A lot of smart people make fundamental mistakes about “What’s rational?” and “Who’s being rational?”

These are criticial questions.

"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 say:

  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:

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 mind.

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 space.

I’ll speculatively divide people on two axis:

“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 inevitable.

“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 man?”

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.

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 position.

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 head.

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 motions.

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.


This is something I posted to FoRK, and don’t have time to explain right now. I just thought I’d cross-post it here, before getting back to work.