NewRealismDiscussion

This is discussion about MeatBall:NewRealism.

On Enthusiasm

After some feedback from LionKimbro (now moved to HypeAndEnthusiasm), HelmutLeitner answered:

What I meant is: enthusiasm can move people and make energies available. But it can’t make something work that is technically faulty. Maybe it sounds trivial, but: an airplane doesn’t fly because of the enthusiasm of its inventors, but because of aerodynamics. In this example enthusiasm met reality, but there are many examples where they did’t. No enthusiasm can make a perpetuum mobile work.

On Progress

Helmut listed a number of points, describing “New Realism.”

I agree with ideas like:

  • Rational thinking is not enough to make a humane world.
  • The process is dynamic.
  • The process requires the work of lots of people’s eyes, hearts, minds.

I believe Helmut’s motivation for writing this, is to get beyond the Enlightenment’s “The Truth will Set You Free.” The problem with that view, if I understand right, is that it implies that everybody’s job is to become a scientist, philosopher, or technologist, always thinking.

My personal feeling was that the Enlightenment folk were thinking: “Wow! Science! Communication! Understanding! Hey– we might just be able to figure this all out!” I imagine that they thought that the results would be near immediate, like an 18th century technological singularity.

My feeling is that they were right in the basic idea, and that TechnologicalDeterminism (unpopular as it is) has some truth to it, and that they felt it, and had good reason to be excited. But, it was going to take much longer than they imagined.

So much longer, we are still talking about it today.

That said: I have a hard time following the Meatball position that Progress is a mythology. I can understand viewing it as a mythology. What I can’t understand is viewing it as only a mythology.

When I consider society today, against the society 50, 100 years ago, we see:

  • People are openly homosexual.
  • Women have immensely greater freedom.
  • Black people are integrated into society.

This is Progress.

I believe that Progress is a dream, it is something people can have faith in, and that people have had faith in it, and that’s how it became real.

It won’t necessarily happen, but: I believe it has happened, and I believe we should continue to put our faith in Progress.

… Enlightenment’s “The Truth will Set You Free.” …

Of course truth and freedom are desirable, but they are awefully difficult concepts, if one goes into the details. I’d like to know about the death of JFK, but the truth about it would not increase my freedom.

But instead of seeking the truth (in the original sense) which is tiresome, people found a much better way: create your own truth and sell it to others. This constructivism is at the basis of Auschwitz (“the truth about the yews”), of communism (“truely free society”) and of the modern consumer society (“buying makes happy”). While this may be a gross simplification, there must be a point where we can counter such constructions, not only theoretically but by denying it from a genuine fundamental human viewpoint. The netizen is critical, he questions everything and doesn’t follow “experts” blindly.

… Meatball position that “Progress is a mythology.” …

I don’t think this is the position. It is not mine and it shouldn’t be readable out from NewRealism. There is progress (Popper: trial and error correction). Probably not everything that is sold as progress deserves this label. Progress must be objectively measureable otherwise the problem of “selling” returns.

… put our faith in Progress …

Yes, I have faith in progress, I trust the process, but faith is not enough. Progress is not automatic and it is not irreversible. Freedoms (wealth, health, …) can be won and lost. Progress is usually the result of hard work and people should be aware of what they have and willing to defend it.

The New

Helmut wrote:

  • Abstract truths don’t work beyond math, logical systems.
  • Hard facts can’t be changed by constructivism, (which I take to mean “refusing to look at whatever doesn’t affirm your thoughts.”)
  • Our development is a process.
  • We can’t continue our development without exploration and mistakes.
  • Science is not totally objective, but objectivity is the ideal.
  • Tools, language, and choice of what to look for- many things influence our perception.
  • …but we know techniques to work around those things. We can get very good results.
  • Our subjective thoughts and feelings can amplify into the objective material world.
  • New ideas aren’t automatically better; traditional ideas and solutions have been underestimated.

Whenever I hear people talking about traditionalism, whether right or wrong, my mind jolts me with a lightening bolt, and the sensitivity meters go way up. I don’t ever want to go back to a world where women are subjigated, homosexuals are murdered or viewed poorly, or where race supremecists are in power, or where a religion is in power.

