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Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective 
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective
Harry Marks wrote:
Kant's mode of processing, with "a priori" modes of understanding such matters as time, seems to me not to have held up very well.
It is a tough problem in philosophy that the analytic tradition by and large has accepted the subordination of thought to science, rejecting Kant’s approach of seeing time, space and causality as necessary conditions of experience. I would say that even if details of Kant’s Newtonian cosmology have been refuted by Einstein, that refutation does not do the work that the Vienna School of logical positivism claims for it. When the positivist philosopher Carnap said “the only philosophical questions which have any meaning are those of the logic of science”, he meant that the logical method of Kantian idealism, deducing necessary conditions of experience, is invalid. I see it as important to deconstruct the social and political work being done by Carnap’s assertion, to see how even science has its mythological dimension. The way Carnap’s existentialist bete noir Heidegger put this in An Introduction to Metaphysics was that the key metaphysical ideas are nature, truth and reason.
Harry Marks wrote:
Scientific investigation has uncovered matters that our nervous system treats as given which are not, in fact, true, such as time being absolute and causality being strictly sequential.
Sure, and you could also reference Kahnemann’s multiple examples of how our intuition deceives us. But I think those are problems of psychology, not philosophical logic, strictly speaking. Our nervous system assumes the world exists as it appears, and by and large that is a perfectly legitimate idea. Discoveries like quantum indeterminacy and entanglement do help illustrate that the absolute Newton/Kant view of rationality needs more humility, but what those discoveries say for ordinary perception and meaning is far from simple.
Harry Marks wrote:
However, it is not clear to me why modern sophistication should have any strong implications for "meaning" which I take to be tied inextricably to "mattering", i.e. to values.
Your phrase ‘modern sophistication’ might take a prize for the most ambiguous idea possible. Sophistication ranges from science to philosophy to culture, and each of these have very different attitudes to meaning and mattering. Much as philosophers claim to have a more sophisticated outlook than the positive idea that the meaning of a statement is its factual content, that positive idea remains a pervasive rational assumption.
Harry Marks wrote:
In fact I don't see any way of escaping from a sort of Kantian "a priori" meaning of fairness. Our nervous systems are wired to detect unfair behavior, when it happens to us. Thus we experience a kind of dislocation from being the center of everything when we recognize unfair behavior happening to others, or even unfair behavior we have ourselves inflicted.
Fairness is a great example of an idea that seems to be a necessary condition of experience, which is a phrase that I find a more accessible way of saying that it has a priori meaning. But the immediate problem raised by the logic of necessity is we then need to say what justice and equality actually are, and as Plato showed in The Republic, our assumptions on such basic ideas can have wild conflict. Fairness can mean getting what you deserve, but the most vivid problem with that emerges from the claim from Jesus Christ known as the Matthew Principle that fairness means the talented will get more than the untalented.
Harry Marks wrote:
Even though I frequently oppose the "relativist" approach to right and wrong, I don't see how the world of values could be said to be independent of sentient perception and sentient thought about that perception.
This observation opens a typical set of dilemmas within the philosophy of science. Relativism, the idea that contradictory statements can be equally true, entails the view that truth is a function of perception. Plato’s dialogue Protagoras is the classic analysis of the relativist idea that man is the measure of all things. Its logical invalidity makes relativism formally absurd, and yet relativism has practical utility where we are unsure which of conflicting opinions is correct and where we support political tolerance of right to believe false claims. Where this gets interesting for the philosophy of science is that relativism assumes truth is a construction, whereas people often think of truth as a description. The constructivist ideology that sees culture as autonomous from nature is often lampooned as hopelessly postmodern, as it sometimes indeed is, and yet this nest of problems shows that the automatic common sense type of epistemology implied by Tyson should be more a starting point for discussion than a final statement.
Harry Marks wrote:
With our a priori sense of fairness we make deductions about what that "means" and this is the basis of knowing right from wrong.
The problem here is that a so-called “a priori sense of fairness” can so easily just be a cover for political assumptions and ideologies. When a person says that their views on fairness are necessarily true by definition, which is what a priori means, they are claiming access to a higher logic that invalidates anyone who has a different opinion about what is fair, just and equal. For example there is massive political conflict between the ideologies of equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.
Harry Marks wrote:
Other values work similarly: we have innate perceptions of importance, modified by logic and linkages with perceived causality (much of this structure coming from others around us).
Here again we find one of the biggest assumptions challenged by Locke and Hume at the foundation of modern enlightenment, that any idea can be innate. The capitalist imperial mentality of British empiricism sought on the surface to demand robust polite logical challenge to innate ideas, while concealing its own racist assumptions about innate ability and importance. When I say my opinion is innate, that can just be a way to assert it is better than a conflicting idea, as a gambit in moral politics. What I liked about the philosopher Edmund Husserl was his argument that all presuppositions should be rigorously analysed.
Harry Marks wrote:
So I am left unsure what either science or logical positivism gives us in the way of meaning. Maybe it plays a role a bit like relativity or quantum mechanics, helping us to sort out boundary situations foreign to experience (of ourselves and our compatriots), but having little to say about meaning in ordinary life.
I find it immensely valuable to support the positivist idea that facts have intrinsic meaning. By setting logic and evidence as the highest moral values, the scientific philosophy of logical positivism establishes a robust transparency that subjects all claims to rigorous analysis in the spirit of Popper’s method of conjecture and refutation. Naturally, that starting point rapidly encounters what you call ‘boundary situations’, but rather than looking for these in fields of scientific uncertainty like quantum mechanics and astrophysics, I prefer to see the boundaries of the scientific worldview arising in problems like the role of intuition in psychology, the role of faith in politics and culture, and the extent to which our concepts of truth are descriptive or constructed.
Harry Marks wrote:

On the other hand, the experience of dislocation of meaning from self is central to a more abstract, less visceral sense of fairness and right.
This basic experience of the problem of objectivity illustrates a schism in meaning between facts and values, between objective and subjective, and between truth as description or construction. What you call ‘a visceral sense’ involves the unreflective emotional reaction to perceived wrongs. We all know that the due process of legal challenge can produce results through the justice system that are quite different from our visceral beliefs.
Harry Marks wrote:
Similarly, we generally value a broad sense of values, including in esthetics, based on principles rather than on direct emotional reaction.
Apologies that I can’t cope with replying to more than one sentence at a time. Each point here raises fundamental questions. Our sense of beauty usually relies on principles such as symmetry, and yet principles such as the stoic sense of connection to all humanity can generate perception of beauty in ugliness. The beauty within paradox such as that the last will be first are an example of a rational inversion of direct emotion.
Harry Marks wrote:
The distance created by reason helps to give a values system based in philosophically sound meaning structures, rather than self-centered gut feelings.
It is not just reason that shifts our values away from our gut. We also have cultural precedents that function as myth, whose basis may not be in reason but which do produce moral consensus.
Harry Marks wrote:
Science doesn't automatically give that, but I have a sense that it contributes significantly to such distance.
Absolutely yes. We test our gut reaction against reflection and evidence, scientific principles that often do produce a rational correction of immediate assumptions.
Harry Marks wrote:

