47 of 48
47
First post. Introduction and invitation.
Posted: 06 January 2009 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 691 ]  
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burt - 06 January 2009 07:54 PM

Seneca: “Someday our children will laugh at our ignorance.”

The mind can’t be studied the way the brain can, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be studied with rigor.  The Tibetan Buddhists have carried out a very careful analysis of various mental states, for example.  The problem with trying to look at these from a modern science point of view is making the translations from their symbolic language to something that we can better understand without the need for 10,000+ hours of training in their meditation systems.  Your example of the voice is a good one: we can’t study the voice the same way that we study breathing,larynx, sound waves, and hearing but that doesn’t mean that people 3000 years ago couldn’t sing, produce powerful emotional responses with their voice, and teach how to do this (even if only through apprenticeship).  Today, we can say what anatomical and physiological factors contribute to this, but as far as use of the voice is concerned, we’re pretty much in the same place—we can just teach it more effectively (sometimes).  And we’re a lot further from understanding the brain/mind relation than we are the voice/larynx relation.  As we learn more about the brain and how it connects to mind, we can develop better means of training the mind (means that don’t require, for example, thousands of hours of meditation, etc.) but what that does is make the training more publicly available, it doesn’t necessarily make the end result of the training superior.  On the other hand, making that sort of training widely available it seems to me will have a beneficial effect in reducing dogmatism and fundamentalism.  As I see it, among the ancients there were people able to attain “enlightened” states (not a great word, but it will have to do for quick communication), but they were few and living in a general population that was stuck in primitive belief with no way out of this.  Today, with luck, we might be able to change this.

Burt, just as cognitive scientists today tend to distance themselves from ancient wisdom, voice teachers also shy away from the ancients.

But to return for a moment to our analogy of mind / voice—neither one can be directly pointed to. What and where is a voice?, and what and where is a mind? We all know what a voice is, just as we all know what a table is, what a pencil is, etc. But nature knows no such distinctions. Voice and mind are abstract constructions that do not exist outside our imaginations. How can abstractions such as voice and mind be studied and analyzed? Only by further imagining. In a sense, we must refer indirectly to voice and mind, and directly only to the physical backdrops of both imaginary phenomena, such as larynx, sound waves, neurobiology, etc.

How’s your book, by the way? Is it close to publication?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 06 January 2009 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 692 ]  
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unknown zone - 06 January 2009 10:06 PM
burt - 06 January 2009 07:54 PM

Seneca: “Someday our children will laugh at our ignorance.”

The mind can’t be studied the way the brain can, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be studied with rigor.  The Tibetan Buddhists have carried out a very careful analysis of various mental states, for example.  The problem with trying to look at these from a modern science point of view is making the translations from their symbolic language to something that we can better understand without the need for 10,000+ hours of training in their meditation systems.  Your example of the voice is a good one: we can’t study the voice the same way that we study breathing,larynx, sound waves, and hearing but that doesn’t mean that people 3000 years ago couldn’t sing, produce powerful emotional responses with their voice, and teach how to do this (even if only through apprenticeship).  Today, we can say what anatomical and physiological factors contribute to this, but as far as use of the voice is concerned, we’re pretty much in the same place—we can just teach it more effectively (sometimes).  And we’re a lot further from understanding the brain/mind relation than we are the voice/larynx relation.  As we learn more about the brain and how it connects to mind, we can develop better means of training the mind (means that don’t require, for example, thousands of hours of meditation, etc.) but what that does is make the training more publicly available, it doesn’t necessarily make the end result of the training superior.  On the other hand, making that sort of training widely available it seems to me will have a beneficial effect in reducing dogmatism and fundamentalism.  As I see it, among the ancients there were people able to attain “enlightened” states (not a great word, but it will have to do for quick communication), but they were few and living in a general population that was stuck in primitive belief with no way out of this.  Today, with luck, we might be able to change this.

Burt, just as cognitive scientists today tend to distance themselves from ancient wisdom, voice teachers also shy away from the ancients.

Some cognitive scientists. 

unknown zone - 06 January 2009 10:06 PM

But to return for a moment to our analogy of mind / voice—neither one can be directly pointed to. What and where is a voice?, and what and where is a mind? We all know what a voice is, just as we all know what a table is, what a pencil is, etc. But nature knows no such distinctions. Voice and mind are abstract constructions that do not exist outside our imaginations. How can abstractions such as voice and mind be studied and analyzed? Only by further imagining. In a sense, we must refer indirectly to voice and mind, and directly only to the physical backdrops of both imaginary phenomena, such as larynx, sound waves, neurobiology, etc.

How’s your book, by the way? Is it close to publication?

What can be said about mind is that we experience it, even if we can’t point to it.  What we can do is employ various ways to train it.  There are techniques for training memory, for example, developed thousands of years ago when memory was much more important than today.  Memory palaces, for example.  We can construct symbolic systems that take people who work with them through series of developmental experiences that result in things like better concentration, more ethical sensitivity, emotional stability, and so on.  In her book Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Francis Yates shows how Bruno was traveling around Europe developing systems like this for clients based on Christian symbolism.  One doesn’t need to know about neurology to do this, only that if one employs particular sorts of symbols linked with specific concepts and emotions then certain results will likely occur.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 693 ]  
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burt - 07 January 2009 12:12 AM

What can be said about mind is that we experience it, even if we can’t point to it.

We experience what our cultures inform us about.

burt - 07 January 2009 12:12 AM

What we can do is employ various ways to train it.  There are techniques for training memory, for example, developed thousands of years ago when memory was much more important than today.  Memory palaces, for example.  We can construct symbolic systems that take people who work with them through series of developmental experiences that result in things like better concentration, more ethical sensitivity, emotional stability, and so on.  In her book Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Francis Yates shows how Bruno was traveling around Europe developing systems like this for clients based on Christian symbolism.  One doesn’t need to know about neurology to do this, only that if one employs particular sorts of symbols linked with specific concepts and emotions then certain results will likely occur.

Memory—the biological kind—was once more important than it is now. But I’ll certainly agree that too much of a loss is not a good thing.

As for ethical sensitivity, emotional stability, etc., my own have improved drastically since having shed myself as thoroughly as I could of ancient ways. That’s as anecdotal as it gets, of course, but can you refer me to an ancient tradition that has actually benefited its homeland in modern times?

[ Edited: 06 January 2009 08:40 PM by nv]
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Posted: 06 January 2009 11:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 694 ]  
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unknown zone - 07 January 2009 12:57 AM
burt - 07 January 2009 12:12 AM

What can be said about mind is that we experience it, even if we can’t point to it.

We experience what our cultures inform us about.

I would say that we are, or can become more than our culture.

unknown zone - 07 January 2009 12:57 AM
burt - 07 January 2009 12:12 AM

What we can do is employ various ways to train it.  There are techniques for training memory, for example, developed thousands of years ago when memory was much more important than today.  Memory palaces, for example.  We can construct symbolic systems that take people who work with them through series of developmental experiences that result in things like better concentration, more ethical sensitivity, emotional stability, and so on.  In her book Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Francis Yates shows how Bruno was traveling around Europe developing systems like this for clients based on Christian symbolism.  One doesn’t need to know about neurology to do this, only that if one employs particular sorts of symbols linked with specific concepts and emotions then certain results will likely occur.

