Monday, November 19, 2007

Objectivist Quote of the Week: Einstein "Corrupted"

"Since I'm not a scientist, I'm not competent to judge whether Dave Harriman's criticisms of Einstein are ultimately right or not. I can say with some confidence that although brilliant, Einstein was undoubtedly corrupted by Kantian philosophy. That's no small matter."
- Diana Mertz Hsieh, Noodlefood


(hat tip to Physicist Dave)

55 comments:

PhysicistDave said...

It actually is pretty funny that, after admitting that she knew nothing about the subject, Diana became furious at the one person posting there who actually did understand the relevant physics!

I also strongly doubt that Diana knows enough about Einstein's (or Kant's) thought to legitimately conclude that "Einstein was undoubtedly corrupted by Kantian philosophy." Philosophic malpractice?

If Einstein was "corrupted" by anything, it was naive empiricism, which is a little bit different than Kantianism.

In fact, Kant maintained that we had no choice but to think of space as being described by Euclidean geometry. Einstein, more than anyone, proved that this was wrong. Oddly, it seems that it is Diana and her friends, not Einstein, who are the real Kantians here, and on a point on which Kant has been definitively proven wrong!

I was actually getting rather tired waiting for Diana to ban me. Obviously, this was coming (the cyberspace version of the old Objectivist purges), but I felt an obligation to answer any honest posts directed at me until she finally got around to banning me.

I do find her claim of my dishonesty interesting, since I was quite upfront in all my posts.

I think what may have annoyed her the most and finally sent her over the edge is my comments in the e-mail that she suggested I send her:

>I am over fifty years old: I do not need approval from young grad students. However, ARI and its hangers-on do need approval from intellectually serious people, such as scientists. Peikoff's and Harriman's anti-scientific crusade will, I think and hope, make that impossible. As you know, even such a loyal ARI supporter as Steve Speicher, towards the end of his life, was distressed by the nonsense that Peikoff and Harriman are now peddling, but Steve, sadly, could not quite bring himself to denounce Peikoff's misconduct publicly.

>Once word gets out that a philosopher and a fellow with a BS in physics at a fringe think tank in LA think they have proved that relativity and the Big Bang are false, but that they can convince no competent physicists of this, all intellectually serious people will simply laugh when they hear the word "Objectivism."

>And that is as it should be.
[snip]
>I bear you and Paul no ill will. You seem to me to be sweet young kids unfortunately caught up in a cult. If you ever get out of this cult, get in touch. A lot of the people who have been following your career feel as I do. When you two free yourselves from ARI -- and that day will come -- many of us will be willing to be your friends.

I do think that the best way to think of Diana and a lot of young Objectivists is as little kids corrupted by a few dirty old men at ARI.

I don't think she likes it that I do not consider her to be a grown-up.

Dave

ken stauffer said...

Here's another gem from Diana:

link


"I don't have much to say about Dawkins, other than that I generally regard his argument for the gene as the basic unit of selection as seriously wrong in various stupid ways. I can't recall the details of his views or of my objections. That's just a recollection from my readings of some of his articles a few years ago.

...

In particular, the whole concern for explaining the supposedly altruistic behavior of animals is deeply idiotic. The debate rests of upon a silly mischaracterization of the behavior of animals: the assumption of a small risk to protect the young in some general kind of behavior is regarded as altruistic on the rare occasions when it happens to go badly. More importantly, its supposedly significant implications for ethics (in the question of whether altruistic behavior is possible to us humans at all) involves a total failure to acknowledge the obvious fact of human free will.

So I have a great deal of trouble respecting any intellectual concerned with this issue of "altruism" in animals. And Dawkins is indeed greatly concerned about it: I heard him prattle on for ages in a recent BBC roundtable. (I was listening to hear Onkar Ghate's excellent contributions.) His whole approach to the issue was embarassingly stupid. (I didn't remember until just now that it was him.)

I have heard that _The Blind Watchmaker_ was good, but athiesm isn't exactly a tough or complex issue. (However, I suspect that a close reading of that book would reveal substantial and problematic committments to materialism.)"

Dragonfly said...

Physicistdave: "I don't think she likes it that I do not consider her to be a grown-up."

It is her usual reaction against any criticism, no matter how polite and rational. It is also the typical reaction of the cultist. If they're confronted with an argument that criticizes some aspect of their belief, they shut their eyes, plug their ears and shout "go away! go away!" I suspect that deep down they realize that the basis of their belief is not as solid as they'd want it to be. If they were really as rational as they pretend to be, they wouldn't be afraid to enter into an argument. Instead they resort to repressing the unwelcome message and chasing the messenger away.

Dragonfly said...

Ken: ROTFL! Now she even pretends to be knowledgeable about biology... Another example of the enormous hubris of Objectivists, who think that their philosophy enables them as laymen to tell from their armchair physicists and biologists what they're doing wrong! How deluded they are if they think that any scientist will ever take them seriously... I can only conclude that Objectivism can cause serious damage in the brain.

PhysicistDave said...

Ken,

What I do find interesting is that, while Diana is not all that bright, she is of at least normal intelligence, probably somewhat above normal. She’s clearly bright enough to understand ideas such as “inclusive fitness,” which of course is what Dawkins was trying to explain and which she was unable to understand.

So why couldn’t she understand it?

Did the word “altruism” ring her alarm bells and turn off the cerebral cortex?

One theory I’ve had is that Objectivists are pathologically extreme logocentrics.

Consider Rand’s argument against the existence of God:

1) If the universe is benevolent, there is no God.
2) The universe is benevolent.
3) Therefore, there is no God.

A lot of Objectivists seem to take this seriously as an argument!

And, of course, in a purely formal sense, it appears, superficially, to be valid.

But of course, it’s utter nonsense for a variety of reasons: for example, the word “benevolent” (i.e., having good will) can only be applied metaphorically to the universe, and metaphors do not work well in syllogisms. (I suppose a pantheist could consistently apply the word in a literal sense to the universe, but Rand was not a pantheist.)

Ever since I was a teenager and read Rand’s stuff (and enjoyed it), I’ve been intrigued by how anyone could take this argument seriously. (No doubt this is my primal sin, and the reason I never became an Objectivist.)

I’ve seen this same trait among many religious believers: an unwillingness to get behind the verbiage and try to figure out what’s really going on.

If you have followed any of the recent Objectivist discussions in various forums about actually existing infinity, the possibility of an eternal past, the reality of space, etc., you know what I mean. I am simply in awe of these folks’ ability to use so many words with so little actual meaning behind the words!

Could Objectivism simply be explained by a phenomenon of some people who wish to be rational and who are very good at manipulating words but who are also extraordinarily bad at getting behind the words to actual meaning?

I’ve noticed a lot of humanities majors and almost zero competent technical people among the Objectivists. That fits my theory.

As much fun as it is to poke fun at the Objectivists (and I did have a lot of fun on Diana’s blog, though, sadly, she did not seem to enjoy the experience), what is really interesting is to try to understand them.

Objectivism is a fascinating post-modern socio- and psychpathology.

All the best,

Dave

Daniel Barnes said...