In the extreme case removal of self as even a reference point for values seems, almost paradoxically, to come not from reason but from direct mystical experience.
The relation between mystery and logic is among the deepest problems of philosophy. Our reason tends to restrict truth to matters we can understand, but our sense of mystery creates awe for the vast unknown, and humility before the feeble powers of our rational description. Richard Dawkins expressed this well in The Magic of Reality by saying science creates a sense of wonder and reverence for the awesome beauty and coherence of the rational causal processes of nature. This sense of wonder has a touch of the mystical, and yet scientists are quick to contain that sense by demanding we not speculate about topics where evidence is weak. The old mystical idea that all is one is far from a paradox, but is rather a statement that the whole universe obeys the same orderly laws.
Self returns as a reference point for values in the Gospel injunction to love God and neighbour as self, indicating that a person who lacks self-respect cannot achieve a proper sense of respect for others.
Harry Marks wrote:
Mystics often take the distinction between "good" and "bad" to be artificial (though I prefer the taoist formulation that the shadow is intermingled with the bright, eye-catching aspects of life) as well as distinctions like "us" and "them" and even subject and object. But this is based on highly subjective experiences of "the unity of everything", which are similar in emotional impact to the crashing of ego boundaries when someone falls in love.
I think the mystical critique of ethics has turned on the observation that practical systems of rules are often resistant to discussion. People’s opinions about good and bad are of course often arbitrary and artificial and dogmatic, making any imagined mystical grounding of ethics in a perception of ultimate truth very difficult to make persuasive. Only a sense of self-identity makes action possible, since oceanic mystical feeling of unity gives no basis for will or direction. Yet there is room here to open a dialectic between the soul and the ocean, our immediate assumptions and the deep needs of time.
Harry Marks wrote:
Both orientations, the experience of total unity and the intervention of reason, can lead to values that are subtly counter-intuitive. We may even overturn basic, socially prevalent understandings, for example with a rejection of capital punishment based on either reason or a dramatic identification with the criminal. I'm willing to grant that science and its impersonal approach has a healthy role to play in creating a richer understanding of the connections between cause and effect that inform our sense of meaning. I just don't accept NDT's inference that the link is automatic.
Capital punishment is a great example of a moral value where our intuition can clash with our reason. I like to argue that such problems should be analysed in terms of consequences, but we face the incommensurable problem that the deep coarsening of a societies’ respect for human rights cannot be weighed in any objective way against the signals sent by a message of tremble and obey, or against the opportunity costs of imprisonment. Evidence informs such decisions, but at the end of the day policy outcomes emerge from principles whose real nature functions as social myth. Any effort to present the policy-evidence link as simple is an exercise in politics, not philosophy.
Harry Marks wrote:
Agreed that scale is a barrier to proper mythical connections.
I am writing a paper at the moment on the physics of zodiac ages. This question supports a cosmology at human scale, whereas modern astrophysics has an almost moral insistence that cosmology can only be discussed at the level of galaxies and the Big Bang which have no possible connection to human scale.
Harry Marks wrote:
I think Tyson (like Dawkins) does a little "as above so below" himself, suggesting for example that insignificance in the factual account of the astrophysical universe corresponds to appropriate humility by individuals in the social structure. (Dawkins' myth-making is even more complex).
The greatest thinker in the ‘as above so below’ topic was probably Sir Isaac Newton with his proof that the same law of gravity applies on earth as in the heavens. Unfortunately, Newtonian mechanics became the basis for a mechanistic enlightenment that derided the old moral sense of the unity of all things. Your example from Tyson is confusing, since it seems he is saying the ‘above’ of cosmic scale is completely different from the ‘below’ of human life.
Harry Marks wrote:
In the end, both scientism and scholasticism fail to make connections that hold up to careful examination. They may resonate, especially with people who are concerned with the same questions as the writer, but they don't do a good job of approximating the true structure in our sense of meaning.
Scholasticism as a cultural movement gives priority to learning from books, where scientism gives priority to learning from nature. Both contribute to our sense of meaning, but with the risk of leading to static opinions. Any partial theories can only be improved through the challenge and contestability of conversation.


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Post Re: Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective
Robert Tulip wrote:
I would say that even if details of Kant’s Newtonian cosmology have been refuted by Einstein, that refutation does not do the work that the Vienna School of logical positivism claims for it.
Thanks for this exposition of the implications of my statements. Overall, I feel well understood and I was interested to read your reactions.

I'm afraid I feel over my head with the philosophical material. I have never read a word of Carnap, for example. Still, your explanations seem to line up reasonably well with what I think I do understand. In general, I think a philosophical effort to ground our entire understanding of life in science is problematic.
Robert Tulip wrote:
When the positivist philosopher Carnap said “the only philosophical questions which have any meaning are those of the logic of science”, he meant that the logical method of Kantian idealism, deducing necessary conditions of experience, is invalid.
Sounds like overreach. But then, Kant may have overreached in the first place, making a mistake of inferring too strong a conclusion from sensible, but not fully informed, observations.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Scientific investigation has uncovered matters that our nervous system treats as given which are not, in fact, true, such as time being absolute and causality being strictly sequential.
Sure, and you could also reference Kahnemann’s multiple examples of how our intuition deceives us. But I think those are problems of psychology, not philosophical logic, strictly speaking.
This may be a critical observation for epistemology. Problems we thought were philosophical have turned out to have their roots in psychology. Knowledge itself is a psychological phenomenon, before it is a category about truth, examples of which we might verify.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Our nervous system assumes the world exists as it appears, and by and large that is a perfectly legitimate idea. Discoveries like quantum indeterminacy and entanglement do help illustrate that the absolute Newton/Kant view of rationality needs more humility, but what those discoveries say for ordinary perception and meaning is far from simple.
Indeed. We generalize from experience about things like "causality" and it turns out our generalizations are in some sense inapplicable across a wide variety of (related) issues. It is logically impossible for Schrodinger's cat to be both alive and dead, yet it is, in a real sense, possible.

