Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Brief Post on Haylock's "Contra Rand"

During the last year and a half, I have been preoccupied in writing a comic novel, Normal Madness, and did not have the time to post here at ARCHNBlog. Now that I have finished the novel, I can resume, at least for the nonce, posting here. And we do have some unfinished business to take care of. To begin with, there's Rand's novels. We've had some discussions about Atlas Shrugged (in relation to the horrible movies and to Chamber's review), but we've never really discussed We the Living or The Fountainhead. I also would like to provide a series of posts providing a summary of the main points against Rand's Objectivist philosophy that I've made in more detail in earlier posts.

But in this post I wanted to comment on one of the articles linked to in the last post. This is the article by Sean Haylock entitled "Contra Rand." What struck me in Haylock's piece is that he comes perilously close to ceding the mantle of "rationalism" and "reason" to Rand. At one point he writes:

Rothbard’s overview of the Randian’s narrow and unfeelingly solemn approach to all of life’s pleasures, and of the link between this attitude and Rand’s rabid breed of totalizing rationalism, is worth quoting at length. [italics added]

Of course, we all know how the typical Objectivist would respond to this. He would charge Haylock of trying to replace reason with faith. While that isn't quite what Haylock is up to (he's actually trying to argue that reason alone is not enough), he is leaving himself open to just that sort of objection. Nor is there any reason he should do so. For when we compare Haylock's Catholicism with Rand's, we're not comparing a philosophy based on faith with one based on "reason," as Objectivist apologists would contend; on the contrary, we're simply comparing two different varieties of faith (which may be supplemented, here or there, by "reason"). Objectivism, despite is secular basis, is no less a faith than Catholicism. And as faiths go, it's not even clear it's the better one.

Consider a passage, quoted by Haylock, from Rand's journals:

And neither can one live for the happiness of others—because that involves one’s own suffering as an essential, since one’s happiness is not automatic, but has to be achieved by one’s own effort...

Let's ignore the moralistic assertions and concentrate on the one unequivocal assertion of fact. Rand claims that "one's happiness is not automatic, but has to be acheived by one's own effort." How does Rand know this to be true? Where is her evidence? Wouldn't it would be safe to assume that if Rand's philosophy of Objectivism really were based on "reason," that such assertions of fact would be supported with compelling evidence? But in this case as in countless others, we get no supporting evidence, only bald assertion. Indeed, Rand is so careless, she is so empirically irresponsible, that it is hard not to suspect her "reason" of being a fraud. Many of the core premises of Objectivism are expressions, not of reason or science or empirical wisdom, but of Rand's faith. If you read Rand's journals, she is constantly making controversial assertions about matters of fact and treating them as if they were patently obvious. That's how she normally thought, and that's how she constructed her philosophy.

If you want to challenge Objectivism, the first thing you have to do is deny Rand's claim to "reason" and reality. She has no right to any such claim. She is often every bit as guilty of wishful thinking as those she routinely condemns. Just examine the statements she makes about human nature, about man being a self-created soul, or about emotions being based on one's philosophical premises! Or her claim to have bridged the gap between is and ought! Or her entire theory of history! These are all assumed to be true on the basis of little, if any, evidence, with very little in the way of argument as well. Rand preaches "reason" and reality; but she rarely practices what she preaches.

107 comments:

ungtss said...

"Where is her evidence? Wouldn't it would be safe to assume that if Rand's philosophy of Objectivism really were based on "reason," that such assertions of fact would be supported with compelling evidence?"

Yes. but it would be unreasonable to expect her to present the full body of evidence alongside the conclusion every time the conclusion is stated, particularly when you are taking snippets out of her personal diary, as haylock did.

Once a conclusion is supported, normal people don't restate their evidence for the conclusion every time they restate the conclusion. You sure don't. For instance, you say "Indeed, Rand is so careless, she is so empirically irresponsible, that it is hard not to suspect her "reason" of being a fraud." But what is your evidence? An out of context diary entry? Of course, your conclusion is not based only on the evidence you include here, but on your interpretation of a lot of evidence that you don't cite.

If someone were to call you irresponsible and fraudulent for failing to include your body of evidence in this blog post, what would you infer about that person's state of mind?

That they were being unfair, and had an axe to grind, of course.

ungtss said...

This is doubly absurd in light of the fact that Haylock is critiquing her philosophy without ever reading her novels. He takes a couple of conclusions out of context from her journals, without ever troubling to understand the means by which rand actually communicated her body of ideas, and of her evidence. Pretty irresponsible of Haylock, at a fundamental level. But it's good enough for some web hits to move you up the google rankins, and in the end, isn't that what matters in life?

gregnyquist said...

"Once a conclusion is supported, normal people don't restate their evidence for the conclusion every time they restate the conclusion."

No they don't. But here's the problem: Rand never gave any evidence for her conclusions about human nature that would be accepted by scientists in the relative field of study (e.g., social or experimental pyschology). Indeed, Rand doesn't really say much about human nature at all -- and what she does say is rather vague and cagey. It's as if she didn't want to be pinned down on this issue -- which, from a critic's point of view, is understandable, as her views are not only contrary to the best science we have at our disposal, they're contrary to common observation as well.

Incidentally, if anyone has any doubts as to whether Rand's views of human nature fail to accord with scientific views, just read Stephen Pinker's "Blank Slate" and Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind."

"This is doubly absurd in light of the fact that Haylock is critiquing her philosophy without ever reading her novels."

I disagree. If Haylock can be criticized, it's for not reading enough of Rand's non-fiction. However, even here, Rand's apologists really don't have much ground for complaining. Rand herself was one of the very worst offenders in this respect. She read very little philosophy (and what she read, she didn't understand all that well), yet she made all kinds of very strong and very controversial statements about other philosophers (especially Kant). So while the best policy is always to read (preferably to some level of depth) what one criticizes, if one eschews from following this precept, one can hardly blame others who do likewise. In short, Haylock is just giving Rand a taste of her own medicine.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Rand's characteristic method when she deals with "psycho-epistemology" is to employ introspection to arrive at certain propositions which she regards as self-evident; to derive various implications from these self-evident starting points; and then to dismiss or condemn any empirical findings at variance with her conclusions. Her disciples continue to follow this approach.

Thus, Objectivists claim that you know you have free will by introspection; they interpret free will to mean the choice to focus or not to focus; and dismiss without further discussion any experimental evidence that might point in a different direction. The following is from an Atlas Society posting of 2010:

“There is no explosion without the bomb that explodes. There is no breathing without the body that breathes and the air that is breathed. A causal explanation is an explanation of action in terms of the entity's capacities for action, arising from its properties and relations. Free will is simply a human capacity for action, one that we will understand better in time. A choice is not uncaused. It is caused by the person who chooses.”

A "human capacity for action, one that we will understand better in time." And until that understanding matches my a priori argument, any experimental research to the contrary can be safely dismissed.

This is not science.

Or take the Objectivist theory of emotions. For Rand, emotions are simply hard-wired prior conceptual responses. Change the concepts, and the wrongly derived emotions will simply melt away. Again, this is introspection run wild, which not only ignores but positively disdains any attempt at experimental verification. A great deal of sophisticated research has been done into both concept formation and emotional responses. All of it ignored.

B.M.W. said...

@Ungtss: It's funny you bring up context, because in the larger context of Greg's posts here, I clearly take him to be talking about Ayn's general tendency to make bold pronouncements about metaphysics and human nature without backing them up, not just in the immediate context of the statement, but not elsewhere either.

It's a fair criticism to make. Rand herself described most of the short non-fiction pieces she wrote as "middle range articles", which involved the application of philosophy rather than the elucidation of it. It would be an inappropriate digression, as you point out (and as she herself pointed out), to try to establish every philosophical point from scratch in that type of article, and it would be unfair to expect her to do so. However, when someone is claiming to apply a radical new outlook in philosophy in these types of articles, there should be SOMEWHERE, some source where these things ARE established and elucidated.

I think Rand believed that her novels were the elucidation of her philosophy, and she did typically quote from them in her articles. I don't think that that was merely a matter or marketing or ego; I think it was her way of trying say, "...and this is where I proved this in more detail." However, drawing on novels as the elucidation of her philosophy is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they involve controlled, fictional events and people that don't necessarily speak to the actual human condition.

B.M.W. said...

P.S. Not that there's anything wrong with bringing philosophy to bear on a novel, or even writing a didactic novel. And it's not to say that we can't learn and understand things about our own existence as it's reflected within a novel. But a novel has to be understood within its own limitations; it has to be understood as a novel, not as proof of theory. You can't say, "Well John Galt proves..." No, he doesn't. He's a character, possibly an inspiring one, but still a character. He's a concrete representation of an abstraction. He's us through a glass, and how darkly and how accurate is a question left open by the very nature of what a novel is.

ungtss said...

BMW:

fair points. you certainly can't prove philosophical tenets logically through fiction. but what you can do is illustrate a hypothesis about the motives, ideas, and feelings behind particular human actions, and the results of following those motives. The testing of the hypothesis is then performed by the reader _in the reader's real life_, by testing the hypotheses and seeing if the results follow as predicted by rand's model.

that was my personal experience. i did not experience her writing as a self-contained proof, but as a hypothesis to be considered and tested in real life.

i imagine all good philosophy takes this form, since claims to a priori proof without access to and feedback from reality are unlikely to accurately reflect reality. all philosophical ideas are, at bottom, hypotheses to be tested by the reader in their own lives.

the first time i read rand, i didn't have enough life experience to determine whether her hypotheses were correct or not, or even to fully understand her hypotheses. they certainly wasn't proven.

but the images she projected stayed with me as a hypothesis, which i tested, explicitly and implicitly, for about a decade. and i ultimately came to agree with the heart of her views. i subsequently came to modify them somewhat, based on experiences i had that she never had (such as deep involvement in a religion as a child, being a parent, and psychological research that wasn't available during her lifetime) and therefore couldn't speak to effectively. But in my experience, the heart of her ideas remains sound through all my testing.

i do think she rather believed she had somehow proven her ideas through her writing, which is a mistake. for the most part, her ideas are true, but they aren't provable or disprovable simply with reference to her words. they have to be tested in real life, by the reader.

ungtss said...

Gordon:

Fair points. It's quite seductive to convince onesself that a hypothesis has been proven when the hypothesis is emotionally attractive.

This hypothesis:

"There is no explosion without the bomb that explodes. There is no breathing without the body that breathes and the air that is breathed. A causal explanation is an explanation of action in terms of the entity's capacities for action, arising from its properties and relations. Free will is simply a human capacity for action, one that we will understand better in time. A choice is not uncaused. It is caused by the person who chooses.”

is pretty empty. A better version of it would be "free will is the demonstrated capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to reprogram the semi-automated parts of the brain. our PFC's capacity for free will is dependent on the functioning of our pre-frontal cortex, our development of its strength, the availability of energy to exercise it, the motive to exercise it, and ultimately the decision to exercise it. The remaining parts of our brain, including those that are reprogrammable and those that are fully automated, do not have free will. They are simply automated. And unless they are reprogrammed, they will continue to do what they have been programmed to do by one's environment. That is what makes the understanding of the PFC, and its development, so critical."

this biological view of free will is consistent with rand's view at its root, and has been consistently substantiated by neuroscience over the last decade or so. i honestly think rand would love it. but the science just hadn't gotten far enough before she died.

"For Rand, emotions are simply hard-wired prior conceptual responses."

Yes, this was one of her most conspicuous mistakes. The old "tabula rasa." The science shows that emotions themselves are hard-wired, but the stimuli that cause those emotions are determined by our cognitive understanding of the stimuli. Still, the heart of her argument was that "though affects feeling," which has been well substantiated by science.

All ideas need to be seen in their context -- the context of a process of continual development and refinement. take the good in what she said, identify and correct the mistaken.

Gordon Burkowski said...


My biggest problem with Rand and Objectivism generally lies not so much in the particular positions adopted as in its METHOD: claiming to find implications drawn from "self-evident" truths and then leaving it to others to find a scientific verification. And retreating into strident abuse if the scientists don't prove what they're supposed to.

Hard though it may be, inconclusive though it often is, one has to begin with the best science one has, then take care that one's metaphysics and epistemology is consistent with it. Not the other way around.

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

i like thomas' kuhn's view of the development of human ideas. he sees ideas as advancing through two distinct processes -- "normal science" which is the day to day experimentation within a particular paradigm, and "paradigm shifts" which are radical changes that aren't actually based on strong evidence, because the evidence isn't actually there.

one of kuhn's most dramatic examples is copernicus and galilleo's heliocentric system, which he discusses in "copernican revolution." copernicus' argument for heliocentrism was not scientific -- it was aesthetic. he argued that the sun should be the center of the universe because it is most beautiful, and that orbits in the shape of perfect circles would be more perfect than the ad hoc ptolemaic system.

the trick was, the theory of copernicus was actually inferior to the ptolemaic system in predicting the actual locations of stellar arguments, because he assumed the orbits of the planets were perfectly circular and the speeds of the planets were perfectly uniform, which they are not. Galileo made the same assumptions, both of which are incorrect.

So the ptolemaic system, although it was completely wrong, was actually better at predicting the locations of stellar objects than either copernicus or galileo, because it had been adjusted over thousands of years to accurately reflect what was seen. Even though it was totally wrong, it had been tweaked to look right. And even though the copernican/gallilean system was much closer to being right, it looked wrong.

It was not until Kepler that the heliocentric system equaled and surpassed the ptolemaic system in predictive ability -- because Kepler, left with the challenge of "finding a scientific verification for heliocentrism," played around with the numbers a lot, and figured out that the orbits are not perfectly circular, and the speed of the planets is not uniform. Once that verification was in place, heliocentrism became better than the ptolemaic system. not before.

