Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cognitive Revolution & Objectivism, Part 6

Reason. One of the greatest challenges for the critic of Objectivism involves trying to make sense of Rand's conception of reason. The chief difficulty is that Rand never explained, in empirical, testable terms, how to distinguish valid from invalid reasoning. This is, to be sure, the problem with all reasoning that goes beyond deductive logic. In deduction, the critic may examine the form of the argument in order to determine validity. Not so with non-deductive reasoning. In such reasoning, there is no reliable method for testing the conclusion by examining the structure or form of the argument.

For this reason, Rand's assertion that "Reason is man's only means of grasping reality and acquiring knowledge" is empirically empty. Since Rand provides us no way of distinguishing between what she regarded as valid and non-valid reasoning, there is no way to evaluate the extent to which her conception of reason clashes with the "natural reasoning" discovered by cognitive science.

By studying how people actually reason to solve problems of everyday life, cognitive science has discovered that deductive logic has little to do with the inferences people actually make:
[F]ormal logic is not a good description of how our minds usually work. Logic tells us how we should reason when we are trying to reason logically, but it does not tell us how to think about reality as we encounter it most of the time....
Logic enables us to judge the validity of our own deductive reasoning, but much of the time we need to reason non-deductively — either inductively, or in terms of likelihoods, or of causes and effects, none of which fits within the rules of formal logic. The archetype of everyday realistic reasoning might be something like this: This object (or situation) reminds me a lot of another that I experienced before, so probably I can expect much to be true of this one that was true of that one. Such reasoning is natural and utilitarian — but logically invalid....
Our natural reasoning is thus a kind of puttering around — the intellectual equivalent of what a child does when it messes around with some new toy or unfamiliar object. After a spell of mental messing around, we may put our reasoning into logical terms, but the explanation comes after the fact, the actual process took place according to some other method... [The Universe Within, p. 132-136]
In my JARS article, I quoted psychologist Paul E. Johnson's description of how experts in medicine, engineering, and other skilled professions think when solving professional problems. Here's the entire quotation:
I’m continually struck by the fact that the experts in our studies very seldom engage in formal logical thinking. Most of what they do is plausible-inferential thinking based on the recognition of similarities. That kind of thinking calls for a great deal of experience, as we say, a large data base. If anybody’s going to be logical in a task, it’s the neophyte, who’s desperate for some way to generate answers, but the expert finds logical thinking a pain in the neck and far too slow. So the medical specialist, for instance, doesn’t do hypothetical-deductive, step-by-step diagnosis, the way he was taught in medical school. Instead, by means of his wealth of experience he recognizes some symptom or syndrome, he quickly gets an idea, he suspects a possibility, and he starts right in looking for data that will confirm or disconfirm his guess.
I further suggested in the JARS article that the way in which professionals solve problems does not accord with Rand's notion of reason. Seddon responded to this by claiming that I equate Rand's view of logic with deductive logic. But if he had read more attentively the passage above, he'd see that his claim misses the point. When medical specialists "quickly get an idea" based on their wealth of experience, they are reasoning deductively, as follows:
Disease X is known to produce various symptoms, including A, B, and C.
This patient has symptoms A, B, and C.
Therefore, (I suspect) this patient has disease X.

This is clearly not an inductive inference. It's a deductive inference, but an invalid one: it commits the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

Now whether Rand's "reason" includes invalid deductions or not, I will leave for Rand's apologists to decide. The only point I wish to make is that human intelligence apparently cannot do without making use of invalid inferences. Indeed, the whole question of "validity," in everyday life, is of no very great concern. What is important is: (1) the experiential data base from which the invalid inferences are made; (2) the extent to which our conclusions are subjected to criticism (particularly empirical criticism, when that is possible).

This is not to say that we must always make use of invalid inferences, coupled with criticism of conclusions. There are fields of inquiry, particularly in the sciences, where strict deductive logic remains an important tool of analysis. But this does not apply across the board. Many of the problems of everyday life cannot be solved, in part or whole, by only using logically valid forms of reasoning. As John R. Anderson, a "leading theoretician of thinking" (according to Morton Hunt), puts it: "Naturalistic reasoning doesn't use the rules of general inference, but tends to be 'content-specific' — it uses rules that work in a particular area of experience." Morton Hunt sums up the position as follows:
[W]e are pragmatists by nature; what feels right we take to be right; were this not so, we would long ago have disappeared from the earth. Our pragmatism, our natural mode of reasoning, is not anti-intellectual but is the kind of effective intellectuality that was forged in the evolutionary furnace. (The Universe Within, 138)

28 comments:

Jay said...

[W]e are pragmatists by nature; what feels right we take to be right; were this not so, we would long ago have disappeared from the earth.

True, but if we never used logic to reveal the errors in our "pragmatic" thinking, we would have disappeared long ago as well.

Jay said...

If anybody’s going to be logical in a task, it’s the neophyte, who’s desperate for some way to generate answers, but the expert finds logical thinking a pain in the neck and far too slow.