Memory—the biological kind—was once more important than it is now. But I’ll certainly agree that too much of a loss is not a good thing.

As for ethical sensitivity, emotional stability, etc., my own have improved drastically since having shed myself as thoroughly as I could of ancient ways. That’s as anecdotal as it gets, of course, but can you refer me to an ancient tradition that has actually benefited its homeland in modern times?

As an observation, I would guess that that improvement has to do with eliminating psychological constraints arising from indoctrination in the dregs of these ancient systems.  And I agree with you to a large extent, the traditional systems we see today are shells of dogmatic belief from which any real value has long vanished.  But it is possible to recognize what they once pointed to in an archaeological sense, and what I’m looking forward to is the emergence of modern systems that can serve the same purpose today without the attached baggage and without just conditioning people into dysfunctional beliefs.  We’re already seeing some of this in the impact that oriental martial arts are having in the West, and I recall a science fiction tv program of 25 years ago or so where the protagonist was from something like the 25th century and practiced a far superior form of martial art that had developed out of an oriental/western synthesis.  So with respect to ancient philosophical systems, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater (to quote the prophet Mohammad, “Seek knowledge, even in China.”  grin )

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Posted: 07 January 2009 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 695 ]  
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burt - 07 January 2009 04:17 AM

As an observation, I would guess that that improvement has to do with eliminating psychological constraints arising from indoctrination in the dregs of these ancient systems.  And I agree with you to a large extent, the traditional systems we see today are shells of dogmatic belief from which any real value has long vanished.  But it is possible to recognize what they once pointed to in an archaeological sense, and what I’m looking forward to is the emergence of modern systems that can serve the same purpose today without the attached baggage and without just conditioning people into dysfunctional beliefs.  We’re already seeing some of this in the impact that oriental martial arts are having in the West, and I recall a science fiction tv program of 25 years ago or so where the protagonist was from something like the 25th century and practiced a far superior form of martial art that had developed out of an oriental/western synthesis.  So with respect to ancient philosophical systems, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater (to quote the prophet Mohammad, “Seek knowledge, even in China.”  grin )

Your intentions in the above statement are admirable, burt, and I agree with what you say about martial arts.

It seems to me that unintended consequences lurk everywhere in matters of the “spiritual.” For obvious reasons, it’s not easy to assess very much about such matters as they get played out over long periods of time, since so much took place before the invention of writing. We do, however, have fairly detailed access to our history over the past few thousand years. What does that access tell us? For one thing, contemplative traditions, over time, yielded less gain than what Judeo-Christianity seems to have yielded (Would you disagree with this assessment?), and even so, I suspect you know what I think about Judeo-Christianity and its place in society today. It may very well be that Christianity, due to its lack of some of the things you champion in comparison to other large religious traditions, ended up yielding more in a backwards sense. In other words, it may be that no spirituality at all would have yielded far more. Who can tell?

Neither one of us can know with anything approaching certainty what sorts of future pain or gain would result in doing things your way vs. my way. But we can consider it anyway, right? What would 3,000 years of highly contemplative tradition done your way result in? And what would 3,000 years of mildly contemplative with strong abhorrence of superstitious and mystical ways (my way) result in?

You seem to be arguing for what amounts to hypnosis and self-hypnosis rather than facing nature squarely. Please correct me here if I’m off on this, but I’ve been reading your words for quite a while now.

Useful technologies have been developed to the extent that nature is no longer nearly so frightful as she once was. Yet certain people today seem to be burdened with so many demons that they require drastic outside chemical assistance in order to silence their inner voices. For those people, various forms of hypnotism or spiritual assistance seem to be a proper prescription. For the rest of us, it seems to me, such assistance can tend to be counterproductive and an unnecessary, foolish escape from reality. Unintended consequences come into play, and you can’t really assume that your spiritual techniques will take root for the rest of time, can you?

I could very well be mistaken and you correct, burt. This topic might be something to delve into with your book.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 07 January 2009 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 696 ]  
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unknown zone - 07 January 2009 04:40 PM

Your intentions in the above statement are admirable, burt, and I agree with what you say about martial arts.

It seems to me that unintended consequences lurk everywhere in matters of the “spiritual.” For obvious reasons, it’s not easy to assess very much about such matters as they get played out over long periods of time, since so much took place before the invention of writing. We do, however, have fairly detailed access to our history over the past few thousand years. What does that access tell us? For one thing, contemplative traditions, over time, yielded less gain than what Judeo-Christianity seems to have yielded (Would you disagree with this assessment?), and even so, I suspect you know what I think about Judeo-Christianity and its place in society today. It may very well be that Christianity, due to its lack of some of the things you champion in comparison to other large religious traditions, ended up yielding more in a backwards sense. In other words, it may be that no spirituality at all would have yielded far more. Who can tell?

Neither one of us can know with anything approaching certainty what sorts of future pain or gain would result in doing things your way vs. my way. But we can consider it anyway, right? What would 3,000 years of highly contemplative tradition done your way result in? And what would 3,000 years of mildly contemplative with strong abhorrence of superstitious and mystical ways (my way) result in?

You seem to be arguing for what amounts to hypnosis and self-hypnosis rather than facing nature squarely. Please correct me here if I’m off on this, but I’ve been reading your words for quite a while now.

Useful technologies have been developed to the extent that nature is no longer nearly so frightful as she once was. Yet certain people today seem to be burdened with so many demons that they require drastic outside chemical assistance in order to silence their inner voices. For those people, various forms of hypnotism or spiritual assistance seem to be a proper prescription. For the rest of us, it seems to me, such assistance can tend to be counterproductive and an unnecessary, foolish escape from reality. Unintended consequences come into play, and you can’t really assume that your spiritual techniques will take root for the rest of time, can you?

I could very well be mistaken and you correct, burt. This topic might be something to delve into with your book.

Perhaps we are not so far apart as it might appear.  I wouldn’t want to recommend 3000 years of strong contemplative traditions without a strong rationalist component as well.  One of the problems is how words are interpreted, and that is probably something best determined over beer and chips.  For example, you make a contrast:

“What would 3,000 years of highly contemplative tradition done your way result in? And what would 3,000 years of mildly contemplative with strong abhorrence of superstitious and mystical ways (my way) result in?”

Now from my perspective, we can have a strong scientific tradition together with a highly contemplative tradition—no contradiction so long as we develop a scientific understanding of how the contemplative aspects actually work and the contributions they make to human well being.  What we’ve had in the past is one or the other (East vs West).  In addition, I wouldn’t argue for self-hypnosis, other than directed toward learning how to actually face nature squarely.  It’s like learning logic, we have to work hard to learn it, it isn’t natural for the way our thought processes are structured.  Likewise, we have to learn how to root out confirmation bias, and other tricks of the mind that prevent us from confronting nature directly.  For me, this is an aspect of “spirituality” because it relates to the evolution of human consciousness.

It would be a very interesting study to see how Judeo-Christian traditions have interacted with the European development of modern science (I know that a number of historians have speculated on this, but haven’t studied their arguments).  In general, however, I would say that Eastern meditative traditions have explored more on the mental side of things while in the West the emphasis has been on understanding external nature. 

Cheers, wife is calling me to make dinner.

