Thursday, May 19, 2011

Inside The Cultist Mind: 2

So anyway, I finally got around to getting a copy of David Harriman's "The Logical Leap: Induction In Physics". I've been in no hurry because, not unlike Atlas Shrugged: The Movie, everything I'd read about it pointed towards it being a typical Objectivist trainwreck.

I've started into it and already it is clear the book has nothing to add to the well-known problem of induction. Nothing, nada, zip, nil, zero, nah-thing. I will be amazed if I can encounter in it a single argument that has not been made, and debunked, at at least 70 years before and more like 150 - the only detectable difference being that this old wine will have been rebottled in Rand's obscurantist Objectivist jargon. Hence reviewing it solely for the purpose of examining Harriman's alleged arguments, though I will touch on these, seems even beyond my considerable tolerance for thankless tasks.

However, what is interesting is not what the book says, but the way Harriman says it. My initial impression of "The Logical Leap" is that, like James Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics", it's an epic fail in everything it sets out to do, either as argument, or history, or both. But what makes Valliant's demented tome indispensable is precisely its idiocies; with "TPARC" Valliant unwitting gives us, with MRI-like clarity, a fascinating look inside the Rand-cultist's mind. "The Logical Leap" appears to offer us the more of the same. Harriman already has impeccable Rand-cultist form, being busted secretly rewriting Rand's personal notes to make them more Galt-like. The Logical Leap's shamelessly apparatchik stylings have also proved too much for some of the less doctrinaire Objectivist types, prompting a major Objectischism on its publication. Whether Harriman is as full scale a weirdo (here, here) as Valliant remains to be seen.

So I'm going to propose, unless anyone really wants any different, that I write more about how this book functions as a piece of apparatchik propaganda - and even cultist idolatry - rather than seriously examine its long-debunked, vacant and jargon-encrusted arguments. I'll also probably do this as a series of notes as I proceed rather than do a full blown review. It'll be more fun that way.

I hope.


Neil Parille said...


I think that's a good way to proceed; then other folks could chime in as well. Kind of like an ARCHN book club.

Michael R. Brown said...

In the beginning of your entry you write that you will be surprised if you find a single argument, etc., but by the end you already know you won't: "its long-debunked, vacant and jargon-encrusted arguments." Psychic? Or is it bias?

Xtra Laj said...

Psychic? Or is it bias?

I thought it was obvious from the tone and context that that "I will amazed" simply means "I do not expect to", which implies that Dan's "bias", to use your words, is consistently the same all through the post.

It's not "psychic" - Dan has pointed out Harriman's past work on Rand, where Harriman edited Rand's journals while passing off the edits as minor edits (historians and archivists who have compared the originals to edits consider Harriman's edits to be serious revisions), so Dan's initial estimate of Harriman's scholarship is not high. Moreover, Harriman's response to the criticisms lodged by McCaskey did not inspire much confidence either. So why many Dan expect the book to fail to address any original issues in the quest to validate induction?

Dan may of course be wrong, but he has bought the book. So at least, he is trying to confirm/disconfirm the accuracy of his biases. If only we were all so generous...

Daniel Barnes said...

Michael R Brown,

The Objectivist 'answer' to the problem of induction has been teasingly previewed for about the last 10 years in various forms. Each time I've encountered it, it has indeed been in the form of long-debunked, vacant, and jargon encrusted arguments - in fact, like most Objectivist doctrine.

My hypothesis is therefore a well tested one, and thus far into TLL is holding up regrettably well.

Michael R. Brown said...

Daniel -

I'd be interested to read your analysis of those Objectivist attempts at explaining induction, if you have an entry discussing it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Michael R Brown,

Actually I've written very little about it here because Rand, in her own words, never even began to think about it, so there hasn't been any official position. However I have debated the issue ad nauseum - and I mean ad nauseum! - in Objectivist forums and have gleaned the overall flavour from those adepts who have listened to Peikoff's marathon audio tapes somewhere within which the solution is supposed to reside. Greg extensively discusses Rand's "contextual certainty" in relation to the problem in the eponymous book of this blog.

Some preliminary discussion is here.

I will definitely be explaining how this particular Rube Goldberg argument supposedly works at least to the point it is explicable, or even comprehensible to non-cultist outsiders - actually a considerable problem in itself.

Anonymous said...

I can't take Harriman seriously at all. I quote his lecture on the crisis in physics, which was on ARI's site:

"OK, now the science of physics was long regarded as a model of rationality. So what happened? Well physicists today offer a simple explanation. They claim that their seemingly
bizarre ideas are strongly supported, in some cases even proved, by observed facts. After all, they are not a band of mystics or skeptics, hell-bent on rejecting the existence of a real, intelligible, physical world. They are scientists, and they must accept whatever conclusions follow from the facts. If they have rejected the principles of identity, causality, and logic, it's ONLY because scientific objectivity compelled them to do so.

Now, is this true? My answer is no, and I don't think it's difficult to see that it can't be true. The observed facts that support these strange ideas are like the new clothes of the emperor in a famous children's story. They are nonexistent. Physicists can't support their view that the goal of physics is merely to describe appearances, rather than investigate the nature of the physical world, because we don't perceive appearances, but physical things in the external world. They can't cite observations that support their rejection of identity and causality, because EVERY observation is an observation of SPECIFIC ENTITIES acting in STRICT accordance with their specific natures. There's nothing else to observe. There can be no scientific evidence for the measurement miracle, because miracles are incompatible with the ESSENCE of science, which seeks causal explanations. There can be no evidence for consciousness creating the objects of awareness, because consciousness is the faculty of PERCEIVING REALITY, not creating it. And there can be no arguments in favor of accepting complementary contradictions, because one can't use LOGIC to invalidate logic." (emphasis in original)

I reproduce such a long quote for a very specific reason. The first half of the lecture is him quoting various physicists, in many cases obviously stopping at a point of his choosing, even from the way he reads it, you can tell there's more he left out. The second half of the lecture is his answer to the question, where did this come from? I'll give everybody 2,000 guesses, and the first 1,999 don't count.

If you said, Emanuel Kant, congratulations, you're a winner! I realize this is kind of a little lecture introducing the problem, and I realize that his book, at least I assume so, is his grand refutation of the idiocy of quantum physics and relativity, as he sees it. But for my part, I've learned all I needed to know from this very quote. It's not true because it violates David Harriman's notion of common sense, oh no!

The first half is his misrepresentation and bashing of various physicists, and the second half is his misrepresentation and bashing of various physicists and Emanuel Kant. So this quote is the real meat of his lecture, the part that says, here's the crisis in physics, here's what they've abandoned. And it's all Objectivist jargon and word play, go figure. Now I like word play as much as the next guy, it's fun and can even be philosophically useful, if you do it right. But Harriman's no Chuang-Tsu, and his answer to why quantum physics and relativity can't be true is basically, because Objectivism's true, that's why.
Non-hypothetical Blind Guy

omalone1 said...

Gwiz, perhaps Jeff Schmidtt would be a better read?