Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 18:35:50 -0800 (PST)

> 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".

It has no /specific/ referent, as it is defined above, in terms
of knowledge and reality, but it is testable, and therefore real.
If a specific method under question produces knowledge inconsistent
with our conscious experience of reality, to the limits of our
ability to measure it, then it isn't reason. In judging methods,
consistency is required, completeness not. I.e., any method that
produces false knowledge even once is out, but a method capable
of producing knowledge that fails to explain everything is still
open to debate.

> 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".

Are those words truly free of content? In the context in which they
were created, they referred to observable phenomena. They happened to
lead to wrong conclusions about those phenomena, so we abandoned them,
but they were meaningful, if wrong. I think what you may be trying to
say is that there is no reason to suspect that my ostensive experience
of "knowledge" and "reality" are in fact "Truth" in some metaphysical,
final, perfect sense. I agree. I do not have any faith that the things
I call knowledge and reality are anything but my experience of them, but
nor am I explicitly skeptical that they are not. But they /are/ all I
have to work with. I am not God. Or maybe I am. But I experience that
I know things, and I experience that there are things to know, and I
find no reason to deny those experiences, or to act in a way that is
inconsistent with them.

> 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.

That begs the question of how you evaluate the "quality" of the
information, doesn't it? Do you want it to be more entertaining, or
more voluminous, or more enlightening?

> 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".

In one sense, I agree: I have no way to experience what you experience
directly, so I cannot prove that you don't have knowledge of Truth
that I don't have. So when someone describes an idea that, to me,
contradicts my experience, I have three choices. (1) there is no shared
reality, (2) I am mistaken, (3) he is mistaken. So far, I have found
no reason to suspect (1) yet (when I throw a ball, someone else catches
a ball, so shared reality works), and I have found no other method to
distinguish between (2) and (3) that works better than the methods I
currently employ, and which seem to piss a lot of people off when I
conclude (3). Well, that's life.

> 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.

Interesting. Hate to blow your theory, but I've never thrown a punch
in my life, never owned a gun, and am utterly repulsed by violence. I
suppose that might be one reason why I like to move combat to the realm
of ideas instead. And to clarify what I thought I calrified earlier,
I admitted that "words hurt people" is objectively true. What I fought
is the idea of restraint for its own sake; the idea that a listener's
emotional reaction to speech should, in itself, make that speech immoral.
If the speech is false, and intended /only/ to evoke the reaction, then
perhaps it is immoral. But if the speech is true, and intended to help
the speaker find more knowledge or gain some other value, then the fact
of the listener's reactions should not in itself be cause for restraint.
In fact I think it is cause to improve the listener's cognitive apparatus
with the addition of some tolerance.

> (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.)

Sorry, that was a needless rhetorical flourish. I meant nothing more
than time spent thinking.