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Posted: 09 January 2009 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 697 ]  
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For Burt: 
[Sorry about long hiatus. I’m now in rural Brazil, and again with too much work and lousy internet.]

keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM


Why do they ‘have to be taken’? And, if you insist on taking one, how will you take any particular one to the exclusion of the others? Through what mental faculty will you make your choice?

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

You’re taking this in a wrong way—the rational, logical, excluded middle way.  You don’t take only one, you take them all (or, if you do decide on one on aesthetic grounds, you don’t assume that negates the rest, only that you have made a personal choice).  To toss in a bit of woo woo, you have to take it (by “take” I don’t mean accept, only consider) in a quantum way, i.e., there can be a superposition of seemingly contradictory conditions.

 

I’m taking it in the only way that I can see to be functional. If I suspend – in order to ‘take them all’ – logical exclusivity as a basis for my rejection of knowledge proposals then it seems to me that I will be insane. I will be unable to reject Russell’s Teapot, the moon being made of green cheese, Earth swimming through space on an endless stack of giant turtles, or any of an infinite number of other similar proposals. If you can really ‘take them all’, yet still refuse some proposals, then please tell my how you do this. How do you decide between the areas in which you will apply reason and those in which you won’t? 

As to ‘consider’, it seems to me that I’ve considered them to a far greater depth than most theists. In my conversations with theists I typically find that I know more about their particular theism than they do. I’d therefore say I’ve considered them and then, as I was constrained to do through simple honest observation based reason, rejected them as knowledge.   

As for bringing in quantum complimentarity, I think that this relevant only in opposing your position. We did not embrace complimentarity against reason. We embraced it directly from reason’s root; on demand repeatable physical observation. We wanted and expected our photons to show either wave or particle behavior. But when they insisted, in labs all over the world, in showing both, dependent only on our method of interrogation, we modified reason itself at the subatomic level in order to match our observations. That was, from my side of the Popper’s Inversion mirror, intellectually heroic. Your suggested selective abandonment of reason – for which I can imagine no other purpose than avoidance of our intellectual responsibility to oppose those who we can see to be mind-fucking children through slipping them absurd proposals as a special and better kind of knowledge – seems to me to be intellectual cowardice. I’m sorry, but I just can’t put any better spin on it.

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

Sorry for that, but it is possible to consider different myths that appear contradictory and look for interpretations in which they are actually pointing to the same thing (analogy: if you stand on a circle and point to the center you might seem to be contradicting somebody on the circle 180 degrees away from you who is also pointing at the center).  When it gets down to “your myth is wrong because mine is right” all the value of both myths has been lost.

Here we can find at least a little agreement. I will help you look for these interpretations, and will confess to you that I do have a soft spot for myths. But for myths finally/clearly understood and accepted as such. Not for myths held as a special and better kind of knowledge (i.e., as the actual state of reality). I will happily discuss myth, and myths, until the cows come home with anyone who does not hold them (or worse, just his own) in this fundamentally irrational way (and thereby, from this special platform, as legitimately opposable to our directly observation grounded knowledge). If you want to talk about virgin birth, or water walking, or post-death reanimation in the context of all instances of these stories having been told by, and having provided poetic and/or emotional inspiration for, our species, then I will be right there with you. But if you want to talk – as all theists seem to sooner or later – about not pursuing this or that line of research because your God forbids it, or about redrawing borders because your God says that you are entitled to these lands, or about killing people for what your God perceives to be crimes, then I’ll be opposing you with everything that I can bring to the table. I’m pretty sure that you, Burt, are actually against such things. But I remain puzzled by your apparent unwillingness to grasp the additional mental clarity that would finally enable you to help me effectively fight them.     

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.  The problem keith has is that he is speaking about one sort of knowledge—rational, verifiable knowledge, while religious (and other) mythology is speaking about something else, more of a road map.

quote author=“keith” date=“1231011233”] I’m speaking, in ‘Truth?’, about finally making all of our knowledge as internally consistent and coherent as we can. Not perfect in these regards; but merely, and at last, no worse than we can see that it needs to be. Hence my proposed rejection of our assumed independent basis for knowledge (that X, in spite of it’s observably not making any sense [again, we’re back to the NT miracles] can still legitimately be embraced on the basis of its being ‘the truth’). This rejection just doesn’t seem to be a problem from my side. I don’t seem, to myself, to need ‘road map’ proposals that I can see to be logically excluded by my repeatable observation grounded proposals. I don’t, in reference to this thread’s post #32, experience my lack of irrational road map proposals as a deprivation. I must therefore again ask what, from your side, you see yourself to be gaining through your maintenance of such proposals.

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

For you, these sorts of mythic “indicators” or “pointers” would be useless since you are looking from the position you describe above and so you are 100% correct in ignoring them.  Other people, however, might have trouble with trying your way of thought and find that metaphorically interpreted myths provide an easier way of developing themselves.

I’ve never implied that embracing myths as truths is not easier than learning science. I would concede that point in a heartbeat. My point, as explained at length in ‘Truth?’, is that it can be seen to have been deeply screwing our minds for thousands of generations. If you pass young minds an independent knowledge basis (not ‘that X can be seen to make sense’, but rather ‘that X is the actual state of reality’) and then upon this basis all kinds of observationally absurd and mutually exclusive knowledge proposals, then they will grow up crippled. Their reasoning faculty will seem to be of very little service, and to be giving them answers that are emotionally unacceptable; because, indeed, it was trashed from the get-go. Analytically, this result should be expected. Empirically, if you can bear the horror of an honest assessment of our 7000 years of recorded history, it has obviously been happening. 

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The only problem is all the people who grab onto the myth and take it as literal truth that has to be defended against all those other unbelievers.  It is that attitude of fixated belief grounded in fear arising out of ignorance that, as I see it, has to be opposed and simply trying to get people to abandon their myths and think rationally doesn’t strike me as the most effective way to do this.

Of course they’re going to take their myths as ‘literal truth’. The myths are emotionally attractive; and up to about age 7 - when reason would, if not already trashed, start to kick in - their emotions are basically all they’ve got. We can see children being explicitly taught – in their churches, Sunday schools, madrassas, seminaries, etc. – to take their as literal truth. There is a way to fight this, and you know where to find it*. To your next sentence: I’d ask you to reread the essay’s second half, and then tell me how or in what sense you believe that its proposed plan could possibly fail. To make this absolutely explicit: You seem to be telling me here that you want X, but to be offering no clear proposal for its achievement. I have tabled exactly such a proposal. I therefore ask you to tell me either that I’ve misinterpreted your desire [you don’t want X], or that my proposal is unworkable because ………. , or to help me with it.

*If you’ve printed out a copy then please don’t use it. I continue to improve (I hope) the version at the blog-site to preemptively address criticisms that seem to be based on misunderstandings.

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The general statistic is that about 5% of all mathematicians are strong intuitionists.  This particular view of math seems to have started with Brower (probably spelled wrong) in the early 1900s as a reaction to paradoxes coming out of Cantor’s set theory.  Other names associated with this are Weyl and Heyting.  One thing the intuitionists reject is universal application of excluded middle, in particular in indirect proofs (proof by contradiction).  That is, they won’t accept that if I prove not-A leads to contradiction this means that A is true.  They will only accept the truth of A if I can provide a constructive proof that allows them to make a mental construction of A.  It’s a very strong adherence to “seeing is believing” although in this case the seeing has to be in the sense of an internal mental construction.  Salt Creek could understand this attitude in terms of something like: “I only understand it if I can construct an experiment that measures it.”  Most mathematicians consider this to be too strong a constraint (it would require abandoning a large chunk of modern mathematics) so consider intuitionists as rather eccentric.