P Dave:
>But of course, it’s utter nonsense for a variety of reasons: for example, the word “benevolent” (i.e., having good will) can only be applied metaphorically to the universe, and metaphors do not work well in syllogisms.

See our "Understanding Objectivist Jargon" section for the amazing thought pattern behind this particular "metaphor"...;-)

OT, you mentioned you homeschooled? Just curious, but as someone who did a lot of work at home with his dyslexic son I am curious as to 1) what prompted your decision and 2)how you found time to do it?

Ellen Stuttle said...

> ken stauffer said...
> Here's another gem from Diana:

link


"I don't have much to say about Dawkins, other than that I generally regard his argument for the gene as the basic unit of selection as seriously wrong in various stupid ways. I can't recall the details of his views or of my objections. That's just a recollection from my readings of some of his articles a few years ago.

[Etc.]


What IS it with these Objectivists?

Rhetorical explosion; just expressing irritation. So now Diana's telling Dawkins how to do biology, is she?

And O'ists say O'ism is the voice of reason and the friend of science.

Yuk.

Back to peaceful lurking.

Associated comment, though: Someone on a thread I read yesterday, I forget which thread or who, made a remark about not wanting to look at the Valliant entertainment on Dawkins' site due to hating Dawkins almost as much as Objectivism.

If the person who made the remark is reading this, and cares to answer: Why do you hate Dawkins?

Ellen

PhysicistDave said...

Daniel,

Well, when my kids were first born, I was doing consulting work out of the home. Nowadays, though, homeschooling is a full-time job. Fortunately, my wife’s profession is sufficiently remunerative that we’re okay as a one-income family.

Our main motive was simply the collapse of the US education system, at least out here in California. Most California schools, for example, no longer do Euclidean geometry in high school via the axiomatic method (axiom/theorem/proof). And, even when I attended the public schools (I graduated way back in ’72), they were not great.

My basic theory, which has worked out nicely, is that kids can be taught about evolution and natural selection, about molecules being formed by atoms sharing electrons, about the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang, and about similarly “sophisticated” topics in history, economics, philosophy, etc. fairly early in grade school. (Of course, since Objectivists deny the Big Bang, this means no Objectivist can follow my approach!)

These concepts are not really that much more difficult to grasp than the idea that the apparent movement of sun, moon, and planets is due to the earth spinning on its axis, the moon moving around the earth, and the planets moving around the sun, and of course the basic facts about the solar system are (or were when I was a kid) indeed taught in grade school. Americans have just become used to the idea that we do not teach grade-school kids stuff that was not already known in, say, 1890.

This lack of a real education in modern knowledge in grade school means that the “early stuff” which really sticks in kids’ brains is the stuff that they pick up randomly from the popular culture – Santa Claus, life after death, God’s creating the universe, etc. To use Sagan’s phrase, people who are not exposed to a scientifically informed view of reality from an early age tend to psychologically inhabit a “demon-haunted world” as adults, even if they manage eventually to pick up a bit of superficial scientific knowledge. (A similar point can be made about history, economics, etc.)

I think this may be a lot of what we are seeing with people like Jim Vaillant and Diana Hsieh: even if they tried to acquire some real twentieth and twenty-first century knowledge, they have become so imprinted on na├»ve, pre-scientific ways of thinking (such as Jim’s rather silly beliefs about “free will”) that they can never adjust to modern knowledge. And, of course, if you do not start learning about science till high school, then you will probably never have time to get very far into science: again, Diana Hsieh’s’s self-confessed ignorance of modern physics and modern biology nicely illustrates this fact.

(How on earth can someone pretend to be a philosopher when she is starkly and confessedly ignorant of the best knowledge we have of reality, as revealed by modern science?)

So, I suppose you could say we are homeschooling to guarantee that our kids do not turn out as college-graduated but self-confessed ignoramuses such as Jim and Diana.

The fact that the kids are far accelerated in reading and math was not actually our main goal, but more or less a side effect of pursuing the approach I’ve described. Read real stuff about science, history, etc. and you seem to become an extremely advanced reader (both of our kids are testing more than six-and-a half years beyond grade level on reading: they’ve topped out on the charts on the standardized tests, so I don’t actually know how much beyond six-and-a-half years ahead they are).

Of course, we have other reasons, too: I actually enjoy it, the behavioral situation in the schools is not good, etc.

It actually is fun.

Dave

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Dave

Sounds great, I'm envious...;-)

ken stauffer said...

Ellen,
your gender is the greatest thing that has ever existed. Since man is great so therefore woman is grape. Grapes are formed through the glorious process of sunlight, therefore woman (and ellen) are the light that makes life possible, thus stuff, which all men need, derives from ellenism, which comes from ellen. Only a dispicatble man hating scum would deny this. As I crush thee in my toes do I say this: "Ellen is thy eternal mate in the journey of life!"

Anonymous said...

I do find her claim of my dishonesty interesting, since I was quite upfront in all my posts.

Well, um, you were upfront about how Harriman's conjectures were beneath your criticism or that of anyone who has "bothered to educate themselves in science," but you didn't do so great a job of presenting his arguments and explaining why they're so laughable. Belittling your opponent while asserting yourself as an authority--not a great debate tactic.

I'm sure Harriman has his head up his ass, but if you're going to raise an issue amongst an unsympathetic audience, you should probably be prepared to support your position. Just saying.

-- Ian.

Anonymous said...

I'm hesitant to jump on the Diana-hating bandwagon (while I disagree with her views, she does, in general, provide rational arguments), but I had to shake my head over this.

Yes, how laughable it is to communicate science through art. Why, that'd be like communicating a philosophy through a work of fiction. Twice!

-- Ian.

PhysicistDave said...

Ian,

I'm afraid that you did not really read the exchange on Diana’s blog very carefully, did you?

Immediately after my first post, Diana informed me that I could only criticize Harriman after I had absorbed his long-winded lecture course. She elaborated on this demand in more detail later.

In declining to address the details of Harriman’s nonsense, I was therefore only following the instructions of the blog owner, Diana.

Didn’t you notice this?

Of course, by placing this constraint on me, Diana created an interesting “Catch 22”: if I addressed the details of Harriman’s fraudulent pseudo-science, I was disobeying the rules set by the “property owner.” If I did not address the details of Harriman’s nonsense, I was failing to be upfront, open, and rational. Either way, I lost.

Catch 22.

This sort of dishonest stacking of the deck is, I’ve noticed over the decades, typical of cultists such as creationists, fundamentalists, and Objectivists. I find this commonality among cults very interesting and went along with it to see how it played out.

Furthermore, Diana’s insistence that I was not entitled to an opinion on Harriman’s pseudo-science until I had spent a great deal of time (and some real money!) on his magnum opus is also typical of cultists. Talk to the con artists who support the Intelligent Design fraud, and you’ll be told that you should not comment on their fallacies until you have bought and read this book and that book and this newer book and so on.

The main Objectivist innovation from the typical cultist pattern is that they tend to substitute audiotapes for books.

I’ve followed Diana’s blog long enough to expect all this.

