Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 13:47:56 -0800 (PST)

> 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.

"Emotion is unreal"? That's just so completely contradictory
to what I said that I can only say "read me again."

As for emotional response having no role to play in cognition,
I probably did leave that impression, but there are clearly
counterexamples that I must face. For example, there are
data to show that stress improves memory. The same chemical
reactions that produce stress response also trigger the brain
to say "hey, this is important, remember this". It can be
simulated with drugs: a shot of adrenaline while viewing a
scene aids in remembering it; beta blockers make it harder.

So in that sense, it is clear that "emotions"--which we will
have to identify ostensively for now lacking more precise
definition--"have a role to play" in cognition, to the extent
that they affect it. I am also well aware that the esthetic
value of ideas can guide one into which areas to research.

All I am trying to say is that there must be a final arbiter
of what to call "knowledge", and that however emotion may have
helped or hindered the process of getting there, somebody has
to be the last guard at the gate. Right now, I have given
those keys to a guy called "reason", because he has served me
well. The vast torrent of concepts and percepts may compete
among themselves by any means available, but whatever winners
come to the gate of knowledge, only one test lets them in.

> "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.)

I cannot disagree, but until that understanding comes, I'm stuck
with what I have. If someone finds a more precise definition of
knowledge or better methods judging reality, his burden is simple:
show me. Demonstrate to my senses that your understanding can
accomplish more than mine. Invent some things. Walk on water.
Cure cancer. Don't just yell at me "You don't understand!", and
walk away, because I'll ignore you and get on with my work to the
best of my current ability.

> >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?

Science never produces false knowledge, because it never produces /any/
knowledge. Scientists are generally skeptics, afraid to commit to
anything. Scientists say things like "Our current best understanding,
based on these data, is..." What I have called "knowledge" in the
foregoing discussion is what a scientist calls "data", but not quite.
The conclusions drawn from that are useful, justifiable, guesses that
can be used to accomplish things, but I'm not sure I would elevate
them quite to the level of "knowledge". Perhaps we need more words
for these fine distinctions.

> 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".

Like I said, when you find something better, show me. I do not deny
that it might exist, I only state what I have seen to be the best so far,
and since 90% of the population hasn't even accepted that yet, and there
is still much to be accomplished with it, I find it more profitable to
invest my time in reason as I know it than in speculation about something
better, until I find some limitation of it to inspire the search.

>>> 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?

All I meant was, "Interesting speculation, here's a counterexample.",
nothing more. Why would you think I saw it as a "cheap shot"? I saw
it as a speculation, just as you intended. Look closely at that
sentence "This is an attitude...". It is short and to the point, has
no extraneous adjectives, no connotation-loaded nouns, and is clearly
worded as a guess. It is not possible for me to interpret that as a
cheap shot if I undestand English correctly, yet you expected me to
take it that way, and even thought I did when I didn't (I admit that
my reply was not so carefully worded and might be misinterpreted, but
it certainly didn't say that I took it that way).

That is a fascinating example of miscommunication, though, isn't it?
Thank you for arranging that, however unintentionally. I'm not sure
what relevance it has to our discussion, but it is enlightening. Maybe
I'll start spending more time learning Lojban, or write a book on it.

> 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?

That's an interesting idea. I'll have to think about that.

> 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?

If an honest expression causes someone to "close off" his mind, then
that fact in itself is dangerous and needs to be dealt with. I suspect
the opposite: I suspect that a shocking fact or opinion actually draws
attention to itself and increases the chance of the listener really
thinking about it. Maybe I'll call it the Geraldo effect :)