Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Arguably it's profoundly irrational for me to be posting shit on the internet when I should be asleep. But be that as it may...

Zhao's whole argument in the 'mystery' thread seems to hinge on the idea that there are two fundamentally different worldviews; two different ways of seeing things, of interacting with the world, of considering the subjective experience against objective phenomena. Now while Zhao has made it very clear that he values both kinds of worldview, as he sees them, and would like to see them somehow reconciled or synthesised into some new transcendental worldview with the best of both worlds, I think there's a fundamental cognitive mismatch going on here.

Namely, the idea that 'superstitious' or 'traditional' or 'spiritual' beliefs are somehow irrational. When you live in a pre-technological society (and I'm aware that this is an imperfect term, because all societies have technology, but it has to be better than the troublesome 'indigenous' or the essentially meaningless 'traditional') it is profoundly rational to attribute to spirits or unseen forces the ebb and flow of the seasons, weather and other natural phenomena, illness and other catastrophic events like plagues of locusts, (were)tigers and so on. Because everything happens for a reason, right? And if the reason for something happening cannot be seen, then it happens for an unseen reason, by definition.

From the point of view of someone raised in a technological society in which natural phenomena are for the most part accounted for by science (crop circles can just fuck off, OK? I mean proper old school weird crop circles, not some undergraduate dickheads high on X-Files and scrumpy and psytrance), it can seem 'irrational' to view the world in terms of weretigers. But that's just begging the question, because no-one here has any idea what it's like to live in (and make sense of) a weretigerish world on a full-time basis. I think it would be ridiculous to assume that people who live in that world all the time, because that's the world they know, have gone out of their way to think of things as irrationally, mysteriously (etc.) as possible - no-one does that, because from a survival point of view it's a total dead end. A belief that the world is amenable to understanding - which is to say, rational understanding - underpins all belief systems in their infancy, before they calcify into structures of tradition, ritual, social heirarchy and so on. So while it would be wholly rational to a villager in the Sumatran jungle to view the world in terms of weretigers, and for someone designing novel semiconductors to view the world in terms of quantum mechanics, it would be utterly irrational to try and explain weretigers in terms of quantum mechanics or quantum mechanics in terms of weretigers. At the same time, it would be irrational to try and explain semiconductors in terms of Newtonian mechanics, or weretigers in terms of Biblical creationism, and so on and so on.

So as Nomad has pointed out several times in the other thread, it's not that pre-technological or 'primitive' people (or however you want to put it) have privileged accesss to some inherently intuitive or irrational or pre-rational sixth sense. They're using the same rational faculties as anyone else, to make sense of the world - that's what humans do. As well as any every other species, as far as I can see. Elephants venerate their dead for the same reason we hold funeral ceremonies: it makes sense. Roger Penrose makes a great point that although it's seemingly by-the-by that humans have the ability to understand advanced mathematics, if they so choose to apply themselves, there must be some archaic complex of genes that encode for a brain with the capacity to understand, and that somehow the same circuits that enable the evasion of predators and the capture of prey animals and the cohesion of a basic social group somehow happen to suitable for grappling with integral calculus. It would be trite to assume that this is a coincidence, I think. So you have Stonehenge and Avebury and the Egyptian pyramids and the Mexican pyramids as the pre-modern Greenwich Observatories and Jodrell Bankses and Hubbles and VLAs; likewise alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry and haruspicy (the pre-science of prescience based on the shape of entrails) as the forerunner of anatomy. Newton was an alchemist as much as, if not more than, a physicist and mathematician not because he felt like being rational some days and irrational on others, but because he saw it all as aspects of natural philosophy: the pursuit of understanding the (physical, senisble) world by rational means. It's just that mechanics and optics have stood the test of time and emprical trial, and alchemy has not - even though its underlying philosophy survives in the modern science of chemistry.