And, therefore, if you read my own comments, you’ll notice that I made quite clear that I was not interested in debating Diana and her friends. I do not respect them and I did not wish to change their minds. I made that quite clear to them several times, and you notice they could never really believe that. They kept insisting that surely I must wish to interact with them on their terms.

I did not.

I don’t debate cultists. It’s a waste of time. I study them. I make fun of them. I expose them.

But I do not respect them.

If you look through the exchange on her blog, you’ll also notice again and again my being told how I would have to behave if I wished to earn their respect.

This is really the key to understanding Objectivism. What Rand did -- and Peikoff and his pals learned the trick long ago, and Diana has proven herself a very adept student – is take people with very little self-esteem and convince them that they could only earn respect by jumping through the hoops set by the leading Objectivists.

It’s technically a form of sado-masochism (notice how most of Diana’s acolytes are guys!).

What frustrated Diana so with me (notice the breakdown of her usual articulateness in her final jibe at me) was that I do not care at all whether she and her pals respect me, and I said so repeatedly.

On the other hand, people who have mastered truly intellectually difficult fields such as I have are the sort of people Diana and her pals really need to validate their own status as “new intellectuals.” I refused to grant them that respect. I made clear that I had justified contempt for them intellectually. I also made clear that I would do what I could to induce other well-educated people to have (justified) contempt for them intellectually.

That is really a downer for folks like that.

Let me make clear that had Diana shown a real interest from the get-go in understanding from a real physicist what was wrong with Harriman’s nonsense, I would have been happy to oblige.

But, as I anticipated, she did not. Instead she started playing the games that have thus far worked so well for her in her increasingly well-honed role as Objectivist dominatrix.

I can play such games too. I did so, and Diana did not enjoy the experience, though I sure did!

When I deal with people such as Intelligent Designers, fundamentalist Christians, or ARI Objectivists, who think they can use procedural games like hers to avoid serious thought or discussion (and I do this a lot – it’s fun), I refuse to ever treat such people with respect.

I think that is a more than fair response on my part to their manipulative games.

Objectivism is not a philosophy. It is some very old philosophical ideas (empiricism, eudaemonism, natural rights theory, etc.) which Rand appropriated from earlier philosophers (usually without giving credit) and then used as decoration and bait to create a bizarre cult that functions pretty much as cults have always functioned.

To view Objectivism as an intellectually serious philosophy is, as philosophers put it, a “category error.”

I hope you can now look back at Diana’s blog and see what I was doing and why. I was not looking, in your words, for a “great debate tactic.” As I said repeatedly on Diana’s blog, I sincerely want them to believe in Harriman’s nonsense with all their heart and all their soul, and I want them to spread that nonsense as far and wide as possible.

The result will be the utter discrediting of the fraud called Objectivism in the eyes of all intellectually serious people.

I trust you can now see that what I was doing on Diana’s blog was not at all what you had in mind.

The silver rule: do unto others as others attempt to do unto you.

Or as the game theorists say: Tit for Tat.

It works.

Perhaps you have less experience than I dealing with cultists? I've been having fun doing this for forty years.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Ian,

I should add that I actually rather like Diana. When she is purged by ARI (I figure about eight years from now) and begins recovering from her cult experience, I’d be happy to be her friend.

I like most of the cultists I’ve known – fundies, creationists, etc. I guess I’m just a people person.

But I will not indulge them in the bizarre and destructive games that they play by pretending that I respect them or take them seriously intellectually. Call it tough love.

Dave

Wells said...

physicistdave said this

(How on earth can someone pretend to be a philosopher when she is starkly and confessedly ignorant of the best knowledge we have of reality, as revealed by modern science?).

It was perhaps the smartest thing said in this entire exchange, way better than NoodleFood, or the trolling of NoodleFood by physicistdave. Someone should elaborate.

PhysicistDave said...

wells,

I wasn't trolling NoodleFood -- I was quite happy to have an open and honest discussion with Diana had she chosen. She explicitly and demandingly forbade me from doing that.

Cool. So I played the game her way. (Admittedly, I did have more fun playing the game Diana’s way!)

C'est la vie.

I will elaborate on my comment that you quoted, since you ask. In a nutshell:

There are no Objectivist philosophers.

"Objectivist philosopher" is an oxymoron.

"Philosopher" means lover of wisdom. Since the most solidly established knowledge about reality that we have today (and that by a long shot!) comes from natural science, any real philosopher has to take a serious interest in natural science.

I know of no "Objectivist philosopher" who does.

Any "Objectivist philosopher" who did so would of course be purged.

If you want to read some real philosophers who do take a sincere interest in natural science, try Ernest Gellner (e.g., "The Legitimation of Belief") or Colin McGinn ("The Mysterious Flame").

And, really, the best thing said in this whole exchange is the quote from Diana on the main blog entry: a not-very-successful grad student in philosophy at a third-rate iniversity who admits no knowledge of physics judges source of Einstein’s scientific corruption.

It would be like me giving singing lessons to the late, great Pavarotti.

Absolutely priceless.

Dave

Anonymous said...

Dave: “When she is purged by ARI (I figure about eight years from now)…”

Hi Dave. My thoughts too, although you’re highly specific with the timeframe. The way I see it, ARI will take a position – perhaps, with the passing of the old guard, even a ‘thaw’ in relations with other Objectivist groups, or at least a ‘liberalisation’ of attitudes – Diana will be entering mid-career with its attendant frustrations, refuses to ‘compromise’, and ka-boom! Shit hits fan.

I doubt she will want to kindle or rekindle a friendship, though. Old cultists don’t do that. They prefer to remain at the head of a bunch of dwindling acolytes, picking up the odd -- very odd – young person to preserve the illusion of continuity into the next generation.

Brendan

PhysicistDave said...

Ellen wrote:
>What IS it with these Objectivists?

I know that was a rhetorical question, but what do you think of the theory that the typical Objectivist is someone who deeply craves respect as an “intellectual,” but is unwilling to go to the hard work to actually learn intellectually serious subjects?

It certainly seems to fit Diana Hsieh, Leonard Peikoff, Dave Harriman, and so many others!

Of course, they’re not going to get respect in the real world this way, so they need their own little inbred “movement.”

No doubt this does not explain everything about the Objectivist cult: for example, for the top people, the monetary skimmings are no doubt part of the motivation – it beats working for a living (even Princess Di seems to have earned a few extra bucks off the Objectivist scam).

But this desire to be esteemed as an intellectual without earning such respect does seem to me a huge part of the make-up of most Objectivists I’ve seen.

I can’t find the comment about Dawkins (could you be specific about where it was?). I can speculate as to the reason for the antipathy though.

Dawkins takes his gloves off in “The God Delusion.” I thought his point about religion’s (especially Christianity’s) being a form of intellectual child abuse was especially strong and fits with my own experience and observations. I had deep, nightmarish fears of Hell as a child; it really is a profound form of cruelty. (These fears were never enough to get me to consent to being baptized and become a Christian, however.)

I’ve seen a lot of people complain that Dawkins was too harsh in this book in pointing all this out: apparently in our “can’t we just all get along” society, it’s bad form to point out that a major social institution is a form of institutionalized child abuse.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Brendan,

Or maybe Diana will become the next Pope of Objectivism when Peikoff dies and Brook retires. Who knows?

