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

From: Menno Rubingh (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 16:02:19 MST

On Fri, 14 Jan 2000, Frank Prengel -- to whom cordial greetings ! -- wrote:

> There are psychological studies [...] showing that pessimistic
> people perform better than those who call themselves
> optimists in some tasks (among them being certain branches
> of science). [...] I think there is a strong
> link between criticism and pessimism.

I agree that pessimism is probably a better tool to achieve *some* tasks such
as citicizing (where 'criticizing' is used in the meaning of 'uncovering the
downsides of things'). Immediately, I conjecture that these tasks in which
pessimists are more successful are exactly those tasks that diminish the
health and growth rate of the individual executing these tasks -- i.e., that
these tasks are self-debilitating. I claim that those activities for which
pessimism is a better tool are also always precisely those activities that do
not lead to success (= improvement of strength, health etc.) for the person
carrying out the activity.

Criticizing is only done by a (rational) optimist when the criticism opens up
more positive vistas than it closes down.

> It would be fine to develop a kind of optimism that is equally critical,
> without the downsides of pessimism.

Well, try out Max More's ''Dynamic Optimism''. Wouldn't that be just what we
seek ?

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

Hmm, this implies a symbiosis between (I) optimists creating hypotheses; and
(II) pessimists breaking the hypotheses down. But, in this symbiosis, the
party II will be compelled (by evolutionary/free-market forces) not to waste
time on uselessly large amounts or uselessly 'black' kinds of criticism. A
worker in party II who through his criticism can immediately indicate ways for
how to improve the thing criticized, will have a selection advantage.

Also, the party I in this symbiosis needs party II less than vice versa.
Party I can get along by substituting for party II the action of just going
out and trying out their hypotheses in practice. In contrast, party II can
not do without party I -- a society consisting only of party II will never
create anything new.

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

Look at science as a technology producing scientific theories as its
technological products. It's only necessary to construct *one* working sample
(version) of a theory -- out of a whole universe of possible theories --, and
it only has to be a theory that works *approximately* in most cases (i.e.,
that yields acceptable predictions), and/or that is only slightly better than
older the version of a theory in the same field, and it only has to be a
theory applicable in one small field. Also, the theory doesn't have to
pretend to be unimprovable, or to be 'final' any other way. Just discover an
ugly add-on to an existing theory that makes the theory fit more snugly to
some new measurements, call your add-on the ''X''-effect (substitute your own
name for X), and ready ! you've constructed another new and very useful piece
of science. Then go construct a theory generalizing two of these ugly 'ad
hoc' theories (which is an activity that doesn't require any new evidence) --
and again you've done it, again you've produced a new bit of science.

> Bartley describes this as one possible metacontext and lists
> two others: [...]

Okay, you convinced me to really go read Bartley ! But I propose yet
another metacontext, and one in which both Pancritical Rationalism and my
'D.O. logic' survive: namely, the context formed by chucking out all
moralism and by equating 'good' and 'true' with 'egoistically useful'.
That is, the only 'good' is that which supports life. Life is equated
with 'good'. Anything that survives and/or thrives is thereby 'good' -- the
very fact that it continues to survive is taken as the reason for
labelling it with the judgment 'good'. Anything that does not survive is
always automatically 'wrong' and 'bad' by the very fact of non-survival. A
theory that leads to non-survival or non-growth is 'bad' and 'false' by the
very fact that it doesn't lead to growth or survival. In this
metacontext, one looks for new scientific theories not in order to
improve the world, but in order to find more tools which help you to
egoistically survive and grow more effectively.

Arrivederci !, Menno (

> (And I'm still grateful for that copy of ch. 7 of
> "Consciousness Explained" that you gave me in Weesp :)
Very welcome !  That book is quite successful in using a portion of my 
resources as its replicator mechanism. :-) 

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