Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 16:28:06 -0800

Lee Daniel Crocker writes:
>Actually, it's true that I haven't got a clue what "emotion" refers
>to, and I never claimed to. I do, however, have a very clear referent
>in mind for what I call "reason", though I have been less than
>successful at communicating what that is. I don't know what emotion
>is precisely, but since I do experience a set of sensations that
>are consistent with what other people describe as emotion, I can
>identify some of those things as distinct from my referent for reason,
>which I will try to describe here briefly (in somewhat abbreviated
>form): I have a specific referent for "knowledge", and for "reality",
>and for what it means for the former to be consistent with the latter.
>I use the word "reason" to mean "those principles and methods--which
>may change over time--that lead to the acquisition of knowledge that
>is consistent with reality."

Yes, but *which* principles and methods *are* those? The definition
you offer denotes nothing specific. The fact of the matter is that
"reason" is an ill-understood product of cultural evolution: a
motley assortment of assumptions, procedures, communications
techniques, specific methods of criticism, formal systems, etc. We
all have a vague agreement about what sort of principles and methods
are reasonable and which are not, but even here our agreement is
context-dependent. There are principles and methods which are
completely reasonable in one field of inquiry and completely
unreasonable in another. For the time being, reason itself is a
tradition, with all the warts and bumps that rational people have
learned to expect in traditions. Karl Popper and William Bartley
have done an excellent job explaining what rationality is as well
as what distinguishes it from competing traditions, but for the
time being "reason" has no more of a precise referent than does
"God" or "emotion".

The point I am trying to make is that given the current state of
cognitive science, the word "reason" might very well turn out to be as
free of content as "caloric" or "phlogiston". This doesn't bother me,
but given the way you talk, it seems to me that it should bother you.
Reason is a culturally-evolved component of our total cognitive toolkit.
I happen to value it highly, and like you, I find my chief grounds for
disappointment with my fellow human beings in their reluctance to use
and develop their reason. But I don't think that making an idol of
Reason is going to solve anyone's problems. And I certainly don't think
that using this idol to verbally drub other people about the head and
shoulders is going to increase the quality of information flowing
through this list, which is *my* selfish interest in the matter.

>I will also freely admit that I have some emotional attachment to
>specific principles and methods like formal logic and experiment.
>I have not found anything better yet. I am underwhelmed by those
>alternatives--including the alternatives some have suggested here
>of combining or balancing them with others--which I have seen. I
>suspect I will never find better alternatives, but I cannot rule it
>out entirely.

Now you are making it clear that the value you place on Reason is
grounded in your own knowledge. Perhaps now it will be easier for
you to understand that the value others place on "balance" or
"feeling" is grounded in knowledge and experience of their own
that they can no more produce for you on demand than you can produce
an accurate, precise, and denotative definition of "reason".

>(1) Please provide a sample of my text where I "rant against passion."
>I've done no such thing, I merely point out that it is often used for
>purposes ill-suited to it, namely cognition. If I pointed out that a
>screwdriver drove screws better than a hammer, would you call that a
>rant against hammers? That I was some robotic screwdriver-worshipping

When I use funny *punctuation* (you tend to use the /slashes/) to
emphasize words in statements I make having to do with vague and poorly
understood abstractions such as "passion" and "cognition", because I am
making definite statements intended to modify other people's behavior, I
call that ranting. If you had been ranting about screwdrivers and
hammers instead of passion and cognition, that would not have been a
rant: that would have been a joke, a parody of a rant.

My ulterior motive in accusing you of ranting against passion was to
strike a nerve, because I've been annoyed by your repeated insistence
that words cannot hurt people. This is an attitude that I would *expect*
to find only among those who are accustomed to using physical force to
hurt people.

>(2) Yes, I am passionate about reason, and I recognize that. It works

So there is a possibility that your values are grounded in your
passions, eh?

>(3) If you search for messages from me with "Rand" in them, you will
>find them generally critical, so I'm not sure why you see me as a
>puppet to her mind, just because we happen to reach many of the same
>conclusions and share many ideas. I do admire her genius, but I am
>quite capable of also seeing her mistakes and using my own mind.

I'm glad to hear it. I too feel admiration and gratitude toward Rand.

>And yes, I recognize that that last sentence shows that I allowed
>emotional reactions ("motivation", "anticipation") to materially
>affect my reasoning process ("spend more mental energy on this").
>I recognize that fact by reason.

Well, no. You recognize that fact with your brain. Reason is just
a part of your brain, and it's difficult to tell at this stage of
things whether *all* the parts of your brain you used to recognize
that fact fall under the rubric of "reason".

(I'm also quite curious as to what you mean to refer to by the phrase
"mental energy", but this would probably be muddying the issue.)

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++