According to one of the on-line free people finders sites, Diana is 32. She's just starting her thesis, and her publication list is, I'll be polite, unimpressive.

She's made a very slow start.

This does not presage a successful academic career.

My guess is she will go through a big life crisis when she fails to get a decent academic position (and what use will ARI have for her when she has failed in academia?).

Yeah, she probably will not want to be my friend. I don't care -- I was just making the point that I'd be willing to be friendly. I view Princess Di not as an enemy but as an interesting experimental subject. She's provided some great data in my ongoing research in social psychology!

Dave

Ellen Stuttle said...

In response to my rhetorical, irritation-expressing question "What IS it with these Objectivists?," Dave writes:

"I know that was a rhetorical question, but what do you think of the theory that the typical Objectivist is someone who deeply craves respect as an “intellectual,” but is unwilling to go to the hard work to actually learn intellectually serious subjects?"

"It certainly seems to fit Diana Hsieh, Leonard Peikoff, Dave Harriman, and so many others!"


Well, to begin with, amongst the Objectivists I've known, I think by far the largest percentage, and thus the "typical" Objectivist numerically -- has no intellectual aspirations. If one is told by Ayn Rand in one's impressionable youth, and believes, that academe is a den of comprachicos, that most of the history of thought is a concerted effort to destroy the mind, that most of what's considered the world's great literature is a sewer, one isn't motivated to go look at the original sources, unless there was a pre-existent intellectual interest or unless interest is aroused later. The situation is analogous to being told by a chemist one considers trustworthy, "This bottle contains poision." The warning dissuades from attempting to drink of the bottle's contents.

In the specific cases of Leonard Peikoff and Diana Hsieh, I don't think either is unwilling to "go to the hard work" of learning a subject, and I think both consider Objectivism "intellectually serious." I know little about the background of Diana's change of perspective in recent years, so I'll leave people who know more about that than I do to offer opinions. I have a much better sense of where Leonard Peikoff is coming from.

Recall that Leonard was introduced to Ayn Rand herself when he was in his teens -- I think he was sixteen. He came to think of Ayn Rand as the person who "saved his life." He was devoted to her, possibly with the most fervent devotion of any of the "Collective." She would become angered with him when he seemed to be going astray under the pull of ideas he'd hear in his university program and losing sight of "true North" trying to navigate through questions which would arise. He tells in one of his taped series about how he learned to suppress the questions -- he emphasizes "suppress" and variants, repeatedly, in his high-pitched voice tones -- until he could keep a firm grasp of the right answers. His upbringing with AR was conducted, in other words, under threat, the threat of losing her approval, which meant to him losing his life-line.

As to physics, the desire to prove physics corrupt goes back to Ayn Rand. Judging from some leading questions she asked my husband, she was of the opinion at latest as of 69-70 that physics, too, of course must be succumbing to slow corrupting by Kantian internal rotting. My husband and I had lunch with Leonard Peikoff at Brooklyn Poly a few times during those years. It was very much my impression that Leonard had antennae out looking for clues as to how Kantian influence was corrupting physics -- only he was having difficulty discerning any available clues, since he had no head for physics. (I expect you're aware that there are some people who just don't seem to be able to think in the visual-mathematico ways of a physicist.) My belief is that Harriman, at last, is "just what the doctor ordered," since Harriman is willing to try to provide "the goods," i.e., the evidence of Kantian corruption. And apparently -- so it's been reported -- Leonard Peikoff has put in some dilligent hours trying to learn the physics, with Harriman as tutor.

So, in short, no, I wouldn't say that he's unwilling to do the work. Instead, I think he has an agenda, that he's looking for a particular answer, the answer which on Objectivist premises has to be correct.


"I can’t find the comment about Dawkins (could you be specific about where it was?). I can speculate as to the reason for the antipathy though."

I found the post; it's about 2/3 down on the "Objectivism and the Descent Into Pseudoscience" thread.

I'll quote it in full:

Anonymous said...

The unscientific nature of Objectivism was actually the first thing that struck me as odd and eventually (thank heavens) turned me off Rand.

A motor that converts static electricity into kinetic energy? give me a break

And Binswanger's quote "All these reports are either false or utterly misleading due to being on wrong philosophical premises. It's pointless to argue against them on factual grounds." is very telling. He implies that science should conform to Objectivist philosophy. It's like creation scientists who think that science should conform to the bible. Objectivists should just up and say that they believe in what they do, not entirely because of factual reasons or logic, but because they want to for various other personal reasons.

I would go read the stuff on Dawkin's site, but I dislike Dawkins quite as heartily as I dislike Rand, so I don't want to jump through the hoops of signing up for his site yet. Maybe later...

11/05/2007 08:49:00 PM


I consider the issue of the motor unimportant, except as indicative of Rand's lack of knowledge of physics. The motor is in a novel, not in a treatise. Asimov has scientifically untenable occurrences in his novels, but he knew his science. So I don't think the motor in and of itself qualifies as evidence of "the unscientific nature of Objectivism." However, I think there's plenty of other evidence, and I think there is an attitude, which seems to be increasing, among "Ortho-O'ists" that "science should conform to Objectivist philosophy."

All I'll have time for until Sunday or Monday...

Happy Thanksgiving, U.S. readers,

Ellen

Anonymous said...

Dave: “I had deep, nightmarish fears of Hell as a child…”

So did I. It was bad stuff to dump on children, especially since the infinite punishment had no relation to the finite sins. But I was too young to intellectualise that, it just felt so unfair – a good example of emotions as tools of cognition. Mind you, in the tradition I was raised in, baptism wasn’t a matter of choice – get ‘em young was the motto.

Nowadays, though, I barely think about my childhood experiences, and in fact I tend to make allowances for the church, unless there’s a specific issue I feel strongly about. Not that I ever voluntarily set foot in a church. My young son, though, who only knows about Christianity from what he picks up in school lessons, is quite interested in God stuff. But he’s also interested in magic, dinosaurs, time travel etc.

“Or maybe Diana will become the next Pope of Objectivism when Peikoff dies and Brook retires. Who knows?”

Yes. Nothing is pre-ordained. Objectivism is effectively a secular millennial cult, but as with all such cults, the original ferment becomes institutionalised. Look at ARI’s op-eds. What may once have been challenging now have a tired, formulaic aspect.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of Objectivism as a movement. My bet is that it will settle into a comfortable, middle-class existence; radicalism for middle-brows.

Brendan

john k said...

Objectivism certainly had all the characteristics of a cult during Rand's lifetime, but cults either wither away with the death of their founders or begin to evolve into 'proper' religions, and I believe that this is what is happening with Objectivism. It's in the process of becoming a secular faith, with the position of God being occupied by reason, money, 'the human spirit', or all three.

PhysicistDave said...

Ellen,

Thanks for the information: obviously, you have much more knowledge about Peikoff than I do.