The word “traditional” means to me those things, whether it should or not. I have a hard time separating old ways, and those things.

If by “traditional values,” we mean things like “courage,” “care,” “friendship,” “loyalty,” “love,” “fairness,” etc., etc., etc.,. …then I have difficulty understanding why they are called “traditional.” These values are universal, to pretty much every people on earth. The people have different ideas about what exactly those mean, (differing ideas of “what is fair,” for example,) but all of them has agreed with those things.

If that is true, then these are not traditional values. They are simply human values, because we have them today, like we’ve always had, and we couldn’t really get rid of them, even if we wanted to.

So, when it comes to the word “traditional,” I only think:

  • old ideas
  • old identities
  • old food
  • whipping black people, raping women, and flogging gay people

Respect for the past is something I can understand. I can even understand some forms of ancestor worship.

What I cannot understand is trying to relive the past.

Of course new ideas are not automatically better. But I don’t really hear anyone claiming such a thing. Nor do I see people acting on that impulse. I am a neo-phile, and like what is new. But that doesn’t mean that I discard what works, and I don’t think that means my peers do, either.

I think it can be read as a cricism of pharmaceutical industry ignoring traditional medicine or genetically modifying plants being heralded as the solution to world hunger instead of actually measuring the benefit compared to ordinary cross-breeding output and taking into account distribution and financing problems. In the rush to promote the new, the existing and working present is sometimes trampled.

I think this is one of the simpler issues. There must be a balance between the the enthusiasm for innovations and the ability to see value in existing solutions. This does not mean “traditional is good” but it means to reevaluate things. It is a question of efficiency, ability to judge things, values or ideas independent from their context. A lot of success is built on traditional foundations: pop music based on Bach’s melodies is uncountable.

The Goal

Helmut wrote:

  • the goal is OpenSociety
  • optimizing individual freedoms
  • optimizing economic efficiency
  • optimizing social fairness

It sounds a bit mechanical, but I basically agree.

That said, I can’t help but wonder: Is there a higher goal?

I always felt that freedom and fairness were means to an end. We don’t know what that end is, but: I hope that we can grow to a point where we find what it is.

My personal belief is that there is a spiritual goal for individuals, and that there is a spiritual goal for society as well.

Of course we can’t possibly persue such a thing at this stage in our development. We can hardly agree to anything at all. But, my belief (which I am prepared for the very real, perhaps even probable, possibility of being wrong) is that we want freedom and fairness so that we can persue this spiritual thing.

Ah, shoot. I have to go.

But, here’s what I have so far.

Helmut, ..?

(I hope you’re reading this. :) )

Lion, thank you for thinking about this so thoroughly. I’ll answer in detail as soon as possible.

As for the goal – I agree that it would be nice if there was some unifying goal that gave sense to our lives. But all the “little goals” in our life should make sense and stand on their own. Because otherwise we’ll have a debate over the true spiritual goals we ought to achieve, and that’s an endless discussion. So if freedom and fairness are a means to an unkown end, fair enough. I think we should promote them as ends in their own right, however.

Meta: I think we should be free to move single issues to separate pages as soon as we have a discussion going.

I didn’t intend to go so far as to define a unfiying goal or the “sense of life”. I think this would be a central reduction similar to reducing everything to one religion or to one philosophical theory. If you want to have a single answer, then it will be given in single abstract words like “mu”, “tao” or “God” and you can then seek all your life what that really means. That searches are maybe perfect but they are not universal. We humans are part of processes and we can feel when these processes are right or wrong, make sense or not, make us happy or not. I think the answer is in the diversity of nature, not in the logic of thought.

A debate over the true goals we ough to achieve would be interesting. I wonder what would happen if we took a hundred people and had them explain their “ultimate goal”, their meaning of life, or what they think the goal for society, whould be. And how it relates to their choices and actions. Maybe something like wikipedia, maybe something like what’s talked about on ForFewAndMany. Listing what different people think, and having them vote for / rank things may give some interesting results. Mapping the ideas people already have seems easier, and maybe better, than looking for The Ultimate Answer.