Uncharacteristically, I would go with the 95% on this one.  smile

BR,

Keith

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Posted: 09 January 2009 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 698 ]  
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keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM

For Burt: 
[Sorry about long hiatus. I’m now in rural Brazil, and again with too much work and lousy internet.]

keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM


Why do they ‘have to be taken’? And, if you insist on taking one, how will you take any particular one to the exclusion of the others? Through what mental faculty will you make your choice?

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

You’re taking this in a wrong way—the rational, logical, excluded middle way.  You don’t take only one, you take them all (or, if you do decide on one on aesthetic grounds, you don’t assume that negates the rest, only that you have made a personal choice).  To toss in a bit of woo woo, you have to take it (by “take” I don’t mean accept, only consider) in a quantum way, i.e., there can be a superposition of seemingly contradictory conditions.

 

I’m taking it in the only way that I can see to be functional. If I suspend – in order to ‘take them all’ – logical exclusivity as a basis for my rejection of knowledge proposals then it seems to me that I will be insane. I will be unable to reject Russell’s Teapot, the moon being made of green cheese, Earth swimming through space on an endless stack of giant turtles, or any of an infinite number of other similar proposals. If you can really ‘take them all’, yet still refuse some proposals, then please tell my how you do this. How do you decide between the areas in which you will apply reason and those in which you won’t? 

As to ‘consider’, it seems to me that I’ve considered them to a far greater depth than most theists. In my conversations with theists I typically find that I know more about their particular theism than they do. I’d therefore say I’ve considered them and then, as I was constrained to do through simple honest observation based reason, rejected them as knowledge.   

As for bringing in quantum complimentarity, I think that this relevant only in opposing your position. We did not embrace complimentarity against reason. We embraced it directly from reason’s root; on demand repeatable physical observation. We wanted and expected our photons to show either wave or particle behavior. But when they insisted, in labs all over the world, in showing both, dependent only on our method of interrogation, we modified reason itself at the subatomic level in order to match our observations. That was, from my side of the Popper’s Inversion mirror, intellectually heroic. Your suggested selective abandonment of reason – for which I can imagine no other purpose than avoidance of our intellectual responsibility to oppose those who we can see to be mind-fucking children through slipping them absurd proposals as a special and better kind of knowledge – seems to me to be intellectual cowardice. I’m sorry, but I just can’t put any better spin on it.

I don’t think you are understanding my point here.  One doesn’t accept or even consider a myth as literal truth—that way lies madness (of the dogmatic variety).  Rather, one looks for what the myth may be pointing to.  Going with the virgin birth story again, taking it literally puts you into conflict with our knowledge of human biology (bracketing some really weird possibilities that can be dismissed out of hand).  At best one can say that the idea started off sometime in prehistory when a pregnant teenage daughter flumoxed her dad into believing she was a virgin (It was a bright light from Zeus, dad, really!)  But as I suggested, taking it as an allegory gives other possibilities such as: there is a state of consciousness that for want of a better term can be called “divine” that can only arise in a pure heart (or mind).  Following on that, one looks for indications as to methods for “purifying” so one can experience this state—assuming that one has any desire to do so.  Same thing with the Stoic myth of a geocentric cosmos and astral determination—we know that it is not factually accurate at all, but the idea behind it still has value: by going through various philosophical forms of education (including physical and emotional as well as mental) a person can (in the microcosm/macrocosm analogy) rise through the planetary spheres (i.e., sequentially experience states associated with the “deities” governing those spheres) and clarify one’s mind and emotions of the negative aspects associated with those spheres, eventually achieving union with the universal logos leading to a state of happiness and wisdom.

As for indoctrinating children, I think we can agree that on the one hand, children are going to take these sorts of stories literally so as a counter there is a need for emphasis of other ways of thought that will lead them (usually in adolescence) to start thinking more deeply and metaphorically.  (Children really cannot understand formal reasoning until around age 9 - 11 or so.)

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Posted: 09 January 2009 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 699 ]  
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keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

Sorry for that, but it is possible to consider different myths that appear contradictory and look for interpretations in which they are actually pointing to the same thing (analogy: if you stand on a circle and point to the center you might seem to be contradicting somebody on the circle 180 degrees away from you who is also pointing at the center).  When it gets down to “your myth is wrong because mine is right” all the value of both myths has been lost.

Here we can find at least a little agreement. I will help you look for these interpretations, and will confess to you that I do have a soft spot for myths. But for myths finally/clearly understood and accepted as such. Not for myths held as a special and better kind of knowledge (i.e., as the actual state of reality). I will happily discuss myth, and myths, until the cows come home with anyone who does not hold them (or worse, just his own) in this fundamentally irrational way (and thereby, from this special platform, as legitimately opposable to our directly observation grounded knowledge). If you want to talk about virgin birth, or water walking, or post-death reanimation in the context of all instances of these stories having been told by, and having provided poetic and/or emotional inspiration for, our species, then I will be right there with you. But if you want to talk – as all theists seem to sooner or later – about not pursuing this or that line of research because your God forbids it, or about redrawing borders because your God says that you are entitled to these lands, or about killing people for what your God perceives to be crimes, then I’ll be opposing you with everything that I can bring to the table. I’m pretty sure that you, Burt, are actually against such things. But I remain puzzled by your apparent unwillingness to grasp the additional mental clarity that would finally enable you to help me effectively fight them.

I think we’re in almost 100% agreement here.

keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.  The problem keith has is that he is speaking about one sort of knowledge—rational, verifiable knowledge, while religious (and other) mythology is speaking about something else, more of a road map.

quote author=“keith” date=“1231011233”] I’m speaking, in ‘Truth?’, about finally making all of our knowledge as internally consistent and coherent as we can. Not perfect in these regards; but merely, and at last, no worse than we can see that it needs to be. Hence my proposed rejection of our assumed independent basis for knowledge (that X, in spite of it’s observably not making any sense [again, we’re back to the NT miracles] can still legitimately be embraced on the basis of its being ‘the truth’). This rejection just doesn’t seem to be a problem from my side. I don’t seem, to myself, to need ‘road map’ proposals that I can see to be logically excluded by my repeatable observation grounded proposals. I don’t, in reference to this thread’s post #32, experience my lack of irrational road map proposals as a deprivation. I must therefore again ask what, from your side, you see yourself to be gaining through your maintenance of such proposals.

Again, see above.  They are road maps when taken allegorically and metaphorically.  Not when taken literally.  To quote Saddi (ca. 1100): “I fear you will not reach Mecca, O Nomad, for the road you are on leads to Samarkand.”  And one of the features of a road map is that it is only useful to somebody who wants to reach that particular destination.  Also, maps produced today (in this area there are, unfortunately, none widely available) will be much better in their functioning.  So my interest in these ancient myths is in part entertainment but in larger part in trying to disentangle the wheat from the chaff (or sheep from goats) as it were.