However, I’m afraid I’m not convinced on the issue of Peikoff’s, Diana’s et al. wanting respect as intellectuals without doing the necessary hard work. Perhaps, it’s my definition of “hard work.” I see no evidence of Diana or Lenny ever doing any hard intellectual work in their entire lives. No doubt Lenny spent years poring over OPAR and no doubt Diana will spend years (I suspect *many* years!) poring over her thesis. But neither of them seems to have devoted many minutes to actually trying to understand the way things are, to actually discovering truth on their own. *That’s* what I would count as intellectually hard work.

Your anecdote about Lenny’s working hard to, in his own words, “suppress” inappropriate questions nicely makes my point. No doubt he thought of that as “hard work.” I don’t think of it as “work” at all: I’d put it in the same category as someone’s going through a parking lot “keying” every car they pass by. I suppose we might call that “work” in the sense that eventually it would become tiring, but in the ordinary meaning of the word “work,” work means striving to do something of some use, not merely wearing yourself out for some pointless purpose.

Lenny’s tutoring by Harriman falls into the same category. Harriman makes no secret that his views are not shared by most physicists. If Lenny really wanted to work at this, he would seek out other physicists (or their books), find out what they have to say, compare and contrast it with Harriman’s claims, etc. If Lenny is not truly learning disabled, a few days of actual intellectual work at a decent public library would, for example, cure him of the belief that (I’m quoting his words as reported at http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=2955&st=20 ):

> Big Bang: a total floating theory, and as Dave pointed out: not a single correct quantitative prediction has been made from the theory nor of course has there been any validation, inductive or otherwise of the Big Bang. It is an issue of faith in the religious sense.

This is utter nonsense. There is as much evidence for the Big Bang as for the fact that the earth moves around the sun. There’s the observed expansion of the universe, the cosmic microwave background radiation (the left over heat, now greatly cooled off from the Big Bang), a multitude of observations related to the evolution of stars, etc.

Nowadays, bright middle-school kids know this. It is easily available in any decent library (and online).

In my book, the fact that Peikoff does not know this, despite the fact that he has chosen to pontificate publicly on it, proves either that he is mentally retarded, senile, or unwilling to engage in serious intellectual work.

I don’t think he’s retarded or senile.

I think Rand’s oft-quoted remark about evolution proves that she too was intellectually lazy. Her philosophy essentially focused on philosophical anthropology: i.e., she was not deeply interested in details of philosophical logic, speculative metaphysics, etc. Fine. But it then should have been obvious to her that she was not intellectually entitled to have an opinion on the essential nature of human nature unless she investigated human evolution and the evidence for it.

I’m not suggesting that she simply spent her days watching soap operas. But that she did spend her time forming an opinion about the streaker at the Oscars but did not bother to investigate the truth concerning evolution does suggest that she was profoundly intellectually lazy.

Of course, her bizarre “proof” for the non-existence of God which I quoted earlier on this thread, and many other facts, reinforce that conclusion.

Diana Hsieh’s intellectual laziness is obvious in the main blog entry to which this thread is attached. It’s one thing to not understand relativity theory (although the level of understanding required to understand that Harriman is conning people is rather minimal). But the fact that Diana has chosen to be ignorant of physics (and evolutionary biology) but still chooses to pontificate on those subjects betrays an incredible intellectual laziness.

And her work record backs that up – I have seen no evidence anywhere that she has done any intellectually creditable work (unless one counts paranoid denunciations of those who have crossed ARI as “intellectual work”).

I’m sorry, but it seems clear to me that Peikoff, Rand, and Hsieh are/was as intellectually lazy as the day is long. No doubt they do (or did) something with their days (who doesn’t?), but seriously trying to understand the nature of reality is/was not it.

On Rand’s motor in Atlas Shrugged, oddly enough it would in principle have worked, sort of. There is a large electric potential difference in the earth’s atmosphere vertically, and, in principle, this can be tapped for energy.

The problem is that, for various reasons (essentially the huge electrical resistance of the air), you would need huge collectors to gather the current. In practice, it would be pointless. (I learned of this from Richard Feynmann, my undergrad professor, and am merely repeating what he said. I have not investigated this firsthand.)

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

All the best,

Dave

Neil Parille said...

Dave,

I'm relectuant to call anyone intellectually lazy given that my published output amounts to a few blog posts and some essays posted on the internet. (I've also been denounced by Diana Hsieh as writing "pseudo-scholarship" which pretty much settles it.)

As far as Rand goes, she did write some rather thick novels, plenty of essays and spent a fair amount of time editing a magazine. I assume she didn't have the time to study evolution, for example, in the depth it deserved, so she left her comments rather opaque.

On the other hand:

1. Barbara Branden says that in the years she knew Rand, she didn't read much philosophy. Rand would have Barbara or Peikoff summarize works of philosophy.

2. It's informative to compare Rand and von Mises. Mises wrote huge books on economics, but found time to study philosophy in depth. His published output on philosophy is probably greater than Rand's and shows intimate familiarity with contemporary philosophy (Theory and History, Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science, etc.).

Michael Prescott said...

In fact, Kant maintained that we had no choice but to think of space as being described by Euclidean geometry. Einstein, more than anyone, proved that this was wrong.

I may be mistaken, but my understanding is that Kant felt we could not perceive space in non-Euclidean terms. That is, the structure of the mind gives a certain inescapable structure to our physical perceptions, which may or may not reflect the thing-in-itself (as unprocessed by the mind). Our ability to intellectually theorize about non-Euclidean geometry would not disprove Kant, since, try as we may, we still sensorially perceive the world in the same old way.

But this desire to be esteemed as an intellectual without earning such respect does seem to me a huge part of the make-up of most Objectivists I’ve seen.

I think this is very true. It's a major theme of ARCHN (the book - well, the blog too, I guess). Objectivists like to make sweeping, magisterial pronouncements, but if you press them, you usually find that they have little or no empirical evidence or even detailed argument to back up their claims. Mostly they just have rhetoric and verbal manipulation.

PhysicistDave said...

Neil,

Oh, I certainly don't think that Rand was simply a layabout, and I actually think she was pretty bright (i.e., high IQ, etc.). And, I think she must have been a workaholic given her published output.

I probably should have stressed the word “intellectually” in intellectually lazy. As I said,

> actually trying to understand the way things are, to actually discovering truth on their own… *That’s* what I would count as intellectually hard work.

No matter how much stuff you churn out in terms of word count, if you don’t go to the trouble to try to seriously find out if you’re right or wrong, you’re not, as I see it, intellectually serious.

People who are intellectually serious tend to think more and write a bit less. Rand should have spent less time worrying about the streaker at the Oscars, etc. and spent the time she saved learning at least a tad about science – at least, if she wanted to be considered intellectually serious.

Not knowing evolution is the intellectual equivalent of believing in astrology or of not having heard of Napoleon or Shakespeare.

We have this strange situation nowadays where if someone has never heard of Wittgenstein, Sartre, Picasso, or James Joyce, no one would view that person as a serious intellectual. However, people who have no idea who Schrodinger, Hubble, or John Maynard Smith was, are treated as serious intellectuals, people whose opinions should be taken completely seriously.

That really is idiotic.

