Re: virus: Rationality in the Cave

Sun, 07 Mar 1999 23:04:53 -0800

David McFadzean wrote:

> >Prisoners chained up in Plato's cave develop a self-correcting system
> >for cutting and controlling the shadows on the wall.
> <big snip>
> How many levels of faith are identified here?
> 1) Empirical - faith in one's own experience (or more correctly,
> one's interpretation of one's memories of one's own experience...
> more on this later).
> 2) Circumstantial - faith based on evidence that is not entirely
> inconsistent with the belief. This applies to the believer who
> detected the "unfamiliar scent" on the subject of the story.
> 3) Anecdotal - faith based on the stories of believers. "Born-again"
> believers converted by charasmatic story-telling.
> 4) Traditional - faith based on the community in which one is raised.
> I guess there is also
> 5) Situational - faith based on adopting a belief system for a purpose,
> also known as Level 3.

I'm not convinced that one can simply decide to have faith in something and then immediately feel oneself to hold a genuine belief. The old saw of an example that I use here is this:

You are sitting in a room hooked up to a perfect lie detector (this is NOT a polygraph device but a device of high tech-fantasy.) I walk in with a suitcase full of money and pistol. I tell you that if you can bring yourself to believe that Bill Clinton is, at this moment, juggling candy bars, I will give you the suitcase full of money and send you on your way. If you are unable to generate this belief in yourself, I'm goint to shoot you between the eyes. I hope we are in agreement that, were you to find yourself in this very unlikely situation, rational thinking would prescribe doing your darnedest to instill in your mind the belief that Bill Clinton is, at this moment, juggling candy bars.

When I open the case and show you the money, put the gun to your head and ask you, "Do you believe the Bill Clinton is juggling candy bars at this moment?" I expect you will answer in the affirmative, but what will the perfect lie detector have to say on about your answer?

On the other hand, my own experience suggests that if you take up a particular practice and proceed as if you have faith even when you don't, you may, after a period of months, or years, or decades come to develop faith. That's what Pascal suggested. He thought the expected utility of belief was infinite and the expected negative utility of failure to believe was also infinite, and so it made sense for him to believe, but he didn't think that his calculations of expected utility would be sufficient to generate faith in a mind not already disposed to it, so he suggested that one talk the talk and walk the walk for a few years in the hopes that one will eventually develop actual faith.

> Others?

Combinations of the kinds you listed. Nothing else really springs to mind right now.

> My concern with the Cave story is that it is implicitly asserted that
> all faith can be traced back to an authentic experience. Someone
> really did leave the Cave, and the Outside really was indescribable
> within the context of Cave Rationality.

Well, the various faiths in this story are assumed to have proceeded from a genuine experience of getting outside of the cave, but I certainly would not want to suggest that ALL faith has a genuine mystical/religious experience in its causal history. I'm rather skeptical about the origins of the revelations of Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard.

> Is it not possible that the original Traveller misinterpreted a
> dream, delusion or hallucination? If so, how can you tell?

Kinda like the end of the film version of "Contact." "Is it possible that I hallucinated all of this? As a scientist, I have to admit that that is a possibility, but..."

Sure it's possible. Occam's razor would seem to favor the hallucination hypothesis, but for a great many events, there are explanatory accounts that fare better against Occam's razor than would the account of the actual event. Suppose I were kidnapped by circus midgets and held for several days while they force fed me single malt scotch and cocaine before releiving me of my money and releasing me in your home town. I show up at your door asking for shelter and a loan until I can get back to Seattle and free up some funds. You ask me what happened, and I explain about the circus midgets. You weigh my account against the possibility that my physical and ecconomic state are the result of a sustained but concentual binge. Occam's razor would favor the binge hypothesis even though it isn't the case.

God shows up and takes you an a whirlwind tour of time, space, and bunch of other stuff you have trouble wrapping your mind around after the fact. Later you ask yourself, "Could it have been a hallucination? Yeah, I guess so, but I've never felt anything that seemed anywhere near as real as this." How do you decide? I don't know. For many of the people on this list, that's an easy question to answer. I'm not one of them, however.

> Are there not many different, mutually exclusive tales of the Outside
> with corresponding believers of all levels?

Not all mystical experiences fit the same mold, and some of them seem to be mutually exclusive (good chapter on mystical experience in "How to Think About Weird Things"). Is it possible that the appearant contradictions are just a distortion imposed by the limits of our POV? I dunno.

> Are all of them true?

Maybe. I don't feel a burning need to take a stand on that issue. I'm perfectly cool with hanging a question mark on that one with no real expectation of making a final decission on the matter.

> If not, how can you tell?

Again, I don't know.

> What does Outside the Cave connote to you?
> - Out-of-body experience

That one carries more new age baggage than I care to lug around.

> - Religious rapture (talking to God)

Yeah. Ecstatic union with the intelligent substrate of the universe, the One Mind, whatever.

> - Cosmic oneness

That too. Call it a pantheistic experience, a temporary dispelling of the arbitrary limits that define me as being a seperate entity from the rest of the universe.

> - Abduction by aliens

I hope not. Not the pro bono proctologist kind of aliens anyway.

> - Conversation with the machine elves (a la McKenna)

I have yet to find my way to the realm of the self-transforming machine elves, but it's definitely on my to-do list.

I think that Terrence McKenna is talking about getting outside of the Cave in his "Timewave Zero" rant which I've heard so many times and in which he says, "The language forming capacity in our species is propelling itself forward as though it were going to shed the monkey body and leap into some extra-surreal space that surrounds us, but that we can not currently see. Even the people who run the planet, the World Bank, the IMF, you name it, they know that history is ending. They know by the reports which cross their desks: the disappearance of the ozone hole [?], the toxification of the ocean, the clearing of the rain forests. What this means is that the womb of the planet has reached its finite limits, and that the human species has now, without choice, begun the decent down the birth canal of collective transformation toward something right around the corner and nearly completely unimaginable. And this is where the psychedelic shaman comes is because I believe that what we really contact through psychedelics is a kind of hyperspace. And from that hyperspace we look down on..., we look down on both the past and the future, and we anticipate the end. And a shaman is someone who has seen the end, and therefore is a trickster, because you don't worry if you've seen the end. If you know how it comes out you go back and you take your place in the play, and you let it all roll on without anxiety. This is what boundary dissolution means. It means nothing less than the anticipation of the end state of human history."

Well, I don't remember ever having "seen the end," but I find that I do have faith that it all ends as it should and that I can take my place in the play and not worry about how it all comes out. That's part of what I'm talking about when I talk about my faith.

> - Life after death

Resurection by Tipler's Omega Point God, maybe? Yeah, that could have something to do with the experience of getting out of the cave or stepping outside of time and seeing the end. Rather than dying and being resurrected, I expect, as opposed to death and resurrection, something more along the lines of a transformation long before I reach old age into some trans-human or post-human entity which is so different from the KMO of 1999 as to be unrecognizable. I can see the singularity of the Extropian vision will comimg within my lifetime. In December of 2012? I dunno. Maybe.