That story, I think, illustrates the two distinct processes of the development of human knowledge -- there is an aesthetic process, which says "it should be like this," and there is a verificational process, which says "how can we test how it is." Both processes have severe limitations without the other. The first process often shoots off half-cocked. The latter process doesn't have the balls to ask Big Questions. We need both.

The role of copernicus was to have an aesthetic vision. The role of Kepler was to refine it.

Rand was a copernican thinker, not a keplerian one. She believed something was beautiful, and she sought to justify it. Ultimately, however, her justifications are not as compelling as her aesthetic vision. I'm more of a keplerian thinker, myself. Although certainly not of kepler's stature. I absorbed Rand's aesthetic vision, I tested it, and I've made some adjustments around its central tenets, that make it work.

The Objectivist Movement, it seems to me, is more like Galileo. Passionate converts to the aesthetic vision, but not cautious or responsible enough to challenge and adjust the conclusions of its master. So it ends up being cast as "heretical," and marginalized. I think Objectivism needs a Kepler.

Gordon Burkowski said...


The problem, I think, is that the mindset of Objectivists resembles neither that of Galileo nor Kepler: rather, they are in the same space as the medieval churchmen who condemned both of them.

Aquinas famously described philosophy as being the handmaid of theology; Objectivists, in spite of their trumpeting the "facts of reality" (as if there are any other kind), regard the sciences as essentially the handmaid of philosophy. Just take a look at some of Peikoff's remarks about modern physics.

Yes, one can take Objectivist positions in ethics, politics or aesthetics as starting points to be confirmed or disconfirmed by one's researches. I am sure that some find many confirmations at the end of such a path. My own experience was quite the opposite. But it doesn't matter which way it goes: if you don't start from Rand's "self-evident" premises, and if you don't regard the resulting inferences as absolute and certain, you have for all intents and purposes abandoned Objectivism. And you'll be the better for it.

ungtss said...

all i can recommend is to really look into the life and behavior of galileo. for one thing, he learned kepler's model (in other words, the correct model) but _rejected it_ in favor of perfect circles and uniform orbital velocities. to be clear: he heard the right answer, but refused to accept it, because his own perfect circles were prettier to his own mind:).

he was also colossally arrogant, refusing to admit dissent. and because his model was wrong, he resorted to ad hoc solutions, like explaining stellar motion with reference to the tides.

while today he is celebrated as a hero, in reality, he was a douche. the real hero of the story was keplar. and because he was responsible and _right_, he never got excommunicated:).

to the extent objectivists behave that way, it's consistent with how particular minds operate.

Gordon Burkowski said...

Clearly, I think the debate has reached the point where we need to agree to disagree. As is plain, I regard Objectivism as a rationalist, dogmatic system pretending to be fact based – while actually being opposed to dispassionate scientific inquiry. You regard it as a philosophy with important insights capable of being factually verified. That’s not been my experience, but everyone who has read Ayn Rand has to work that out for themselves.

I should note that I find your account of Galileo, Kepler and the whole heliocentric debate rather tendentious. Kepler deserves every credit for his discoveries – but he also wrote an entire book on the “music of the spheres” – which included the notion that Earth’s musical leitmotif was mi-fa-mi. In Kepler’s words: “The “Earth sings Mi, Fa, Mi: you may infer even from the syllables that in this our home misery and famine hold sway.” The voice of science, right?

So presenting him versus Galileo as the paragon of science may be a little overstated. And characterizing Galileo as a douche sounds a lot like Donald Trump is taking time off from his campaign to teach history of science.

Furthermore, it’s really bizarre to state that “because [Kepler] was responsible and right, he never got excommunicated” – while ignoring the fact that his writings remained on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for over 200 years – from 1620 to 1835.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...


I have little to add to what Gordon said, beyond a couple of historical corrections.

The Roman Catholic Church couldn't excommunicate Kepler because he was never a Catholic. He was born, raised, and remained a Lutheran throughout his life. They did ban his writings, just as they did Galileo's, but that was the only thing they could do to Kepler.

Galileo, being Catholic, was subject to further punishment for "suspicion of heresy," including lifelong house arrest and being ordered not to disseminate heliocentric ideas. He wasn't actually excommunicated either.

Mark Plus said...

You probably can't derive a "universal" philosophy just from your own experience any way, because the individual can't experience that many things that might shed light on fundamental aspects of reality. I've never lived through a revolution like Rand, for example, and reading historical works about revolutions can't make up for the deficiency. So my attempt at formulating a "universal" philosophy, if I decided to make such an effort, would turn out differently from Rand's.

ungtss said...

Gordon: "Kepler deserves every credit for his discoveries – but he also wrote an entire book on the “music of the spheres” – which included the notion that Earth’s musical leitmotif was mi-fa-mi. In Kepler’s words: “The “Earth sings Mi, Fa, Mi: you may infer even from the syllables that in this our home misery and famine hold sway.” The voice of science, right?"

I think this proves the point even more strongly -- my point being that there is value in purely aesthetic pronouncements, even when made without good evidence or any evidence at all, because those pronouncements give us the raw material from which we are able to later carve out science.

My generalization of kepler as "one way" and galileo as "another way" was only an illustration of this point in a particular context -- and in that case, one of them thought one way, and the other thought the other way. clearly in other cases kepler was the one making aesthetic pronouncements, and galileo was doing "normal science." I understand galileo did a lot of excellent normal science.

my only point, from the beginning, is that there is value in both processes.

there is value in rand saying "i think it should be this way" even if she's not 100% right, and even if she doesn't have neuroscience to back it up. because somebody else can comb through the neuroscience, or even do the neuroscience, 30 years later, and tweak what she had to say into something closer to truth.

just as there is value in copernicus saying "this ptolemaic system is UGLY and ABSURD. This other system is much cleaner and more beautiful, let's look at it." Even though he didn't have the data to back it up and make it "right." Somebody else could pick up where he left off.

Let the prophets speak.

Mark:

I agree you can't derive a universal philosophy as a universal philosophy from your own experience. What you can do is derive a philosophy for yourself, and then adjust it to expand the range of its applicability. In other words, "X is true for me. And if i adjust X to Y, then Y is true for my family. And if I adjust Y to Z, then Z is true for the people i know."

ungtss said...

actually, you can see both processes at work in this dialogue. i am making an aesthetic pronouncement that "there is beauty in both processes," and i am trying to back it up as best i can with an illustration from galileo and kepler. it's not a perfect illustration, nor is it a perfect idea. it needs refinement. and the criticisms i've gotten from all three of you are helpful in refining it.

nevertheless, there is value in the voice that says "isn't there room for somebody having the guts to say what they think is beautiful and right as best they can, even if they don't have a suitcase full of perfectly analyzed evidence to back it up?"

in this context, I'm that voice. Then other times, in my work, i'm the more analytic "normal science" voice.

The point is that we need both of these voices in order to grow and learn.

ungtss said...

i think if anything, rand's mistake was in cutting off her aesthetic pronouncements from criticism as she got older. it hurts deep down in your soul to put your heart out there for everyone to see and to have it ripped to shreds by people who don't understand it at the root and are only interested in proving their superiority. still, if you want to learn and grow, you have to listen to those criticisms, and learn.

it's a shame that criticism is often so unfair, as haylock's is in this case (really? you're going to criticize a philosophy without reading its primary material?) it's a shame not only because haylock never learns what we can't be bothered to try and understand, but also because it causes our artists to shut off the creative voice that would otherwise bring us new material to consider and grow from, because it hurts us so much to see our pearls rejected by swine.

Jzero said...

As someone who's dealt with many an artist, I would caution against generalizing how "our artists" handle criticism, unfair or otherwise.

Also, "isn't there room for somebody having the guts to say what they think is beautiful and right as best they can, even if they don't have a suitcase full of perfectly analyzed evidence to back it up?" sounds suspiciously like what many a politician or public figure has said in essence, when being called to account for the dumb or bigoted things they have said. This "I have the guts to tell it like it is, despite facts or political correctness!" attitude might on occasion be the cry of misunderstood genius, but more often than not it's a justification for being a douche.

ungtss said...

JZero:

Your comments are slick, because they don’t make any actual points, but merely make vague “cautions” and “suspicions” that communicate the illusion of superiority, without actually making a cogent argument that can be accepted or refuted. You don’t actually come out and say that “everyone who asks not to be nitpicked over stupid shit is Donald Trump,” because that is an absurd argument, and you know it. Instead, you leave that implication in the air, associating me with Trump through some vague, undefined, irrelevant similarity. This gives you the strategic advantage possessed by a guerilla warrior. If I take the bait and argue with you over your non-argument argument, you simply back away. The argument is not the point. Only establishing the illusion of superiority. And if I take the bait, you have established superiority.

Neuroscience also provides excellent frameworks for understanding semi-rational dominance-seeking behavior like this. First of all, because it contains no logical or informational content, but only implication and innuendo, we can safely conclude it does not originate in the reasoning parts of your mind. Rather, it originates in the parts of your brain governing social dominance and threat responses. Those are the parts of your brain that tell you “if I talk like this, I will be the Alpha and he will be the Omega.”

The key to dealing with animal behavior like this is not to take the bait and argue with your non-argument arguments, but to get to the heart of the matter, which is animal in nature. Which means to call you out on the fact that you’re feeling threatened, and are trying to establish your dominance. The problem is, these efforts have bypassed the reasoning parts of your mind, and so they will only work with people who are in a similar frame of mind to your own. Usually this takes the form of another member of the pack taking similar social dominance strategies to back you in and hem me in, emotionally. These are the highly effective behavior patterns of wolves, and they work among people who are operating at the mental level of wolves for one reason or another.

The great thing about Reason is that it permits us to transcend these animal behavior patterns, first by seeing what they are, and then by selecting rational, goal-directed behavior patterns.

Anonymous said...

^ TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH: You are an idiot and I am smarter then you because SCIENCE!

ungtss said...

^ that is how the animal portions of your brain translate ideas that make you feel stupid and small. they don't try to understand its logic or premises. they can't. they do what they can, which is to interpret the foreign idea as a threat, because that's all the animal parts of your brain are able to understand. Threat, superiority, and dominance.

this animal reaction to threatening ideas is fully natural to all of us. the only question is whether we let it control our behavior, or choose to transcend those reactions with fully human reactions which approach problems with Reason. you have rational parts of your brain. we all do, because we are human. but you need to choose to access them and apply them. And if you do not access and apply them, they atrophy. and soon enough, you're interpreting everything you don't understand as a personal insult and threat, and not understanding what's actually being said.

Jzero said...

"And if I take the bait, you have established superiority."

You don't think that leaving a multi-paragraph screed about my observations counts as "taking the bait"? Well, fine. Although while you complain that I'm trying to assert some kind of dominance over you, it's absolutely ironic how you use the very tactics you decry in trying to assert your dominance, with vague unreferences to "neuroscience" which sound suspiciously like psychoanalytical theories you've tried to pass off as fact before. This appeal to authority is meant to drown out dissent with jargon, as you pretend to be the smartest one in the room.

You see me as a threat, somehow, so you must attack my ideas not by addressing them, but by questioning their motives, as if motivation somehow negates any truth they may have, and as if you somehow have an actual insight to anyone's motives besides your own. (And boy, do you ever like to question everyone else's motives. It's never about the ideas, which you can't refute, it's always the motives with you.)

That I threaten you is evident by the way you have to characterize my words as "animal behavior", to somehow de-humanize me and demonize me so that you can dismiss anything I say as some sort of sub-human activity - a favorite tactic of Rand's, incidentally. (And just as incidentally, it's a common refrain amongst many an Objectivist sympathizer that they are the ones somehow being de-humanized. Eat your cake and have it too, I guess.)

It's bald assertions and horseshit. But for all that, you got one thing right: My earlier statement was not an argument of any kind, but it also was not meant to be. It was a couple of observations, for each reader to interpret as they liked. Had I meant to make arguments, they would have gone something like this:

1) Stop making blanket statements about groups of people as if you know and understand the motivations of an entire class. You don't. Artists respond in a wide variety of ways to critique, and not all of them are the tragic fragile flowers you seem to paint them as, and you have shown very little in the way of qualifying authority to speak for them. Rand was very guilty of assuming she knew how other people think, when it seems evident she had very little insight into any mind not her own. Don't follow in her footsteps.

2) Wistfully idealizing the person who "has the guts to speak" is not particularly wise, nor are such people really in short supply. Plenty of people have guts and speak about what they find good; unfortunately a lot of people find bigotry ind ignorance to be good. Are you one of those people? Maybe, maybe not, but you certainly have the kind of hubris often found in such people. Are you self-aware enough to recognize where your qualities and those of, say, a Donald Trump intersect? One can only hope. It would be wiser to idealize some trait other than "guts for speaking", even though that doesn't play into your narrative of oppressed genius snowflakes who melt at the slightest critique.

ungtss said...

now we're getting closer to human communication. nice work.

but here's the problem: you're still not treating me like a human, by directly addressing or refuting my point.

my point from the beginning has been that there is value in people making aesthetic value judgment and guesses, even if they aren't precise; because somebody later can take those guesses and refine them. that it's short-sighted to criticize copernicus for his aesthetic arguments for heliocentrism, because a kepler might come along later and tweak them to make them revolutionary. and that it is short-sighted to criticize rand for her aesthetic and occasionally weak evidence and circular arguments, because somebody else might come along and make them revolutionary.

that was my point. i think it's a good one. you haven't addressed that point. at all. no one has.

instead, you're criticizing me over things that you assume i'm doing, which are totally irrelevant to the point, and which i'm not actually doing. this isn't an argument about the nature of artists, or whether anyone who has the guts to speak deserves to be lionized. those are distractions from my actual point that you've introduced in order to avoid talking about the actual issue here.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"It is short-sighted to criticize rand for her aesthetic and occasionally weak evidence and circular arguments, because somebody else might come along and make them revolutionary."