Which brings me to a sort of denouement here: as much as some po-mo types would love us to think that science is just another kind of religion or superstition or belief system (and I'm aware no-one here is actually advocating that, of course), it's much closer to the truth to say that superstition and religion are kinds of science. Call it pre-science or proto-science or whatever, it's a response to the same implulse.

What is irrational, one level, is the insistence of many people who live in a technological society and for the most parts reap its benefits but who persist in an entrenched pre-modern worldview that is blatantly disproven by all available empirical evidence (yes, America, I'm looking at you). But then, on another level it's surely rational to stick to these outmoded but familiar and comforting beliefs when you feel your culture is under attack from outsiders who seemingly have few values in common with yours, right?

Murray Gell-mann has a lot to say about adaptive and maladaptive schemata - I could paraphrase but I've gone on too far already and those ideas deserve their own thread.

All this just makes me think of the inherent implausibility of the purely 'logical' Mr. Spock - surely he'd recognise the existential futility of the human/Vulcan condition and realise that the most rational thing to do is top himself in two seconds flat? Logic my arse, I've seen the episode where Spock gets the horn and all hell breaks loose. Then again, if you want to get laid you might as well go about it logically...

This post brought to you by nomadologist, Jonathan Meades and insomnia.
 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
*bump*

Oh come on you buggers, someone must have something to say - that was a bastard of a post to type out at ten in the morning on no sleep.

Anyone?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
No drugs involved, smart or otherwise, this was just insomnia. I get it sometimes.

Your spelling of 'drugs' makes me wonder about your caffeine intake, however...
 

nomadthethird

more issues than Time mag
*bump*

Oh come on you buggers, someone must have something to say - that was a bastard of a post to type out at ten in the morning on no sleep.

Anyone?
Yes, I agree with you, and that's nicely written.

Insomnia isn't a condition it's a way of life.
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
I have an answer Ollie, don't worry yourself but it's going to take time coming. Away at the moment so will take some time to write it up. Possibly tomorrow.

THIS HAS BEEN A TEASER POST
 

swears

preppy-kei
I think it would be ridiculous to assume that people who live in that world all the time, because that's the world they know, have gone out of their way to think of things as irrationally, mysteriously (etc.) as possible - no-one does that, because from a survival point of view it's a total dead end.
I guess wishful thinking comes into this: if all the empirical evidence weighs up to something dull, depressing or scary then I guess some people on some level choose to believe in an afterlife, spirits, fate, a higher power, guardian angels, witchcraft, whatever, which is different to having it drilled into you.

I've never really had the "ability" to choose what to believe in, a counsellor once told me people that lack it are more likely to be depressed, oh well.
 
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scottdisco

rip this joint please
When you live in a pre-technological society (and I'm aware that this is an imperfect term, because all societies have technology, but it has to be better than the troublesome 'indigenous' or the essentially meaningless 'traditional') it is profoundly rational to attribute to spirits or unseen forces the ebb and flow of the seasons, weather and other natural phenomena, illness and other catastrophic events like plagues of locusts, (were)tigers and so on.
money passage
 

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
Informal critques of "rationalism" (although I suppose a formal critique of rationalism would miss the point a bit) do have a tendancy to slip and slide between definitions of what they're talking about - from people who think working as a banker, earning as much money as possible, and keeping as much distance as possible from anything dirty or natural or rough is the premeditated pinnacle of thousands of years of social development to anyone who doesn't believe in homeopathy - and I think that's part of the reason t'other thread went the way it did.

Maybe we should come up with a Cosmo style multiple choice personality test to decide How Rationalist Are You... you know:
  1. Do you believe in The Beast of Bodmin?
    • Yes, I saw a thing on Channel 4 about it once
    • There doesn't seem to be any solid evidence for it
    • No, it wasn't in my A-level biology textbook so it doesn't exist
  2. Nomadic hunter gatherers
    • must be pretty thick if they can't even afford mobile phones
    • have a fairly hard life but there's stuff we can learn from them
    • are what we should all be, maaan...
  3. Do you work as
    • a computer programmer
    • a graphic designer
    • a wise old kalahari bushman, gazing with deep, sad eyes into the middle distance while leaning on a carved stick even older and more gnarled than he is
 

Gavin

booty bass intellectual


“Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” - Adorno & Horkheimer

"If I had read The Dialectic of Enlightenment earlier, it would have saved me a lot of useful time." - Michel Foucault
 

nomadthethird

more issues than Time mag
Slothrop, that was funny, I lulzed at that.



“Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” - Adorno & Horkheimer

"If I had read The Dialectic of Enlightenment earlier, it would have saved me a lot of useful time." - Michel Foucault
But isn't this sort of like saying "all belief systems are as good as the next, there aren't any real truth claims that have a leg up on others, there's only various shades of gray and they're all named mythos"..?

I mean, Lyotard wrote that book, too, and I think most people are kind of over it...it was very chic and cool and sophisticated for a while to talk about the death of the Master Narratives, but realism is back with a vengeance.
 

atoga

Well-known member
kind of an aside, but re: mr spock, there's a big difference between being logical and being rational. virtually everything in life is ill-defined (except for things like chess games and computer programming), so there's an infinite number of propositions you can make about the world, & obviously it would be impossible to logically deal with all of them. being rational probably has a lot to do with realizing which of these propositions are actually relevant, and maybe being able to intuitively reconcile them.

if you buy that, it stands to reason that having superstition/narrative/religion/whatever is very rational (and possibly necessary?) as you point out.
 

poetix

we murder to dissect
I don't agree that the worldview of a pre-scientific society represents that society's (inadequate, superseded) state of knowledge of the world.

Pre-scientific societies don't set out to understand the world with a scientific attitude (for instance, they don't tend to hold the notion that there are natural laws and that these can be inferred from observable regularities in phenomena) and don't accumulate evidence and build theories via scientific methods.

Even if the animist's view of the world as pervasively influenced by invisible powers involves a kind of rational deduction, the attribution of anthropomorphic characteristics to those powers (trickster gods etc.) is clearly driven by a different impulse to that of knowledge-seeking or theory-formation.
 

scottdisco

rip this joint please
I don't agree that the worldview of a pre-scientific society represents that society's (inadequate, superseded) state of knowledge of the world.

Pre-scientific societies don't set out to understand the world with a scientific attitude (for instance, they don't tend to hold the notion that there are natural laws and that these can be inferred from observable regularities in phenomena) and don't accumulate evidence and build theories via scientific methods.

Even if the animist's view of the world as pervasively influenced by invisible powers involves a kind of rational deduction, the attribution of anthropomorphic characteristics to those powers (trickster gods etc.) is clearly driven by a different impulse to that of knowledge-seeking or theory-formation.
'what they believe' / 'making sense of the world' etc

Tea's central thrust is correct then wrt what i take to be your most fundamental point (that i highlight)

to be fair, your concluding sentence seems to read, to me, as of a semantic difference w his key point, rather than anything distinctly & fundamentally different
 

nomadthethird

more issues than Time mag
I don't agree that the worldview of a pre-scientific society represents that society's (inadequate, superseded) state of knowledge of the world.

Pre-scientific societies don't set out to understand the world with a scientific attitude (for instance, they don't tend to hold the notion that there are natural laws and that these can be inferred from observable regularities in phenomena) and don't accumulate evidence and build theories via scientific methods.

Even if the animist's view of the world as pervasively influenced by invisible powers involves a kind of rational deduction, the attribution of anthropomorphic characteristics to those powers (trickster gods etc.) is clearly driven by a different impulse to that of knowledge-seeking or theory-formation.
But the question was whether they were setting out to understand the world with an irrational or a rational attitude, not a scientific versus and unscientific one.

It turns out that people aren't either "irrational" or "rational", and that rationality and irrationality aren't hats people can decide to wear at random.