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Posted: 09 January 2009 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 700 ]  
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keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM

I’ve never implied that embracing myths as truths is not easier than learning science. I would concede that point in a heartbeat. My point, as explained at length in ‘Truth?’, is that it can be seen to have been deeply screwing our minds for thousands of generations. If you pass young minds an independent knowledge basis (not ‘that X can be seen to make sense’, but rather ‘that X is the actual state of reality’) and then upon this basis all kinds of observationally absurd and mutually exclusive knowledge proposals, then they will grow up crippled. Their reasoning faculty will seem to be of very little service, and to be giving them answers that are emotionally unacceptable; because, indeed, it was trashed from the get-go. Analytically, this result should be expected. Empirically, if you can bear the horror of an honest assessment of our 7000 years of recorded history, it has obviously been happening. 

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The only problem is all the people who grab onto the myth and take it as literal truth that has to be defended against all those other unbelievers.  It is that attitude of fixated belief grounded in fear arising out of ignorance that, as I see it, has to be opposed and simply trying to get people to abandon their myths and think rationally doesn’t strike me as the most effective way to do this.

Of course they’re going to take their myths as ‘literal truth’. The myths are emotionally attractive; and up to about age 7 - when reason would, if not already trashed, start to kick in - their emotions are basically all they’ve got. We can see children being explicitly taught – in their churches, Sunday schools, madrassas, seminaries, etc. – to take their as literal truth. There is a way to fight this, and you know where to find it*. To your next sentence: I’d ask you to reread the essay’s second half, and then tell me how or in what sense you believe that its proposed plan could possibly fail. To make this absolutely explicit: You seem to be telling me here that you want X, but to be offering no clear proposal for its achievement. I have tabled exactly such a proposal. I therefore ask you to tell me either that I’ve misinterpreted your desire [you don’t want X], or that my proposal is unworkable because ………. , or to help me with it.

*If you’ve printed out a copy then please don’t use it. I continue to improve (I hope) the version at the blog-site to preemptively address criticisms that seem to be based on misunderstandings.

I think that we have to understand the past and realize that until very recently it was impossible to get away from the grip of myth taken literally.  I have a quote taken from a 12th century sufi to the effect that the role of religion was as a vehicle of individual and social improvement and control, not conditioning into dogma, and lamenting that this was so “because of difficulties in maintaining the science of man.”  Now that we have means of education that can reach almost everybody, there is some hope of doing better.  But there will be tremendous opposition, both conscious from conditioned dogmatic individuals and from general unconscious inertia.  So it is going to be a tough job (and the fight itself has been going on for a long time).

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Posted: 09 January 2009 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 701 ]  
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keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The general statistic is that about 5% of all mathematicians are strong intuitionists.  This particular view of math seems to have started with Brower (probably spelled wrong) in the early 1900s as a reaction to paradoxes coming out of Cantor’s set theory.  Other names associated with this are Weyl and Heyting.  One thing the intuitionists reject is universal application of excluded middle, in particular in indirect proofs (proof by contradiction).  That is, they won’t accept that if I prove not-A leads to contradiction this means that A is true.  They will only accept the truth of A if I can provide a constructive proof that allows them to make a mental construction of A.  It’s a very strong adherence to “seeing is believing” although in this case the seeing has to be in the sense of an internal mental construction.  Salt Creek could understand this attitude in terms of something like: “I only understand it if I can construct an experiment that measures it.”  Most mathematicians consider this to be too strong a constraint (it would require abandoning a large chunk of modern mathematics) so consider intuitionists as rather eccentric.

Uncharacteristically, I would go with the 95% on this one.  smile

BR,

Keith

Me too.  But the gold standard of proof in mathematics is a constructive proof because it actually exhibits its object rather than just saying something about it.

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Posted: 11 January 2009 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 702 ]  
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Hello SC. I’ve now finally got some real time on my hands. In fact, a ‘free’ weekend. I’m still not going to deal with all of your points, because I don’t think that that would progress our argument. Most remain based on a 180 degree misunderstanding of my position, so I’ll answer wherever I can see some chance of dispelling this.

Salt Creek - 19 December 2008 01:01 PM


Then you’re proposing the abandonment of the idea that scientific knowledge is qualitatively better.

keith - 19 December 2008 11:43 AM

I am indeed. As suggested several times in ‘Truth?’; all human knowledge finally to live or die on a single level playing field. No qualitative superiority anywhere. But now consider the question: How can the playing field itself be seen to work? [Note carefully: I’m not asking ‘How can it be seen to work best?’. I’m asking ‘How can it be seen to work at all?’

Salt Creek - 19 December 2008 01:01 PM


Let the record then show that Keith deems scientific knowledge to be qualitatively equivalent to (no better than) any other form of “rationalism”, but that all such forms are superior to woo-woo.

Granted. But I’d note that I already offered – in my explicit 5 level hierarchy for the selection of proposals as knowledge, way back in Post # 553 – something stronger than this for your side. If you will recall, the entire and current edifice of science was Justification Level 1. The first entry position for ‘woo woo’ was at Level 3. My explained meaning, from presentation of these levels as hierarchical, was/is that I will not embrace from any lower level any proposal that I can see to be logically excluded by those that I’m holding from a higher level. 

All human knowledge has to live or die on a single level playing field.

Do expose the assumptions underlying this, namely that “man is the measure of all things”. I did ask you about human extinction, and whether or not you think anything will actually happen after people are gone. You may find the question irrelevant to your, er, needs. I did point out that “value” is not knowledge. If you assert that “value” is “important”, you should explain the assertion. Then I think you will be able to answer your question ‘How can it be seen to work at all?’

What underlies this is Point 1 of ‘Truth?’, as is clarified in Points 2 and 3 of ‘Truth?’. Point 1 rests on both repeatable observation and analytical necessity. As to the “human extinction” and “value” stuff, I think that you’re confusing authorship of at least one post. Please check back, as this sounds like something between you and Bruce.

keith - 19 December 2008 11:43 AM
Salt Creek - 14 December 2008 03:30 PM

This may be an aesthetic for some people, especially the brown rice and tofu crowd of virtue-crats. I’m just riffing off your use of the word “better”, and your notion that not only are theistic and other nebulous philosophical claims failures at being “better”, but that scientific knowledge is a failure also.

Again, what you seem to be understanding as my position is its antithesis. Science is constantly identified and explained throughout ‘Truth?’ as our only ultimately coherent form of knowledge. It is the one that can be seen to be grounded directly in reason, which can be seen to be grounded directly in our observations. Through reference to Point 1, we still can’t be justified in ascribing qualitative superiority to it.

So let’s leave aside the semantically-ambiguous strawman of “qualitative superiority”. That someone might feel oppressed by the seeming inevitability of certain scientific conclusions (e.g. ‘extinction occurs’) is not my problem.

We can’t claim for science the additional and human-choice-independent quality that we can see ourselves to have been invoking through our ‘true’ and ‘truth’ if we have been using these non redundantly. But should we consider that to be a failure? If you finally had to concede, after tens of thousands of years, the absurdity of trying to pick yourself up by your own ankles, would you regard it as a failure?

So really, this whole screed is about a tired critique of logical positivism? Spare me. You cannot evade the evidence, even if you can argue rhetorically in circles around it. You have to become a solipsist to toss out the idea of evidence. The knowledge arrived at by sifting the evidence is qualitatively superior, because you cannot deny the evidence, though you can interpret it however you like. Your interpretation, plus a shiny coin…. You know the drill.