How would people rank things like “colonizing space”, “avoiding the extinction of wild species”, “maximizing human happiness” and “ending all conflicts” ? I’m drifting away from “spiritual goals”, but those make more sense to me.

(Hmm, answering to little “side” issues is easier than adressing the original, quit overwhelming issue …)

Because otherwise we’ll have a debate over the true spiritual goals we ought to achieve, and that’s an endless discussion.

Quite right, Alex; Like I said: We can’t possibly write about those goals, because we can hardly agree about anything right now.

But, just because we can’t agree, it doesn’t mean that something isn’t there.

It doesn’t have to be a something made out of thought, mental substance.

After I left, I realized: “Wait, this article is about New Realism. It’s not about ultimate future.” We’re talking about this particular stage in time that Helmut is talking about. It would make sense that people would not come to any particular conclusions about life goals, in this phase.

(So, the issue is raised prematurely.)

Emile, answering your “I wonder what would happen if we took a hundred people and had them explain their ultimate goal”, this is exactly what AndriusKulikauskas is attempting in his enormous OurCulture? project. He calls that “key concepts” and has actually managed hundreds of people often in hour-long discussinos to make themselves clear about that (http://www.openleader.info/wiki.cgi?KeyConcept/List). He works for supporting these ideas and he conceptually maps these to find overall logical-philosophical structures of human needs and thinking.

BTW if someone is interested in modernizing his physical world view, look at the FrankWilczekTalkAlpbachTwoZeroZeroSix.

OurCulture? is huge and amazing, but also a bit mind-boggling. It’s hard to know what to do or how to do it.

Can I just include my name on that page, and make out a link to what I care about and am working on?

My goal, immediately, with respect to OurCulture?, is simply to work in an public context, register what I’m working on, browse through what others are working on and where they are at, and so on.

It’s not clear to me what I am comitting to, if I put my thoughts on that list, if anything at all.

Actually, you are not committing to anything, really. It is a system without mutual obligations. For many contributors, most of them not internet-literate, it is a kind of free advertizing for their ideas. In this sense it is a community with a strong real-world focus, which is definitely interesting.

In response to traditionalism … I don’t ever want to go back (and some similar comments on PostModern)

While I’m generally optimistic and idealist, this wonderful world in which we live has a few new flaws.

Allow me to list a few things that people had in the old world, that we have lost, and that at least some of my friends regret losing:

  • We used to have more time to ponder each idea we read or heard.
  • extinct animal and plant species
  • traditional Morse Code is faster than this new-fangled “press 2 three times for ‘c’” text-messaging.
  • People made high-quality stuff that lasted for hundreds of years, rather than flimsy stuff that just barely lasts until the warranty expires. (Admittedly, there is some selection bias: We only see the long-lasting stuff from the 1800s. Flimsy stuff from the 1800s fell apart and was discarded decades ago).
  • In any attack on a city, no matter how fierce, many people in the city survived.
  • In any war, the attacking army would suffer at least some loss of life. (Since it happened 1999, some people have this crazy idea that an army can – and should – kill opposing fighters without losing any of their own soldiers).
  • Everyone in the country was working together (I suspect other countries have similar memories; in the US it was something like: to survive in the 1600s; to win a war; to win The War to End All Wars; to get to the moon in the U.S. in the 1960s); now “every man for himself” seems all too typical.
  • Even worse, some people seem to think it is funny to waste someone else’s time.
  • A man with a thoroughly destroyed reputation could “make a fresh start” by moving to a different city, taking a new name, and (with a lot of hard work) become a highly-respected member of his adopted community.
  • But he would have to build his own new identity – this “identity theft” thing was unheard-of.
  • There was also once a time when other scams had not been invented yet – a time before phishing, fake lottery emails, Pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, etc.
  • More people sang songs and played musical instruments, rather than passively listened to professional entertainers.
  • “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” – Peter the Hermit, A.D. 1274
  • Taxes are higher now – Wiki:WhatHaveTheRomansEverDoneForUs

Does this mean I’m becoming a grumpy old man? :-/

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