Subject: Re: Philosophy of Lisp programmers From: Erik Naggum <email@example.com> Date: Sun, 23 Jun 2002 20:18:52 GMT Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> * "Patrick W" | Culture, in the sense of collective confidence or 'certainty' in the | assignment of value to observations and deeds, has (for better AND worse) | been eroded by the rise of reason. I think it just became more abstract. We no longer have consensus on what the facts are, we have consensus on the method of ascertaining that some claim is true. The scientific method has a bad habit of shaking people's beliefs in what is true if they fail to grasp what _remains_ true as the precise facts change. I believe that consensus is even more important now than it was in monocultural dictatorshiplike structures, because we no longer have any useful consensus of facts, public policy, values, etc, so we need a consensus on higher principles. E.g., instead of _which_ laws to have, we agree on the rule of law principle. Instead of having to agree on specific things, we instead agree on how to resolve our differences. Instead of agreeing on which programming language to use, we agree on the need for specifications for those we choose, and how to write those specifications. Instead of agreeing on what to do, we are often satifisfied with agreeing on what _not_ to do. | Reason is unable to ascribe value/relevance to its own observations and | conclusions without becoming caught in an infinite recursion. Precisely. You have to _choose_ some core values and axioms for your system. To find them, you can reason from things you "like" before you started to think about them back to some fundaemental values and from those forward to logical consequences, but then you will probably have to repeat this process as you wind up with things you do not like that much after all, and change your values in this iterative process. Like, my favorite line of reasoning is that I may be frightened by the news I read of violent people from the Middle East who form gangs in Oslo and kill people in their own gang and in other gangs, and momentarily feel threatened by some superficial quality like skin color. Many people here remain at this stage. Then I may notice that there are non-dangerous people who look exactly the same, but that the people who _are_ dangerous all emit the same signals as the dangerous "natives" that I have already learned to avoid and that there was no need to update my threat sensors at all. Then I realize that the very concept of attaching values to superficial qualities was wrong and proceed to search for other instances of same, and then I come across a curious group of people who only realized that attaching values to _one_ superficial quality was wrong. Instead of racists, they became anti-racists -- people who are willing to mistreat others they _believe_ are racists based on some superficial quality like a choice of word or disliking bad people who just happen to have a different skin color -- and they never understand that the basic principle of reacting to other people based on your fears of the group _you_ think they belong to, is bad. They cannot even understand that this could be wrong. "Racists are bad, yes? So what's wrong with beating them up?" They do not realize that this is _exactly_ what racists think about people with a different skin color. The same goes with those moronic black racists, who, instead of getting the point that mistreating people based on race is wrong, only think that mistreating _blacks_ based on race is wrong, and turn around to mistreat other races based on race. I _marvel_ at the lack of intelligence in both anti-racists and black racists, who I consider about twice as bad as racists, because they have seen how bad racism is, and they _still_ employ the principles they so despise, but the fact that many people have _not_ figured out that reacting to an _individual_ based on your feelings towards a group you _think_ they belong to is wrong, shows me that thinking in principles requires effort and serious consideration, and that most people have never learned a method of thinking and deliberation -- they just along with whatever they feel like, and end up incredibly wrong. I happen to like the fundamental value of "human life" as a starting point and "personal happiness" and "intelligence and reason" go with it, as I see it. Other people evidently value "feeling safe" over "happiness" and that means that "reason" is no longer a value, either, because reasoning requires effort and thinking tends to involve risk, disappointment, failure, and the opposite of "safe" -- you may realize that what you once thought to be good is in fact really bad, not by itself, but because of ramifications you had not thought about. E.g., if sexism is bad, using "he" to refer to any man(!) is bad, so you use "they", but then make the very grave mistake of thinking that those who still use "he" are sexist (because of this superficial quality of appearance and stupid, stupid groupthink), upon which conclusion you have just killed off your entire cultural heritage as "sexist". This is so bad and so stupid that the decision to use "they" instead of "he" _must_ be reconsidered in light of its horrible consequences. It is now using "they" instead of "he" that is sexist, because those who use "they" consider those who _innocently_ use "he" as sexist and they _wrongly_ sensitize a culture to an issue that was not there. Sure, there were sexists, too, but you can find those by other and much more accurate means than by counting occurrences of "he". In fact, the real sexists go scot free, because they can just adapt to a "they" form while any reader would understand that they denigrate females and tolerate only males and use the "they" form ironically and sarcastically, which the stupid word-counting anti-sexists would not understand because the simple formulaic detector they use is provides as many false positives as it produces false negatives. Sufficiently advanced political correctness is indistinguishable from sarcasm. | It seems to me that the "system" or "method" you're seeking must eventually | short-circuit reason. Yes, of course. Logic by itself does not produce valid conclusions -- it only says that conclusions from invalid logic are useless and that only conclusions from good premises lead to good conclusions. How you find those good premises is another task entirely, but at least you can work within a secure framework where you know that your conclusions will hold and that if you do not "like" your conclusions, it is not your reasonsing that you have to examine, but your premises. You can thus show that something is bad somewhere "down there" if you can arrive at bad conclusions through logic. This is an very valuable debugging tool that people who do not consider reason to be valuable do not have. Thus, they tolerate bad premises and just switch the conclusions around as they like, disregaring