A person who knows science and nothing else is not educated. But, considering that the most solid knowledge we have of the real world does come from science, anyone who lacks a reasonable knowledge of science is, intellectually speaking, functionally illiterate. The idea that science is optional in a serious intellectual education is bizarre, and Rand, Peikoff, Hsieh, and their pals are encouraging and endorsing this extraordinarily anti-intellectual attitude in our society.

Rand and her epigones are the New Anti-Intellectuals.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Michael,

I'm not a Kant expert, but what you say does seem to contradict the standard treatments of him. Euclidean geometry was, as I understand it, one of his key examples of the "synthetic a priori," i.e., constraints on the structure of the human mind.

Our perceptions are actually not Euclidean, as is shown by a variety of optical illusions having to do with parallel lines, etc. Euclidean geometry is a complicated intellectual structure that we can impose on our experience if we wish. Kant thought that we had to do so.

He was wrong.

Google “Kant,” “Euclidean,” “synthetic,” and “a priori,” and you’ll get tens of thousands of hits on this.

For example (http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5f.htm ),
>Progress in philosophy, according to Kant, requires that we frame the epistemological problem in an entirely different way. The crucial question is not how we can bring ourselves to understand the world, but how the world comes to be understood by us. Instead of trying, by reason or experience, to make our concepts match the nature of objects, Kant held, we must allow the structure of our concepts shape our experience of objects.
[snip]
>Space and time are absolute, and they do derive from our minds. As synthetic a priori judgments, the truths of mathematics are both informative and necessary.

The words “necessary” and “judgments” are relevant here: it was not simply a matter of how our senses work, but more fundamentally of the innate structure of our mind.

Incidentally, at the time he wrote, non-Euclidean geometry had not yet been discovered, and his attitude was probably quite widespread among both philosophers and mathematicians. It just happened to be wrong.

I do find it deliciously funny that Dave Harriman’s arguments against Einstein are quintessentially Kantian. Harriman does not seem to object to the use of Euclidean geometry. What he does derisively dismiss is the idea that space is curved; however, saying that space is curved is simply a way of saying that the correct geometry to describe the real world happens to be non-Euclidean. No competent physicist (and least of all Einstein) claims that space is necessarily curved in the sense that it is actually bent through some higher-dimensional space: “curvature of space” = “non-Euclidean geometry correctly describes space “ Incidentally, this is not just a speculative theory; it has been confirmed repeatedly by observation. Space really is curved.

Kant had the very legitimate excuse that no one knew of non-Euclidean geometry when he wrote: his mistake is quite understandable. Harriman and Peikoff have no such excuse. The facts here are known even to people who simply read decent pop science books. Of course, Harriman and Peikoff can always just plead terminal intellectual laziness, the besetting sin of Objectivists.

Let me be blunt: the typical Objectivist is as dumb as the day is long.


All the best,

Dave

gregnyquist said...

Ellen: "what do you think of the theory that the typical Objectivist is someone who deeply craves respect as an intellectual"?

That may very well be part of it, particularly for those trying to worm their way into the inner circle, but I think there's more to it than that. I think the primary motive for many people drawn to orthodox Objectivism is the desire for a short-cut to intellectual mastery combined with the belief that this mastery will revolutionize the world. That's an intoxicating mixture for a high school or college student. On the one hand, you are promised that you will know everything you need to know (just read Ayn Rand and a few other books), and on the other, you are told that this knowledge well help remake the world so that all your political desires will be satisfied. And this bit of naive wishful thinking is considered as hard-headed realism!

Of course, all this is conveyed on the implicit, tacit level, but I suspect it's there nonetheless. If you talk with Objectivists, you'll notice again and again an arrogance about knowledge claims that only a really ignorant person could have. Because only someone who has done a lot of hard work (intellectually) can appreciate the limitations of human knowledge. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing — precisely, because people with a little knowledge think they know everything they need to know, and are clueless about what they don't know.

Nietzsche once remarked that he regarded people who considered their knowledge to be certain as worse than dishonest: worse because such people didn't even understand what it means to be honest. Intellectual progress requires openness to new evidence (and to criticism) and rigorous self-criticism — precisely what the person who arrogantly believes that he certain closes himself to.

Jay said...

Objectivism is not a philosophy.

Yes, it is. As much as you might disagree with its methods or conclusions, it is a philosophy. The Virtue of Selfishness outlines (briefly, mind you) a philosophy. Tara Smith's "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics - The Virtuous Egoist", explores its ethics in greater detail. "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is a more in-depth (though still incomplete) treatment of knowledge.

To flatly state that Objectivism "isn't a philosophy" seems intellectually snobbish on your part. Just my opinion.

Jay said...

PhysicistDave,

You said you didn't want to have to pay for a huge tome and read it before rendering an opinion. Fair enough. What about this quick, free web article on the failures of high school physics courses?

http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5333&news_iv_ctrl=1374

I'm legitimately interested in what you as a physicist have to say about it.

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

Arg, full URL didn't post. Try this one.

http://capmag.com/article.asp?id=4823

Ellen Stuttle said...

For the record:

Five posts up the queue (post datestamped 11/22/2007 10:54:00 AM), Greg Nyquist quotes me as asking:

"what do you think of the theory that the typical Objectivist is someone who deeply craves respect as an intellectual"?

I didn't ask that. PhysicistDave asked it; I quoted him in responding, and said I was quoting him.

I don't think the theory as stated describes either the "typical Objectivist" or at least two of the three persons Dave named (Leonard Peikoff and Diana Hseish).

No time for further discussion now; just correcting the misattribution.

Ellen

Robert Campbell said...

Part of the Objectivist epistemology, as elaborated by Leonard Peikoff, is the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion.

An arbitrary assertion is one for which no evidence or argument has been provided. Such assertions either require no response from a rational person, or must not be responded to by any rational person (Dr. Peikoff has never been able to make up his mind which). Dr. Peikoff further claims that an arbitrary assertion has no epistemic context, is inherently "detached from reality," and gets a special truth value to itself, since it is neither true nor false. He further maintains that all arbitrary assertions are deliberate (hence producing one is an evil act, ipso facto) and that yielding to the temptation to go arbitrary makes you dumber than a parrot, if it doesn't debrain you entirely.

Peikovians like to dismiss as arbitrary any claim that they can't be bothered responding to.

The way I read PhysicistDave's recent interactions with Ms. Hsieh, Dave was treating David Harriman's entire critique of Einstein as a tissue of arbitrary assertions, unworthy of detailed analysis or refutation.

The Peiikovians sure don't like being administered a dose of their own medicine.

Robert Campbell

PS. I don't think highly of the doctrine, on epistemological grounds. And, of course, once it is invoked, further rational discussion becomes impossible. I do agree with Dave that the ARIans should do their utmost to publicize everything that Mr. Harriman has had to say about 20th century physics (just as I would strongly urge them to transcribe and publish every one of Dr. Peikoff's lectures).

Neil Parille said...

I'm not sure when the doctrine of the "arbitrary assertion" first made it into the Objectivist vocabulary, but I first heard it when Barbara Branden's biography/memoir of Rand was published. I subscribed to Peter Schwartz's The Intellectual Activist and, if I recall correctly, Schwartz called Branden's recollections of Rand "arbitrary" and compared them to someone who said that Rand went to a Buddhist temple every Friday night.

