Re: RELIGION: The meaning of Life

Max More (
Thu, 13 Feb 1997 11:14:32 -0800

At 07:23 PM 2/12/97 -0600, Gregor Houston wrote:
>Max More wrote:
>> You might read Karl Popper or W.W. Bartley III on this, or a shorter
>> version: my EXTRO 1 essay "Pancritical Rationalism: An Extropic Metacontext
>> for Memetic Progress: which is on the web at:
>"Nothing gets justified...everything get criticized." [Bartley, 112]
>Pure Rationality seems to have become the ontotheological god or
>absolute of Pancritical Rationalism (PCR). This Rationality can be
>criticized, but it must be criticized with Rationality. Is this not
>circular? PCR seems to be yet another failed attempt at removing the
>authority, the authority being attenutauted very well in most areas, but
>then magnified and exalted in Rationality.

Well, criticizing rationality with irrational argument wouldn't seem to be
a productive endeavor. But there is no circularity here, only a spiral of
argumentation. Rationality can be used to criticize itself (as you are
doing here), so it's not an "absolute" nor a "god". (I find your use of
"god" here inappropriate and puzzling.) The PCR conception of rationality
is an open one. Rationality is not an absolute, but a procedure that can be
applied to itself to further refine reason.

>"By replacing justificationism with fallibilism, and by encouraging the
>practice of opening to, welcoming, and respecting criticism,
>pancritical rationalism maximizes the pursuit of truth [...]" [More]
>What is truth? It will take some effort to convice me that truth is not
>a religious concept. This is another exogenous sublimation of god. I
>don't think science can say anything about truth. You said, "nothing is
>*provable* in science, only refutable". Is truth refutable? How do we
>know that in our pursuit for truth that we have attained it or not?

Science doesn't directly talk about truth, philosophy does. Science seeks
to create and test hypotheses. Philosophy of science (or scientists *as*
philosophers) can look at what science is doing and see that it is aiming
at truth. How do we know when we have attained truth? My answer is that you
generally do not know in any absolute way that you have attained truth.
That's the point of pancritical rationalism. All propositions must remain
open to challenge. Truth is an ideal at which we aim -- *if* we care about
accuracy, honesty, and progress. I would say you can know that you have
attained truth in some cases, but only if you take *know* to mean a
contextual certainty, not an absolute certainty. In this sense I know that
I am alive and male. If you throw out enough context through Cartesian
doubt, of course I cannot be absolutely certain of this knowledge.

>see a disparancy here between your thought and that of PCR. To overcome
>authority, as PCR attempts to do, I think you might have to replace
>"truth" with something like "the next most functional", or "the next
>most useful".

This is hopeless strategy. If you throw out truth as what you seek to
approach, how can you have any standard by which to determine whether an
idea or procedure is more functional or useful than another? Is it *true*
that it's more useful? Or merely a matter of opinion?

> We cannot
>attain truth or meaning from science.

If I were to adopt your strategy, I would now say: "Doesn't that sound

How can you be so sure that we can't attain truth from science? (I didn't
say anything about meaning and do not want to muddy the waters.) If all you
mean is that, from the fact that a scientific theory has so far accurately
predicted many things, we cannot be sure that the entities it describes are
real in all respects rather than simply being close models of reality, I
can agree. For many years it seemed like the hypothetical substance
"caloric" explained heat transfer quite well. It also seemed that the
Newtonian conception of intrinsic mass fit reality. For a while, these
models apparently described reality, but they turned out to be incorrect.
They were replaced by thermodynamics and relativistic concepts.

However, from the fact that science cannot guarantee that its theories and
theoretical entities perfectly describe reality, it does not follow that
science *cannot* attain truth. It may attain it even though we may never be
totally sure that it has. More importantly, science has to aim at truth to
make progress.

>. Though rationality is certainly not inconsistent with your
>system, I am going to attempt to criticize it while showing how it could
>be augmented with other modalities of consciousness.

I have never objected to *supplementing* reason with "other modalities of
consciousness".Some of the points you make about the importance of
emotional intelligence, of imagination and so on are fine. If you think
those points are contrary to my position, you do not understand my view.
Even science (let alone the rest of life) has a place for things other than
reason: the creation of hypotheses can come from any source, whether
"divine inspiration", inebriation, a relaxing, unfocused dreamtime in a hot
tub, or whatever. BUT, reason is needed to structure and test the ideas
generated. Good science is not done while in an unclear, undirected state
of mind. The content of your hypotheses can come from non-rational and
irrational sources, but they do not constitute remotely reliable knowledge
until they have been tested according to the rigorous (though revisable)
standards of reason and science.

>"This optimism [Dynamic Optimism] is dynamic since it rejects any form
>of passive faith." [More]
>Dynamic Optimism is the same as dynamic faith.

No. Dynamic Optimism is the same as reason applied towards improving
things. It does not involve dogma, unquestionable truths. So it is not
faith, if by "faith" we mean (as I use it) "fixed belief in something in
the absence or contrary to the evidence."

>"Contrary to faith, dynamic optimism recommends experimentation to
>uncover the truth" [More]
>How would esoteric religion have ever developed without embracing

To the extent that it embraces experimentation it is not *faith*. The
esoteric religions have more elements of critical experimentation and
bodily and psychological technology than the exoteric religions, or strands
of religion.

>Truth is of little importance. [...] Truth won't help me overcome my
>needs and attain my desires. I have no desire to attain truth.

In my experience, I cannot have a productive conversation with most people
who say things like this. Those who reject truth as a goal and who want to
limit reason generally see discussion as the clash of perspectives with no
way of reconciling differences. However, I'm not sure that's the case this

>> No, religion is definitely not the foundation of science, and faith has no
>> role in science.
>That doesn't sound like a statement that can be criticized. Very
>dogmatic, but I believe I have done so above.

This is unfair, Gregory. It would be dogmatic if I offered it on its own
and unwilling to give a reasonable argument for it. However, I explained
what I meant by that and referred you to extensive arguments for my view.
Also, you say that the statement sounds like it can't be criticized but
then admit that you just did exactly that. You can't have it both ways!

>I am not suggesting a return to primitive
>concepts and modalities of consciousness, but rather a recursive and
>transcending re-assimilation of them. We have greatly refined
>rationalization, but its not enough. Just like an AI cannot understand
>analogies, if we were merely rational neither would we. We are able to
>understand obscure and poetic analogies because our memory makes
>irrational associations based on feelings, emotions, and patterns of
>sensation, as well as rational associations.

Again, I'm not sure how much I disagree with you or agree with you. I have
no objection to other modes of thought other than the rational (which is
hard to exactly define and delimit anyway). What I do hold is that reason
is the arbiter of ideas generated by other processes. I do* think emotions
contain valuable information, imagination has enormous value, association
and connotation play important roles in our thinking. However, all these
processes are highly fallible and reason is needed to try to sort out what
yields truth (or useful information) and what doesn't. So, for instance, I
prefer Nathaniel Branden's views on the cognitive role of emotions to those
of Rand who declared that "emotions are not tools of cognition." Although
emotions should not serve as primary tools of cognition, I think Branden is
correct that we can learn from listening to our feelings things that we
might not discover by analytical thinking alone. But we still need to
rationally consider, check, and integrate the information gained from our

I will try not to get drawn back into this discussion, since I'm supposed
to be working on my book. But it is an important issue to me, so perhaps I
won't be able to resist!



Max More, Ph.D.
President, Extropy Institute, Editor, Extropy,
(310) 398-0375