Has anyone heard of begging the question?

Criticisms of Rand are only "short-sighted" if she was in fact right about a given issue. If she wasn't, then the criticisms aren't short-sighted: they are simply correct.

Note that identical reasoning is employed by those who believe in the Second Coming - and also argue that events, sometime or other, are going to prove them right. Citing someone like Copernicus, who was in fact proven right, tries to avoid the charge of begging the question, by begging yet another question.

A little elementary logic seems to be needed here.

Atlas Shrugged was published nearly 60 years ago. That is quite a long time. Those who claim she is right about a given issue can no longer wait for someone to "come along" and show how she was right. They have to do it themselves.

ungtss said...

Gordon:

Your charge of circular reasoning goes like this: "You are assuming that she was right, and therefore that therefore criticisms of her were shortsighted."

Your mistake is in applying a strict dichotomy between "right" and "wrong" in the context of complex theoretical structures. Strict dichotomies of right and wrong are applicable to simple factual questions that can be judged as true or false. But complex theories involving multiple interdependent premises are often both right and wrong simultaneously, on different points. They may also be "righter" than other theories, and may be made "more right" through tweaking.

That is what I illustrated, way up above, with Copernicus and Kepler. Copernicus was both "wrong" and "right." He was wrong in the sense that he assumed that the orbits were circular and uniform in velocity, and in the sense that his predictions were inferior to those of the Ptolemaic system. He was also wrong in the sense that he used aesthetic arguments to make scientific claims.

But he was right in the sense that under the sun is in fact in the middle of the planets. And in the end, that's what was valuable.

Kepler, because he did not get caught up in Copernicus' areas of "wrongness," was able to see the nugget of "rightness" that could be developed into something better. Kepler then _changed the model_ to be _righter_.

You might say the same thing about Darwin's theory of evolution. The Origin of Species is loaded with wrongness, and with bad arguments. He had no concept of genes, never read Mendel, had no concept of epigenetics. Still, there is a lot of value to be drawn from the Origin of Species, if it is treated charitably. And a lot of value has been drawn from it, over the last 150 years or so. Criticizing him for his wrongness is to ignore his many creative and revolutionary acts of rightness.

You might also say the same thing about relativity and quantum mechanics. relativity is "right" at large scales but "wrong" at small scales. quantum mechanics is "right" at small scales" but "wrong" at large scales. Presumably there is some "righter" theory of everything out there that can integrate quantum mechanics and relativity into something righter -- whole departments of research are dedicated to finding that "righter" theory. But criticizing quantum mechanics because it is "wrong" sometimes is to ignore its many valuable areas of rightness.

The second problem with your charge of circular reasoning is that it assumes i am arguing, here, that she was actually right about something in particular. Which i'm not. In fact i've pointed out many mistakes she made, above. But also pointed out how the corrections to those mistakes are merely tweaking around a core of rightness that has been substantiated by real work done by real scientists in the decades following her death.

I'm not arguing for a particular area of rightness. I am arguing for a process: a process that does not rely on strict binary concepts of "right" and "wrong" in the context of complex philosophical issues, but rather sees that some ideas may be "righter" or "wronger" than others. In other words, the process Kepler used to build on the foundations Copernicus laid.

If you want to talk about the "rightness" at the core of her philosophy, i'm happy to do that. But in order to get there, we have to have a process in place that is capable of getting there. We have to think like Kepler, and not like the Academy.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@ungtss:

I'm not afraid of repeating myself:

"Atlas Shrugged was published nearly 60 years ago. That is quite a long time. Those who claim she is right about a given issue can no longer wait for someone to "come along" and show how she was right. They have to do it themselves."

You claim that Rand's thought has "a core of rightness that has been substantiated by real work done by real scientists in the decades following her death."

I’m sure that most followers of this blog would be intrigued to learn what that core of rightness is and how it has been substantiated by real scientists. After all, it’s not hard to see that most of the people here are recovering Objectivists. They are people who spent years and sometimes decades trying to support that alleged core of rightness. So lectures about Copernicus and Kepler don’t go very far with most of them. They want to see the goods.

I liken my own experience with Objectivism to someone peeling layers off an onion. First the aesthetics went – and so did one layer of the onion. Then the theory of history – another layer. And after some years, I woke up – in every sense – to discover that there was no longer any onion.

In this thread you do offer the suggestion that "free will is the demonstrated capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to reprogram the semi-automated parts of the brain. . ." etc. That's of some interest, but I'm sure you understand that it barely begins to address the questions posed by Rand's definition of free will. Aside from that, all I see are lengthy and rather patronizing lectures that seem to assume that the people you’re addressing just haven’t looked as deeply and as sympathetically at Rand as they should. Maybe you should look at the idea that they have done so – and found the whole thing wanting.

A final note. I must comment on your statement that “Your mistake is in applying a strict dichotomy between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the context of complex theoretical structures.” Frankly, I found this approach astounding from someone who claims to find “a core of rightness” in Ayn Rand. Her thinking on every issue – no exceptions whatever – is based on strict dichotomies between right and wrong, good and evil. EITHER an artist is a romanticist OR a naturalist. EITHER you advocate laissez-faire capitalism OR you view man as a sacrificial animal. EITHER you choose to think and must therefore eventually agree with everything Ayn Rand says OR you are caught in “evasions” that will eventually destroy you. That's the aspect of her thought that many find so attractive at the beginning. At the end, they conclude that it's in fact a fatal, irreparable defect.

If you approach a thinker like this without “applying a strict dichotomy between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’”, what you’re doing may have some interest, but it is not and never can be anything which can even remotely be described as Objectivism. Maybe you should be hitching a ride on a different boat.

ungtss said...

"I’m sure that most followers of this blog would be intrigued to learn what that core of rightness is and how it has been substantiated by real scientists."

Here is how she described the core of her philosophy:

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

I think that this essence is both right and non-trivial. Especially having grown up in, and continually to live in, a number of cultures that oppose every element of it. And I think every mistake of rand's was in her own failure to adhere to this core. Which makes the core that much more profound.

"In this thread you do offer the suggestion that "free will is the demonstrated capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to reprogram the semi-automated parts of the brain. . ." etc. That's of some interest, but I'm sure you understand that it barely begins to address the questions posed by Rand's definition of free will."

I've barely begun to address that issue because it is tangential to the thread. if you'd like to discuss it further i'm game. I spend a solid chunk of my personal and professional effort developing those ideas in order to improve my own life.

"Her thinking on every issue – no exceptions whatever – is based on strict dichotomies between right and wrong, good and evil."

I think this reflects a very common misinterpretation of her work that reflects the minds of her readers much more than her own. For example, Rand said of Thomas Aquinas, a Christian icon:

"“Catholicism had once been the most philosophical of all religions. Its long, illustrious philosophical history was illuminated by a giant: Thomas Aquinas. He brought an Aristotelian view of reason (an Aristotelian epistemology) back into European culture, and lighted the way to the Renaissance. For the brief span of the nineteenth century, when his was the dominant influence among Catholic philosophers, the grandeur of his thought almost lifted the Church close to the realm of reason.”

That reflects exactly the sort of reasoning i'm talking about. She sees some light in Aquinas's thought, and some darkness. She gives credit to the light, because of the contribution he made, even though Aquinas was was a Christian, a viewpoint to which she was fundamentally opposed.

Likewise, all of her characters had mixed premises -- and the plot arc revolved around how those mixed premises resolved themselves.

You make a good point that most people subscribing to this blog are prior objectivists. It's very common for recovering fundamentalists of any type -- Objectivists or Evangelical Christians -- to completely identify with a group and upon leaving the group, rapidly flip to the opposite extreme, opposing everything in their prior identification. This is characteristic of an all-or-nothing, fixed mindset that sees philosophy in either/or terms. The choices within such a mindset are "All Objectivist" and "Anti-Objectivist," "Fundamentalist" or "Atheist."

The many superior and creative choices derived from picking and choosing truth from both sides are unavailable to you unless you're willing and able to accept ambiguity.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"This is characteristic of an all-or-nothing, fixed mindset that sees philosophy in either/or terms."

For openers, check out the titles of the three parts of Atlas Shrugged.

ungtss said...

then read the text between those titles. it is a story of people with mixed premises learning and growing in character arcs. truth and falsity are either/or, but people are a mixture.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Rand clearly distinguishes between errors in knowledge and breaches of morality. Rearden and Dagny Taggart have errors in knowledge, never breaches of morality. As such, Rand would never describe them as people with "mixed premises" - and in her interview with Playboy, she states unequivocally that no heroine of hers would ever do anything immoral. You have made this mistake in the past. It continues to be nonsense.

ungtss said...

As AR said, "One may find some elements of value, of truth, and of rationality in many people and schools. That does not make them Objectivist."

Objectivism was her effort to find value, truth, and rationality. And she did a great job, all things told. To the extent she got rigid and possessive of her ideas in old age, failed to adapt, and failed to continue to grow, that was most likely a combination of reduced neuroplasticity, menopause, the longterm effects of drug use, and the emotional hazards of being a national punching bag. that does not in any way reduce the value, truth, and rationality of what she had to say.

ungtss said...

"Rearden and Dagny Taggart have errors in knowledge, never breaches of morality. As such, Rand would never describe them as people with "mixed premises""

You're conflating premises with morality here. Within Objectivism, Premises are knowledge-beliefs. They are the things about which you make "errors of knowledge." It is possible to be of mixed premises -- that is, to be mistaken, without being "immoral." All of her characters show that. Even Galt.

Jzero said...

"but here's the problem: you're still not treating me like a human, by directly addressing or refuting my point."

No, that's nonsense.

We are both humans. How I treat you is perfectly within the bounds of human behavior. You do not get to determine the bounds of discourse in a publicly-accessible forum, and whether I address your "point" or not is my human choice to make as a response to your own all-too-human statements.

I never had any intention of addressing the point you harp on about: it's pointless. I don't think anybody has ever argued that aesthetic judgements ought not to be made for some reason; while they have value, it seems a stretch to credit them with actual scientific value - so there's nothing much to discuss! I see no need to even entertain the notion.

In addition, the idea that we should not dismiss Rand because someone might come along and refine her ideas would not be so laughable if Rand and her fan club were not so intent on claiming Objectivism as a perfect and flawless philosophy. Had she simply gone through life and said, "this is what works for me", that would be one thing, but she constantly said the equivalent of, "not only does this work for me, this is universal truth and anyone who doesn't accept it is stupid, ignorant, or outright evil." People who claim perfection, who display undeserved hubris, are inviting derision AT BEST if their "perfection" shows its cracks. IF AND WHEN Rand's ideas are "refined", she can be lauded, not before.

And for that matter, how would anyone think to "refine" Rand if people for some reason backed off in criticizing her? Critical thought relies on challenging analysis - something unchallenged does not get refined, it remains inert. So this whole supposed point of yours is barely worth the effort.

Meanwhile, I did feel compelled to address some things you said, because regardless of what you may or may not have intended, by choosing the words you used in the way you used them, you did convey some pretty dumb sentiments. I quote:

"it [being criticism] causes our artists to shut off the creative voice", you say, soon followed with "because it hurts us so much to see our pearls rejected by swine."

That is a blanket generalization of artists. You can't say with any seriousness that it isn't. And I guess you count yourself among the artists, using "us", but in this regard you ought to speak only for yourself. Many an artist responds to critique - even harsh critique - in ways other than being hurt or shutting off anything. Instead of saying, "oops, guess I shouldn't generalize, my bad," though, you go off on a diatribe about alpha dominance! Was that REALLY the appropriate response for that?

The rest stands as well: "Having the guts" to speak one's mind on any subject, let alone aesthetics, is not of itself an indicator of virtue, and positioning yourself as "the voice" to advocate for that trait does not do you any favors.

You said these things, and if you think it's somehow unfair or off-point to bring them up, I'll point out that it's your decision to wax philosophical, as it were, and you could save yourself a lot of trouble if you embraced brevity and terse clarity as virtues.

ungtss said...

Thank you. You’re finally talking to me like a human. A human you don’t like or understand, but still a human.

“In addition, the idea that we should not dismiss Rand because someone might come along and refine her ideas would not be so laughable if Rand and her fan club were not so intent on claiming Objectivism as a perfect and flawless philosophy. Had she simply gone through life and said, "this is what works for me", that would be one thing, but she constantly said the equivalent of, "not only does this work for me, this is universal truth and anyone who doesn't accept it is stupid, ignorant, or outright evil." People who claim perfection, who display undeserved hubris, are inviting derision AT BEST if their "perfection" shows its cracks. IF AND WHEN Rand's ideas are "refined", she can be lauded, not before.”

Here, you are committing the genetic fallacy, and specifically the ad hominem fallacy. You are saying that it is “laughable” not to dismiss Rand because she and her fan club were and are arrogant about the merit of her ideas. But the merit of a person’s ideas has no relation to the arrogance of that person or their followers regarding the merit of those ideas. That is what I illustrated with Galileo. He was profoundly arrogant about his ideas, and wrong in some pretty significant ways. Thank goodness Kepler didn’t dismiss ideas just because the “Copernicus fanclub” refused to acknowledge the stench of their own anal cavities.

