
roots go back to Hume."]
I can't begin to count how many posts have been devoted to quibbling
over 'certainty' on this list. I hope certain individuals are taking
this critique to heart ;) >

Well, I can 'count' and I last recall *this* specific topic
(certainty) coming up at the end of last Sep when Reilly had just
finished citing a review of Windshuttle in the Sep96 _The New
Criterion_ in another effort to extricate *us* from the "swamp of
post-modern literary theory" and lead us across "the desert of Michael
Focault's 'anti-humanism'". (Hmmm, folks were just discussing Focault
here last week...)

At that time I wrote:
<certainty is a subjective feeling, not an objective truth. I'm also
certain that we can never be completely certain about most *things*,
as opposed to *feelings*.... I agree that the most important thing is,
as you [Jeff Dee] say, to be always questioning, trying to reduce

Some time after that I first read Jean Baudrillard's "Radical Thought"
essay, the essence of which is the "radical skepticism", the "smug
nihilism" that Reilly notes. Yet, I was also struck by how easily an
extropic *approach* could be extracted, if one ignored the smugness
and pessimism, the disdain for truth, the desire for the Void, for
what I like to call "Jim Legg's free-for-all soup". Baudrillard says:
<The requirement of this thought ['radical thought'] is double and
contradictory. It does not consist in analyzing the
world to extract from it an improbable truth. It does not adapt itself
dialectically to the facts and abstract from them some logical
construction. It is much more subtle than that, and more perverse as
well. This thought consists in putting into place a form, a matrix of
illusion and disillusion, a strange attracting force, so that a
seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it.>

Don't misinterpret me: Baudrillard seeks dissolution because he thinks
this is an awful world, while I, as an Extropian, would seek coherence
- drawing out the truth and beauty from amidst the overwhelming noise
and decay. But, is this not also a seduction of reality?

Then, Reilly says induction and deduction "don't mix well". My point
is this: I, too, tend to favor empirical approaches and reliance on
the coherence of our perceptual capabilities for establishing
objective truth; but, to make the "extropic transformation", well, as
Reilly puts it in his "A History of Extropic Thought" essay:
<Our conceptual capabilities go far beyond our perceptual
capabilities. They do not merely categorize our immediate sensory
stimulation, they categorize very general and abstract relations
transcending temporality.... Our maps are always incomplete, but there
is no limit to creative interpretations on them.>

I see these "creative interpretations" as deductions - I want it to be
so, even though it is not yet so (or my interpretation is incomplete),
so I will do my best to make it so! (Conclusions following from
premises / results following from desires, rather than inductions /
reasoning from current particulars to say that this is the way it must
be.) If the particulars 'suck', and for many they do, then the
seductive deduction is to reach beyond, to climb out of the asymptotes
one finds oneself in, striving toward the top of the curve...

Reilly cites Kimball/Stove saying:
<Popper stood this all on its head. In his philosophy of science, we
find the curious thought that falsifiability, not verifiability, is
the distinguishing mark of scientific theories ...>

Now, I have not read Popper. About all I knew about Popper prior to
this was his notions of Worlds 1-3. Until now I had associated these
with Reilly's more elegant notions of ordered, chaotic and liquid
realms. (Gee, now I'm so uncertain (-;)

I too prefer truth / verity rather doubt, problems and refutations;
but, as Reilly has said in his "Extropic Thought" essay, "dualism is
philosophy's perennial cop-out". And, a few paragraphs later in that
same essay Reilly says: "Concepts are pruned to our desire for truth
through methods of falsifiability or verifiability." I notice he says
"or", not "and".

*But, BOTH are useful tools in the proper context: I would emphasize
what has been verified when setting forth known history, or truth,
from the past, but I would defer to what can be falsified when
speculating about new possibilities for the future.*

Kimball/Stove spites the "irrationalism whose philosophical roots go
back to Hume." Yet, in Reilly's Extropic Thought essay he notes "David
Hume ... echoes the Taoist saying of 'the farther you go the less you
know.'" Reilly contends that the farther we go, the *more* we know.
While this is true, it is also true that the more we know, the more we
realize how much more there is still to be learned. Acknowledging this
does not mean one has sunk into irrationalism! Consider Reilly's
ending quote from Miguel de Unamuno on his "Nozick's 'Non Coercive'
Autism" post:
<"The will, the will not ever to die, the refusal to resign oneself to
death, ceaselessly builds the house of life while the keen blasts and
icy winds of reason unceasingly batter at the structure and beat it

Am I to conclude from this that reason is inimicable to life? I think
not - that would be a dualistic copout. Rather, BOTH will AND reason,
empirical induction and conceptual deduction, will compete to make the
extropic transformation. Which we *emphasize* does not depend on
truth, but on perspective or, dare I say it, utility.

Also from Reilly's "A History of Extropic Thought" essay:
<We acquire knowledge by directing our internal searchlight at the
metaphysical unknown in search of something we can call a problem to
work on. As our searchlight sweeps the metaphysical night sky, we map
what reveals itself in the beam and interpret the map according to our
utility of the moment.>

Is this not similar to the functionalism (or was it utilitarianism)
that you were criticizing Gregory Houston for a month ago? Is this
"inventing purposes" or "pursuing truth", and how can you so certainly
draw this fine line for someone other than yourself?

Mark Crosby