I also don't know if Rand would disagree with this. I always took "reason" (in her view) to mean thinking analytically and purposefully as against blind guessing while adrift. Admittedly, she could have elaborated on this.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "if we never used logic to reveal the errors in our "pragmatic" thinking, we would have disappeared long ago as well"

If by "logic" one means deductive logic (or any sort of "formalized" rule-based reasoning), this simply isn't true. Human beings can survive well enough for evolutionary purposes on the preliterate level, in hunter and gatherer groups, and so on. Such people simply will not make any kind of inferences, logical or otherwise, that don't involve what they have first-hand experiential knowledge of. If you tell such a person that "All Kpelle men are rice farmers" and "Mr. Smith is not a rice farmer," and then ask them: "Is Mr. Smith a Kpelle man?" they won't get it. They'll say things like: "I don't know the man. I have never laid eyes on him. If I knew him in person, I could answer the question. If you know a person, you can answer questions about him. If you don't know him, you can't." Our basic, naturalistic reasoning is very much tied to our experience, because that's the sort of reasoning that helped our ancestors survive during that long pre-civilization epoch in which they existed as hunters and gatherers.

Jay: "I always took "reason" (in [Rand's] view) to mean thinking analytically and purposefully as against blind guessing while adrift. Admittedly, she could have elaborated on this."

Rand's view is a variant of the traditional, classical view of reasoning. That is a view that was challenged, in some respects, by Popper, Polanyi, Pierce, Santayana, Oakeshott, the later Wittgenstein and a number of other philosophers — challenges which are receiving increasing support within cognitive science.

PhysicistDave said...

Greg,

You wrote:
>In deduction, the critic may examine the form of the argument in order to determine validity. Not so with non-deductive reasoning. In such reasoning, there is no reliable method for testing the conclusion by examining the veracity premises and the structure or form of the argument.

I disagree with this, in some respects.

Here are some rules of reason:

1. If you want to learn about the real world, go out and look at it.
2. If someone tells you something, ask yourself how he knows it, whether he could in principle know it, and whether he might be lying.
3. If you think you know something, actively look for counter-examples, check out your own biases, and search for alternative explanations.
4. “Truth is in the details” – look for tiny “insignificant” little details that may give you hints as to the truth (Kepler and the small discrepancy in Mars’ orbit, Mendel and his peas, Darwin and his finches, Galileo measuring the period of oscillation of a pendulum or the time for balls to roll down a plane, Dalton and integral multiples for combining weights, etc.).
5. Don’t compartmentalize – e.g., something cannot be “true” in religion and “false” in science; “contextual truth” is a post-modernist-Objectivist lie.
6. Ockham’s razor – don’t multiply entities or hypotheses beyond necessity.
7. Immerse yourself in the actual details of knowledge already known in a subject if you wish to discover new truths or discuss known truths in that field.

Now, of course, adhering to these rules does not guarantee your conclusion is correct. However, intentionally ignoring all of these rules -- as Objectivists, constantly do! -- does dramatically increase the likelihood that your conclusions are wrong.

If by “reliable,” you mean foolproof, of course there is no reliable method for guaranteeing truth (except for deductive logic in the few cases in which it is relevant). But if “reliable” means “works pretty darn well,” then the maxims I have just given, and a few others along the same lines, do in fact make it reasonably likely that one can attain the truth.

The real problem is that most of our fellow human beings, especially Objectivists, are extremely resistant to following these maxims in certain areas of life – notably religion, politics, etc.

Note that maxim number 4 is really the key to science. Aristotle knew the other rules I’ve listed as well as most scientists today do. The huge advantage modern science has over Aristotle is largely due to our understanding that looking obsessively at what would seem to be uninteresting details about nature can yield huge benefits in increasing our knowledge.

On the issue of domain-specific knowledge, I think you are completely right (hence my rule number 7). “Scientific American” ran a very nice, readable article on this a year ago (“The Expert Mind,” http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind ).

Again, this is one of the besetting logical sins of Objectivists – they think they can freely pontificate about physics, economics, and a host of other subjects without actually acquiring any significant knowledge of those subjects at all! The result is that commonly Objectivists are quite literally hundreds or even thousands of years out of date in the crackpot ideas they hold (I have in mind, for example, the widespread Objectivist idea that empty space can be proven to be impossible).

Reason, I think, is not too hard to define, is extremely powerful, and is reasonably reliable. But it’s not foolproof, and it does require a great deal of very hard work.

The last point is the real problem for Objectivists and the reason that Objectivists are generally so intensely anti-rational: they are intellectually lazy.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Greg,

I should have added the following rule to my list:
8. Always “look behind” words to the actual events in the spacetime continuum that those words purport to describe.

Following that rule exposes a lot of frauds and nonsense. For example, it blows away Rand’s silly argument for the non-existence of God based on the benevolence of the universe.

This rule also exposes a lot of miracle stories as being rather ridiculous: e.g., when Jesus fed the thousands with the loaves and fishes (or when he was miraculously conceived) exactly what would a close observer have really seen at the time? Merely asking the question tells you a lot!

And you can also gain real new knowledge this way. To understand the effects of a legally mandated minimum wage or of price controls, just think carefully about what such controls actually mean in the real world and how people will actually respond to them. Much of economics (and, indeed, physics, evolutionary biology, etc.) is simply following through carefully the chain of events that will actually happen in the real world, given some very simple models of behavior (profit-seeking behavior, heritability of discrete genes, Newton’s laws of motion, etc.).