Jay said...

What's so false about the idea of arbitrary assertions? I can think of a dozen cases where it would be pointless to debate an arbitrary assertion. I feel like it's not even an exclusively "Objectivist" idea. A court of law wont let you ramble on incoherently if what you say has no connection to the facts of the case, for example.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "What's so false about the idea of arbitrary assertions?"

The real problem is the application of the principle. How do you know when something really is an "arbitrary" assertion? Because it's unsubstantiated? Well, most of the things we say are not substantiated. Human intercourse would be very tedious if we had to substantiate everything we said. Generally speaking, an arbitrary statement is any mere assertion that is either incoherent or excessively implausible.

The reason why some people here are browbeating Peikoff and other orthodox Objectivists for the whole arbitrary assertion construct is because Peikoff and co. have used it dishonestly, to deny entirely plausible claims about matters of fact without having to provide any evidence for the denial. Thus Schwartz compares Ms. Branden's claims about Ayn Rand's life to the assertion that Rand when to a Buddhist temple every Friday, which is nothing less than a roundabout way of claiming that Branden made everything up. Well if that's what Schwartz believes, why doesn't he just say so and leave it at that?

Wells said...

Jay,
My problem with the idea of arbitrary assertions is mathematical. If you treat arbitrary as a third truth value you run into Problems.

Here's one of the simpler ones.
If something is not true, then it is false. If something is not false then it is true. It looks something like this
-true = false
-false = true

But if something is not arbitrary than what is it? Is it true ? or is it false? Is it true or false (which is the same thing as being true)? If not arbitrary is true, why not just call arbitrary, false?

PhysicistDave said...

Robert,

I just ran across your post in which you wrote:
>The way I read PhysicistDave's recent interactions with Ms. Hsieh, Dave was treating David Harriman's entire critique of Einstein as a tissue of arbitrary assertions, unworthy of detailed analysis or refutation.
>The Peiikovians sure don't like being administered a dose of their own medicine.

Yes, I was playing "turnabout" quite intentionally (of course, Diana had also ordered me to avoid any discussion of substance).

One person on Diana's blog actually raised a serious question about physics, and I answered him seriously. I would have answered anyone else seriously if they had actually indicated a serious interest in the physics.

But I've studied the debating tricks and emotional manipulation employed by the Objectivists for a long time (partly in the context of dealing with Christians -- the technology of manipulation is almost identical). I'm ready and willing to play the game by whatever rules they choose.

So, yes, I was intentionally and self-consciously playing turnabout with Diana and some of her friends, and, no, they do not seem to have enjoyed a taste of their own medicine!

If Harriman would ever abandon his ad hominem attacks and his typical Objectivist tricks of manipulation, I’d even be happy to sit down with him and explain the actual physics and where he is mistaken (he’s not wrong on everything, only on the most important points about relativity). Sadly, I’m pretty sure he will never wish to have such a discussion with me or any other physicist.

All the best,

Dave

Neil Parille said...

Wasn't Newton "corrupted" by alchemy and religion? And given the religious beliefs of Faraday and J. Clerk Maxwell, I question the usefulness of electricity.

Kulero said...

PhysicistDave wrote:
Consider Rand’s argument against the existence of God:
1) If the universe is benevolent, there is no God....

Where did Ayn Rand espouse this argument? I agree with you that it's ludicrous as an argument; I don't agree that it has any proper association with Rand or her philosophy.

I understand Objectivism's arguments for atheism to be completely different, so I'd like to find your source material for this. TIA

gregnyquist said...

Kulero:

"PhysicistDave wrote:
'Consider Rand’s argument against the existence of God:
1) If the universe is benevolent, there is no God....'

"Where did Ayn Rand espouse this argument? I agree with you that it's ludicrous as an argument; I don't agree that it has any proper association with Rand or her philosophy."

I'm not aware that Rand espoused the argument ascribed to her by PhysicistDave. He may have perhaps confused an explanation that Rand (or one of her disciples) gave for religious belief for an argument against God. That explanation, if my memory doesn't mislead me, partially ascribes belief in God to a malevolent sense of life (which suggests, even if it doesn't imply, that atheism is best nourished by a benevolent sense of life).

Xtra Laj said...

I think you guys should consider locking off posts of a certain age from further debate (maybe 3 months or so). These posts made long after the fact can be hard to track.

Cavewight said...

PhysicistDave wrote

In fact, Kant maintained that we had no choice but to think of space as being described by Euclidean geometry.

That is a common view of physicists and their ilk about Kant which I have seen many, many times before.

In FACT, if we had no such choice then that would render Euclidean geometry ANALYTICAL, when in fact it was proven by Kant to be SYNTHETIC A PRIORI.

This is no minor distinction or playing around with words, it is a significant change in perspective on the entire subject of geometry.

This perspective on geometry as synthetic literally frees the mind to think in terms of alternate geometries.

The mind is constrained to think, via appearances, in terms of space and time - whatever structure it may have. As it happens, the structure of appearances is not very Euclidean at all. For example, in Euclidean geometry parallel lines never meet, while in appearances, parallel lines (which don't exist in reality, but let's take train tracks as an example) appear to meet at a vanishing-point in the distance.

What this tell us is that Euclidean geometry was an invention of Euclid's mind - none of its forms exist in reality - and the mind is clearly not constrained to think in terms of its own inventions. These last two centuries following Kant have shown that it is possible, or let's say, permissible to invent other geometries, and Kant's own theory of the analytic-synthetic supports this even if Kant didn't actually cause it. Concerns over the independent status of Euclid's parallel postulate caused it, because it doesn't follow from the four previous postulates; it is, therefore, not analytically combined with them, but is a synthetic addition to the structure which, when manipulated, produces different forms of geometry.

Kulero said...

gregnyquist wrote:
"I'm not aware that Rand espoused the argument ascribed to her by PhysicistDave. He may have perhaps confused an explanation... (which suggest...that atheism is best nourished by a benevolent sense of life)."

I agree, and that's exactly my point. If someone argues against a person's views, they should at least represent those views correctly. To do otherwise is dishonest. (We might ascribe such to an honest mistake, but an honest person would educate himself on a person's views before bashing them publicly.)

The way PDave put it, he suggested that what he wrote was the essence of Rand's argument against the existence of God, that it was her "proof" for such. I'm quite familiar with Rand's work, and I understand her case to be entirely different. Therefore I ask PDave to educate me (and all readers of this blog) where is the source material that backs up his assertion that that is, indeed, Rand's argument.

...if he can. I find nothing logical (nor Rand-like) in the argument he ascribed to Rand. Nor would any Objectivist I know. Any student of logic knows that for a syllogism to be valid, the premises have to be valid. And both premises in that argument are tenuous at best. That the universe is benevolent is a metaphorical staement, not a logical one. And that a benevolent universe logically implies no God remains to be proven. (It certainly isn't an axiom.)

I wholeheartedly agree with PDave that the argument is bunk. I disagree just as much that the argument is Rand's.

