spirituality again (was: Re: Lind echoes Burch's Extro 5 address)

From: Damien Broderick (d.broderick@english.unimelb.edu.au)
Date: Tue Nov 20 2001 - 00:20:53 MST

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

>> What can you do with your supra-rationality that I can't do with my plain
>> old rationality?

At 10:34 PM 11/19/01 -0800, samantha wrote:

>I doubt that you could
>totally explain and support all of your normative structures
>using rationality alone.

This strikes me as a bad and deep misunderstanding of what rationality is.
Of *course* a rational darwinian explanation can totally account for
*anything* that's evolved. Does it thereby `support' it? In what sense
`support'? Does a rational account `support' the somewhat arbitrary colors
of one's inner organs? Not in the sense that we could predict the
equivalent hues inside an alien, but well, sure, sort of, except that word
is being forced to apply outside its environment of evolutionary
adaptedness. :)

>It is not uncommon here for people to make really strong
>assertions that rationality/science/reason is completely and
>totally sufficient for any and all needs of human and higher
>beings now and forever.

I have the feeling that `spirituality'--as samantha is here deploying the
word--primarily denotes and connotes certain states of consciousness and
volition somewhat orthogonal to the frame of mind one enters when counting
the number of cows in the paddock, making sure not to get gored or to step
in cow shit, jotting down the numbers on a piece of paper, muttering
through some add-ups to see how many will need to be sold at market and how
much the feed will cost and what the weather looks like right now... by
which, I hope it's obvious, I mean to convey an image of *practical
reasoning*, functioning in the world.

Is doing higher-dimensional mathematics or writing a novel like this? To
some extent, although in those jobs one does tend to leave a fair bit of
the work to sub-processes or modules that are usually inaccessible to
scrutiny, the operation of which can occur with a sense of effort (or, if
you're lucky, bliss) but yields up its results as a flash of
`illumination', even a continuous stream of them.

At this point I think we have reached functions that folk psychology might
dub `spiritual', because it long ago mistakenly theorized that such states
were a kind of `communication with the ineffable', or even with a `god'. If
all this, however crudely put, is so, then obviously anyone of any subtlety
will be well acquainted with the spiritual--but the more earth-bound and
`practical' and `no bullshit' one is forced to be, the less access one can
have to those processes. One might end up as Babbitt.

Spirituality without spirits, that's the way to go; consequently, as Emlyn
notes, it'd be useful to have a new or at least less
metaphysically-encrusted term than `spirituality'.

Damien Broderick

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