Subject: Re: Philosophy of Lisp programmers
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Sun, 23 Jun 2002 20:18:52 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* "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.