While your conclusion is a logical fallacy, this is a perfectly normal animal response to arrogant behavior. Rand and her crew posture themselves as superior, and so you seek to posture yourself as superior by rejecting everything they have to say. This is certainly normal, but it’s not rational. Rational behavior recognizes that a person’s arrogance has no relation to the merit of his views. Rational behavior puts the views of the arrogant on the same footing as the views of the slick, because it recognizes that it’s just as easy to package a lie in false humility as to package a lie in hubris.

"it [being criticism] causes our artists to shut off the creative voice", you say, soon followed with "because it hurts us so much to see our pearls rejected by swine."
“That is a blanket generalization of artists. You can't say with any seriousness that it isn't.”

Do you seriously think I am claiming that every artist reacts in the same way to criticism? Did Rand shut off her voice? Of course not. She just grew more strident. Nobody’s making that claim at all. What you’re doing is taking some language out of the context of the point it was making and turning it into something you can criticize, because you can’t or won’t take on the substance of what I’m saying. I’m saying “it’s a shame people do this because it harms creativity.” Not “every single artist responds to criticism in the same way.”

That may be emotionally satisfying to you, but it’s not very constructive or useful. All it does is cause potentially constructive discourse to degenerate into personal nit-picking like is occurring here.

"Having the guts" to speak one's mind on any subject, let alone aesthetics, is not of itself an indicator of virtue, and positioning yourself as "the voice" to advocate for that trait does not do you any favors

Nobody said it did. What I said was “nevertheless, there is value in the voice that says "isn't there room for somebody having the guts to say what they think is beautiful and right as best they can, even if they don't have a suitcase full of perfectly analyzed evidence to back it up?"

Not that it’s an “indicator of virtue,” but that there’s value in people having the guts to say what they think is beautiful and right as best they can.

Returning to the actual point. It is much better to allow for the possibility of improving imperfect ideas than to toss them all out because you don’t like how their advocates present themselves.

Gordon Burkowski said...


I feel it's time to register a protest about all this talk about treating or not treating someone as a human.

Understand clearly, U. Some of your views might be interesting, considered by themselves. Presented with the claim that they are an accurate representation of the views of Ayn Rand, they are mistaken to the point of perversity. But your loopy interpretations of Rand don't make you less human; they just make you wrong.

And your unbelievably labyrinthine attempts to avoid the obvious rebuttals that many people have made in the face of your misinterpretations of Rand can leave many thoroughly frustrated, including myself. But you're not the less human for that.

Then there's your insistence on psychologizing people who disagree with you - instead of ever considering the idea that they might simply perceive that you frequently don't know what you're talking about. That's ugly and insulting - but you're not the less human for that.

About the only thing about your postings which for me has less than human associations is your constant whining about being dehumanized. To me at least, these somewhat resemble the howlings of a mongrel who's just been kicked in the ass.


ungtss said...

G, my last comment to you contained only the following:

G: "Rearden and Dagny Taggart have errors in knowledge, never breaches of morality. As such, Rand would never describe them as people with "mixed premises""

U: "You're conflating premises with morality here. Within Objectivism, Premises are knowledge-beliefs. They are the things about which you make "errors of knowledge." It is possible to be of mixed premises -- that is, to be mistaken, without being "immoral." All of her characters show that. Even Galt."

I have no doubt that the argument I made above sounds like the "howlings of a mongrel who's just been kicked in the ass" to you. That unconscious translation of logical argument into "howling in defeat" is something that happens to us when we feel threatened.

I grew up surrounded by people who have this same reaction to threatening logical arguments. In their minds, my words melted into an sound of a howling mongrel acknowledging his own defeat. i'm well aware of how it makes you feel.

i also know it's a fiction manufactured by your own mind to avoid responding to things you can't respond to. i know this because i directly refuted your argument in logical terms. and all you heard was howling.

I'm wondering if you can access the human portions of your mind and realize that what i wrote above is actually a cogent refutation of your position, and continue to access those portions long enough to try and refute it.

Gordon Burkowski said...


I'm not afraid of repeating myself:

Then there's your insistence on psychologizing people who disagree with you - instead of ever considering the idea that they might simply perceive that you frequently don't know what you're talking about. That's ugly and insulting - but you're not the less human for that.

ungtss said...

G, if you refuse to respond to a cogent argument and instead hear it as the "howling of a mongrel," you leave me no choice but to psychologize. i have to make sense of the gulf between the words on the thread and the perceptions in your mind. psychology is the only tool I have available for that. It is the tool we use to explain why people's perceptions do not match reality.

The option to respond to what I actually said is available to you as well. Hoping you take it because until this morning, our conversation has been very interesting.

Jzero said...

"Do you seriously think I am claiming that every artist reacts in the same way to criticism?"

Who knows? But if you aren't, stop saying things in ways that imply you do! And when pointed out, don't freak out and treat it as some kind of existential threat to your smart-guy image. I reiterate: was that the best course of action? You could have just said, "no, that's not what I meant," and it would have been over. But no. So go on, lecture me about my "animal responses". I can almost guarantee it doesn't impress anyone here, so unless you're bringing some kind of shadow audience over from elsewhere, maybe you want to reconsider this performance of yours.

Rand's ideas are flawed. Her flaws have been gone over in detail on this site and many other places. This isn't a few centuries ago when knowledge was sparser and more difficult to come by; ideas can be brought up and discussed widely with relative ease.

Having exposed Rand's flaws, it makes no sense to somehow hold them in some sort of weird reserve of respect just in case some wunderkind drops by to demonstrate just how right she was. If that happens, then we can re-examine Rand and her ideas. The fact that Rand and her fan club made a point of insisting on Rand's infallibility is only a surface layer of extra absurdity.

Besides which, in this age where everything written is copied and preserved and disseminated at will, it's not like Rand's ideas are somehow going somewhere or disappearing. The Vatican isn't forbidding anyone to read her, and they would not be successful if they tried. The idea that her work faces some sort of threat from being marginalized is ludicrous.

I mean really, if you strip away all the clutter, this entire thing breaks down to:

People here: Rand is flawed, we don't accept her philosophy.

ungtss: Are you sure? Maybe you actually want to, for convoluted reasons! Yes she was flawed, but why not follow her anyway? (Also why do you have an axe to grind?? STOP ATTACKING ME!)

Gordon Burkowski said...


A while back on this thread you wrote: "This is characteristic of an all-or-nothing, fixed mindset that sees philosophy in either/or terms."

I invited you to check out the titles of the three parts of Atlas Shrugged: "Non-Contradiction", "Either-Or" and "A is A".

Your response: "then read the text between those titles. it is a story of people with mixed premises learning and growing in character arcs. truth and falsity are either/or, but people are a mixture."

In short, your were saying that the titles of those parts essentially have little or nothing to do with the content that follows - and in fact contradict the point of those titles.

That's when I stopped taking you seriously.

I still don't.

ungtss said...

I mean really, if you strip away all the clutter, this entire thing breaks down to:

Nyquist: "As pointed out by this critic of Rand who never read her novels, where is the evidence for the claims made in her private diary?"

Ungtss: "That's pretty silly. Nobody makes comprehensive proofs of their positions in their private diary. And nobody who's never read an author's novels can meaningfully opine on her views. this is unfair."

Nyquist and BMW: "But these ideas are not science."

Ungtss: Fair enough, but there is value in a hypothesis that isn't science yet. For instance, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler.

Everybody: You screwed up some irrelevant details about Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler.

Ungtss: Those are irrelevant details. It's a shame that people nitpick about irrelevant details, because it takes guts to put your heart out there, and nitpicking makes artists shut down their voice.

JZero: You're overgeneralizing about artists. And when you say it takes guts to put yourself out there, you sound like a crappy politician.

Ungtss: You're ignoring what i'm saying, and coming after me personally over irrelevancies. That tells me you're threatened. You need to treat me like a human, not a threat.

JZero: Don't you tell me how to talk to you. I'll talk to you however I want. And anyways, it's silly to defend Rand's ideas, because she and her followers are assholes.

Ungtss: That's better. Also, it's illogical to reject a person's ideas because they are arrogant.

JZero: We've rejected Rand's ideas because they are flawed. There's no reason to defend them.

Ungtss: In this thread the only criticism i've heard of rand is that 1) she didn't make comprehensive all-encompassing proofs of her ideas in her personal diaries, as complained of by a person who never read her actual work; 2) her ideas are wrong because she and her followers and arrogant; and 3) none of her heros had mixed premises, because having mixed premises would make them immoral, and she said none of her characters are immoral. All of those arguments are transparently wrong, and stupid. If that's a representative sample of why you think proves her ideas are flawed, it's fairly unimpressive.

ungtss said...

"In short, your were saying that the titles of those parts essentially have little or nothing to do with the content that follows - and in fact contradict the point of those titles."

I was saying that those titles need to be understood in the context of the actual book between those titles. Taking those titles out of context, failing to account for the rest of the book, is a doomed effort.

To the extent you stopped taking me seriously for telling you that the titles of the Parts need to be read in the context of the rest of the book, the substance of which refutes your point, you're off track.

Gordon Burkowski said...



ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Jzero said...

See, right there you've edited out a crucial bit:

Nyquist: "As pointed out by this critic of Rand who never read her novels, where is the evidence for the claims made in her private diary?"

Ungtss: "That's pretty silly. Nobody makes comprehensive proofs of their positions in their private diary. And nobody who's never read an author's novels can meaningfully opine on her views. this is unfair."

Nyquist: "But Rand never provided evidence for such claims anywhere else, either. Also Rand herself was quite unfair."

Ungtss: "Let's ignore that by talking about other things, and pretend my point is the most crucial one here."

ungtss said...

No, Nyquist said:

"But here's the problem: Rand never gave any evidence for her conclusions about human nature that would be accepted by scientists in the relative field of study (e.g., social or experimental pyschology)."

Which boils down to "But these ideas are not science." Which is what I said.

Nyquist did not say she never gave any evidence at all. That would have been silly. He said she never gave any _scientific_ evidence. Which is a valid critique.

To which i responded, "Fair enough, but there is value in a hypothesis that isn't science yet. For instance, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler."

Daniel Barnes said...

The view if this site can be summarized simply with an old joke. Rand's theories are both good and original. Only the good parts are not original, and the original parts are not good.
If contra this, ungtss can provide some examples of theories that are a)unique to Rand b)important enough that we might have heard of them and c)not already refuted extensively then by all means let's hear these Copernicus-Galileo-Kepler level insights.
If not we can reasonably assume they don't in fact exist.

Jzero said...

Which is another generalization without much merit. There may be value in a hypothesis, there may not be. To go back to our politicians, Ben Carson has recently gone on record hypothesizing that the ancient pyramids were some sort of grain-storage structures. All of modern science, plus my own experience of having been inside one, says otherwise. We don't "value" that, except as perhaps a barometer of Carson's potential understanding of scientific issues that affect the world today.

So if you're saying there is value in a hypothesis, any hypothesis (which, again, is implied by your choice of words), I strongly disagree. Had Copernicus made an entirely different hypothesis you would likely not be using him as an example, since his hypothesis would have been utterly discounted and he would exist as an also-ran in history. He happens to be a successful example of a historical chain of events that you want to use to justify some kind of preservation of Rand as a profoundly wise figure. "Copernicus had a hypothesis validated, so why not Rand, too?" That's all this is. "Why not just gloss over Rand's flaws, because hey, who knows, some magic man might come along and solve the mysterious Objectivism formula!"

Maybe Santa will bring that for us if we're all sufficiently rational anti-altruists!

Merry Christmas, folks, I'm out for a while.

ungtss said...

Jzero:

My reaction to hearing that is to:

A) go find out what Carson actually said;

B) recognize that Carson made this comment in the context of a sermon about thinking big, not in the context of an argument about the Egyptian pyramids. It was a side-point.

C) see that didn't give any evidence, except that the chambers were sealed, which is equally likely to be for purposes of a tomb.

D) See for the first time how connected with fundamentalist elements of Christianity with which I disagree.

E) Hypothesize that he throws around his status as "retired neurosurgeon" to provide validation to people who find it very pleasing to have their ideas validated by a black scientist. "somebody smart agrees with me! i'm smart!" hypothesize that there is something cynical in how carson is doing this.

F) Hypothesize that his candidacy is not a serious candidacy for president, but just a candidacy to increase his visibility and credibility among those who already support him (based on the fact that his poll numbers don’t change following comments like this, which indicate that his supporters like his way of thinking). Basically, he now has a national stage to get the attention of everybody who likes what he has to say, and will reap benefits among those people long after he loses the primary. Wonder how many candidates are in the race for that purpose, and what other evidence you might look for to determine whether someone is doing that.

G) google “pyramid grain silo” and read about the medieval views connecting the pyramids with joseph.

H) hypothesize that when we have very little information about a topic, we tend to make every connection we possibly can. For instance, if the only two things you know about Egypt are “pyramids” and “joseph,” you’re going to want to make a connection between the two, even without looking at the design of the pyramids. Put this hypothesis aside and decide to research it later; believing that somebody has probably already observed this phenomenon, and there is probably a name for it.

I) quickly look at the design of the pyramids again.

J) conclude that it’s most likely that the pyramids were for tombs, but there’s this “grain silo” theory out there, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for actual evidence of it, should any come along.

K) connect the building of the pyramids to Von Mises’ analysis of economic calculation. Note that the enormous resources that went into the tomb vastly exceeded the economic value of the pyramids, and hypothesize that the waste of such resources would only be possible in an unfree market. Put this hypothesis away to investigate later.

all of these things make it worth letting him speak his mind, and taking the time to listen. Because I see his ideas not through a fixed mindset of "is he right or is he wrong" but as a platform for further thought of my own. Which means that even if he is wrong, I gain from listening to him.

as another example, Christopher Columbus made his voyage based on ancient Greek calculations of the diameter and circumference of the earth. Those estimations were wrong. Way too small. But if Columbus had had a correct calculation, he never would have made the trip. Because the correct calculation would have shown him how far China actually was, and he would have known he couldn't make it, and would have had no idea that America was in the way.

