[FoRK] Lion, rationality, reason, and seriousness

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Wed May 9 14:25:13 PDT 2007

On May 9, 2007, at 3:25 PM, Lion Kimbro wrote:

>  But I'm saying, "passion/care/concern/interest/love/desire/..."
>  is what's motivating that rationality.
>
>  The only reason rationality is of interest, is because it
>  serves a passion.

Now we're getting somewhere.  You're wrong, of course, but we're  
making some progress.


First, you assert categorically that the "only" reason rationality is  
"of interest" is because it serves a passion.  There's several  
possible parses of that last sentence, but they're all fatally  
flawed.  (I'm generously assuming that you are not proclaiming  
yourself as the ultimate arbiter of "interesting.")  When you say "of  
interest" you are equating that to "being passionate about  
something."  I assert instead that rationality is in fact a  
survival / procreative advantage --- whether or not you or anybody  
else is interested in it, that matters not a whit, it has inherent  
objective value.  There are many means of judging value other than  
how passionate our emotional response is to something;  indeed nature  
(non-personified;  a process, not a person) is inherently in the  
valuation business, and evolution is it's means.  (What is the unit  
of measure of "passion"?  On FoRK, at least, in times past you might  
have concluded that it was words typed on some topic --- and that  
might be a reasonable answer. ;-)  In general, again:  evolution  
doesn't usually preserve developments that don't confer fitness  
advantages.


And onward...  free-styling a bit, here, stay with me...  note that  
in none of this am I implying intent, design, motivation, etc.  No  
personifying here!


The universe is a computation;  it's a computation that computes  
itself, the ultimate quine*.  Evolution is a bootstrapping mechanism,  
a natural means by which matter self-organizes, gains complexity,  
increases local informational density, and counters entropy if only  
on a local (spatial, temporal) level.  Reason is yet another level- 
jumping, bootstrapping mechanism;  a way for evolved matter to  
further self-organize, gain complexity, increase info-density, and  
counter entropy;  it (or its derivative products such as science and  
technology) offers a means for species to optimally direct their own  
future evolution.  Passion / care / love / desire / etc. are all  
legacy mechanisms characteristic to pre-rational life.  That's not to  
say they are less valuable, or inessential, only that they are older  
--- and presumably the addition of reason to the mix confers on  
animals that possess it a survival advantage relative to those that  
live by their passions alone.  The danger with passion is that it's  
often self-destructive, and / or more generally destructive.  It  
often has effects that are entropic, lowering the fitness of the  
passion-directed individual and potentially also the fitness of those  
with whom that individual interacts.

The ultimate question is this:  what is the result of the universal  
computation?  Depending on your assumptions about a few constants,  
about universal large-scale isotropy, and so forth, you might  
conclude any number of things.  You might want to stick around as  
long as possible to watch the show, maybe even tinker with the knobs  
a bit...  but then the question arises:  how long can you ride that  
roller coaster?  What are the physical limits of physical existence?

Making a few Tipler-esque assumptions, you can avoid the "big crunch"  
fatalism that's the most usual conclusion.  ("Heat death" fatalism,  
assuming a different set of parameters, is another debate entirely.)   
Then the question becomes:  can evolution bootstrap life to a level  
which permits maximum self- (and other-) organization, enabling an  
engineered way out of eschatological catastrophe?  Even if it's  
*possible* to get there, *will* thinking life get to a point where  
its choices, actions, etc. ultimately and *optimally* (that last  
word's the important one, pay attention) serve that purpose?  And  
how?  What choices, patterns of behavior, modes of being and  
interacting and living, etc., confer the greatest probability of  
achieving that non-end?

At the end of the day, the utility payoff for that course of action  
is infinite for all survivors, given most value systems.**  If you  
agree, then you must conclude that rationality is of interest not  
because it serves passion, but merely in and of itself.  And if you  
agree with that, and with the general line of argument laid out  
above, then you'll conclude that all other things being equal  
rational behavior's better than irrational --- and though no human  
can presently be perfectly rational, it's certainly worth striving to  
achieve that state.***

Food for thought,


jb


*  this Dennis Miller-ism works on multiple levels;  think about it.   
Seemingly ironic, but not quite, actually just the opposite.

**  let's see if we catch the expected variety of fish with THAT  
wiggly little grub....

*** note that I'm not advocating this point of view --- merely  
presenting it.  It's certainly not...  unreasonable. ;-)


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