Incidentally, there is an interesting question as to how one acquires these maxims of inquiry (I assume they are pretty widespread among intelligent people). I think the answer is probably the same as to how we learn anything else: there is some innateness here (human babies are indeed inquisitive little monkeys!) and then, as one starts to acquire primitive versions of these maxims, one can “boot-strap” oneself to a deeper understanding of how to learn the truth about reality.

Of course, quite a few people, like nearly all Objectivists, are more interested in protecting their false beliefs than in learning how to correct them and how to learn the truth.

Dave

Jay said...

Again, this is one of the besetting logical sins of Objectivists – they think they can freely pontificate about physics, economics, and a host of other subjects without actually acquiring any significant knowledge of those subjects at all!

I know it may be hard for you to grasp, but there are Objectivists who read about other subjects and authors. I myself have studied plenty of economic theories and studies (my favorite texts being Basic and Applied Economics by Thomas Sowell.) I am also extremely interested in psychology and have more discussions about human behavior than most people care to theorize about.

I think it's incredibly snobby of you to say that Objectivists are cultist "one trick ponies" who read Rand and no one else.

gregnyquist said...

Dave,

I'm not really sure we disagree. My point is that you can't test the conclusion of non-deductive reasoning by looking at form of the inference. Of course, I realize that should be obvious, since all non-deductive reasonings have an invalid form. The trouble is, Objectivists just ignore this and accuse those who point it out of distorting their philosophy or attacking man's mind. In Objectivism, there seems to be a bias in favor of how you reason (i.e., how you form concepts and make inferences), rather than in what conclusion is actually reached. This bias makes perfect sense if we assume that most Objectivists are simply rationalizing what they want to believe, since the rationalizer is largely interesting in using inferences to give his conclusions the appearance of verity, and shuns empirical testing precisely because harder to rationalize away a fact than it is an argument.

As for your "rules of reason," I don't have any substantial disagreement with any of them. But I would point out that none of them say anything about inferences, or the form of inferences (which is what I am stressing in my criticism of Objectivist "reason"). According to your rules, the how of knowledge involves going out and looking at reality (I would rephrase this to say: building up an experiential database, which involves a lot more than going out and looking, but actually experimenting as well, seeing how things work, poking one's finger into things, etc.). Most of the other rules deal with getting into the right frame of mind to evaluate conclusions (5 and 6) or methods to actually test them (2, 3, 4, possibly 8). My own view is that, partly through rules 1 and 7, we develop a database about a specific domain. Through experiment and trial and error, we run into problems which we try to solve through theories, developed largely from our experience-based intuition (evidence for this view has been known at least since Koestler's Act of Creation). Then we test those theories, and, if they pass the tests, subject them to peer review, so other scientists can test them.

Of course, in areas of knowledge where you cannot run experimental tests, then the level of reliability of your knowledge will decrease. But in everyday life, you can test your conclusions by applying them to practical affairs. This is not as good as scientific testing, because there's no isolation of variables. Your conclusions and theories could yield good results because of fortuitous factors. But over the long run, it's still a fairly decent method of getting at the truth.

Dave: "Incidentally, there is an interesting question as to how one acquires these maxims of inquiry (I assume they are pretty widespread among intelligent people)."

Here our disagreement is more substantive. I don't think most people actually acquire or follow maxims of inquiry. Inquiry is not a technique, but an art that, like all arts, is tacit (i.e., preconscious or unconscious) and inarticulable. There are, of course, certain formalized rules in science and morality; but even these rest on deeper tacit rules that allow us to interpret those rules and apply them correctly. Acquiring an art requires perpetual contact with one who is practicing it, as children acquire the art of life from their parents, or a nascent scientist acquires the art of scientific inquiry by working as an assistant to veteran scientist.

PhysicistDave said...

Greg,

Yeah, we don't really have deep disagreements here: I was merely trying to emphasize a different side of the picture.

You wrote:
>Of course, I realize that should be obvious, since all non-deductive reasonings have an invalid form.

I would not say that they are "invalid," since I do not think that many people even pretend that they are valid: it's a bit like saying that the Mona Lisa does not taste good. Well, I suppose so, but who ever said that it did?

In a sense induction is not invalid but simply non-existent. Various people (e.g., J. S. Mill) did lay out various “rules of induction” that can occasionally be rough, useful guides to finding out things. But all of those rules, and all of my rules, are simply advice as to how to be as careful and honest as you can be. There are no guarantees. Indeed, Popper agreed that you can never be completely sure you have a true “refutation”: you can always make sufficient ad hoc modifications to your theory/hypothesis so that the “refutation” is no longer a refutation but merely an unusual special case.

Of course, at some point, it would then become clear to any honest person that you are simply faking it.

By the way, all this is true even of deductive logic. Philosophers still argue about exactly how we know the rules of deductive logic and how certain we can be of those rules. In substantive terms, there still are honest disagreements about how certain we can be of those deductive rules in some specific areas: e.g., mathematical constructivist/intuitionists deny the law of excluded middle when applied to infinitary objects in math; the role of deductive logic in axiological matters such as ethics is debatable; etc. And, of course, it can be proven mathematically that there is no algorithm for actually finding a valid deduction if it does exist: one is back to following rules of thumb in searching for deductions (which is why no computer can automatically check if an arbitrary proposed mathematical theorem is true – we still need mathematicians).