I would propose a humbler orientation for the project of philosophy. Rather than thinking of it as clarifying truth, so that its conclusions demonstrate in a top-down way what propositions may be held with intellectual integrity, it might be better to think of philosophy as a process of correcting Kahneman's "System 1" thinking, which is basically immediate perception, with "System 2" careful processes.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Your phrase ‘modern sophistication’ might take a prize for the most ambiguous idea possible. Sophistication ranges from science to philosophy to culture, and each of these have very different attitudes to meaning and mattering.
Sorry. I only meant to use some shorthand to refer to the breakdown of Kant's structures, as I moved back toward the dislocation to which Tyson ascribes such power.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Much as philosophers claim to have a more sophisticated outlook than the positive idea that the meaning of a statement is its factual content, that positive idea remains a pervasive rational assumption.
Well the function, and therefore the reason for mattering, may not be limited to its obvious referent. Poetry is all about phrasing references in such a way that the mode of expression carries more communication than the reference to content does. There is nothing wrong with recognizing a generalized multifunctionality of language like that.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
In fact I don't see any way of escaping from a sort of Kantian "a priori" meaning of fairness.
the immediate problem raised by the logic of necessity is we then need to say what justice and equality actually are, and as Plato showed in The Republic, our assumptions on such basic ideas can have wild conflict. Fairness can mean getting what you deserve, but the most vivid problem with that emerges from the claim from Jesus Christ known as
the Matthew Principle that fairness means the talented will get more than the untalented.
I would modify the question of what justice "is" to recognize that equal rewards is a different issue from equal outcome. But the larger issue I think you raise is that our a priori feelings about fairness (think of Haidt's elephant) are not rich enough to sort out the complexities of real issues.

At that point I think we are back to Kahneman's contrast between lazy System 1 thinking, vs. careful System 2 thinking. We would like logic-based processes which allow us to arrive at more reliable conclusions than the gut instincts we usually just try to construct justifications for. It helps to begin with a question that we can actually address - the "true meaning" of justice is a demonstrably hopeless project, while elucidating notions about justice which don't hold up to logic is not.

I had an interesting experience with System 1 once. I was following another car, which stopped short unexpectedly (for a turn into a driveway, it turns out) and I had steered around it before I even realized it was stopping. My attention was not necessary for the right action to be taken. Here's what Kahneman did not spell out: that action could not have happened without a long process of training my instincts to take into account the hazards of driving and how important it is to avoid accidents, as well as training in effective methods of evasive action. System 1 is loaded with connections that work automatically because System 2 has shaped them to do so. And so it is with fairness, and the dislocation of frame of reference needed to see fairness objectively rather than through the lens of my own interests.

I think I need to stop here and take up the rest of your post tomorrow in a separate response, if only because I seem to have lost an earlier version of the response, possibly due to it being too long.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective
LanDroid wrote:
Tyson is certainly not doing away with all perspective, he is detailing a new one.
Yes, but that admission walks back from your assertion that the cosmic perspective is not a philosophy. Any perspective, whether new or old, becomes a philosophy as soon as it gets detailed with any attempted coherence.

The de-centred thinking of the cosmic philosophy of modern astrophysics reminds me of an old line from the existential theologian philosopher Kierkegaard, critiquing Hegel, that Kierkegaard wished Hegel could speak as a person, not as the voice of universal abstract reason. It seems tempting for astronomers to use their knowledge to slip into the mode of pretending to speak from the perspective of the universe, but such a pretence loses connection with ordinary reality.

Any real philosophy has to connect to ordinary reality. Astronomers avoid that tendency by avoiding philosophy, but Tyson is different since he wants to say what it all means.