His discovery of America depended entirely on a mistake someone made almost 2000 years earlier. With the right information, no voyage would have taken place.

There was value in the wrong guess, and value in the testing of the wrong guess. Because together, they permitted the right answer to be discovered. This process requires that we step beyond the narrow "right/wrong" dichotomy we're indoctrinated into through the system of examinations, in which getting the answer wrong is “bad” and makes you a “bad” or “Stupid” person. In a proper human philosophy, wrong is just a necessary step on the road to being righter.

ungtss said...

Daniel:

I don't find originality important when i assess a person's ideas. The point is the value of the idea, and a third-hand good idea is as good as a second-hand good idea is as good as an original good idea.

I also know from personal experience that it's quite common for people to re-invent the wheel, only to discover after re-inventing it that someone long ago had invented it and been ignored, making the re-invention necessary. i don't find this re-invention process to be any less valuable or "original" than inventing it for the first time. If anything, the discovery of a predecessor gives me someone else to look for valuable information.

I find concern with "originality" to be quite petty. An effort to bring someone down, rather than to learn from them.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Daniel:

Have a merry Christmas.

You are a very patient man.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ungtss
So therefore you agree with Greg and I, and most of the commenters here, on two key points:
1.Rand has no important original theories that aren't demonstrably false.
2.That "wrong is a necessary step on the road to being righter", a Popperian formulation that we here at the ARCHNblog also fully endorse.
It's great to end the year on a note of profound agreement on fundamentals. Merry Christmas!

ungtss said...

ah, well that's a clever manipulative word game.

actually what i said was that i think the issue of whether something is "original" is petty and irrelevant, not that nothing she said was original.

in order to determine whether she never said anything original, i would need to compare her writings with every idea in every writing in every culture and language in human history. since i have neither the time nor the interest to acquaint myself with the sum of human knowledge, i don't have any basis for answering your question in the positive or negative.

of course, neither do you. particularly without comprehensively laying out her every idea, and identifying who said it first. which i seriously doubt you've done.

so really what you're doing is making an unfalsifiable, critical, and irrelevant claim about rand, and telling me to falsify the unfalsifiable. asking me to undertake a task that is both herculean and logically impossible to accomplish. and when i refuse to play along with your silly game, you claim i agree with you.

no, buddy, i'm not that dumb. but despite her faults, rand never played games as dirty and manipulative as yours. and the more i see how deceptive and manipulative rand's opponents are, the better rand looks by contrast.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Well, merry Christmas anyway.

ungtss said...

it's pretty appropriate that you would both wish me merry christmas while using exactly the same head games christianity uses to melt human minds. "god says to win, you must do the impossible. you must be perfect, despite having been born sinful. and if you fail in this impossible task, you lose." except in this case it's "daniel says to win, you must do the impossible. you must establish that rand said something never thought by any human in history. and if you fail in this impossible task, you lose."

the trick is, create an unwinnable game, and get stupid, naive people to play it. "heads i win, tails you lose." essentially the mentality of a narcissistic 8 year old boy. then snicker as they struggle in the snare you set. because you're so damnably clever.

but see, i grew up with these head games, so i know them well. and if there's one good thing about rand, it's that she exposes people like you.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Wow. No matter how hard one tries, it's impossible to get you to show a little class.

Perhaps you should work on that as one of your New Year's resolutions.

Again, best of the season.

ungtss said...

your "class" lessons have included things like: "you're making the sounds of a howling mongrel," "zzzzzzzz ..." "man daniel, you're sure patient to keep talking to this guy," and "merry christmas." and also completely ignoring everything of substance i've had to say.

but now you want to pretend you've "tried so hard" to get me to show some class. this sort of constant reality shifting is what they call "manipulation." in real life, it's called "emotional abuse." it works on the weak-minded and stupid. not so much on the healthy. which is why people put so much effort into keeping others weak-minded and stupid. so this sort of nonsense gets you what you need.

Daniel Barnes said...

@Gordon,
Even though he says we critics of Rand are Big Meanies who give him hurt fee-fees with the terrible things we say, ungtss still continually seeks our attention. Who knows why? Its not like he wants to discuss Rand or her work. In fact when asked directly, he can't name a single original and important Objectivist theory, let alone explain and defend it. Well, we agree! We can't think of any either.Yet despite this he seems intent on finding endless trivial disagreements, and refuses to acknowledge the similarity of our positions both on Rand and, it appears, epistemology. Perhaps it is Freud's old line about the narcissism of minor difference. Nonetheless it is clear he desires our attention for whatever reason. And in the end it is up to us if we give it to him.

praxeology said...

>@Burkowski: Rand's characteristic method when she deals with "psycho-epistemology" is to employ introspection to arrive at certain propositions which she regards as self-evident

That's pretty much the only method available when dealing with the fact of the subjective self.

>Thus, Objectivists claim that you know you have free will by introspection;

Many schools of philosophy claim that, not just Objectivism. The praxeology of Mises and other Austrian economists rests on the introspectively self-evident facts of human action; i.e., purposeful goal-seeking, preference scales, and incentives. We only know for certain these things exist because of introspection, not because of some objective measurement.

>they interpret free will to mean the choice to focus or not to focus; and dismiss without further discussion any experimental evidence that might point in a different direction.

Yes, but their CHOICE to "dismiss without further discussion" is precisely an example of free will; a choice "not to focus". If we say, "OK, but that choice not to focus leads the O'ist to untrue conclusions about free will", then we're admitting that there's something called "truth" that is different from whatever brain chemistry might be correlated with an O's choice not to focus — which, again, is self-evident proof of free will: for either will is free or it's determined by physical factors (such as brain chemistry); if the will of an O'ist is determined by his brain chemistry, then so is the will of some scientist claiming something opposite from the O'ist; his truth is a product of his will, which is determined by his chemistry. So if you don't accept free will as not only self-evident, but as an irreducible primary, you'll have to throw out the idea of "objective truth"; in which case, there would only be "my truth, your truth, his truth, her truth," etc. The argument was made by Karl Popper in several of his books, including the collection of essays he published with Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Sir John Eccles, entitled "The Self and Its Brain."

>This is not science.

Indeed not. It's philosophy. The conjoined issues of free will and objective truth lie before and behind science; like moral issues of good and evil, they are not, per se, scientific problems, nor are they amenable to scientific investigation. "Scientific" investigation is not the only kind of investigation, and "scientific" knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge.

Determinism said...

"for either will is free or it's determined by physical factors (such as brain chemistry); if the will of an O'ist is determined by his brain chemistry, then so is the will of some scientist claiming something opposite from the O'ist; his truth is a product of his will, which is determined by his chemistry."

If we do not believe in God because there is insufficient evidence for his/her/its existence, we can also likely not believe in ineffable qualities such as "spirit" that have no logic to back them up.

Thus, assuming we accept that, we must accept that human will is a product of the human brain. Complex and not fully understood, but until compelling evidence otherwise arises, it ought to be assumed that all we do and think is the result of "chemicals" - for otherwise, what is it supposedly that drives our will, and why do we allow belief in it, if we don't allow for the possibility of God or other as-yet unproven assertions?

The Objectivist (or other person) who doesn't like the idea of chemicals as will does not fully understand what such a situation means. It does not mean you do not have a choice; it means that at any given moment, the choice you make is determined by the sum total of all forces acting on you, physically and mentally.

You may be hungry and tired, as you sit in your living room. What do you do? You might go to to the kitchen to eat. You might go to your bed to sleep. As far as you can perceive, you have the free will to do either. But eventually, you will choose a course of action, depending on whether you feel more hungry or more sleepy or even get the urge do something entirely different. That choice results from your "chemicals", which is a rather banal way to describe the uncountable series of complex reactions in the brain. But, assuming the exact same conditions at that exact given moment, that choice is the only one you were ever going to make, even if you did not know what you were going to choose until you chose it.

To argue otherwise is to postulate the existence of some as-yet unidentified source of "will" without any evidence for such besides rhetorical sophistry; much like the argument for God resting on the idea that one cannot conceive of our complex universe and Earth's lifeforms originating without the hand of some intelligent being. Such an ephemeral "will" may indeed exist, but it is an extraordinary claim that requires strong proof.

The argument against chemical determinism is one of aesthetics and/or fear. Some people do not like the idea that chemicals might "dictate" how we live our lives; but simple observation of how chemical imbalances are present in mental illness, or how drugs can affect one's mind, ought to be all one needs to see that at the very least, those chemicals are vitally important and altering them can change our very beings. Fear arrives with the idea of a lack of control. People like to think of "themselves" as being in control of their own lives. Fear of being controlled by chemicals is a misunderstanding that regards those chemicals as being something separate from, or even outside, ourselves.

However, we ARE our chemicals, and if the physical universe obeys firm rules of operation, then our chemicals are going to perform as chemicals do. To argue that one must believe in free will OR physical factors is to court the very mysticism that Rand ostensibly deplored.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Praxeology: Obviously, neither of us are going to solve the issue of free will on this blog. However, I should point out that there is a difference between "introspectively self-evident" and "true". It may well be that one gets involved in paradoxes if one doesn't assume something like free will. But that's a statement about how humans think; and such a statement about how humans think could be true even if in fact human action is at some level determined.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Daniel:

I think you're asking: why bother with U. at all? And it's a fair question because, really, I've wasted more time on his loony readouts of Rand than I should.

I suppose the situation is this. I've abandoned just about all of Objectivism and I'm fine with people who've followed the same path. I certainly don't like some of the distorted critiques of Rand one finds in the popular press: there's enough Randisms to reject without making things up. And I usually disregard straight Randroids simply because I find them boringly predictable.

Ungtss is a special case. He claims to be an Objectivist or at least to strongly sympathize with Objectivism. Meanwhile he holds positions about Rand's novels and philosophy that are not only mistaken but outrageously mistaken.

I suppose I have a sort of proprietary interest in Objectivism: I react badly if someone claims to be an Objectivist while presenting an utterly distorted view of her novels or her philosophy. In effect, I'm saying: if you're going to believe this stuff, at least know what you're talking about. Rather, I suppose, like a Christian turned atheist who is impatient with someone who claims to be Christian and has a distorted view of what that involves.

My current viewpoint on Ungtss was stated clearly a few posts ago: I refuse to take him seriously. That doesn't mean I won't call him out when he's being particularly absurd. A recent case in point was all the whining about being dehumanized because Jzero thought (correctly) that his views were pretty stupid. But debate? Not really. Anyone who has followed this guy will know that that's pretty much a waste of time.

praxeology said...

@ Determinism:

>To argue otherwise is to postulate the existence of some as-yet unidentified source of "will" without any evidence for such

Instead of a Tupperware party, we could have a "Stolen Concept" party:

"To *argue* otherwise . . ."

"Argue"? Chemicals interact with other chemicals according to laws of thermodynamics. They don't "argue". Not with themselves; not with anything else. Only non-material, mystical things like "wills" and "minds" and "intellects" argue. The term "argue" has zero to do with any possible behavior by chemicals. And if terms like "argue" were explainable by, or reducible to, chemical interaction, then it's up to you to show how "argue" conforms to:

The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics;
The First Law of Thermodynamics;
The Second Law of Thermodynamics;
The Third Law of Thermodynamics.

Good luck.

"...rhetorical sophistry;"

Chemicals know nothing about being "rhetorical" or about being "concise"; so if you posit that the attributes of wills, minds, and intellects are rooted and determined by chemicals, then you have to reduce a trait such as "rhetorical" to its chemical base. Now let's see, which chemicals or interactions are "rhetorical"?

Nothing that chemicals do, by themselves or in concert with other chemicals, can be "sophistical", so "sophistry" has zero to do with chemicals or their interactions. That you use words like "argue", "rhetorical", "sophistry", etc., and claim to understand them — to grasp their meaning when you use them and when others use them — means they cannot be explained by, or reduced to, chemical interactions. Chemicals don't "grasp meanings".

Your argument — no, not your brain chemicals (which I have no opinion about), but your ARGUMENT — is silly. The word "silly" is a noetic concept that refers to the frivolous nature of your argument; the word says nothing about the state of your brain chemistry. To believe that a noetic utterance like the word "silly" is reducible to brain chemistry is like saying that the ideas (good or bad) in "Atlas Shrugged" are reducible to, and explainable by, the chemical nature of ink and paper; after all, the book was printed with ink on paper.

praxeology said...

@ Determinism

>much like the argument for God resting on the idea that one cannot conceive of our complex universe and Earth's lifeforms originating without the hand of some intelligent being.

The fact that even the simplest biological organisms display the sort of hierarchical organization within themselves of many cooperating and coherent sub-systems that one typically associates with products of an exogenous intelligence (e.g., a computer program or a musical score for a symphony) is no necessary proof of a God. It's merely evidence that some sort of intelligence had to have played a key role in *selection* and *organization* of the physical materials making up the organism or entity in question; since randomness goes nowhere and biological predestination (i.e., determinism) is a fantasy.

The need to bring intelligence into the explanation is pretty obvious, and one has to dive deep into denial to avoid that conclusion.