You are of course quite correct in your emphasis on actively carrying out experiments, seeking out observations that may disconfirm your hypothesis, etc. Those are elaborations of what I meant by my points about truth’s being in the details and the need to actively look for counter-examples.

This is of course a big part of Popper’s conjectures-and-refutations model: you need to really look hard and actively for refutations, not just passively see if any happen to show up (this also includes looking for other humans’ ideas that may show you made a mistake in reasoning or overlooked something – so Austrian economists should learn about Keynesians’ ideas and vice versa).

Of my comment that “I assume [these maxims of inquiry] are pretty widespread among intelligent people,” you wrote:

>Here our disagreement is more substantive. I don't think most people actually acquire or follow maxims of inquiry. Inquiry is not a technique, but an art that, like all arts, is tacit (i.e., preconscious or unconscious) and inarticulable.

I think I may hold a rather narrower definition of “intelligent people” than you realized!

I think you and I do count as “intelligent” as does Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and Jim Watson and of course the late Dick Feynmann, Einstein, Darwin, etc. I think all of these people do hold to my list of maxims, at least implicitly, (and of course to other maxims of inquiry in the same vein – I was not trying to create an exhaustive list) and would explicitly endorse such maxims if they were asked. And, I’d guess that by my criteria, millions of human beings around the world count as intelligent.

But by my criteria, there are not billions of “intelligent” people. And, it is not enough to have an IQ above 115 (or 130 or whatever) or to have a Ph.D. or to be a scientist or to be an Ivy League graduate or whatever.

To me, to be “intelligent,” you have to have the basic mental apparatus in terms of memory, ability to connect different propositions, etc., combined with a real desire to find out the truth about the real world and a willingness to go to the hard work to train oneself to be a person who can find out the truth.

That does not necessarily mean that you have to become a scientist (though you do have to learn some things about science and how science works), but it does mean that you cannot simply be satisfied with being a “true” Christian or a “true” Objectivist or a true liberal or a true libertarian or a true materialist or a true dualist or whatever.

You’ve got to learn to think and then work at it.

Curiously, I think Rand herself would actually have agreed with almost everything I have written here, even if she often failed to practice it. One of the things that astounds me about contemporary Objectivists is that I have found a number who will actively argue against all of this and, indeed, get quite angry about it! Of course, there are clearly strands in Rand’s writings that have led to this Objectivist know-nothingism, but to me those always seemed to be the “non-essential” parts of Rand’s thoughts.

Obviously, contemporary Objectivists and I differ as to what is essential and non-essential in Rand.

Of course, what really interests me in all this is your final paragraph suggesting that far too few humans have learned to think critically. I think this is remediable and should be remediated. We cannot turn everyone into a Hawking or a Watson, but people can be taught to think explicitly about the process of critical inquiry and about the maxims that can and should guide one in that process. And, most importantly, as you suggest, this should be taught to them as one of the arts of life and as an integral part of their education and upbringing.

There should not be a separate, isolated unit on “critical thinking.” Rather, in learning about science, history, etc., there should be a constant process of “How do scientists knows that?”, “Why did it take so long to reject that fallacy?”, “How do historians know what Washington was aiming at?” “What should you do to see if this textbook is biased?” etc.

Content and method cannot be taught separately. Method without content is ignorance; content without method is dogmatism.

Anyway, I suppose I’m illustrating the connection between my current “occupation” (homeschooling my kids) and your blog. Rand was right on one point – ideas do matter. The human race had better start learning how to think critically, or the next few centuries are going to be kind of rough.

All the best,

Dave

anon57 said...

PhysicistDave: "For example, it blows away Rand’s silly argument for the non-existence of God based on the benevolence of the universe."
Where did she argue this? Citation, please.

Kelly said...

"anon57 said...
Where did she argue this? Citation, please."

I agree with anon 57, I'd like to know where Rand said this.

It is odd though that when one is debating or arguing objectivists, they always demand such high standards like providing precise citations, while at the same time never demanding the same from fellow Objectivists. Correct me if I'm wrong but I can't remember any work cited, references or bibliography for any of Rand's work.

Kelly

Daniel Barnes said...

Kelly:
>Correct me if I'm wrong but I can't remember any work cited, references or bibliography for any of Rand's work.

Hi Kelly,

Rand is very poor in this regard. See the latest post, and some of the links therein. There is even some doubt as to whether she actually read some of the thinkers she criticised: for example, Kant.

Jay said...

I have never heard Rand argue for atheism because of the benevolent universe premise, either.

Dragonfly said...

I do remember that one of Rand's arguments for atheism was that the concept of God is insulting and degrading to man, it implies that the highest possible is not to be reached by man, that he is an inferior being who can only worship an ideal he will never achieve. Which is of course not an argument at all.

Ellen Stuttle said...

> Dragonfly said...
> I do remember that one of Rand's arguments for atheism was that the concept of God is insulting and degrading to man,

I don't think that was presented as an argument, just as an emotional reaction to the idea of God and a basis for her own rejecting the idea from an early age. If I recall right, the places where her early rejection of the idea of God is mentioned are Barbara's "Who Is Ayn Rand?" bio, and the book-length biography.

I, too, have no recollection of Rand's arguing against the existence of God on the basis of the benevolent-universe premise.

Ellen

Dragonfly said...

If it is a basis for rejecting the idea of God then it is in my view by definition an argument. That it is an invalid argument is another matter.

