[FoRK] What is Reason?

Lion Kimbro <lionkimbro at gmail.com> on Thu May 3 13:16:48 PDT 2007

  A lot of smart people make fundamental mistakes about
  "What's rational?" and "Who's being rational?"

  These are criticial questions.

  == Note on FoRK Culture & Response ==

  FoRK has a culture of abusive conversation.

  I don't want to participate in that.  If I perceive valuable ideas or
  challenges amidst the combat, I lean against responding.

  The only thing I feel obligated to comply with, is a generally,
  genuinely felt request to leave.  I rely on messages here, and private
  messages, to guage that.

  I write for y'all because I know there are influential people who do
  things here, (I'm star struck!), and that you all like to talk ideas,
  and I know that at least *some* of you are interested in what I have
  to say.

  == "What's Rational?" ==

  I think this QUESTION is far more valuable than any particular answer
  to it.

  [[ brief reference:
     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationality ]]

  If we analyzed the question, we'll find a mountain of questions
  beneath it.  With further analysis, reduce to 3-20 important questions
  of ciritical value, for our purposes, here, and now.

  This would be interesting, but I won't do it here.

  I just want to point out:  "The field is large," and to beg the reader
  to focus their thoughts on the question, rather than all the people
  who assume that they know the answer.

  == "Who's Reasoning?" ==

  It depends, of course, on what "Reasoning" means, but I want to just

    Everybody's Reasoning.

  Where we differ (I think) is on who's reasoning about what, and what
  sorts of conclusions we'd like people to come to.  But it should be
  clear that everybody's reasoning.

  == "Not Being Rational" -> "Insufficient Weight" ==

  So, if you're in an argument with someone, and you feel inclined to
  say, "You're not rational," or "They just don't reason," or any of
  that genre of thought, you probably need to:

  * Back up.
  * Identify what it is that you don't like about the opposition's
    thought process.
  * Criticize them for *that,* instead.

  So for example, you might want to say,

    "You're not giving sufficient weight to (X,)"

  ...where X is something undercutting, that has (or should have)
     tension and force to it, but that for whatever reason, doesn't
     cause tension in their minds, or isn't inducing tension in their

  == Name-Calling Has Consequences ==

  But if we say, "You're just not reasoning," or "Those people don't
  reason," you're just setting yourself up for non-communication.  On a
  large enough scale, your setting yourself up for political struggle,
  and on a larger scale still, for war.

  It may be true that someone doesn't see the point in having a
  particular conversation with you ("not reasoning,") but if you cross
  the line into "Those people just don't reason," you're (A) literally
  wrong, and (B) setting yourself up for non-communication.  On larger
  scales, you get political struggle.

  (To put it lightly.)

  == Is Reason Terra-Firma? ==

  Perhaps I should add, "Earth is not Terra Firma," because it floats in

  I'll speculatively divide people on two axis:
  * terra-firma & space-cases
  * heavy-weight & light-weight

  "terra-firma" is the idea that people are will be inerrant, if only
  they reason.

  "space-cases" deny terra-firma.  I used a pejorative, to hasten the

  "heavy-weight" think that the distinction has profound consequences on
  the nature of the world.  (For example, X-Men is "heavy-weight,"
  because ideological notions have sweeping and profound influence over
  the world.)

  "light-weight" think that ideas don't really matter so much, and the
  world proceeds more or less independent of the development of ideas.
  Perhaps a naughty religion or idea or two needs to be culled here or
  there, but for the most part, ideas (barring technical developments)
  don't really play much influence over the world, nor should they.

  I myself am a heavy-weight space-case.  I suspect that the dominant
  voiced perspective on this channel here is light-weight terra-firma.

  == The View from a Space-Case ==

  I'm a "space case."

  I think it's clear that reasoning over just about anything but the
  natural world that has persisted before society for so many ages is
  supremely divergent.

  Everything can be reasonably undercut.  And I *do* mean everything.

  "Solipsism," to bring up a recently raised example, is avoided, not
  because it is unreasonable, but because we can't productively debate
  it.  There's nothing logically wrong with solipsism, it brings up no
  contradictions, and there are many good arguments for it.  Solipsism
  is utterly reasonable, and, in fact, a good many people and religions
  take it very seriously (and with dramatically different consequences,
  depending on how they interpret it.)

  "Am I a man dreaming I'm a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a

  A perfectly rational and reasonable inquiry.

  Perhaps not to evolutionary advantage, but that is irrelevant to the
  determination to live what is True.  A lot of things may be against
  evolutionary advantage, but we can still hold to them.  We can have
  our reasons, even if they are simple as, "It is what I want."

  In fact, at root base, that should, and IS, the proper base of reason.

  I think that reasoning diverges, that the space-case story is true,
  because I believe that people's wants run out in all directions.

  == the Heavy-Weight Argument ==

  I take life seriously, and I take my life seriously.  I think that
  every person can, potentially, change the entire world in dramatically
  positive ways, if that is what they want to do, and set about to doing

  It is clear to me that it takes ideas to do it.

  I think that if we take a light-weight view of ideas, it's really that
  we're just interested in status-quoue, "I don't really want to do
  anything, and I don't want anyone else to do anything either."

  Diverge from this view, though, and you start to take the heavy-weight

  If we take the notion that ideas exist and move people to do things,
  then the world can start to look a little bit like "X-Men."  Ideas as
  powers start to influence reality, substantially.

  So & So has **a Vision,** capital "V."  They're going to use the power
  of Vision to make the world like X.  But some other vision, manifest
  through the activities of group ABC, differs strongly.  They're going
  to use the alignments of the powers available to them to go in a
  different direction.

  It's not clear who has "the right idea."  The idea reflect
  **tensions,** after all, and not absolute truths.  We act to try and
  make things go right, as best we can, but our very notions of what
  would be good, right, or natural is in total flux:  This is the nature
  of life.

  How this plays out is read in the newspapers, and, eventually, at our
  very doorstep.  Or, underneath our fingers.

  I'm a heavy-weight.  I read the newspapers, and I see the play of
  ideas against the backdrop of a material world.  I know that there
  *are* no perfect answers, and that there is no perfect ultimate
  interpretation of things.

  == Reason, Reason, Everywhere ==

  Reason is not something that plays out solely inside of one person's

  Entire societies of people perform in the interplay of reason.

  Computers are a living part of this system as well, as are the books
  that came before them.

  Science is powerful, but the real power underneath it all is an idea
  named "Desire."

  Desire both reasons, and is influence by reason.

  Desire plays out, and causes the world to move.  It is an incredibly
  powerful force, and when you read the papers, you're watching its

  It's only when we get into the human brain that we start to call it
  "good" or "bad."  It's a provence of society.  But behind it all, is
  the performance of electro-magnetism, and the various natural forces
  of the world.  If we feel desire, we are feeling electro-magnetism.  I
  cannot think of what other thing we are mapping on to, though we could
  include the other elemental forces of nature as well (Strong, Weak,
  Gravity, whatever else may exist.)

  I can even glimpse that it may be proper to call Evolution the force
  of reason.  If we can say that Societies can reason, then it does not
  seem like all that irrational a step forward to propose that *nature*
  reasons, and that that reasoning is the fabric of evolution, just as
  reasoning is the fabric of neural processing, just on a larger scale.

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