Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Unreason of Unreason

Warning: this blog may have a soporific effect on some people.

Do not read unless you're wide awake and unlikely to be sent to sleep by psycho-philosophical ruminations. I promise, I'll get back to pirates in the next one. But for here and now, skip to the end section (just scroll all the way down in this blog), if you want something suitably lurid and demented. NZ politics yet against leads the way to social dementia and the nanny-state. California, eat your heart out!

But first...
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"BE REASONABLE for chrissakes!" someone shouts at you.

Ask yourself the following: is it possible at all not to be 'reasonable'?

I'm not being facetious here, by the way. 'Reason' is, in a physical, that is 'neurological', sense— which is the only sense that makes sense, if you will, for there it begins and it ends—a simple process; at least 'simple' from a conceptual point of view. In any given instance the processes and conditions that make up a 'reasoning' procedure are incredibly complex, of course, but we shouldn't use that to obfuscate the essential simplicity of what it 'is'.

'Reasoning' starts at some point, set arbitrarily. Like we draw lines at t=0 to t=10, say, and analyze what happens in terms of and in relation to 'reasoning' during that interval.

At t=0 we start of from a set of initial conditions. These include everything that relates to the state of the universe insofar as it is accessible to us and involved in some way in whatever context embeds the process we're talking about. So, for example there are what's normally called 'external factors'—what we perceive and/or perceived in the outside world—and 'internal' ones, which relate to the complete state of the thing that constitutes the 'I'; including everything that we believe, think, feel at t=0.

There are also certain imposed boundary conditions, which determine how, if you will, we can process whatever it is we're 'reasoning' about. We can only think in certain ways. Like we'll have 1+1 be 2, however '2' happens to be represented in any given number system. Some people may not, but these people must then be considered to have different boundary conditions imposed on them. Nobody said they all have to be the same for everybody. In particular, since every brain-body complex is different, the exact boundary conditions will never be quite the same—just like, much more obviously, the initial conditions are not. One of the most important boundary conditions is the one that says that I am not anybody else. Another set is that which makes certain aspects of any given reasoning process accessible to what's usually called 'conscious' thought or inspection, while others remain subconscious and inaccessible. These also vary from person to person. The last, but most important, boundary condition is that we are physical creatures, who, at a very fundamental level, can only think in physically possible ways, as determined by our physiology. We cannot think, consciously and/or unconsciously, in ways that are impossible to think in with our thought-instruments—that being our brains.

Boundary conditions are like constraints on what it is possible to do. Reasoning is the process of proceeding from a starting point, subject to those constraints, and ending up, after a gazillion, or maybe just a few, steps at...

...t=10 at a final state. This is basically a large portion of a new set of initial and boundary conditions, from which then starts a new chain, or many new chains, of reasoning, and so on. The nature of the final state in a person is evidenced through some 'action' this person takes, whether this finds a physical expression or is just an action in terms of making what looks like an entirely 'internal' determination that might be expressed as, say, 'my reason had led me to think that A is B', or something along those lines. Ultimately that thought will have some expression in action—as all thoughts do, because they make you behave this way and not that; which they must for else they would be 'epiphenomenal', meaning have no effect at all; and that cannot be, since every thought configures new initial and boundary conditions relating to one's future behavior; with 'behavior' of course ultimately meaning 'action'. And so on.

Just to confuse, it needs to be added that the idea that we can see this as a process that goes from t=0 to t=10 is gravely misleading. For that assumes that the process of reasoning can proceed in some predictable fashion during that period. That would be a form of 'determinism', of course, which happens to be bunk, at least in its pure form. Thing is that we have to think of reasoning as we think of that dreaded thing called 'calculus' and in particular that aspect of it which considers ever smaller steps—in time in this case, i.e. some kind of '∆t'—which ultimately become infinitesimally small. For during every tiny step in time and even the minutest step in the 'reasoning' process, we actually actively change the boundary conditions of the system that's doing the reasoning, the brain, and thus effectively establish new initial conditions for what follows. The same conditions are also changed by events of a physiological nature, or maybe even something 'external, that qualify as, if nor random, but nonetheless unrelated to the actual 'reasoning' in the sense that they are linearly independent from it.

Hence the reasoning process is really a whole lot of t=0 -> t=
∆t sequences, which totally confuses the issue, I know, but that's the way it is. It's got nothing to do with me obfuscating things, but with the universe doing it, by having us be what we are. There's nothing else we can do but act in this manner and subject to the constraints of what we are, can be and can think.