Ellen Stuttle said...

> Dragonfly said...
> If it is a basis for rejecting the idea of God then it is in my view by definition an argument. That it is an invalid argument is another matter.

Then in my view you have an odd definition of "argument." ;-) I'll give an example from another area, something which comes up unfortunately often from persons who "believe in" AGW: they feel something about the idea which resonates with them and hence accept it. (Reverse of AR's situation, wherein she felt offended by the idea of God.) I don't call liking or alternately disliking and therefore accepting or alternately rejecting an idea an "argument."

(I might of course be misremembering, and her reason for rejecting the idea might have been presented as an argument, but I don't think it was. I'll look it up when I get a chance.)

Ellen

dragonfly said...

Ellen: '"I don't call liking or alternately disliking and therefore accepting or alternately rejecting an idea an "argument."'

She mentioned it when she told of her reasons that she decided to become an atheist. That is what I call an argument. You might dispute whether it was only her personal argument or also an argument to convince other people. At least she found it important enough to mention it.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Here are the two descriptions by Barbara -- one from Who Is Ayn Rand?, the other from The Passion of Ayn Rand -- of Ayn's decision when she was approaching age fourteen that she was an atheist. It looks like my memory was faulty and the degrading-to-man reason was considered by her to be an actual argument, not just an expression of personal feeling.

From Who Is Ayn Rand?, pp. 161-62. During this time the family is living in the Crimea, having had to leave Petrograd:

Excerpt --

"[...] when Ayn was not yet fourteen [she wrote] an entry in her diary: 'Today, I decided that I am an atheist.'

"There had never been a time when she was willing to accept an idea without proof, nor when she failed to give reasons for her convictions, in whatever terms her age and knowledge permitted. If she asked 'Why?' about an adult's statement and was told that she must not expect to understand, that she must 'just believe' or 'just feel it' or 'have faith'--her response was an astonished contempt. She would not enter into discussions with anyone who rejected reason; in her mind, such a person was either stupid or dishonest. When told, as an accusation, that she lacked faith, she would proudly reply: 'I haven't any faith at all.'

"Her parents, who were Jewish, were not particularly religious, and had given her no formal religious training. The question of the existence of God had not interested her before. But now, attempting to formulate her convictions on a number of fundamental issues, she considered the question scrupulously--and concluded that there was no God. She wrote the causes of her conclusion in her diary: first, that there are no reasons to believe in God, there is no proof of the belief; and second, that the concept of God is insulting and degrading to man--it implies that the highest possible is not to be reached by man, that he is an inferior being who can only worship an ideal he will never achieve. By her view, there could be no breach between conceiving of the best possible and deciding to attain it. She rejected the concept of God as morally evil."

End Excerpt --


The second description is from The Passion of Ayn Rand, pp. 35-36. I've added some further paragraphs which I find interesting about Ayn's attitude toward disagreement with her views:


Excerpt --

"Alice continued to keep a diary of her ideas. One entry read, 'Today, I decided to be an atheist.' * She later explained, 'I had decided that the concept of God is degrading to m[a]n. Since they say God is perfect, and man can never be that perfect, then man is low and imperfect and there is something above him--which is wrong.' Her second reason was that 'no proof of the existence of God exists; the concept is an untenable invention.' It was all decided in one day, she said. 'Since the concept of God is rationally untenable and degrading to man, I'm against it. It was as simple as that. The essence of my present belief is there. It focused the issue of reason versus mysticism. I had the feeling that atheism was an integration of something that had been growing in me for a long time, not a sudden new thought. When I focused on the subject for the first time, the convictions were already there.'

"Alice never turned back from these convictions; she remained a lifelong atheist. She was not, she would often say, 'a militant atheist'; the belief in God seemed to her so patently irrational that it did not deserve to be fought. It was not the concept of God that she would battle throughout her life; it was what she saw as its source, its wider meaning: the rejection of reason. It was to the battle for reason--the tool and the glory of the heroic man--that she would dedicate her life.

"Although Alice would argue heatedly about any other issue, she stubbornly refused to engage in any argument about the validity of reason. It was not debatable. She would say only, 'You're talking about faith. I haven't any--and it doesn't make sense to me.' Man's mind--his reasoning faculty, his power to grasp logical connections--is his basic tool of survival, she would contend throughout her life; and mysticism, the anti-rational, the anti-logical, is the instrument of death.

"As reason was an absolute not open to question, so was the value of intelligence. People who did not value intelligence as she did, she wrote in her diary, were 'totally negligible. They were not anything human.' She felt neither hatred nor anger in the presence of such people. She felt nothing.

"Before this period, she had reacted as if those who did not hold her values were wrong. Now it became a conscious conviction; her values were objective 'because I could prove my case. Reason is on my side. I felt they were either stupid or dishonest if they disagreed with me. If they were my own age, they were stupid. I knew that many philosophers and writers had a view of life which was wrong, and I considered them vicious and dishonest.' This is an estimate of those who disagreed with her ideas which remained a part of Alice's character to the end of her life; she would 'allow' disagreement until a philosophical opponent had heard her case; after that, if agreement were not forthcoming, she was faced with 'vicious dishonesty.'"

End Excerpt --


*The wordings given in the two sources somewhat differ: "that I am" in WIAR? and "to be" in PAR.

___

anon57 said...