I can’t see any connection between my paragraph here and Logical Positivism, and I did mention in ‘Truth?’ – peripherally and in a couple of lines – that Logical Positivism had been intellectually dismissed by the mid 1930s. So I’m puzzled as to how you can be interpreting my position as a critique of it. ‘Evading the evidence’ is even more puzzling. You now have access to hundreds of pages of my writing which are directed against what is observably our species’ main mechanism for doing this (it’s maintenance of an independent knowledge basis, upon which proposals that can be seen to be logically excluded by the evidence can still be held). I might as well as you why you are insisting that our only salvation is through Jesus, or why you stopped beating your wife. 

keith - 19 December 2008 11:43 AM
Salt Creek - 14 December 2008 03:30 PM

You’re not simply after “Truth”, Keith. You’re after the privileged POV itself, most likely as a preamble to some sort of woo. Naturally, whatever brand of woo you’ve got up your sleeve is going to be a poor relative until you break the franchise of the “Truthy” religions.

Again, Yes! I am indeed ‘after the privileged POV itself’. If we continue to claim ‘privilege’ on grounds that we can’t finally coherently defend, then of course the theists will too.

So you are, Keith, and more power to you. Until you choke on it, you greedy bastard.

You are selling out scientific knowledge as qualitatively equivalent to your philosophical wibble in order to police the theists? They cannot deny the evidence, though they can re-interpret it. All forms of interpretation are wibbling. Critical theory. I have actually read J-F Lyotard (“The Postmodern Condition”), and have been simultaneously impressed and offended by his “work”. He doesn’t expose his assumptions, either.

keith - 19 December 2008 11:49 AM

If poststructuralism is finally accepted then there are no unbreakable theses. But if Points 1 and 3 of ‘Truth?’ are accepted then unbreakable thesis are possible. I do believe ‘Truth?’ to be unbreakable. But based on my awareness that many people have previously been mistaken in this belief about their ideas I posted the link to it here to give smart people like you a shot at breaking it. This is what I’m still hoping for from your side. All of your attacks so far seem to me to have been directed against an antithesis of ‘Truth?’ that you constructed through an initial emotion based misinterpretation.

Are you really sure you are not just misinterpreting my critique, or mislabeling my attacks in order to defend the unbreakability of your thesis. I’ll grant that if you want to declare your thesis unbreakable, you are no post-structuralist. This sword cuts two ways, since you are then defending your personal religion.

As noted many times now, most of your critical points have simply not been directed against my thesis. I’d say that the main difference between my position (as outlined in ‘Truth?’), and yours and religions is that mine is as logically coherent and consistent as I can make it. I’ve taken the trouble to develop a single clear and linear basis for my selection of proposals as knowledge, and I’ve been engaged for many years now in raking back through the entire edifice to make it – through indicated additions and deletions – increasingly consistent with this. I can explicitly state my basis (as I did in # 553), and can understand how it works and explain this to others. I think that it would advance our dialog for you to try something similar. Very simply, how does SC’s knowledge creation/selection process work? I’m anticipating that its core will be ‘evidence’, but I’ll be interested to learn in more detail what you mean by that [Exclusively, on-demand-repeatable physical observation; or something broader?] and to see how you go on from there.

I do believe ‘Truth?’ to be unbreakable.

You said that, Keith. Not me. You need your thesis to be unbreakable. Why?

This is getting silly. You and I both know the difference between ‘I believe my thesis to be unbreakable’ and ‘I need my thesis to be unbreakable’. How blatant are you willing to be in misinterpreting my statements in order to have something to attack?

You’re an interesting bloke to talk to, Keith. You refuse to expose your assumptions behind the notion of asserting that

all human knowledge finally to live or die on a single level playing field. No qualitative superiority anywhere.

As noted above, and on many other occasions throughout our long dialogue, I wouldn’t class this as an assumption. From my side it’s the fully entrained logical corollary of an on-demand-repeatable physical observation. The observation is ‘Truth’s’ Point 1.

I suspect it is to try to preserve the integrity of a philosophical argument. What’s the prize at the bottom of that crackerjack box?

I’ve explained ‘the prize’ many times now, but always to dead silence from your side, so I have no reason to expect that a further attempt would produce any better result. If you’re genuinely interested then I’d say that it is laid out very clearly in the second half of ‘Truth?’.

BR,

Keith

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Posted: 15 January 2009 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 703 ]  
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For Burt:

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

[You’re taking this in a wrong way—the rational, logical, excluded middle way.  You don’t take only one, you take them all (or, if you do decide on one on aesthetic grounds, you don’t assume that negates the rest, only that you have made a personal choice).  To toss in a bit of woo woo, you have to take it (by “take” I don’t mean accept, only consider) in a quantum way, i.e., there can be a superposition of seemingly contradictory conditions.

 

I’m taking it in the only way that I can see to be functional. If I suspend – in order to ‘take them all’ – logical exclusivity as a basis for my rejection of knowledge proposals then it seems to me that I will be insane. I will be unable to reject Russell’s Teapot, the moon being made of green cheese, Earth swimming through space on an endless stack of giant turtles, or any of an infinite number of other similar proposals. If you can really ‘take them all’, yet still refuse some proposals, then please tell my how you do this. How do you decide between the areas in which you will apply reason and those in which you won’t? 

As to ‘consider’, it seems to me that I’ve considered them to a far greater depth than most theists. In my conversations with theists I typically find that I know more about their particular theism than they do. I’d therefore say I’ve considered them and then, as I was constrained to do through simple honest observation based reason, rejected them as knowledge.   

As for bringing in quantum complimentarity, I think that this relevant only in opposing your position. We did not embrace complimentarity against reason. We embraced it directly from reason’s root; on demand repeatable physical observation. We wanted and expected our photons to show either wave or particle behavior. But when they insisted, in labs all over the world, in showing both, dependent only on our method of interrogation, we modified reason itself at the subatomic level in order to match our observations. That was, from my side of the Popper’s Inversion mirror, intellectually heroic. Your suggested selective abandonment of reason – for which I can imagine no other purpose than avoidance of our intellectual responsibility to oppose those who we can see to be mind-fucking children through slipping them absurd proposals as a special and better kind of knowledge – seems to me to be intellectual cowardice. I’m sorry, but I just can’t put any better spin on it.

(Burt) I don’t think you are understanding my point here.  One doesn’t accept or even consider a myth as literal truth—that way lies madness (of the dogmatic variety).

I understand that you, Burt, don’t do this. But we can see that the majority of our species is, to varying degrees, doing it. When an Oral Roberts or Jerry Falwell or James Dobson wishes to use some passages in the Bible, or a Khomeini or Bin Laden or Al Sadir some passages in the Qur’an, or a Moshe Levinger or Rav Yehuda some passages in the Torah or Talmud to inflame their followers to deeds that will extend their power they cite their myths in exactly this way. And their followers understand them in exactly this way. I think that they will continue to do so for as long as we leave ‘literal truth’ (basically, the option to mistake some human knowledge proposals for the actual state of reality) on the intellectual playing field.