I have noticed a tendency among empirically-minded writers like Tyson to assume that their strong grasp of facts entails an equally compelling sense of values. However, social values are incredibly complex, and it is far from clear that technical expertise on astronomy is the best source for expertise on social values.

I don’t agree with you that Tyson is detailing a new perspective, because I don’t think he says enough, or considers enough information, about what astrophysics means for our perspective on reality. I think he usefully hints toward a new philosophy, which can only come into being when its dialogue with older philosophies is strengthened.
LanDroid wrote:
Facts such as we're a minute part of 1 galaxy out of 100 billion galaxies stretches one's perspective. That perspective may alter one's philosophy or not, but it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. As I recall, NDT criticizes Trump mainly for his stances on science. If you don't like those opinions, that has nothing to do with facts regarding the immense scope of time and space. Which specific facts do you dispute?
Tyson’s astronomy is excellent, but I question his attempt to connect astronomy to politics, only hinted in this chapter. There is a tendency of writers like Tyson to assume their technical knowledge confers political and cultural wisdom, when in fact decisions about social priorities are far more complex, for example on climate change. The question of why conservative people question scientific opinions is not just a matter of seeing conservative people as stupid, but rather of seeing scientific values as embedded in social context.
LanDroid wrote:
Tyson is fighting the ancient idea that the earth is the center of the universe.
Not really. He is fighting a political caricature of that old idea. Once again, here we should place this astronomy in social context, seeing how modern philosophy and politics have argued for a more rational approach but have not always recognised the rationality in conservative opinion. From the human perspective the earth is the centre of the universe, since the meaning of perspective is point of view from where things are seen. Of course that produced a wrong geocentric cosmology in the ancient world, but the politics and psychology are more complex. People tend to think that when you have proved somebody wrong in one thing you can then discount their other opinions. Galileo’s discovery of the moons of Jupiter did not necessarily give him great political insight, but that was the implication of his attack on the pope as a simple fool.

I see there is a discussion of geocentric errors at the Obama book. There is an easy tendency in such discussion to think that a refutation of a simple error gets to the heart of the matter, when often the simplistic story is a placeholder for more complex ideas.
LanDroid wrote:
Obviously with at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone, the earth is not unique.
The logic of that “obvious” point is invalid. Since we don’t know if any of those planets have evolved intelligent life, we do not know if the earth is unique, and have some justice in regarding it as unique until proved otherwise. Every human being is unique, so there seems to be some political agenda in suggesting it is obvious that the earth is not unique when that is completely unknown.
LanDroid wrote:
We may never detect life on other planets even if it exists, but that doesn't mean our planet is unique let alone the center of the universe.
From the human perspective, the earth seems to be unique. With our constructed values, uniqueness can be a useful premise even if, speculatively considered, [absurd sarcasm alert] a multiverse world may have a near-exact copy of our current conversation going on right now.
LanDroid wrote:
I don't think Tyson incorporates them into The Cosmic Perspective, but multiple universes are not a mad idea. There are some aspects of quantum mechanics that not only allow for multiverses, but actually require them to fully explain certain phenomena. You might want to check out The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. As I recall he describes about nine different theories of multiverses.
All the string theory speculation may be very interesting and theoretically possible, but I suspect that the entailment in your wording is too strong. These “aspects of quantum mechanics” that you mention may involve the possibility of other universes, but it would be a much bigger story if they entailed necessity as your phrasing implies.
LanDroid wrote:

The Cosmic Perspective goes well beyond astronomy. As I pointed out before, "The molecular water cycle, bacterial symbiosis, the unbroken chain of the tree of life, and communication networks all the way down to the bacterial level are some examples of radical interdependence that is rarely perceived in daily life. ... These add a warmer human connection to stark considerations of 100 billion galaxies in a 14 billion year old visible universe."

Yes, that is a fair point. Tyson suggests that the fact we are made of the stuff of stars illustrates our connection to the cosmos. My concern in this topic of connection arises from my longstanding interest in astrology, and in the philosophical and cultural divide over the astrological assumption that our connections to the cosmos run far deeper than is generally assumed in astronomy.

The astronomical world view takes its origin from the popularisation of Newtonian mechanics, and is hostile to the perceived fatalism of astrological claims of planetary influence. Assumptions around human identity, agency, freedom and will create strong emotional prejudices about astrological ideas. For example, astrology assumes that our real personality is a snapshot of the state of the cosmos at the moment of our birth, creating an intimate spiritual connection.