The distinction I'd make is that, while the pre-scientific societies certainly weren't "scientific" yet in any meaningful sense, they were certainly trying to understand the world by investigating, describing, then ascribing phenomena in it with certain properties, abilities, functions, etc. In this sense, their umwelten would fall more under the rubric of "rational" thinking as we define it now than they would some fetishized "irrational" "feminine" "mystical" Other.

As far as "natural laws" are concerned--well, you could look at the Greeks, for example. Kronos, time. Or look at Thor, thunder. The Judeo-Christian god is just a consolidation of all of the preceding pagan gods where he's the ultimate Law-Giver, and all natural laws flow from him, he keeps the universe suspended, and speaks light into existence etc. There are all kinds of mythological systems that try to account for natural laws. They did their best with what they had, epistemically.

The human brain has an innate, deeply hard-wired cognitive bias toward ascribing agency where there is none. This is why "gods" are employed to explain natural laws. It took thousands of years to get to the point, empirically, where we could logically prove that there need not be any agency involved in, say, a storm system.

It's all too easy and trite to sit around pining for the "simpler" "better" days when people had their glorious imaginative belief systems and didn't have to worry about facts and figures. People have a way of piecing things together. Discovering the wheel. They do that because they want to make their lives easier, not more mystical. This is actually a testable hypothesis, but I bet it'd make an even better reality show.
 
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nomadthethird

more issues than Time mag
In what substantial sense? Which of the problems of realism have been solved?
What do you mean? Have you not noticed that there are about four new branches of realism in philosophy and that it's very not cool to be a "correlationist" (someone who believes after Kant basically that the world only exists insofar as it is perceived by minds, and that there is no world outside of perception.) This is in grad school blogosphere circles, of course. In the real world of academic philosophy, people just keep churning out translations of Plotinus.

Philosophy's not anything to measure your own commitments by, of course, being a bunch of scholastic in-fighting with lots of boring textifications and limited cache outside of a very small circle of privilege.

But still, even as far as philosophy is concerned, realism seems to be back in. And that's on the heels of scientific discoveries that basically shelve most of what philosophers were writing up until the 1960s.
 

3 Body No Problem

Well-known member
What do you mean? Have you not noticed that there are about four new branches of realism in philosophy and that it's very not cool to be a "correlationist"
I was not asking about what is "cool" in the blogosphere. I was asking about the key problems of realism (how to define realism in a non-question begging way, how we can access/know about 'reality', how to reconcile realism with all empirical insight into how humans construct knowledge and so on).

(someone who believes after Kant basically that the world only exists insofar as it is perceived by minds, and that there is no world outside of perception.)
This is most certainly not Kant's position.

And that's on the heels of scientific discoveries that basically shelve most of what philosophers were writing up until the 1960s.
While I agree that much philosophy is difficult to reconcile with modern scientific insight (and unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, some philosophers are not even interested in trying any more), I find it hard to see what scientific insight you have in mind that would warrant a return to realism. All cognitive psychology, all SSK, all neuro-science points to a human knowledge being socially and historically constructed.
 

nomadthethird

more issues than Time mag
I was not asking about what is "cool" in the blogosphere. I was asking about the key problems of realism (how to define realism in a non-question begging way, how we can access/know about 'reality', how to reconcile realism with all empirical insight into how humans construct knowledge and so on).



This is most certainly not Kant's position.



While I agree that much philosophy is difficult to reconcile with modern scientific insight (and unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, some philosophers are not even interested in trying any more), I find it hard to see what scientific insight you have in mind that would warrant a return to realism. All cognitive psychology, all SSK, all neuro-science points to a human knowledge being socially and historically constructed.
We can access reality through testing hypotheses. And testing. And retesting. And peer reviewing our results. And retesting.

Kant is pretty much the correlationist par excellence, according to Meillassoux or whatever his name is. I'm not accusing him of this, the Speculative Realists are. Kant's no realist, anyway.

NO, all cognitive and neuroscience do not point to all human knowledge being socially constructed.

Good lord.

The epic fail.

The facepalm.

I can't do it today, I have better things to do.
 
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