Thanks, Ellen Stuttle, for the quotes. I still don't see them as arguments against the existence of God on a par with 'there are no reasons to believe in God' or 'there is no proof of the existence of God'. Regardless, the quotes do not support PhysicistDave's allegation that Rand argued for the non-existence of God based on the benevolence of the universe.

PhysicistDave said...

Interesting that no one except me seems to remember the atheism-from-benevolent-universe argument. I think the reason it has always stuck in my mind is that I had a friend in college, Greg Simay, who claimed to have turned the argument on its head and to have proved the existence of God. Those of us interested in Rand found Greg’s Christian Objectivism extremely funny and always wanted him to go New York to try to convert Rand. I fear he never had the chance.

The quote from Ellen shows that Rand was thinking along these lines from her childhood, but I remember a more explicit statement actually claiming to be a proof in her writings somewhere.

Since I have neither time nor incentive to search out the exact quote (if I happen to run across it I will post it), I’ll offer another argument indisputably from Rand that is equally goofy. My point is that she made quite a few idiotic arguments and was not the paragon of reason that Objectivists pretend that she was.

Rand stated:
>"Infinity" in the metaphysical sense, as something existing in reality, is another invalid concept. The concept "infinity," in that sense, means something without identity, something not limited by anything, not definable.

I assume everyone here can use Google to find out how widely this view of Rand’s is being used by contemporary Objectivists to justify all sorts of goofy claims about physics, math, cosmology, etc.

And, of course, her argument is nonsense.

“Infinite” means “not finite.” That is both the ordinary and the technical meaning of the word, and it has been used that way for a very long time.

Not being limited in number (not finite) does not mean “without identity.”

Modern cosmology suggests that the universe may be actually infinite – existing observations do not seem to be consistent with the simplest models of a finite universe (not enough mass to close the universe), and they are consistent with an infinite universe.

Now of course, we may never know for certain that the universe is infinite: any observation taken to show that it is infinite would probably be consistent with it being extraordinarily large but finite. But, if it is finite, we might be able to show that: for example, if the mass density were much higher than we now think it is, that would seem to require that the universe must be finite.

But if Rand’s argument were correct, there would be no need for astronomers to actually look observationally to see if the universe were finite. We’d already know it was not infinite by Rand’s a priori argument.

What I am trying to emphasize here is that Rand did not make a subtle mistake. This fallacious argument of hers is a sign of great stupidity (no, she was not always stupid – but when she was stupid, wow!). Her many contemporary followers’ use of this argument (with appropriate Googling, you get thousands upon thousands of hits) is cultism run wild.

If you start exploring all the bizarre discussions on the Web by Objectivists about the scientific and mathematical implications of Rand’s argument against actually existing infinity, you will find that there are very, very few scientists or mathematicians in those discussions.

And for a very good reason: any competent scientist would view all of these arguments as intellectually equivalent to the flat-eartherss'.

The arguments are all nonsense.

That almost no Objectivists are willing to come out and point this out – i.e., both that Rand’s original argument is invalid and idiotic and also that her contemporary followers’ use of that argument is a sign of the intellectual know-nothingism of the Objectivist movement – is one of the reasons why almost no intellectually serious people can view Objectivism as anything except a sad joke.

Dave

Jay said...

Dave,

I have no problem agreeing with you on this point. If that truly was Rand's view, it seems patently false. Nothing should stop us from actually verifying things, when possible.

PhysicistDave said...

Jay,

I'm not sure which point you are agreeing with me on.

I assume everyone here understands that no one owns the word Objectivist, and I think almost everyone here could find at least some points on which he or she agrees with Rand. So, if you choose to call yourself an Objectivist but are nonetheless willing to judge Rand by the same criteria applied to non-Objectivists, great!

But, the problem is that the vast majority of self-proclaimed Objectivists with whom I’ve interacted or whose writings I’ve read are not willing to say, on major issues, “Rand was wrong on that.” even when she clearly was wrong. Leaving aside the issue of whether I am correctly remembering Rand’s explicit “proof” of atheism via her “benevolent universe” nonsense or whether I was simply remembering the quote Ellen has provided for us, either way these are not adequate reasons to believe in the non-existence of God, and Objectivists should be willing to admit that. Rand’s reason was stupid.

There are indeed good reasons not to believe, at least, in any particular god. Given what we know about human psychology (i.e., humans often fantasize, misunderstand stories, or simply lie), the history of religion, and, more than anything, the extraordinary plethora of gods different groups of human have worshipped, the best explanation of human belief in any particular god is simply that people made up that god. But to make that point requires at least a passing acquaintance with comparative religion, history, etc. I don’t recall seeing any Objectivist ever make this point, and, indeed, the failure to do so fits the general Objectivist pattern of arguing from very abstract ideas out of Rand without actually bothering to learn concrete, real knowledge in science, history, etc.

My direct quote from Rand about actually existing infinity, and the huge amount of nonsense by Objecitivists based on that silly idea, illustrate the point even better. Where are the Objectivists willing to point out that on this Rand made a colossal fool of herself and that quite a few of her followers are following in her footsteps? Where are the Objectivists willing to say that Peikoff made a colossal fool of himself in his comments on the Big Bang, relativity, etc.?