Rather, one looks for what the myth may be pointing to.  Going with the virgin birth story again, taking it literally puts you into conflict with our knowledge of human biology (bracketing some really weird possibilities that can be dismissed out of hand).  At best one can say that the idea started off sometime in prehistory when a pregnant teenage daughter flumoxed her dad into believing she was a virgin (It was a bright light from Zeus, dad, really!)  But as I suggested, taking it as an allegory gives other possibilities such as: there is a state of consciousness that for want of a better term can be called “divine” that can only arise in a pure heart (or mind).  Following on that, one looks for indications as to methods for “purifying” so one can experience this state—assuming that one has any desire to do so.  Same thing with the Stoic myth of a geocentric cosmos and astral determination—we know that it is not factually accurate at all, but the idea behind it still has value: by going through various philosophical forms of education (including physical and emotional as well as mental) a person can (in the microcosm/macrocosm analogy) rise through the planetary spheres (i.e., sequentially experience states associated with the “deities” governing those spheres) and clarify one’s mind and emotions of the negative aspects associated with those spheres, eventually achieving union with the universal logos leading to a state of happiness and wisdom.

I won’t say – as I fear that SC will – that this is all gobbledygook; but can you see its resemblance to the procedures of the Scientologists (with their removal of ‘engrams’ and ascending levels of ‘clarity’), or with the Rosicrucians and their steps to ‘cosmic consciousness’? Let me tell you a little story; about an irascible chef, named Keith Floyd, who used to have a cooking show on British TV. Mr. Floyd also had a rather famous and hoity toity restaurant in London. And he had there a regular customer who knew nothing about food but who liked to pretend that he did. This often involved rejecting dishes, or sending them back to the kitchen for this or that. When Mr. Floyd’s patience was finally exhausted he created a very grandiose sounding French name, under which he put an expensive ‘special item’ on this customer’s desert menu. The customer duly ordered it, Floyd prepared it himself, and the customer ate it with great enjoyment and praise. It was a stack of beer mats. In effect, coasters made of thick blotting paper. Floyd had used various tricks (pre-soaking in brandy, pressure cooking, flambéing, etc) but under them all – the substance of the dish – was blotting paper. I’ve told you this story because I want to ask you how much better you think the dish might have been had it been based on actual food (on crepes say, perhaps layered with some nice almond filho pastry, or thinly sliced mango)? What I’m leading up to is that I think that you, Burt, are a pretty good chef for mythologies. I think that with enough benefit of the doubt, and sympathetic and creative apologetics, you can probably wring some ‘value’ out of just about any myth that you encounter; in much the same way that Floyd was able to make the beer mats edible. To return now to your example above, I’ll concede that it might – and to a limited extent – work. But I’d suggest that in juxtaposition to our present scientific knowledge it would be a clear case of making desert out of beer mats. In order to get people to embrace ancient mythologies to the extent necessary for this kind of ‘development program’ you need to feed them the mythologies as truth. So you need to keep open the whole can of worms that I discuss closing in about the last third of ‘Truth?’. Simply, you need to keep passing them an incoherent knowledge basis, upon which to hold proposals that can be seen to be logically excluded by those derived through their observation grounded reason. Ultimately, why do this? Do you honestly believe that our present scientific knowledge is subjectively inadequate or unsatisfactory? It can certainly be seen to have subjective/emotional implications (ref back to Post 32, or any good general-audience scientific writing; Wilson, Sagan, Eisley, Capra, Greene, etc.). Are these implications really insufficient for our achievement of ‘happiness and wisdom’? If we can now make great deserts out of real food (knowledge that can honestly be seen to qualify as such) then why keep trying to do so with blotting paper? As noted many times, I’m not suggesting that we stop teaching mythology; merely that we stop teaching the independent basis from which any of its proposals can be maintained in clear logical opposition to those of science. In doing this we would, finally and simply, accept them as art. Few of us would maintain that Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ or Holst’s ‘Planets’ symphony are without value; but neither would we consider referencing them in policy debates or land disputes.

As for indoctrinating children, I think we can agree that on the one hand, children are going to take these sorts of stories literally so as a counter there is a need for emphasis of other ways of thought that will lead them (usually in adolescence) to start thinking more deeply and metaphorically.  (Children really cannot understand formal reasoning until around age 9 - 11 or so.)

I think that children will take irrational stories literally if they are passed the underlying proposal – by the adults telling them the stories – that this is how they should be taken. ‘Truth?’ is about our starting to break the ancient negative feedback loop which includes that proposal. We agree that the potential for full mature reason emerges relatively late in mental development. My point is that if, prior to its emergence, minds have been fed a substantial amount of irrational ‘knowledge’ as the actual state of reality then their reason, as/when it starts to develop, will be crippled. I think that we can see ourselves to have been doing this, and what I’m trying to ask – in ‘Truth?’ – is whether we really want to continue doing it. 

More below

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Posted: 15 January 2009 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 704 ]  
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burt - 09 January 2009 09:37 PM
keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

Sorry for that, but it is possible to consider different myths that appear contradictory and look for interpretations in which they are actually pointing to the same thing (analogy: if you stand on a circle and point to the center you might seem to be contradicting somebody on the circle 180 degrees away from you who is also pointing at the center).  When it gets down to “your myth is wrong because mine is right” all the value of both myths has been lost.

 

Here we can find at least a little agreement. I will help you look for these interpretations, and will confess to you that I do have a soft spot for myths. But for myths finally/clearly understood and accepted as such. Not for myths held as a special and better kind of knowledge (i.e., as the actual state of reality). I will happily discuss myth, and myths, until the cows come home with anyone who does not hold them (or worse, just his own) in this fundamentally irrational way (and thereby, from this special platform, as legitimately opposable to our directly observation grounded knowledge). If you want to talk about virgin birth, or water walking, or post-death reanimation in the context of all instances of these stories having been told by, and having provided poetic and/or emotional inspiration for, our species, then I will be right there with you. But if you want to talk – as all theists seem to sooner or later – about not pursuing this or that line of research because your God forbids it, or about redrawing borders because your God says that you are entitled to these lands, or about killing people for what your God perceives to be crimes, then I’ll be opposing you with everything that I can bring to the table. I’m pretty sure that you, Burt, are actually against such things. But I remain puzzled by your apparent unwillingness to grasp the additional mental clarity that would finally enable you to help me effectively fight them.

I think we’re in almost 100% agreement here.

So tell me about the ‘almost’. What remaining reservations are preventing you from ‘renouncing truth and all it’s works’? I still want both you and SC. And with you onboard I could devote more attention to him.

burt - 09 January 2009 09:43 PM
keith - 09 January 2009 03:30 PM

I’ve never implied that embracing myths as truths is not easier than learning science. I would concede that point in a heartbeat. My point, as explained at length in ‘Truth?’, is that it can be seen to have been deeply screwing our minds for thousands of generations. If you pass young minds an independent knowledge basis (not ‘that X can be seen to make sense’, but rather ‘that X is the actual state of reality’) and then upon this basis all kinds of observationally absurd and mutually exclusive knowledge proposals, then they will grow up crippled. Their reasoning faculty will seem to be of very little service, and to be giving them answers that are emotionally unacceptable; because, indeed, it was trashed from the get-go. Analytically, this result should be expected. Empirically, if you can bear the horror of an honest assessment of our 7000 years of recorded history, it has obviously been happening. 

