Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 19:59:21 -0800

Lee Daniel Crocker writes:
>It has no /specific/ referent, as it is defined above, in terms
>of knowledge and reality, but it is testable, and therefore real.

The original topic of discussion was reason vis a vis emotion. Are
you now contending that emotion is unreal? I think your original
contention was that reason has a valid principal role to play in
cognition, and that emotion has no role to play in cognition. Of
course, you are replying to my questioning of the idea that Reason
refers to anything other than a tradition, an evolved information
structure loose and messy and large, but if you want to take the
tack you are taking above, then you need to balance your argument
for the reality of reason with another argument for the unreality
of emotion.

>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.

"Consistency" has a clear and precise meaning in the study of formal
systems, and you are banking on that meaning. But "consistency", as a
relation between "knowledge" and "conscious experience of reality" is a
radically unclear notion. This is not a definition of a poorly
understood notion in simpler and better understood terms; this is just a
postponement. Both "knowledge" and "conscious experience of reality"
refer to information processes within human brains that we have barely
begun to grasp. (Emotions are another example of information processes
within human brains that we have barely begun to grasp.)

>In judging methods,
>consistency is required, completeness not. I.e., any method that
>produces false knowledge even once is out,

Science produces such "false knowledge" all the time... and then moves
on and corrects it. (Once again, my harping on the luminiferous ether.)
Is science then not to be understood as an instance of reason?

>> 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?

No, they are not. But you don't seem to realize that encouraging people
to operate within the tradition of Reason is a very different thing
from encouraging them to use a screwdriver instead of a hammer. Our
concepts are informed by varying degrees of careful study of reality;
"oxidation" is better informed in this way than "phlogiston" is. My
contention is that "reason" is a traditional concept that has evolved
through the use of words, and not a concept that has itself emerged from
the careful and direct study of reality. We are only recently embarking
on the kind of empirical study of brains and neurocomputational
processes that *might* yield a scientific concept that would warrant the
precision and semantic force that you are asking of "reason".

>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?

I am not quite sure what you might mean by "enlightening". What I had in
mind was precision, accuracy, clarity of expression, and relevance to my
selfish concerns (which, we have found through trial and error, seem to
have some overlap with the selfish concerns of the other list
subscribers). Perhaps if you would harp on these terms (rather than
harping on Reason), you would get more of the kind of effect you are
seeking to produce.

>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.

Pfah! There are a host of other possibilities. The chiefest one of which
that leaps to my mind is that you might be correct in your belief and
incorrect in your misunderstanding of the idea that the other person has
attempted to describe. What you are overlooking is that communication is
difficult, accurate transfer of valuable information from one human mind
to another is *difficult*, and your devil-may-care attitude toward human
emotions does less than nothing to enhance the process.

>> 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.

This doesn't blow my "theory", since it contained no assertions about you.
Besides, I deliberately expressed it as a mere expectation and not a
theory, so that you wouldn't think I was trying to take a cheap shot at
you. But apparently you thought so anyway. I wonder why?

>I suppose that might be one reason why I like to move combat to the realm
>of ideas instead.

Yes, yes, I love a good fight myself. That's why I'm giving you one. But
you should be able to distinguish between someone who is seeking an
aggressive argument and someone who is seeking a cooperative discussion.
Both can be carried on as positive-sum-games, but why limit yourself
only to exchanging information with people who like aggressive argument?

>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.

I guess what I'm fighting for is the idea of context-sensitivity in
these things. I am not interested in debating the morality of these
topics right now: morality is an immense field of study in its own
right. What I am wondering is how you could possibly believe that it is
in your or anyone else's interest for you to close off the mind you are
addressing by provoking negative emotional reactions in em? In
aggressive argument, we (or at least I) use such negative emotional
reactions as spurs, as sources of "mental energy", but not everyone's
mind works this way. What leaves me befuddled is that you seem to be
taking the position that you can somehow benefit from hurting the
feelings of people you are trying to talk to in a way that makes them
less receptive to your message. Why even bother? How "rational" is that
kind of behavior? I wouldn't call this kind of speech "immoral" so much
as "self-defeating". I'll let you draw your own conclusions about the
morality of self-stultifying actions.

>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.

Intentions? Who cares about intentions? Kantians, perhaps. If the speech
is true, and defeats the very purpose for which it was uttered... well,
as I said, draw your own conclusions.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++