Conversely, that all paleontologists know that the fossil record mostly evidences long periods of biological stasis, punctuated by brief bursts of rapid change displaying either no species intermediates, or at best, few species intermediates, is no formal disproof of incremental evolution via random mutations and natural selection. But it sure doesn't support the hypothesis, either. The fossil record "is what it is" and doesn't prove or disprove anything one way or another. The main reason some people still hew to the ultra-pure neo-Darwinian scenario of species-origins (as well as abiogenesis, if one wants to include the origin of the very first living organism anywhere in the universe) is simple: it's a good story. It's just the 20th century version of a classical "creation myth."

I specified "20th century" because in the 21st, neo-Darwinism is going the way of outmoded 19th century ideas like phlogiston and the lumineferous aether. As biochemist James Shapiro (University of Chicago) writes in his book, "Evolution: A View from the 21st Century" (paraphrasing): scientists had long thought that biology would eventually be completely reduced to, and explained by, physics and chemistry. Imagine their surprise — especially after the elucidation of the structure and function of DNA — when they were forced to concede that basic concepts in biology now had to be reduced to, or explained by, basic ideas in computer science, code theory, and linguistics!

>Such an ephemeral "will" may indeed exist, but it is an extraordinary claim that requires strong proof.

Stolen concept again. Chemicals cannot engage in any process of "proof"; only non-material, mystical entities like "wills", "minds", or "intellects" can do that. And asking for the chemical interactions in the brain that specify "proof" (in order to use that to show the chemical interactions that specify "will," "mind," or "intellect") is as silly as demanding to know which chemical interactions in ink and paper specify the concept "rational" (in order to use that to show the chemical interactions that specify "selfishness" or "capitalism") in Atlas Shrugged.

praxeology said...

When you spell out the word "F-o-o-l-h-a-r-d-y" in Scrabble, the meaning of the word — its function as a sign, pointing to something other than itself — has nothing to do with the chemical facts of ink, the chemical facts of wood, or the geometric fact that each piece is a square. Those are all facts, but they have nothing to do with the *meaning* of the word. Similarly, when a player grasps the meaning of the word "Foolhardy", the act of understanding has nothing to do with whatever chemical processes are at work keeping him awake and engaged.

>The argument against chemical determinism is one of aesthetics and/or fear.

Stolen concepts again. You might experience a feeling you call "aesthetic" or another you call "fear" in yourself, but you have zero claim to say that some other person experiences it for any reason whatsoever, including his or her stated disagreement with your own statements. The only thing you can claim about someone else is that he has certain brain chemistry interactions that putatively make him utter sounds that your brain chemistry putatively makes you react to. Your verbal behavior is putatively determined by your brain's chemical behavior; same for everyone else. Big deal. "Arguments against"? "Arguments for"? Those are **noetic** phrases pointing to a noetic realm. Chemicals in or out of the brain don't argue, and they're not "for" or "against" anything.

As a benighted chemical determinist, you're limited to talking about what chemicals do and ONLY what chemicals do; you can't sneak in non-chemical, noetic concepts referring to what mystical non-material entities like wills and minds do. And all chemicals interact according to the 4 basic laws of thermodynamics, so you should be talking about nothing but those.

See how silly chemical determinism is? If practiced consistently, it leads to nothing but extreme solipsism for its advocates. Then again, maybe it's just their brain chemistry that determines their utterances to be what everyone else rightly thinks is a philosophical dead-end.

Determinism said...

"Chemicals in or out of the brain don't argue, and they're not "for" or "against" anything."

The above quote is one of many assertions which are simply unfounded.

Your brain is made up of chemicals. In fact, nothing but chemicals. Your entire body is chemicals. You are chemicals. If you argue, then it is chemicals doing the arguing. Anything you do is done by chemicals, i.e., the combination of chemicals that you are. You insist chemicals do not do many things, but that is in error. As you read this, it is chemicals that enable your mind to view the words, to analyze them, chemicals mix and react to produce the unhappy feelings that will drive you to respond. It is chemicals which will devise that response and allow you to deliver it.

Anonymous said...

Re: Ayn Rand - Understand the psychological term "magical thinking" in the context of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Anonymous said...

I would like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Praxeology:

A few observations.

1) Carrying on about "chemicals" is a little silly in the context of human action regardless where one stands on the issue of "free will". It's like trying to explain computers by talking about silicon. If by "chemicals" you mean the operations of DNA, why not just say so? If you're talking about physical processes, you should reference physical processes at the right organizational level.

2) I notice that whenever people have this discussion, they tend to reference trivial decisions that are neither logic- nor fact-sensitive. Do I go to the movie or not? Pumpkin or cherry pie? The complexity lies in the fact that much of our thinking (and the most important parts of it) involves identification rather than arbitrary choices. If I claim to believe in free will, am I really saying that 2+2=4 is true because I choose to regard it as true? What would that even mean?

3) With regard to the "stolen concept" trope, let me repeat the point. Yes, of course one has to regard decisions, identifications etc. as more than chemical reactions. However, let me repeat: that's a statement about thinking. And even if it's a true statement about thinking, it doesn't actually say a thing about the ultimate physical determinants of my thinking or anyone else's thinking. Does it prove the existence of a soul? See point 4.

4) Re evolution. The real issue here seems to be what I call The Adam and Eve Problem. If one accepts the idea that human beings developed at the end of a long biological process while at the same time regarding free will as "self-evident", then one has to believe that one morning some life form or other woke up to find that it was self-conscious and making choices - unlike the generation right before it. I have yet to see anyone who can make much sense of this - short of positing a thunderclap moment as the Catholic Church seems to do.

praxeology said...

>The above quote is one of many assertions which are simply unfounded.

A nice, noetic sentence. As a chemical reductionist and determinist, what you must actually mean is: "Chemical interactions in my brain governed by the 4 laws of thermodynamics deterministically cause me to utter sounds as a response to the putative chemical interactions in someone else's brain." Alas, the truth is that chemicals know nothing of noetic/logical categories like "assertions" or "unfounded." Chemicals interact according to completely predictable ways; they might, for example, deaminate, but they certainly never "assert".

To claim otherwise is either to commit the usual fallacy of the stolen concept, or to be a primitive animist, endowing non-living entities with humanlike psychological attributes (e.g., "The Mountain is ANGRY!!" "My brain chemicals are ASSERTING!"). That you might not live among tribesman doesn't in the least mean you're not committing the same fallacy.

>Your brain is made up of chemicals.

True.

>In fact, nothing but chemicals.


So? "Atlas Shrugged" is made up of nothing but squiggles of ink (chemicals) on paper (chemicals). But knowledge of the chemistry of ink and paper won't help anyone learn about Objectivism, rational selfishness, egoism, or capitalism. The phrase "learn about" is a non-material, non-chemical, mystical mental category. That ideas might require chemicals in material substrates (ink, paper) as a means of transmission doesn't in the least change the fact that the "means of transmission" are not the same thing as "the message."

> Your entire body is chemicals. You are chemicals. If you argue, then it is chemicals doing the arguing.

No it isn't. It simply shows that a physical means is necessary — but not sufficient — to argue. It's not the chemicals arguing; it's a non-material, mystical entity called "mind" or "will" or "intellect" that's arguing; the chemical cascade required to interface mind, will, or intellect with mouth and fingers is simply a physical means to a non-physical, noetic end.

>Anything you do is done by chemicals

Any idea broached by the novel "Atlas Shrugged" was done by ink and paper. So?

praxeology said...

>,You insist chemicals do not do many things

You mean, "Your brain chemicals interact in certain ways that cause you to behave in a way that my brain chemistry calls 'insist'".

Alas, chemicals in the brain, or in a test tube, don't engage in any process that any scientist anywhere would call "insisting". That's either a stolen concept or animism. Chemicals interact in the brain according to the same fundamental physical laws as chemicals in a test tube: the 4 laws of thermodynamics. Since chemicals don't "insist" or "argue" or "conclude" or "wonder" in test tubes, then they don't do those things in other places, either (such as inside a brain).

As long as you've taken the plunge into reductive chemical determinism, why not also try uniformitarianism? The 4 laws of thermo that govern all chemical interactions today are the same 4 laws that governed them yesterday (including billions of "yesterdays"); and the same 4 laws of thermo that govern all chemical interactions in one part of space — e.g., the bathroom stall in a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan, or in the cloud cover of Jupiter — are the same 4 laws that govern chemical interactions inside brains. So if we don't detect anything in a test tube that suggests chemicals "argue" or "agree" or "apologize" or "insult" among themselves, then they don't do those noetic things in places other than test tubes — such as inside brains.

>it is chemicals that enable your mind to view the words, to analyze them, chemicals mix and react to produce the unhappy feelings that will drive you to respond. It is chemicals which will devise that response and allow you to deliver it.

Your brain chemicals simply cause you to utter those sounds and hit certain keys. Big deal. Tell your brain chemicals the following for me, OK? Tell them to review the difference between "means" and "ends", and "material/efficient cause" and "final cause."

The difference between Stalin and a kulak was the noetic, non-material one of purpose, i.e., "final cause." There was no difference in their brain chemistries: the chemicals enabling Stalin to utter a declaration of collectivization were the same as the chemicals in a farmer enabling him to hear it. That the farmer resisted the declaration was not because he had a different brain chemistry but because he had a different purpose. "But, but, but, purposes require chemistry to be realized in action!" That doesn't mean that purposes ARE IDENTICAL TO chemistry.

Review the difference between "Means" and "Ends", as well as "Necessary" and "Sufficient."

praxeology said...

@ Burkowski

>If by "chemicals" you mean the operations of DNA

I meant by "chemicals" whatever Mr. Determinism meant by the term.

As for the operations of DNA, they aren't chemical in nature, but rather, linguistic and cryptographic. DNA functions as a biological hard-drive compressing and storing information about a number of things, among them, protein synthesis for itself and for the rest of the organism. I say "for itself" because the helical spine of the DNA molecule is made of sugar — ribose — which requires an enzyme (a kind of protein) for its own replication. So the enzyme requires DNA storage to encode the instructions for its own construction, while DNA requires the enzyme it constructed for its own construction. Chicken and egg paradox.

Note, also, that at no time does DNA ever chemically interact with other chemicals in the cell body, such as the free-floating amino acids. There's no chemical, thermodynamic interaction between them. The interaction is cryptographic (a branch of linguistics): there are two disparate alphabets in the cell used in protein synthesis: one is the 64 possible combinations of nucleotides in DNA (i.e., there are 4 nucleotides in any of 3 possible positions along one helix, yielding 4x4x4=64 possible combinations), and there are 20 essential amino acids floating around freely in the cell body. The "genetic code" is the cryptographic mapping between the 64-element alphabet in the nucleus and the 20-element alphabet in the cell body. Through the elegant transcription/translation process, DNA nucleotide triplets ("codons") first get transcribed into a single strand of RNA, which wiggles out of the nucleus and is soon met by two other structures in the cell body itself, which form the ribosome. The ribosome literal reads off the strand of RNA in the same way as the play-head of a digital tape-recorder reads off a strip of magnetic tape with a digital message on it. Each digit is a codon — one of 64 possible trios of nucleotides originating in the parent DNA molecule back in the nucleus. Each codon read by the ribosome causes one of the 20 amino acids floating around in the cell (and each of which was earlier "tagged" or "charged" by one of 20 enzymes in order to mark its identity) to insert itself into one of three slots in the ribosome where it is connected to other amino acids by means of one of several kinds of bonds — specifically, a peptide bond — and where it grows in length to form a chain of amino acids, each linked to the other by a peptide bond.

praxeology said...

Then, at some point, a specific codon instructs the ribosome to "Stop here. Now cut." So the chain of amino acids — called a "polypeptide" — is cut loose from the ribosome and is guided into some other structure (the Golgi Body) where it folds into a complicated 3-D configuration. If the order of the amino acids in the polypeptide is not correct, it will not fold, and is eventually ejected by the cell. If the order is correct and folding occurs, the polypeptide is now called a "protein", and it is then chaperoned by other molecules to specific sites in the larger organism (eyes, bone, muscle, etc.) where it fits in and performs some particular function. So note, again, that at no time does DNA physically, chemically, or thermodynamically interact with the amino acids. The relation between codons and amino acids is the same as that between code-sender and code-receiver. Yes, the codons are chemicals, and the amino acids are chemicals, but the RELATION between the two families of chemicals is not chemical: it's cryptographic. Yes, the dots and dashes Mr. Morse used in his telegraphic code were made of ink (or of sound waves) and the English alphabet is composed of ink when written or sound when spoken; but Morse Code has nothing to do with the chemistry of ink or the physics of sound in air; the code is the mapping, the relation, between the two families of ink marks or the two families of sound waves.

And if you've read the "Categories" of Aristotle, you'll see that the category called "Relation" is not itself a material thing.

So much for DNA and the use of the word "chemicals."

Gordon Burkowski said...

I've done a thesis on Aristotle. Spare me the BS about Aristotle's Categories.

Gordon Burkowski said...


Re the extended and unnecessary account of the operations of DNA: take a look again at my first comment. Either you're confirming what I said or you didn't understand my point. I'm not quite sure which.

Determinism said...

"It's not the chemicals arguing; it's a non-material, mystical entity called "mind" or "will" or "intellect" that's arguing;"

So asserts any religiously minded-person, just substitute "soul" for "mind". Until compelling evidence arrives, however, I must assume that this class of mystical entity does not exist, and that the mind is instead a product of our physical beings - hence, chemicals.

"So if we don't detect anything in a test tube that suggests chemicals "argue" or "agree" or "apologize" or "insult" among themselves, then they don't do those noetic things in places other than test tubes — such as inside brains."

Complete nonsense.

Hydrogen in a small specimen container does not produce energy; by your logic if we gather up uncounted mega-tons of it in space it should remain just as inert - and yet at some point, given enough mass it will become a star, emitting massive amounts of energy.