their bad logic. | (The method may be consistent with rational thought, but can it be | _generated_ by reason? I don't think so.) Well, I think it can, but not with a uni-directional application of reason and logic from some a priori principles. (The funny thing with a priori principles is that they are _discovered_ through what _must_ have been identical to that of a posteriori principles, but because some people are hysterical about induction, they invent all these complex things to wrap it up in something that looks to the unwary eye like deduction. I find that most humorous.) So when you say "short-circuit", I tend to interpret that as that you do not like feedback loops in your system. I disagree. I think feedback loops are just wonderful. Circular reasoning is not invalid if there is some external input to it in each step, i.e., if you apply exactly the same steps round and round, you will not end up in the same place. More than that, I think this is a wonderful way of discovering "strange attractors" in human thinking. I would venture that if you kept at this process long enough, you would find that certain things are reached no matter where you start, and that those are the real fundamental principles of human philosophy. In all likelihood, they are quite counterintuitive. | As far as my puny brain can determine, instead of "this is TRUE because I SAY | it is", sooner or later we must encounter "this is VALUABLE because I (or we) | WILL have it thus". I hear this whispered between the lines of almost all | philosophers. (Except Ayn Rand, who quietly *shrieks* it ;-). Most philosophers start out from believing that Good sort of exists a priori. I think this is entirely false. I think good arises out of knowing that most people would not like to be hurt or die, and then you find ways to erect a system of defense mechanisms that is such that anyone who tries to be bad is more hurt than he can hurt others. That is, if you had evil in mind, you would know that not only the person you hurt would respond, but his community would hurt you back. (Anarchy is the absence of this community right to respond through a recognized authority, and it is the worst aspect of USENET. It leads to "I feel bad, therefore I am allowed to defend myself"-responses instead of the much more mature "I feel bad, how can I avoid that"-responses that you do in a community that seriously frowns up those who take the law into their own hands.¹) The feeling of safety in society comes from the fact that you know that the police, defense, etc, will pummel the bad guys and that the bad guys know this. You can feel safe because there is a much greater evil ready to crush those who try to be evil on their own, and you know that this greater evil is used only measured and controlled ways and with many safety precautions, quite unlike the "privately operated evil" that comes from defending yourself or presenting a sufficiently credible counter- threat on your own. When the terrorists managed to break through the safety net and commit their evil act on 9/11, many people (false) believed that the whole safety net had broken down. Ye of little faith! If anything, the safety net was much, much stronger mere minutes after the accident had become public knowledge. At that moment, every single American, and probably a lot of people world-wide, would present such a strong counter-threat to villains that any bad guy who wanted to try, would probably be killed. Crime dropped to near zero in New York City -- it was not because the bad guys got better -- I think it was because the bad guys knew they had strong reason to fear the public they had previously not feared, like the passangers on the fourth plane discovered that they could die, anyway, so the most serious personal barrier to taking up a fight against an evil force vanished. | I'm curious to know how far you've travelled in your quest for this "system" | or "method". Do you regard the development of a system of ranking to be an | act of creation or of discovery? Or have you hit upon something new that | makes this a false dichotomy? Very good question, to which I have no answer I would not have to make up on the spot, so I won't, but I believe the feedback loop that is consciousness makes creation and discovery a false dichotomy for certain aspects of philosophy and psychology, that is, I believe that we tend to do something and explain why it was good after the fact -- rationalization instead of rational argumentation. (For instance, certain psychological theories are obviously false for any shade of normal people, yet turn true for those who believe in them, much like some religions do, upon which these psychologists do an _amazing_ amount of harm to people who have been defined as "patients", so they lose their normal set of human rights. Quite interesting, really.) We also have this curious lack of overlap between the reasonable and the rational. (Ayn Rand made several serious mistakes in not understanding this difference (I was told Russian does not have separate words for the two), and hence defended a lot of things that are simply reasonable were as if they were rational, which led to many disquietingly irrational arguments and odd lines of reasoning defending or attacking something too much.) Believing that only the rational is reasonable is probably not harmful, but refusing to accept something as reasonable because you do not have the right premises to make it rational probably is, as it means that your set of premises is more fixed than it should be. I generally believe that it is impossible to learn what is right unless you make lots of mistakes and are willing to make lots of mistakes, but the key is to make the most intelligent mistakes and make them only once, if you can. I believe that the only way you can learn from experience is if you are able to be surprised that the world is not what you expected it to be, and that means you have to be alert and observant in addition to be able to make most of your expectations "testable", as the more you get right, the more subtle the uexpected will turn out to be, but not necessarily caused by small "bugs" in your thinking. Most people resist the consequences of discovering bugs in their thinking, and prefer to solve the problem of cognitive dissonance with fear and loathing and defending themselves. I personally find that very odd. It is like screaming to the world "you be different! be what I want!", and is the absolute height of irrationality. Well, I'll stop now. ------- ¹ Is there a (legal) term for this in English? Curiously, Norwegian has a short word, "selvtekt", for taking the law into your own hands. -- Guide to non-spammers: If you want to send me a business proposal, please be specific and do not put "business proposal" in the Subject header. If it is urgent, do not use the word "urgent". If you need an immediate answer, give me a reason, do not shout "for your immediate attention". Thank you.