Getting to others of PDave's statements:
"Could Objectivism simply be explained by a phenomenon of some people who wish to be rational and who are very good at manipulating words but who are also extraordinarily bad at getting behind the words to actual meaning?"

It's strange to hear someone describe Objectivism this way, because tying abstractions (such as words) to concrete existence (actual meaning) is exactly what O-ism is ALL about. It details exactly how to accomplish this, and does so at all levels of philosophy. I applaud PDave for seeing the crucial need to focus on meaning, not on words. And perhaps he has met some self-proclaimed O-ists who were bad at it, probably recent converts who hadn't fully grasped the philosophy. (It does take time and dedication, especially given what we learned at home, church, and school.) But his statement does not accurately describe Objectivism itself.

PDave:
"I’ve noticed a lot of humanities majors and almost zero competent technical people among the Objectivists. That fits my theory."

That may be PDave's experience, but it isn't universal. I know several highly competent technical folks who are Objectivists, as well as a journalist, investor, several housewives/mothers, two gym owners (businesspeople), a few teachers, and a lawyer. The technical people include a few programmers, two database experts, and a computer engineer, all accomplished in their fields. I wonder how that fits PDave's theory.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Kulero,

PDave is a smart guy, and from what I know, very knowledgeable in Objectivism. However, as these comments were made a couple of years ago and he isn't here to explain them in detail, I don't know if there's much merit in critiquing them too closely.

Instead there is a truckload of detailed criticisms, both empirical and logical - check out our extensive THE ARCHNFILES sidebar!...;-) - made by people such as Greg, myself and others who are actually here to discuss them. Perhaps you might find it more productive to tackle some of these, rather than a passing commenter from 18 months ago?

Kulero said...

Hey Daniel,

If anyone can provide the reference I requested, I would appreciate it. If no one can do that, then I think it should at least be acknowledged (by me if by no one else), that PDave's statement is a misrepresentation.

Although the comments were made many months ago, the statements are still there publicly on your blog. Someone can still read them and think, "Rand said that? That's obviously garbage so she's nuts." Therefore I do still see some value in pointing out that the argument isn't actually Rand's (unless someone can show that they are).

Thanks for the pointer to the other criticisms. I'll check 'em out.

Dragonfly said...

Cavewight: "In FACT, if we had no such choice then that would render Euclidean geometry ANALYTICAL, when in fact it was proven by Kant to be SYNTHETIC A PRIORI."

Well no, Kant was wrong, Euclidean geometry, like any other geometry (elliptic, hyperbolic, Riemannian) is analytical, it follows directly from the axioms (different axioms, different geometries). Whether a particular geometry can be applied to descriptions of physical systems is an empirical question, so the statement "this particular geometry describes that system" is a synthetic truth, the geometry itself however is analytic, its validity doesn't depend on the fact whether it gives the best description of reality.

About Rand's God argument: according to Barbara Branden Rand said about the statement in her diary "Today I decided to be an atheist": "I had decided that the concept of God is degrading to men. Since they say that God is perfect, man can never be that perfect, then man is low and imperfect and there is something above him – which is wrong", which is not quite the same as what PhysicistDave writes, but it's certainly similar and as an argument for atheism it's no less ludicrous.

Cavewight said...

Dragonfly wrote:
Well no, Kant was wrong, Euclidean geometry, like any other geometry (elliptic, hyperbolic, Riemannian) is analytical, it follows directly from the axioms (different axioms, different geometries). Whether a particular geometry can be applied to descriptions of physical systems is an empirical question, so the statement "this particular geometry describes that system" is a synthetic truth, the geometry itself however is analytic, its validity doesn't depend on the fact whether it gives the best description of reality.

I gave Euclid's fifth postulate as an example of syntheticity - it doesn't matter whether it applies to reality. I realize that there is this common view that syntheticity has to do necessarily with reality - this notion comes from Positivism (Einstein was a Positivist who held to that definition). However, I'm trying to stay with Kant's original definition, since, after all, he is the one who invented the nomenclature and originally defined the terms of this discussion.

And indeed, for Kant the synthetic a priori is true without appealing to experience. You have made the common error of conflating 'a posteriori' (which means from experience) with "synthetic" (which only deals with the logical structure of propositions).

gregnyquist said...

Kulero: "If someone argues against a person's views, they should at least represent those views correctly. To do otherwise is dishonest."

This is a nice ideal, but if it were accepted, we would have to charge Rand and some of her orthodox disciples with dishonesty in misrepresenting Kant, Hume, Russell, Wittgenstien, Emerson, Carlyle, Nietzsche, Hayek, Weber, Knight, etc. Objectivists have to be careful here. You can't expect people to abide by standards which your side fails to live up to.

There's an additional reason for not playing the moral indignation card on this issue, and it is this: philosophers are constantly misrepresenting one another, and being in turn misrepresented either by their followers or their critics. It is merely an occupational hazard in philosophy and the failure to accept it as such can only lead to an unwise and useless frustration. There used to be a series of books called "The Library of Living Philosophers," which featured criticisms of an active philosopher, with a rebuttal by that philosopher at the end of the book. Nearly always the rebuttal consisted of complaints about misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations of the philosopher's critics. Philosophy is often scandalously vague and abstract; and where you have vagueness, you have ambiguity. Indeed, many arguments in philosophy rest on ambiguity and could not carry conviction without it. So we should not be in the least surprised that individuals coming from different points of view should offer varied interpretations of a vague and ambiguous discourse.

Cavewight said...

Knight?

Xray said...

Dragonfly wrote:

"About Rand's God argument: according to Barbara Branden Rand said about the statement in her diary "Today I decided to be an atheist": "I had decided that the concept of God is degrading to men. Since they say that God is perfect, man can never be that perfect, then man is low and imperfect and there is something above him – which is wrong", which is not quite the same as what PhysicistDave writes, but it's certainly similar and as an argument for atheism it's no less ludicrous."

When reading Rand's glorifying of "man", I often get the impression that "god" merely changed his name to "man" in her thinking.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Knight?"

That's Frank Knight, the economist. Objectivists have distorted the views of a number of philosophers and social scientists over the decades, but they have never done it to as ridiculous an extent as in J. Ridpath's absurd article on Knight. The article not only so badly distorts Knight's views that one suspects Ridpath of being entirely innocent of having read any of Knight's books, but it also contains some howlers regarding economic intellectual history.

Richard said...

I am happy to see that my very condensed summation of ARCHN's true character is still posted in the rightmost panel.

Of course, the latest critique of Objectivism, using Diana Hsieh's behavior as an exemplar, is consistent with this blog's complete, emotionally deliberate, rejection of Ayn Rand's thought.

Dishonest minds, such as Nyquist's, cannot resist anything that might support their thesis. Confirmation Bias, Dropped Context, Hierarchical Inversion of Concepts, and more, are the Fallacious Tools of their trade. Nyquist is such mind. He is pretty smart in his use of those tools, ... sucking in neophytes (perhaps his power trip).

Of course, that is all the more sad because of the cerebral waste his mind has chosen to pursue.

Richard said...

* such a mind