Comparing the limited scope of a test tube to the enormously complex interactions inside a brain is inane. Besides which, we already know that activity of the mind coincides with physical occurrences in the brain, by using CAT scans and MRIs. Many a study shows how different areas of the brain become more or less active depending on what mental activity is happening at any given time. Even if we cannot specify X group of chemicals as being the source of "arguing", we know that when we use our minds, chemical reactions are happening. It is therefore reasonable to assume that, as our brains are fully chemical structures, our thinking - our minds - are the product of those chemical reactions.

Unless, of course, you want to put faith in an entirely unproven concept of a mystical entity. At that point, however, you can assume anything.

praxeology said...

>1) If by "chemicals" you mean the operations of DNA, why not just say so?

Because the operations of DNA can only be understood and explained by reference linguistic concepts like "codes" and "sequences"; not by reference to chemistry. See my unnecessary explanation above.


>2) I notice that whenever people have this discussion, they tend to reference trivial decisions that are neither logic- nor fact-sensitive. Do I go to the movie or not? Pumpkin or cherry pie? The complexity lies in the fact that much of our thinking (and the most important parts of it) involves identification rather than arbitrary choices. If I claim to believe in free will, am I really saying that 2+2=4 is true because I choose to regard it as true? What would that even mean?


"Free will" doesn't mean "anarchic will". It doesn't follow that freedom of will entails the ability to choose to think anything one has the whim to. It simply means the noetic realm has a structure to it which constrains free movement (i.e., thought) within it, just as the material realm has a structure to it that constrains free movement in it.


>3) With regard to the "stolen concept" trope, let me repeat the point. Yes, of course one has to regard decisions, identifications etc. as more than chemical reactions.

True. Not just a quantitative difference in degree, but a qualitative difference in kind. And, of course, it doesn't follow that just because thinking appears to be accompanied by chemicals that, therefore, thinking IS those chemicals, or that the semantic content of a thought can be reduced to the chemicals that might accompany it. The musical meaning of a Beethoven symphony cannot be reduced to the chemistry of the ink used in its notation, and which always accompanies a performance of it.

>However, let me repeat: that's a statement about thinking.

True. Which means it is NOT a statement about chemistry.

>And even if it's a true statement about thinking, it doesn't actually say a thing about the ultimate physical determinants of my thinking or anyone else's thinking.

Except that there are no "ultimate physical determinants" of thinking. Thinking is not determined by physical considerations; that it's accompanied by physical entities and processes (brains, neurotransmitters) in no way means that the relation between them is one of deterministic cause and effect.

praxeology said...

>Does it prove the existence of a soul?

The concept "proof" relies on the prior existence of soul, mind, spirit, will, intellect, or whatever you want to call it. The noetic world is axiomatic, lying at the base of things like "proofs", "arguments", "theories", "hypotheses", "probabilities", "certainties", "doubts", etc. Physical entities don't do any of those things; at best, they simply accompany souls, will, minds, intellects, or spirits, which do.

>4) Re evolution. The real issue here seems to be what I call The Adam and Eve Problem. If one accepts the idea that human beings developed at the end of a long biological process while at the same time regarding free will as "self-evident", then one has to believe that one morning some life form or other woke up to find that it was self-conscious and making choices - unlike the generation right before it.

Not necessarily. If there really was an "ascent of man" from ape-like creature to fully human, then the mental transition from earlier species to later one might conceivably have been one of a gradual process of "waking up", in which the more fully awake human being only gradually realized he had the power of free will — a power that might be regarded as latent, or "asleep", in animals other than man. Some thinkers in the field of animal psychology have long noted that animal behavior seems to resemble the behavior of humans when asleep and dreaming. In fact, we might ask a related question: assuming that wide-awake man has the power of free will, does he also have it when asleep and dreaming? Maybe not. But it's important to note that there are states between wakefulness and dreaming, e.g., "lucid dreaming", in which one is asleep and dreaming but also somehow self-consciously aware that one is asleep and dreaming, and can even manipulate the dream elements (characters, plot, etc.) in a limited way.

In any case, your point about the Adam/Eve problem was accepted by the great 19th linguist, Max Muller, who publicly debated Darwin on the topic of evolution. Muller told Darwin that hie might be willing to accept that man's body was a product of a slow "descent with modification" from apes, but he could never accept that man's mind came about that way. For Muller, the gap between animal communication via sound and human communication+expression via arbitrarily chosen and accepted sounds and symbols via language was a qualitative difference in kind, and not just a quantitative difference in degree.

praxeology said...

>Hydrogen in a small specimen container does not produce energy; by your logic if we gather up uncounted mega-tons of it in space it should remain just as inert - and yet at some point, given enough mass it will become a star, emitting massive amounts of energy

I never claimed that physical entities are inert. In fact, I repeated many times that chemicals behave in predictable ways determined by the 4 laws of thermo. I also said physical things don't do things that only noetic entities like souls, minds, wills, and intellects do. That clouds of hydrogen gas might, under certain conditions, collapse from mutual gravitational attraction and start fusing their nuclei, thus forming a star, in no way means that chemicals can combine in order to tell a joke, evaluate a military strategy, or ponder a mathematical dilemma. If you really see no qualitative difference in kind between "fusing hydrogen nuclei" and "telling a joke full of sexual innuendo to one's girlfriend" — if you really have faith that these two completely different categories of events lie along some sort of physical continuum, differing only in quantitative complexity — then you have very deep problems: certainly philosophical, possibly psychological.

In any case, my brain chemicals tell me that your brain chemicals are completely lost in this discussion.

Determinism said...

"in no way means that chemicals can combine in order to tell a joke, evaluate a military strategy, or ponder a mathematical dilemma."

However, nothing you have said in any way proves that they can't. The point stands that your original statement is faulty logic. To simply declare that "chemicals don't" ignores existing science.

As another example, we know that LSD - a chemical - can quite dramatically affect one's thinking processes. From this and countless other such examples we can infer that thinking and the mind are quite closely linked to chemicals. In the absence of any evidence of the "mystical mind" your rhetoric relies on, we go with what we do know. If thought and the mind derive from the brain, and if the brain is made up of chemicals, then thought itself is made up of those chemical reactions.

If not chemicals, then what? And whatever that other thing might be, where is its evidence? An increasingly unanswered question. It is not that I am lost in this discussion, it is that you fear to be lost - for if I am right your faith must be misplaced, and your idea of self must be re-evaluated, and you might have to admit that the doctor might be right when they tell you to not go off your meds.

Gordon Burkowski said...


@ Praxeology:

"Noetic entities"? "Noetic realm"? Right.

There's a fascinating disjunction in your comments here. The talk about DNA could only happen during the last few decades. The talk about a noetic realm could have taken place in Athens 2500 years ago and at any time since. It would be no more confirmable then than it is today. And no more useful.

Face it. These are reifications of your own introspections. You can try to externalize your thoughts and balloon them to the size of the universe. But in the end - those dreams are only in your head.



praxeology said...

>However, nothing you have said in any way proves that they can't.

Silly response. It's like a primitive tribal animist crying, "Prove to me that the big mountain CAN'T get angry!"

Hello, Mr. Animist? I don't have to prove a negative. You made the assertion about chemicals, so you prove it.

praxeology said...

@ GB: "Noetic entities"? "Noetic realm"? Right.

Yep. Karl Popper called it "World 3." Look it up.

And Pierre Tielhard de Chardin called it the "noosphere." You can look that up, too.

Everyone else just calls it what it is: mind.

Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy at New York University, recently published "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False". The online summary says this:

"The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.

Nagel's skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.

In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility."

praxeology said...

>It would be no more confirmable then than it is today. And no more useful.

Reductionists and chemical determinists have zero idea of what "confirmation" entails. They can only claim something has been "confirmed" if they momentarily dispense with their commitment to reductionism and chemical determinism. I've already explained why above.

And given the reductionist's general intellectual clumsiness and sneaky attempts at stolen concepts, I have no confidence that they'll be any more impressive with concepts such as "useful."

Gordon Burkowski said...

"Reductionists and chemical determinists have zero idea of what 'confirmation' entails."

I'm tempted to simply respond: tu quoque.

I am in fact quite open to the idea that "principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic." But if this is to be more than vaporing, we need to know how the principle in question actually works.

What do you mean by "at work" anyway? What are those "principles"? How can you tell if they are there? Simply referencing the "growth of order" doesn't really cut it.

I'm all for one more rebuke to the effect that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in one's philosophy. I think that's what Quine is saying: stay open to the possibility. By contrast, your own rather supercilious discourse seems to suggest that you in fact have access to those "principles" and know how they are "at work" in history. You don't. No one does. If your project is to be more than a "sneaky attempt" to work in divine fiat (to use some of your charming vocabulary), you have to have more than this.

Determinism said...

"You made the assertion about chemicals, so you prove it."

I have made the case with the available facts at hand. Your response has been "nuh-UH!". I can't force you to accept common sense.

Meanwhile, you have yet to prove your own assertions about the nature of free will and the mind. Where's YOUR proof? Yours is the more extraordinary claim. Chemicals, at least, can be shown to exist.

So far the evidence you show boils down to: "Well, we don't know EXACTLY how the mind works. Obviously, therefore, we have to assume a quasi-magic state of being!"

praxeology said...

>I have made the case with the available facts at hand.

The "available facts at hand" aren't enough to prove your assertion that the Big Mountain can get Angry, or that chemicals can think. Your assertion is not proof.

>I can't force you to accept common sense.

Translation: "My brain chemicals can't alter your brain chemicals." Indeed. So you're suggesting there's some objective way of determining whose brain chemicals are "more true" than someone else's? If so, then that objective way cannot itself be yet more brain chemicals.

But I certainly don't expect primitive tribal animists to grasp logic or rational discourse.

praxeology said...

>By contrast, your own rather supercilious discourse seems to suggest that you in fact have access to those "principles"

You can prove that assertion by showing everyone in this thread precisely which interactions, under guidance by which laws of thermodynamics, cause chemicals to be "supercilious."

Hint: the concept "supercilious" applies to non-material entities like minds, not chemicals.

As for the rest of your evasion, to accept consciousness (or mind, soul, spirit, intellect) as an irreducible primary fact in the universe — a fundamental phenomenon of existence, per se, and not an epiphenomenon of mysterious, unspecified chemical interactions (also known as an "axiom") — in no way means one is also claiming to know how and why it's here at all.

But nice try at moving the goal post in this discussion.

Determinism said...

" to prove your assertion that the Big Mountain can get Angry"

Which is not, nor has ever been my assertion.

"or that chemicals can think."

If the brain thinks, and the brain is chemicals, then chemicals can think. That would seem pretty logical and self-evident. However, you seem to be operating under the assumption either that the brain does not actually think, or that thinking happens in some heretofore unseen mystery dimension apart from the physical universe we know.

I'd be willing to humor this hypothesis to some extent if there was actually any evidence at all for it. If there is, you certainly haven't provided it, nor do you seem to be willing to. Thus, your rebuttal to my argument has essentially been "chemicals can't think, I deny this as even a possibility despite all evidence pointing in that direction" along with "I assert that a mind is a mystical thing and I will demand irrefutable proof from you, but refuse to offer proof of my theory in any way."

Gordon Burkowski said...

"You can prove that assertion by showing everyone in this thread precisely which interactions, under guidance by which laws of thermodynamics, cause chemicals to be "supercilious."

Everyone understands I was referring to your manner. And there's no doubt that that manner could use a little improving. This is a schoolboy equivocation. You can do better.

Gordon Burkowski said...


"in no way means one is also claiming to know how and why it's here at all."

So you're comfortable with using ideas like "principles of a different kind" and "noetic realm" while admitting you haven't the faintest idea what these principles are, what the ontological status of that noetic realm is, how any of it works in specific detail or how anyone will ever discover anything new about it. That's fine. But don't come up with stuff like that - and then accuse others of "evasion".

By the way, please don't attempt to associate what I am saying with a reduction of these processes to simple "chemical" reactions. I made it clear several posts ago that that's not my position. More on this later.

Gordon Burkowski said...

Okay, I responded to a couple of minor things that put my nose out of joint. Now let’s go on to the main issue.

This part of the present thread began with a discussion of “free will”. Not surprisingly, it soon became apparent that the real bone of contention was: the ontological status of “mind” and of activities associated with “minds” such as “arguments”, “deductions”, “poetic expression” and so on.

A lot of labour has been spent proving the obvious: that an argument or a poem is not the same thing as a chemical reaction. The issue which has been avoided is: if they are not chemical reactions or some other kind of physical phenomena, what are they?

P. assumes, without ever trying to prove it, that if the mind is conceptually distinct from the brain, it must be in actual fact a separate entity of some kind. He apparently accepts that mental acts usually (maybe always?) go with brain events, but he seems to treat them as belonging to some kind of “noetic realm” employing the physical realm - the brain, bodies, books - as essentially instruments of communication while remaining distinct, conceptually and actually, from any of those physical things.

This is of course RenĂ© Descartes all over again. The key move is to reify human self-awareness: because I am conscious and because it seems clear that my experiences aren’t the same as brain events, those experiences must be the product of a mind which is an entity separate from and perhaps independent of the body.

Now there’s no good reason for this distinction at any but the conceptual level. If a dog breaks its leg, it feels pain and its experience of pain is not the same thing as a nerve signal or a muscle spasm or any of the symptoms of shock. But that doesn’t mean that the dog’s experience belongs to some “noetic realm.” It’s just the experiential side of a physical event.

Descartes was aware of this difficulty. His answer was to flatly deny that the lower animals - the “brutes” - had any kind of awareness: for him, they are just machines made of meat. I think most people today would not be convinced. by this.