That is a claim that has not been well supported by statistical data, although there is more than is generally known. What I find surprising is that discussion about such ideas receives such disdain, such as on whether human nature has deeper sensitivity to initial conditions than is seen on the surface. Any sense of connection is mystical, such as Tyson’s observation that he has drunk the same water molecules as Genghis Khan.


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Post Re: Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective
Robert Tulip wrote:
Fairness can mean getting what you deserve, but the most vivid problem with that emerges from the claim from Jesus Christ known as the Matthew Principle that fairness means the talented will get more than the untalented.
Let me propose a different reading of the parable of the talents, one which takes into account the spiritual level of understanding values. Suppose there is a village, in which some people are motivated and careful, and so gradually prosper and teach their children to be motivated and careful. Other people are driven by their instincts and so are lazy and careless, and therefore gradually lose ground materially. The first group, seeing the rewards to thoughtful planning, share among themselves the things they have learned about effective practice. The second group, being driven by instinct, see the differences and begin to fight among themselves out of frustration, and blame everyone in sight out of projective identification, so that they conclude the motivated people must be evil and exploitative.
Now, the motivated people could respond with paid security guards and just try to make the lazy people go their own way. But is that the kind of people they are? Of course not. Because they are careful and thoughtful and reflective, they recognize the plight of the lazy ones and begin to share with them what they have learned about effective practice. Further, they employ the others at digging canals and making roads.

In spiritual terms, the rich got richer. In material terms, this translates into the poor getting richer as well. More to the point of the results of dislocated frame of reference, the thoughtful frame is capable of encompassing the material welfare of all, not just of themselves.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Plato’s dialogue Protagoras is the classic analysis of the relativist idea that man is the measure of all things. Its logical invalidity makes relativism formally absurd, and yet relativism has practical utility where we are unsure which of conflicting opinions is correct and where we support political tolerance of right to believe false claims.
This is not just obvious, but also penetrating. The formal absurdity of relativism is only relevant for boundary situations. As a functional pattern of interpretation, it can profitably be built into our System 1 instinctive interpretations. Once again, philosophy would do well to avoid claims of definitive ("ontological") categories and strive to clarify ordinary thought and discourse.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Where this gets interesting for the philosophy of science is that relativism assumes truth is a construction, whereas people often think of truth as a description. The constructivist ideology that sees culture as autonomous from nature is often lampooned as hopelessly postmodern, as it sometimes indeed is, and yet this nest of problems shows that the automatic common sense type of epistemology implied by Tyson should be more a starting point for discussion than a final statement.
There is a difficult disconnect embedded in this, because people want to treat moral principles with the linguistic tools (such as "truth") appropriate to analysis of nature. Relativism is not really about two contradictory statements being true at the same time, it is about treating moral principles as unproven and open to argument. If they would just be discussed in those terms instead of inappropriate language like "true" and "false" we could get much further with a profitable discussion.
I have seen Rorty go overboard with constructivism, claiming that "vocabularies" make scientific revolutions and that therefore scientific truth is constructed. This is a silly reading of Kuhn, and a failure to come to grips with the actual sociology of science. Yet he is right when he applies constructivism to political thought. The project of uncovering universal political truth in thought about objective observation is so quixotic as to be dangerous.
Robert Tulip wrote:
When a person says that their views on fairness are necessarily true by definition, which is what a priori means, they are claiming access to a higher logic that invalidates anyone who has a different opinion about what is fair, just and equal. For example there is massive political conflict between the ideologies of equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.
Only philosophers think the "a priori" categories such as time and causality are so inviolate that they are necessarily true by definition. Most of us can handle the idea that "a priori" understanding of the world is psychological, and that we have before us the project of refining it to make it practical (rather than simply deducing results from it). The kind of dislocation from self-centeredness, in which Tyson puts so much hope for the Cosmic Worldview, corresponds to the decidedly non-"a priori" (i.e. System 2) process of being objective.

It is vital not to let the good faith process of elucidating the nature of fairness be stymied by bad faith political subterfuge. There is no solution to differences of perspective, but we can step aside from claims of universal moral validity and look at the issues raised for how pragmatic processes influence our interpretations of what is just.

