Archive for the ‘irrationalism’ Category


In holism, irrationalism, kuhn on 17/10/2011 at 4:26 am

When Kuhn says that the “most fundamental aspect of … incommensurability” is “the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds” (Structure, 150) or that a scientific revolution is “a displacement of the conceptual network through which scientists view the world (ibid., 102), it is difficult to understand Kuhn as saying anything other than that incommensurability implies incomparability. With the incomparability of two theories, then theory choice is necessarily irrational, commitment to a paradigm or lexicon follows, and so on.

The assumption that theories are incommensurable can lead to, in this most radical version, parroted by post-modernist college kids all across the globe, ‘conversation-stoppers’, modes of speech that deny the very possibility of an assumption’s falsity, and are self-reinforcing enough that the most committed individual can defend the assumption come what may. In short, it’s far too convenient for anyone to claim that they do not understand the meaning of a sentence.

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A Study in Stubbornness

In fideism, irrationalism on 12/09/2011 at 8:00 am

The BBC’s Conspiracy Road Trip: 9/11 is a recent documentary on the conspiratorial 9/11 Truth movement.


Catholic Dogma

In fideism, irrationalism on 08/09/2011 at 7:59 am

Edward Feser has a strange argument in favor of the possibility of reconciling evolutionary theory with Catholic dogma.

Supposing, then, that the smallest human-like population of animals evolution could have initially produced numbered around 10,000, we have a scenario that is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception, and that He infused further human souls only into those creatures who were descended from this initial pair.  And there is no evidence against this supposition. (bolded)

Put aside that, as far as our scientific theories indicate, that the first biological human male and first human female existed, at minimum, thousands of years apart. Instead, focus on what Feser has done: yes, it is a possibility that an omniscient being imparted a particular cognitive structure (which Feser calls ‘souls’) into two biological humans, but possibility amounts to very little. It is possible that other humans are in fact androids, and to save this theory from attempted refutation, a defender can easily claim that no, this particular being is a human, but androids walk among us! There cannot be, by the very structure of the argument, evidence against this supposition.

Within the larger scheme of things, if we see how Catholic dogma began, their stances on epistemology, the historical structure of their ‘holy’ texts, their gradual refinement and replacement of dogmas under pressure from within and without the Church, then who cares if it is possible to reconcile even the most de-clawed version of Catholic dogma with evolutionary theory? It’s retreated too far, for too long. No, the Israelites never were slaves in Egypt. It’s just a story. No, Adam and Eve never lived, and certainly never were given dominion over all other creatures, and they never lived in a magic garden with a talking snake. There was no Noah’s ark, and to think otherwise would be intellectual suicide. I’m sure, or at least I hope that Feser would agree with me on all these points. But what remains? He can have his supposition for all I care, he can attempt to square the circle by redefining both until the two are one (we’re not talking about biological humans, but humans with souls!), but I take it as seriously as attempts to reconcile origin stories from other — now-defunct — religions.



In critical rationalism, irrationalism, skepticism on 26/08/2011 at 2:39 pm

People accept without reflection the ideas, fads, styles, and tastes of their times. Everyone is subject to this problem, even those that harp on this problem.

Why do we dismiss the stories printed in the National Enquirer and accept the articles printed in Scientific American? Is the difference in the presentation? Are we clued in to the problems in trusting the National Enquirer after seeing the sensationalistic headlines and poor typesetting?

We’re just going about begging the question, since we are using the guilty verdict as part of the prosecution. It sounds like a matter of taste to prefer Scientific American for its excellent formatting. What are we to make of the discovery by the National Inquirer of the John Edwards scandal?

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Psychics, Palm Reading, and Tarrot Cards

In irrationalism on 20/08/2011 at 1:02 am

ABC Primetime recently did an episode on psychics. From ten to twenty minutes in the episode, three ‘psychics’ take James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge. Their responses when each of them — naturally — fail indicate that they are unable or unwilling to accept being wrong. We have three prime examples of how a proposition is testable, but its practitioners protect the hard core of the program by blaming an auxiliary hypotheses or the experimental setup. They’re willing to sacrifice anything in the protective belt to save the central meta-theoretical assumptions about their abilities to commune with the dead, read palms, or flip cards. As Randi says, “It’s called … what’s the term? ‘Stubborn!'”

Given recalcitrant data, one can easily place blame on the assumptions in the protective belt. It is only when the protective belt functions only for explaining away anomalies and does not generate new predictions that the scientific research program has become degenerative. While the theory is not refuted, for no theories can be refuted with any finality, the fact that the hard core has been protected come what may is enough to reject it as useless, potentially false, but overall as a system that does not explain anything anymore.

How, then, are we to take the psychic’s psychological makeup? They are superficially no more different than you or I, for we all make adjustments of the periphery rather than our self-image. Optimism would have been smothered in the cradle. Try living a life where any mistake would cause an existential crisis, a sense of terror at our inability to do anything right. We’re willing to think that we are good and just people, even though we remember that as a child we stole a candy bar. We lie to ourselves that we are honest, happy to think that each past lie was made under circumstances that required a little white lie or fib. It is a matter of degree, rather than kind.