This is not stuff on which intelligent, informed people have varying opinions. Rand’s and Peikoff’s views on these subjects make less sense than the views of the advocates of Intelligent Design. Objectivists are happy to denounce the Intelligent Design con artists. Why won’t Objectivists denounce people such as Peikoff, Harriman, et al. whose views on science are even more disreputable and bizarre than the Intelligent Designers’ views?

The answer, I think, is obvious: members of a religious cult do not denounce the views of the leaders of their cult.

If you yourself are willing to reject Rand’s view on actually existing infinity and her view that God does not exist because we can’t have something greater than man and acknowledge that Peikoff’s and his pal Dave Harriman’s anti-science views on relativity and the Big Bang are anti-scientific nonsense, I’ll cheerfully concede that you are not a member of a cult. But I will note that few self-designated Objectivists seem to have the courage or sense to take that course themselves.


Dave

anon57 said...

PhysicistDave,

Maybe you will be more successful in getting Objectivists to admit Ayn Rand was wrong about something if you stop making things up about her and cherry-picking her words in order to present them in the worst possible light and give her some credit once in a while.

You have been called on Rand arguing against the existence of God premised on a benevolent universe. Yet in your latest post you still call it "Rand's stupid reason". Nor did I see you admit any error.

You cherry-picked a quote re infinity. Immediately before it in ITOE was this: "The concept of 'infinity' has a very definite purpose in mathematical calculation, and there it is a concept of method." It's also clear that she was addressing the concept of God, an allegedly infinite being with infinite powers.

You say the best explanation of human belief in any particular god is simply that people made up that god. That's pretty obvious to an atheist and Rand would have probably agreed. But it carries no weight against a convinced theist.

Lastly, many Objectivists reject Peikoff's and Harriman's nonsense about physics. But they were not views expressed by Rand, and there is far more to Objectivism.

PhysicistDave said...

anon57,

I pointed out specifically that Rand’s point about infinity was nonsense when applied to cosmology and that a number of contemporary Objectivists are indeed applying it to cosmology.

You’re not telling the truth in saying that I “cherry picked” it – I had actually forgotten about it myself long ago and only remembered it because so many present-day Objectivists keep reviving this point, made by Rand, in the context of physics and cosmology.

By the way, why do you deride as “cherry picking” someone actually quoting Rand and pointing out that she was a fool? How else should we criticize her except by quoting her?

Oops – I forgot, no one should criticize your Lord and Savior at all, right?

You’re also not telling the truth about her applying her remarks about infinity solely to the issue of God. In the passage I quoted, she did not do so, and she did not state that she was restricting her comments about infinity to its uses in connection with God. Someone has kindly loaded the relevant sections of ITOE onto the Web so that people can check out your untruths for themselves (http://originresearch.com/documents/rand1.cfm ).

Scratch an Objectivist, find a liar. I have a very low tolerance for lying.

I have not admitted any error on Rand’s stupid argument against God, because no one has shown that I have made any. Ellen has kindly provided a quote that shows that Rand did indeed make a remarkably stupid error in arguing against the existence of God.

Finally, you write:
>Lastly, many Objectivists reject Peikoff's and Harriman's nonsense about physics.

Really, where? I have been able to find very few. The late Steve Speicher was willing to criticize Harriman, but Speicher professed himself reluctant to criticize Peikoff because of Peikoff’s supposed contributions to Objectivism.

Your complaint seems to be that even though I and others have made some factually correct criticisms of Rand and other Objectivists, we should not do so because “there is far more to Objectivism.” Indeed, there is – all the stuff Rand swiped from earlier philosophers without giving proper credit.

Aside from that – nada.

Now, if only all of you could admit that she was a fiery novelist and essayist but not much of a philosopher at all – but of course that’s hard for you to say, isn’t it? I liked her novels and I still like a lot of her essays, but if she’s a world-class philosopher, I’m President of the United States.

You really seem to have trouble understanding that from the perspective of reasonable people who have read many of Rand’s books but who are not part of the cult, her supposed genius is not obvious.

Dave

anon57 said...

In a corner PhysicistDave resorts to name calling and more distortion.

He cherry-picks a quote from Rand about infinity that pertained to God and now claims it is about all of cosmology. He adds "a number of contemporary Objectivists are indeed applying it to cosmology." They are not Ayn Rand.

I looked at the website that he says shows "I was not telling the truth." It says nothing more about infinity than what I last said, except that I paraphrased a part of it. It does not support his allegations.

Fyi, PhysicistDave, Rand is not my "Lord and Savior" and I am not a cultist. I value truth more than Rand. In contrast it's clear that you value Rand bashing far more than truth. By the way, there are other philosophers I rank better than Rand and I disagree with her on several matters.

Jay said...

But if Rand’s argument were correct, there would be no need for astronomers to actually look observationally to see if the universe were finite.

Jay said...

I don’t recall seeing any Objectivist ever make this point, and, indeed, the failure to do so fits the general Objectivist pattern of arguing from very abstract ideas out of Rand without actually bothering to learn concrete, real knowledge in science, history, etc.

This is pretty surprising to me, without a hint of sarcasm. The Objectivists I've spoken to didn't try to justify their atheism on those grounds. I certainly don't. Just last night, my buddy and I talked about how it's so obvious that religion originated as a system of thought control and primitive pre-science explanation, and how almost every scientific advance has disproved some facet of religion.