I love the recent letter by Catherine Deneuve and others arguing against taking #MeToo too far. I tend to reflexively take the side of women, who are indeed often infringed on by male aggression and privilege, but the letter restored some balance to the considerations being factored in. We may have gone too far with the case of Al Franken, I don't know. But surely power needs to be made vulnerable, not kept privileged.
Robert Tulip wrote:
What I liked about the philosopher Edmund Husserl was his argument that all presuppositions should be rigorously analysed.
Huzzah for Husserl. He spoke for System 2.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I prefer to see the boundaries of the scientific worldview arising in problems like the role of intuition in psychology, the role of faith in politics and culture, and the extent to which our concepts of truth are descriptive or constructed.
I doubt that these are similar in practice to the relativistic and quantum mechanics which concern "things we do not normally observe". These problems you mention are problems for the scientific worldview precisely because science concerns nature rather than the complexities of social relations, infused as they are with symbolisms and driven as they are by conflicts between perspectives. The problem with our System 1 interpretations of these issues is that they are too simple to handle such complexities, but scientism is rarely the source of such oversimplifications.

I will leave dislocation of reference point, objectivity and mythology for tomorrow. Sick today, so limited time, but this is fun. Very profitable explorations, it seems to me.



Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:32 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective
Robert Tulip wrote:

This basic experience of the problem of objectivity illustrates a schism in meaning between facts and values, between objective and subjective, and between truth as description or construction. What you call ‘a visceral sense’ involves the unreflective emotional reaction to perceived wrongs.

Our sense of beauty usually relies on principles such as symmetry, and yet principles such as the stoic sense of connection to all humanity can generate perception of beauty in ugliness. The beauty within paradox such as that the last will be first are an example of a rational inversion of direct emotion.
All of this hearkens back strongly to Douglas Hofstadter's theme of "tangled hierarchies" in "Gödel, Escher, Bach". Hierarchies are often set up by one system of perceiving beauty (or fairness) and reason can calcify that system of ordering perceptions. Then some other aspect of beauty (or fairness) becomes salient for some reason, and we find our frame of reference shifting dramatically and things that seemed up before are seen to be down by the new ordering of perception. Very much like looking at an Escher print with more than one motif, blended into one another in such a way that the transition seems gradual when we try to watch it, and yet the mind must leap from one to the other.