The whole issue is further complicated because the difference between 'initial conditions' and 'boundary conditions' becomes blurred once we're thinking along a continuum (lim ∆t->0), rather than in steps. For, say, a belief in the existence of God, can be the initial condition for a sequence of 'reasoning', at the same time as it is a boundary condition that constrains the possibilities for what the reasoning may bring. On the other hand, that belief could change, because it could actually become the subject of the reasoning itself, rather than being a constraint on reasoning about other things. So, at any given time sorting out what's what may be very difficult, because the sorting itself changes what's what. And since the process changes both initial and boundary conditions with every tiny instant that passes—and is subject to 'externally, induced changes on top of that—the whole thing becomes complex beyond description.

What seems to be clear though is that what distinguishes one person's reasoning from another's are the initial and the boundary conditions of their respective processes at any given instant. And so, when we say to someone "be reasonable", what we're really asking for is some kind of concord on certain subsets of the initial conditions—what in CSI and other cop or detective shows they call 'evidence', which is usually 'external'—and the imposition of certain well-defined (actually, to be honest, it should be 'remarkably ill-defined') boundary conditions on thought and determination of what's what based on said evidence, to reach what, for those who agree on the procedures, are similar conclusions. Hence we get what we call 'science', which uses a certain method called 'scientific' to perform 'reasoning'; and the 'action' part of it, which is often referred-to as 'technology'.

But A seeing a fossil (evidence) and concluding that it's evidence for evolution, or B saying that it's evidence that God is testing our faith...

How can that both be 'reason'? Well, it is. It's just that some aspects of the initial and boundary conditions of A and B are sufficiently different to have a visible
GIGO effect. Only it isn't really about Garbage In and Garbage Out—for 'garbage' is a value judgment and one man's garbage is another's self-evident truth, meaning possibly unalterable initial and/or boundary condition for reasoning—but about... well, just differences. That's all.

Say, a person stands up at a physics seminar about Einstein's Relativity and waves a sheaf of papers with his scribblings on it into the air and says "This proves that Einstein was wrong."—cringe-factor-10 situation for the other attendees, for how come this lunatic was allowed in here?

He is being perfectly reasonable. He may or may not later be convinced that his scribblings contain steps that are not accepted within the system of 'proof' accepted in this context, but at the time he waves these papers in the air he is being utterly reasonable, having arrived at a decision to perform this action through what to him is a perfectly valid chain of reasoning, mathematically and socially—leading him to this action. And 'reason' it was, because he did exactly what we all do in our heads—only from a different starting point and under different constraints.

Everybody is reasonable. Period. Which is possibly the most significant reason (forgive the pun) why 'Reason' cannot be used to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong or what should be done with a human life and what shouldn't or what's it all about or what it isn't all about, in the way in which Objectivists and closet-Objectivists and crypto-Objectivists would have it.

All of which, I must caution you, is a conclusion arrived at through a process of 'reason', which was and is subject to constantly changing initial and boundary conditions that differ from everybody else's.

Which means all of this may well have been a complete waste of time. So you can wake up now.

WAKE UP, I said!

End Section:
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And now, from New Zealand, here's the news that the anti-spanking legislation, introduced and ultimately pushed through into becoming legislation by a zealot, probably abused-as-a-child, member of the NZ Green party, has actually become a law—thus making it a criminal act in this country to spank your child. Not even a slap, please. This has effectively become 'assault'. The police have been given 'discretionary' powers to deal with this law, but it was passed, and that's all we need to know. Trusting the 'police' with 'discretionary powers' is not something anybody should feel comforted about.

I have so much to say about this that it would fill a rant-book. However, let me instead conclude with a few (connected) quotes by the same individual, whom I quoted at the end of this blog:

I think a major reason why intellectuals tend to move towards collectivism is that the collectivist answer is a simple one. If there’s something wrong, pass a law and do something about it.

There’s a great deal of basis for believing that a free society is fundamentally unstable—we may regret this but we’ve got to face up to the facts.…I think it’s the utmost of naiveté to suppose that a free society is somehow the natural order of things.


The argument has always been made that the trouble with capitalism is that it’s materialistic, while collectivism can afford to pay attention to the nonmaterial. But the experience has been the opposite. There are no societies that have emphasized the purely material requisites of well-being as much as the collectivist…it is in the free societies that there has been a far greater development of the nonmaterial, spiritual, artistic aspects of well-being.


I don’t think that a revolutionary, once-and-for-all approach [to achieving political liberty] will succeed.…I think the odds are that a free society is on the way out but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for it, or that sulking in our tents explaining to one another how nice it would be if we could only wipe the slate clean and get our way is an effective means of fighting for a free society.

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