Yes, mental acts are conceptually distinct from brain events. And as the people experiencing those mental acts, we deal with them in a completely different way from the way we deal with or describe brain events - precisely because we do experience them. But it’s the same situation as the dog with the broken leg. Our thoughts are simply the experiential side of a physical event.

So what about determinism? And what about all the huffing and puffing about “stolen concepts”? I’ll deal with that in my next post.

Gordon Burkowski said...

In my last post, I was saying that our thoughts are simply the experiential side of a physical event. So let’s talk about that.

Let me at this point repeat what I said some posts ago: these are complex issues. What follows are a few notes rather than anything even remotely approaching a full account.

But first, a protest. I am really tired of hearing about chemicals. Significantly, this notion was introduced to the debate by P. - and D. seems to have fallen for it, hook line and sinker. Sure, life processes involve chemical reactions. But if you talk about nothing but chemical reactions, you won’t produce an adequate description of the functioning of an amoeba, much less a human brain.

Living things are unbelievably complex natural systems. And the human brain is the most complex system we know of.

People who are into noetic realms and such seem grimly determined to present the brain as some sort of a super car with Mind in the driver’s seat. The idea is that there is more to the mind than mere brain functions. The exact opposite is true. The part of brain operations of which we are conscious is a tiny portion of the system. Every thought is grounded in a brain event - but there are millions of brain events that don’t reach consciousness and aren’t structured to do so.

Decades ago, Ludwig Wittgenstein said that the human body is the best picture of the human soul. It might be more apt to say that the human brain is the best picture of the human soul. Take a look at Doidge’s book “The Brain that Changes Itself” for a good popular account.

As far as I can see, those who see Mind as being in the driver’s seat mainly do so in order (as they think) to make sense of two things: abstract thinking and moral choices. So let’s talk about both of them.

First, abstract thinking. The construction of deductive systems such as Euclidean geometry. The development of differential calculus. Other animals don’t do this kind of thing - not in any significant way. But that’s because other species don’t have language. Once you have language - sounds standing for things - abstract thinking becomes possible. Not before. But you don’t need to reference a noetic realm to make sense of any of it.

As near as I can figure, the free will brigade seem to feel that determinism means people believing that 2+2=4 because their chemicals say so, not because they see in reason that it’s true. This is a silly distortion - and is the point at which analogies between computer and brain seriously break down. Yes, GIGO is the rule when it comes to computers - not when it comes to brains.

Brains judge. Unlike computers, their judging systems have developed over a very long time to enable us to survive in a not always co-operative world. They may not be perfect, but we judge correctly more often than not. That’s why we aren’t extinct. There is nothing transcendental about this: identical processes at a simpler level can be seen in many animals. There is nothing mysterious about identifying a “right” result among a number of choices. You don’t need a noetic realm to explain how a lion, after several failed attempts, learns how to hunt. And lions, like humans, find out pretty quickly if they’re getting things wrong.

If by determinism you mean that mental acts have a wholly physical basis, it is simply false to maintain that holders of this view can’t believe in objectively correct judgments without self-contradiction. Of course there are correct judgments. People make them all the time. So do lions, tigers and chimpanzees. So much for the stolen concept.

Determinism said...

"and D. seems to have fallen for it, hook line and sinker."

That seems to be an uncharitable way to put it. I haven't "fallen" for anything, it's that "P" wants to equate what one can fit in a test tube with the vastly more complex processes of the brain, like claiming a child's crayon drawing is proof that a Renaissance painting is impossible. If I refer to "chemical reactions", it may be reductive, but (as I see it) it's logically sound, and fits in with what science currently knows.

Aside from that, you seem to be handling the rebuttal fairly well at this point, so unless "P" chirps in again with any serious counter-evidence, I'll consider my work here done.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Determinism:

Yes, somewhat unkind. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

It is ironic that the insistence by Objectivists that consciousness and free will are irreducible primacies is a thoroughly mystical viewpoint. The Randian dogma says that this is not to be questioned, because Rand arrived at these wisdoms by introspection, and when she hath spoken, that is the Final Word. But in fact introspection can only give a very superficial view of what is happening in the brain, it is like determining how the electronics in a tv work just by looking at images on the screen.

Clever experiments have also shown how unreliable human consciousness is, how easy it is to plant false memories, how the brain makes up stories to "explain" and complement confusing and missing data, etc. This is where the scientific method, with its insistence on independent verification and objective measurements can help us to arrive at a better insight in how the world functions.

The point is not that atoms or molecules have feelings or consciousness, but that these are emergent properties of huge collections of those particles. Such emergent properties are not some mysterious, unexplainable stuff, they follow from the properties of those elementary particles, although it may be in practice often very difficult to derive those emergent properties from first principles. It's easier for us to consider such systems from a higher level of abstraction, in which the interactions of zillions of particles are bundled and sorted into a manageable number of groups which can be characterized by their average behavior. This process can be repeated to ever higher levels by grouping those groups etc., until we have a system that we can understand and use to make predictions. It's the old story of the wood and the trees.

What is commonly called „free will“, isn't some mysterious property of human beings, where causal chains suddenly end. It's easier not to try to explain it by looking at the molecular level, but at a higher level, the description of thoughts and wishes, conscious or subconscious, such a „free choice“ is no more free than at the atomic level. There will be thought fragments about the different choices that are in that particular case possible, competing with each other with different amounts of pro and contra, with all kinds of associations, memories and feelings, until some trigger (e.g. the time that has elapsed increases the pressure to choose) results in a certain choice. The chooser doesn't have to know what finally brought him to that particular choice, although it may of course in some cases be obvious. But when he doesn't know why he has made that particular choice, it may give him the illusion of free will, but that does not mean that there was no deterministic process in his brain that lead to that choice.

Dragonfly

praxeology said...

@Anonymous: ">I consciousness and free will are irreducible primacies is a thoroughly mystical viewpoint.

So what. Physical matter is mystical, too: it's mostly empty space, and all _qualia_ are effects of a participation between pre-existing mind and pre-existing "fundamental particles" about whose nature we are mostly ignorant.

>The Randian dogma says that this is not to be questioned, because Rand arrived at these wisdoms by introspection

Dogma or not, it's self-evident that in order to question anything, a mind doing the questioning must already exist and not just be an epiphenomenon of material processes.

>But in fact introspection can only give a very superficial view of what is happening in the brain

???

No one said anything about introspection yielding information regarding what's happening in the _brain_. Introspection yields lots of information, however, on what's going on in the mind. If you don't grasp the difference between brain and mind, then you might consider catching up on the mind-body problem. Start with Karl Popper and Sir John Eccles' "The Self and Its Brain."

>The point is not that atoms or molecules have feelings or consciousness, but that these are emergent properties of huge collections of those particles.

Really? So, what precisely are the experiments which prove that mind is an emergent property of "huge collections" of particles? Show us the data.

We're not looking for breezy assertions or public relations statements by Stuart Kauffmann or his colleagues at the Sante Fe Institute regarding "spontaneous order" in regard to biological organisms or mind. Those are _statements_ about their _beliefs_. And that's all they are.

We're looking for data pertaining to experiments in which "huge numbers of particles" have been observed to give rise to "consciousness." That means: consciousness wasn't there before the particles were there; nor was it there before the number of particles became "huge" (a word that will require an actual number); but was there after the particle swarm became "huge", and the existence of such emergent consciousness could be verified publicly. You might also post data showing when and where such experiments were repeated, with the results successfully reproduced.

I think you'll be starting your soft-shoe routine in a moment since you have nothing left to entertain us with.

Until such time as you prove mind "emerges" from matter when the matter is particulate and in "huge" numbers, the adults in the room will sit at the grownup table with Aristotle and St. Thomas and continue to accept the reality of mind as an irreducible, fundamental fact and axiom of existence.

Determinism said...

"Dogma or not, it's self-evident that in order to question anything, a mind doing the questioning must already exist and not just be an epiphenomenon of material processes."

How so? This is not self-evident at all. You certainly want it to be, badly, but aside from referencing other writers, (can't even quote a little relevant material?) you offer nothing in the way of reasoning behind this assertion. Certainly there must be a mind, but where is the irrefutable logic that says a mind must be non-material?

"We're looking for data pertaining to experiments in which "huge numbers of particles" have been observed to give rise to "consciousness.""

You are in effect asking someone to prove that the mind is based in matter, by constructing a brain. This is absurd. You don't have to construct an SUV from scratch to understand the basic principles of an automobile. Of course, since our understanding of how the brain works is incomplete, nobody can successfully complete your experiment at this time. This is your rhetorical "get-out-of-jail-free" card; allowing you to ignore all of current neuroscience simply because nobody can yet produce a mind in a test tube. One assumes that if it did become possible, you would insist on a further unattainable standard for proof (while offering none yourself).

And yet I don't see you posting any photos of this noetic realm or its entities, either.

"Until such time as you prove mind "emerges" from matter when the matter is particulate and in "huge" numbers, the adults in the room will sit at the grownup table with Aristotle and St. Thomas and continue to accept the reality of mind as an irreducible, fundamental fact and axiom of existence."

You can sit right next to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy with that kind of faith.

Here's a better experiment: Drive sharp objects into your brain. Demonstrate that your mind remains separate and in its noetic state as you do so. Prove that consciousness does not arise from matter by messing up your matter and remaining unchanged.

Gordon Burkowski said...


"Start with Karl Popper and Sir John Eccles' 'The Self and Its Brain.'"

I would recommend Karl Popper's books to anyone. The Self and its Brain is notable for its easy acquaintance with the philosophical context that underlies this issue. It is informed, respectful of intellectual opponents - and always civil in tone. One can learn from that - wouldn't you say?

Gordon Burkowski said...


"[S]it at the grownup table with Aristotle and St. Thomas"

????

If you're implying by this that Aristotle's views on the soul are the same as those of Aquinas, you need to read a little more Aristotle.

Aristotle does believe in the immortality of one part of the soul (see De Anima III.5), but it's very debatable whether the immortality he's talking about is personal immortality. And Thomas' otherwise excellent commentary on the De Anima becomes utterly garbled when he reaches De Anima III.5 - and tries without success to make Aristotle's views consistent with Christian ideas of the soul.

Sir Laughalot said...

A Jewish housewife writes some bad sci-fi in the 1950s and you guys are wasting your time discussing it in hilarious depth now. L. Ron Hubbard is no more plausible, but much more interesting/entertaining as a philosopher and a better economist.

Jzero said...

Yeah, well, obvious trolling aside, Hubbard isn't being cited as a huge influence among numerous politicians. If Rand's influence was confined to Hollywood stars a la Hubbard, who'd care?

With that out of the way - wow, things got fun over the holidays, eh? I guess this is an example of what ungtss' ideal of "aesthetic standpoint as valid hypothesis" gets us.

gregnyquist said...

I find that both "praxeology" and "Determinism" are arguing for positions I find implausible. P seems to operate under the illusion that matters of fact can be determined by means of logical or moral or rhetorical constructions. Moroever, it's not clear precisely what he is arguing for. He is obviously against the strict materialism preached by D. But what form of non-Determinism P believes in, how far he would go toward the extremes represented by thinkers such as Rand and Sarte, is difficult to determine.

Precisely because some forms of non-determinism are so extreme and so contrary to the facts, orthodox materialistic determinism can come off as the more reasonable position. Superficially, it seems closer to the facts. After all, the mind does have a physical basis -- no way to get around that. And Determinism has the additional advantage of seeming scientific, since, historically, science has tended to follow a kind of methodological determinism (i.e., it looks for physical causes). But I really don't find "scientific" materialism to be any more plausible than the extreme form of volitionalism advocated by Rand (and perhaps by P as well?). Logically, such a position leads to the steam-whistle view of consciousness --- i.e., epiphenomenalism. Epiphenomenalism is not consistent with what we know about evolution. It's hard to believe that something so complex as consciousness could have evolved if it didn't have some sort of practical function.

Determinism said...

"Logically, such a position leads to the steam-whistle view of consciousness --- i.e., epiphenomenalism."

For the record, I don't believe that to be true at all.

Gordon Burkowski said...


@ Determinism:

Question for clairification: are you saying that epiphenomenalism is "not true at all", or that it is "not true at all" that determinism leads to epiphenomenalism?

Determinism said...

@Gordon

A little of both, I believe. I confess that this is the first time I've encountered the very term "epiphenomenalism", so I may not have a clear understanding of it, but from the short bit of searching I did, it does not sound like something I think is necessarily true, nor do I think that materialism or determinism must logically lead to that conclusion.

I do believe, until evidence shows otherwise, that the mind is material-based. That whatever the mind is, it is a result of chemical and electrical activity in our very physical brains. Science supports this: the number of ways in which physical damage or chemical differences can affect cognition has been well documented. The idea that somehow there is some heretofore undiscovered state of being where the mind resides seems to me like wishful thinking. I suspect a certain amount of fear comes into play: much like the idea of an afterlife arises from the fear of death and non-existence, I think the idea that a mind can be something other than the meat that exists in our heads is generated by the fear of something happening to that meat that changes our essential being, our personality. It is my impression that Objectivists are particularly prone to this fear. Nothing I've read from Rand seems to acknowledge the possibility of brain damage or chemical imbalance as a source of improper thinking; rather, the idea is that one can simply reason one's way out of any mental problems. In my encounters with other Objectivists online, they seem similarly reluctant to even discuss the issue.

In any case, I don't see why or how the view of the mind as a wholly organic construct ought to be in conflict with any other science, such as evolutionary theory. If we can trace the evolution of a human eye backwards to primitive light sensing cells in microscopic animals, there's no reason complex, conscious minds that are still entirely materially-based could not evolve.