I ran into an interesting example of this. A student whose parents were well-paid development officers at the UN was somewhat resentful of them, as teenagers will be at times. When we began talking about aid (development assistance) and I asserted that it was the right thing to do, he sidetracked this with an assertion that the people doing the assistance were in it for their own ego gratification and even for the pay. Having thought about this issue before, I asked him, "Are you saying that the people they help have no reason to be grateful?" He said, literally, "Wait a minute. . . " and nothing more. His organizing principle had been overturned by a different perspective, (in my case the more obvious of the two perspectives) and he could not sort the cognitive dissonance on the spot.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
The distance created by reason helps to give a values system based in philosophically sound meaning structures, rather than self-centered gut feelings.
It is not just reason that shifts our values away from our gut. We also have cultural precedents that function as myth, whose basis may not be in reason but which do produce moral consensus.
At least they function to corral the natural tendencies of moralizing to wander off toward whatever perspective seems favorable to the individual musing about it. Producing moral consensus might be a bit ambitious.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Our reason tends to restrict truth to matters we can understand, but our sense of mystery creates awe for the vast unknown, and humility before the feeble powers of our rational description. Richard Dawkins expressed this well in The Magic of Reality by saying science creates a sense of wonder and reverence for the awesome beauty and coherence of the rational causal processes of nature.
Awe is considered one of the primal experiences which extract us from the calculating mind which the mystics call the false self, placing us in "I-Thou" relation to life.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The old mystical idea that all is one is far from a paradox, but is rather a statement that the whole universe obeys the same orderly laws.
I suspect this dramatically sells short the truth (or rather the values-organizing-principle) perceived in the experience of the fundamental unity of everything. The idea seems to be that we encounter each thing as a subject, not an object of potential manipulation, and thereby perceive, as Blake put it, the world in a grain of sand.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Self returns as a reference point for values in the Gospel injunction to love God and neighbour as self, indicating that a person who lacks self-respect cannot achieve a proper sense of respect for others.
Dislocation of perception is at the heart of this equation. As long as we look at self as an instrumental "thing" to be exploited, we will be dissatisfied with self for the things it does not provide us. Objectivity does not overcome this, for even the most accomplished and attractive, by objective standards, will fall short of others in some way. Rather we need to view self from the same relational (i.e. spiritual) standpoint that tells us to treat everyone with respect and genuine concern as a virtuous way of relating, rather than because the person has earned it, and so we find grace to offer to ourselves as well.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I think the mystical critique of ethics has turned on the observation that practical systems of rules are often resistant to discussion. People’s opinions about good and bad are of course often arbitrary and artificial and dogmatic, making any imagined mystical grounding of ethics in a perception of ultimate truth very difficult to make persuasive.
I have never heard of a mystic "grounding" ethics in non-duality. The very idea would be paradoxical (and maybe that's why I found NDTyson's fulmination on cosmic perspective to be shallow.) A system of ethics has already disengaged someone from the "I-Thou" encounter that is the essence of what mystics advocate.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Only a sense of self-identity makes action possible, since oceanic mystical feeling of unity gives no basis for will or direction. Yet there is room here to open a dialectic between the soul and the ocean, our immediate assumptions and the deep needs of time.
That is the crux of the matter. How is it the Zen master put it? "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." The implications for the enlightened one in behavioral terms are not really different from the exigencies which cause us suffering if we relate through our resentment of having to work. The dialectic with the ocean (or the Zen no-mind) allows us to shift our perspective to that of someone participating in the flow of all toward further freedom (or, as we Christians would put it, toward salvation).
Robert Tulip wrote:
Capital punishment is a great example of a moral value where our intuition can clash with our reason.
Back to System 1 and System 2, I think. Or one might say between Haidt's elephant and the reflective process that gives us free will.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I like to argue that such problems should be analysed in terms of consequences, but we face the incommensurable problem that the deep coarsening of a societies’ respect for human rights cannot be weighed in any objective way against the signals sent by a message of tremble and obey, or against the opportunity costs of imprisonment.
Tangled hierarchies. Alternate organizing principles are in competition, and I don't imagine there is any "objective" method that sorts such situations out.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Evidence informs such decisions, but at the end of the day policy outcomes emerge from principles whose real nature functions as social myth. Any effort to present the policy-evidence link as simple is an exercise in politics, not philosophy.
I take your point, but I am actually engaged in trying to put together a systematic perspective in which evidence-based decision-making is given, one might say, mythic force. We currently have a legal and governmental system in which competing myths are manipulated by the rich and powerful for whatever ends they see as most important. Resisting such manipulation is the social equivalent of an individual being able to take a clear-eyed view of reality rather than being tossed about by the emotions of the moment.

I have, one might say, despaired of philosophy as the basis for such an endeavor. The whole top-down approach of philosophy (seeking "Truth") ends up undermining its own goals, in a classic tangled hierarchy.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Unfortunately, Newtonian mechanics became the basis for a mechanistic enlightenment that derided the old moral sense of the unity of all things. Your example from Tyson is confusing, since it seems he is saying the ‘above’ of cosmic scale is completely different from the ‘below’ of human life.
I meant to be suggesting that Tyson was trying to get away with a false equivalence, which is very different from Newton's brilliant insight. I do recognize a kinship between his "cosmic perspective" and the shift to objective thinking that we have been discussing. But, in classic myth-making fashion, he left that as a poetic resonance to be felt, rather than spelling out the real workings.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Scholasticism as a cultural movement gives priority to learning from books,

I would characterize it very differently. Aquinas in particular, but to some extent the others, sought to justify the social order of feudalism by putting it in a context with what Marx would call a "superstructure" of religious ideas. This was not a nefarious or manipulative effort, but it was trapped in the perspective created by the "relations of production" of the time. The justification using authoritative texts was a side effort, incidental to the magisterial use of logic to rationalize what was perceived as unchangeable. A fitting monument to the over-rigidity which System 2 can produce, which Zen no-mind or non-dual openness (direct subject-to-subject relation to life) function to dissolve. I fear that scientism (logical positivism?) can fall into the same trap.



Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:20 pm
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