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The only problem is all the people who grab onto the myth and take it as literal truth that has to be defended against all those other unbelievers.  It is that attitude of fixated belief grounded in fear arising out of ignorance that, as I see it, has to be opposed and simply trying to get people to abandon their myths and think rationally doesn’t strike me as the most effective way to do this.

Of course they’re going to take their myths as ‘literal truth’. The myths are emotionally attractive; and up to about age 7 - when reason would, if not already trashed, start to kick in - their emotions are basically all they’ve got. We can see children being explicitly taught – in their churches, Sunday schools, madrassas, seminaries, etc. – to take their as literal truth. There is a way to fight this, and you know where to find it*. To your next sentence: I’d ask you to reread the essay’s second half, and then tell me how or in what sense you believe that its proposed plan could possibly fail. To make this absolutely explicit: You seem to be telling me here that you want X, but to be offering no clear proposal for its achievement. I have tabled exactly such a proposal. I therefore ask you to tell me either that I’ve misinterpreted your desire [you don’t want X], or that my proposal is unworkable because ………. , or to help me with it.

*If you’ve printed out a copy then please don’t use it. I continue to improve (I hope) the version at the blog-site to preemptively address criticisms that seem to be based on misunderstandings.

I think that we have to understand the past and realize that until very recently it was impossible to get away from the grip of myth taken literally.  I have a quote taken from a 12th century sufi to the effect that the role of religion was as a vehicle of individual and social improvement and control, not conditioning into dogma, and lamenting that this was so “because of difficulties in maintaining the science of man.”  Now that we have means of education that can reach almost everybody, there is some hope of doing better.  But there will be tremendous opposition, both conscious from conditioned dogmatic individuals and from general unconscious inertia.  So it is going to be a tough job (and the fight itself has been going on for a long time).

We agree on all of your points here. [That the move that I propose in ‘Truth?’ has only realistically become an option during about the past 60 years. That even with this it will still be a hell of a fight. And that the underlying war has been raging for at least thousands of years.] But let me finally ask you this: If you’re fighting in what you believe to be a just war (i.e., one in which you honestly and wholeheartedly want your side to win), and you discover at last an enormous weakness in the enemy’s strategic position, can you do other than your damndest to try to communicate this to those on your own side?

All the best,

Keith

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Posted: 15 January 2009 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 705 ]  
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keith - 15 January 2009 04:18 PM

Rather, one looks for what the myth may be pointing to.  Going with the virgin birth story again, taking it literally puts you into conflict with our knowledge of human biology (bracketing some really weird possibilities that can be dismissed out of hand).  At best one can say that the idea started off sometime in prehistory when a pregnant teenage daughter flumoxed her dad into believing she was a virgin (It was a bright light from Zeus, dad, really!)  But as I suggested, taking it as an allegory gives other possibilities such as: there is a state of consciousness that for want of a better term can be called “divine” that can only arise in a pure heart (or mind).  Following on that, one looks for indications as to methods for “purifying” so one can experience this state—assuming that one has any desire to do so.  Same thing with the Stoic myth of a geocentric cosmos and astral determination—we know that it is not factually accurate at all, but the idea behind it still has value: by going through various philosophical forms of education (including physical and emotional as well as mental) a person can (in the microcosm/macrocosm analogy) rise through the planetary spheres (i.e., sequentially experience states associated with the “deities” governing those spheres) and clarify one’s mind and emotions of the negative aspects associated with those spheres, eventually achieving union with the universal logos leading to a state of happiness and wisdom.

I won’t say – as I fear that SC will – that this is all gobbledygook; but can you see its resemblance to the procedures of the Scientologists (with their removal of ‘engrams’ and ascending levels of ‘clarity’), or with the Rosicrucians and their steps to ‘cosmic consciousness’?

Certainly, but the fact that people adopt the form of a developmental system without being able to provide the actual substance doesn’t mean that there is no substance to be had (Rumi: “Counterfit can exist only when there is real gold.”) 

keith - 15 January 2009 04:18 PM

Let me tell you a little story; about an irascible chef, named Keith Floyd, who used to have a cooking show on British TV. Mr. Floyd also had a rather famous and hoity toity restaurant in London. And he had there a regular customer who knew nothing about food but who liked to pretend that he did. This often involved rejecting dishes, or sending them back to the kitchen for this or that. When Mr. Floyd’s patience was finally exhausted he created a very grandiose sounding French name, under which he put an expensive ‘special item’ on this customer’s desert menu. The customer duly ordered it, Floyd prepared it himself, and the customer ate it with great enjoyment and praise. It was a stack of beer mats. In effect, coasters made of thick blotting paper. Floyd had used various tricks (pre-soaking in brandy, pressure cooking, flambéing, etc) but under them all – the substance of the dish – was blotting paper. I’ve told you this story because I want to ask you how much better you think the dish might have been had it been based on actual food (on crepes say, perhaps layered with some nice almond filho pastry, or thinly sliced mango)? What I’m leading up to is that I think that you, Burt, are a pretty good chef for mythologies. I think that with enough benefit of the doubt, and sympathetic and creative apologetics, you can probably wring some ‘value’ out of just about any myth that you encounter; in much the same way that Floyd was able to make the beer mats edible. To return now to your example above, I’ll concede that it might – and to a limited extent – work. But I’d suggest that in juxtaposition to our present scientific knowledge it would be a clear case of making desert out of beer mats. In order to get people to embrace ancient mythologies to the extent necessary for this kind of ‘development program’ you need to feed them the mythologies as truth. So you need to keep open the whole can of worms that I discuss closing in about the last third of ‘Truth?’. Simply, you need to keep passing them an incoherent knowledge basis, upon which to hold proposals that can be seen to be logically excluded by those derived through their observation grounded reason. Ultimately, why do this? Do you honestly believe that our present scientific knowledge is subjectively inadequate or unsatisfactory? It can certainly be seen to have subjective/emotional implications (ref back to Post 32, or any good general-audience scientific writing; Wilson, Sagan, Eisley, Capra, Greene, etc.). Are these implications really insufficient for our achievement of ‘happiness and wisdom’? If we can now make great deserts out of real food (knowledge that can honestly be seen to qualify as such) then why keep trying to do so with blotting paper? As noted many times, I’m not suggesting that we stop teaching mythology; merely that we stop teaching the independent basis from which any of its proposals can be maintained in clear logical opposition to those of science. In doing this we would, finally and simply, accept them as art. Few of us would maintain that Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ or Holst’s ‘Planets’ symphony are without value; but neither would we consider referencing them in policy debates or land disputes.

Love the story.  I think that our present scientific knowledge doesn’t deal well with mind and consciousness.  Some of the information is out there scattered in various sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology) but has yet to be synthesized into a coherent whole.  I’m not in favor of teaching ancient systems, just examining them to understand their structure—they do contain information once the language is decoded, even if the information only poses questions that have to be scientifically addressed.  For example, in some texts on ritual magic there are “tables of correspondences.”  These list a variety of sensory inputs, actions, and lines of thought, categorized according to the sort of deity to be invoked.  To invoke Venus, for example, one surrounds oneself with specific colors, smells, sounds, etc., etc.  Now this sounds like nonsense but what it points to are questions about how specific states of consciousness can be produced by manipulation of input, and that is a legitimate field for research.  Forget the mythological part.  But the only people who do research like this today are marketing experts.

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