We are all willing to hold on to our self-image in the face of reality, but just as the scientific community is, upon logical reconstruction and sociological function, designed to facilitate criticism of theories, not persons, above all other dogmas, the psychic community is designed to deflect any and all possible criticism. Possibly, this takes place after a link is made between the person and the central meta-theoretical assumption. After all, this is some special ‘ability’ that has been cultivated over many years. They’ve reached a point where a criticism of the central assumption is transformed into a criticism of their self-image. No one could let that stand without the strongest defense possible, including sacrificing everything-but the central meta-theoretical assumption to protect the self-image.

The third part of the program, though, is the most tragic. While the physics were either credulous idiots with the knack at cold reading or magicians that wanted to fleece people out of their money, this part focuses on psychics that claim to find the bodies of missing family members, known as ‘psychic detectives.’ It’s a heart-wrenching story of wasting time and energy on false leads and mental terrorism. Frankly, it’s disgusting. These ‘psychic detectives’ deserve a good verbal beat-down, and possibly a restraining order against the rest of humanity.


Lash on Commitment

In ethics, irrationalism, justificationism, wittgenstein on 14/07/2011 at 11:08 am

I cannot suffer fools, and Nicholas Lash is an educated fool–the worst kind by far, for his words can beguile those with less learning than he. And by Jove, Lash has a way with words. His All good reasoning comes from prior commitments and beliefs, published in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian, is a strangely enticing word-salad.

And what of Lash? He is, according to the press release by Durham University on the occasion of Lash receiving an honorary degree, “regarded as one of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophical theologians of our time.”

… all good reasoning expresses and proceeds from prior commitments and beliefs and relies, at every step along the way, on believing – however cautiously and critically – the testimony of others engaged in this and similar collaborative enterprises.

The article is, in brief, a case-study of the Wittgensteinian attempts by the learned to protect religious conjectures from criticism. With a quick bit of Googling, it turns out that Lash is indebted to Wittgenstein’s approach. That attitude throws up hastily built walls to keep trespassers at bay–while simultaneously legitimizing all other ‘forms of life.’ While such a conclusion may have sat well with Wittgenstein, how can Lash dare say anything critical of other ‘forms of life’? Everyone is already committed. No rational argumentation–and thus no change, except for the religious conversion on par with Saul on the road to Damascus–is permissible.

But is that the case? Don’t people often change their minds when confronted with criticism from without the community? Of course; however, Lash’s attitude, and his perplexing language, do little more than hinder those that may in due time change.

It follows (and O’Collins’s definition brings this out so well) that serious theological investigation is never purely a matter of inference and deduction; never merely a matter of the reasoning mind. It is also a matter of the mind and heart at prayer. There is a sense in which all good theology is done on one’s knees.

In sum, rather than a raging a war of words between intellectual ‘nations,’ Lash would have us all live in little herme(nu)tically-sealed cocoons. Thank you, but I’ll pass on the offer.


Positive and Negative

In bartley, critical rationalism, duhem, experiments, fallibilism, fideism, irrationalism, skepticism on 29/06/2011 at 11:53 am

There is a significant difference between what I will call ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ thinking. Positive thinking rests on the assumption that a solution’s past success (the ‘is’) guarantees or increases the probability of the solution’s future success (the ‘ought’): past success ought to show future success. Negative thinking, however, does not run into the is/ought problem: if a universal statement contradicts an existential statement, and the existential statement corresponds with the facts, then the existential statement is false.

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The Sphinx

In irrationalism, skepticism, the ancient greeks on 15/06/2011 at 2:30 pm

Most everyone knows the story of Oedipus meeting the Sphinx — how he bests it by solving its riddle, goes off to Thebes, nails his mom, and ruins his life. So what?

The Sphinx is four things in one: the body of a lioness, the torso of a woman, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a serpent — she is part of the primordial world of chaos, full of monsters and those dark scary things that are hiding just behind you when you’re in the dark, born before the first gods came. Ooga booga!

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In irrationalism, justificationism, kuhn, underdetermination on 15/06/2011 at 6:41 am

If argument is to provide sufficient reasons for accepting or rejecting a claim, then why is disagreement possible?

Agreement is valued everywhere: it sounds friendlier and builds communities of like-minded individuals. Valuing unanimity, we may accept tradition without asking too many questions. Agreement is easy, and invites acceptance of ideas without much thought, whereas disagreement is criticism, involving a great deal of creativity and willingness to go against the grain, and more often than not produces conflict. Kuhn advocated agreement in his ‘normal science’, knowing that science and a measure of dogmatism occur naturally: there are far worse traditions than science. There is an alternative to this admittedly irrationalist solution, namely a rational justification: as Bacon said, by far the best proof is experience. The problem then becomes how does experience justify theory?

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