Furthermore, there is not one shred of positive evidence for the existence of a God. OPAR (Peikoff) generally indicated the same thoughts, although I can believe that Rand justified her belief on other notions. So fine, I will admit it: those notions are irrelevant insofar as proving the existence or non-existence of God. All she had to do is indicate the total lack of evidence. Then she could've talked about how, furthermore, the idea of religion is degrading to man.

As an aside, visit www.GodIsImaginary.com. Great site on the subject, and quite funny if you ask me!

PhysicistDave said...

anon57,

Let me put this bluntly: you are a liar. Considering how easy it is for anyone to check this out, I am frankly fascinated by your insistence on continuing to lie.

Anyone can check out ITOE and see for himself that Rand did not claim that her comments about infinity had to do with God.

She was asked specifically to comment on three separate topics:

>Prof. D: Here are some concepts that present a difficulty with respect to leaving out differing specific measurements and abstracting a common feature. What measurements of what particulars do we leave out and what common features do we retain in the case of the following three concepts: (1) "God"; (2) "infinity"; (3) "nothing"?

“Prof D” did not link these topics together.

Rand proceeded to address those topics in sequence, as made sense. She did not suggest that her comments on “infinity” or on “nothing” were restricted to their relevance in discussing “God.” Indeed, she did not indicate any connection either concept had to do with “God” at all!

Here is the whole rest of the passage for anyone too lazy to follow my link above (http://originresearch.com/documents/rand1.cfm ) or actually read the book:

>AR: What measurements do we omit?
>Prof. A: Yes. And what common features of particulars are retained in order to get the concept "God"­ --
>AR: I would have to refer you to a brief passage about invalid concepts [page 49]. This is precisely one, if not the essential one, of the epistemological objections to the concept "God." It is not a concept. At best, one could say it is a concept in the sense in which a dramatist uses concepts to create a character. It is an isolation of actual characteristics of man combined with the projection of impossible, irrational characteristics which do not arise from reality-such as omnipotence and omniscience.
>Besides, God isn't even supposed to be a concept: he is sui generis, so that nothing relevant to man or the rest of nature is supposed, by the proponents of that viewpoint, to apply to God. A concept has to involve two or more similar concretes, and there is nothing like God. He is supposed to be unique. Therefore, by their own terms of setting up the problem, they have taken God out of the conceptual realm. And quite properly, because he is out of reality.
>The same applies to the concept "infinity," taken metaphysically. The concept of "infinity" has a very definite purpose in mathematical calculation, and there it is a concept of method. But that isn't what is meant by the term "infinity" as such. "Infinity" in the metaphysical sense, as something existing in reality, is another invalid concept. The concept "infinity," in that sense, means something without identity, something not limited by anything, not definable.
>Therefore, the measurements omitted here are all measurements and all reality. Now, what was the third one?
>Prof. A: "Nothing."
>AR: That is strictly a relative concept. It pertains to the absence of some kind of concrete. The concept "nothing" is not possible except in relation to "something." Therefore, to have the concept "nothing," you mentally specify-in parenthesis, in effect-the absence of a something, and you conceive of "nothing" only in relation to concretes which no longer exist or which do not exist at present.
>You can say "I have nothing in my pocket." That doesn't mean you have an entity called "nothing" in your pocket. You do not have any of the objects that could conceivably be there, such as handkerchiefs, money, gloves, or what­ever. "Nothing" is strictly a concept relative to some existent concretes whose absence you denote in this form.
>It is very important to grasp that "nothing" cannot be a primary concept. You cannot start with it in the absence of, or prior to, the existence of some object. That is the great trouble with Existentialism, as I discuss in the book [page 60]. There is no such concept as "nothing," except as a relational concept denoting the absence of some things. The measurements omitted are the measurements of those things.
>Prof. A: Does the concept of "non-existence" refer only to an absence? Is there no valid concept of sheer non-being, of something that never was and never will be?
>AR: That's right. Non-existence as such-particularly in the same generalized sense in which I use the term "existence" in saying "existence exists," that is, as the widest abstraction without yet specifying any content, or applying to all content-you cannot have the concept "non-existence" in that same fundamental way. In other words, you can't say: this is something pertaining to the whole universe, to everything I know, and I don't say what. In other words, without specifying content.
>You see, the concept of "existence" integrates all of the existents that you have perceived, without knowing all their characteristics. Whereas the concept of "non-existence" in that same psycho-epistemological position would be literally a blank. Non-existence-apart from what it is that doesn't exist-is an impossible concept. It's a hole-a literal blank, a zero.
>It is precisely on the fundamental level of equating existence and non-existence as some kind of opposites that the greatest mistakes occur, as in Existentialism.

There is not even a sentence here that contains both the words “God” and the word “infinity.”

No person who is fluent in English can honestly pretend that Rand here claims that what she has to say about infinity is limited to God.

Rand made a fool of herself on this issue of actually existing infinity and a lot of her contemporary followers – but above all, you yourself – are continuing to make fools of themselves on this matter.

Anyone who reads the above passage can see this for himself.

And you are now a proven pathological liar. Why keep lying about this when anyone chan check it out? No wonder you won’t tell anyone your name! (My name, incidentally, is David Miller – since there are many more David Millers than PhysicistDaves on the Web, I’ve found the latter handle avoids confusion).

Dave