virus: Epistemology of the Cave

Thu, 11 Mar 1999 11:08:47 -0800

Carl has suggested a set of axioms that he believes form the basis of a correct epistemological methodology. I agree that adopting these axioms and the methodology they suggest is extremely helpful in the pursuit of a very large set of worthwhile goals. I don't, however, get the impression that Carl appreciates that Aristotelean logic, while of unquestionable utility, imposes a systematic distortion on the world. It would not be a particularly controversial statement to anyone on this list if I said that people can and do take advantage of the styles of thinking and perception which result from religious or mystical thinking. Well, duh! I expect that a least a few of us, however, would take exception to a claim that the patterns of thought conditioned by Arostotelean logic are also the tools of psycholocial predetors and neo-cheaters.

I don't want to gloss over the utility of employing Carl's preffered style of investigation. I spent several years learning to use this investigative methodology, and the benefits, particularly in terms of my mental acuity, have been enormous. When somebody presents me with an argument intended to support some conclussion, even ones with which I'm inclined to agree, my first response is to bust out the analytical tools that Carl has suggested that we all employ.

Still, useful as these tools are, they do distort our perceptions and are not always the best means of getting where you want to go. A couple of the axioms that Carl laid out are particularly dubious if what you think you are going to be doing getting at the Truth.

He may not have intended this offering to serve as a direct response to my "Cave Rationality" post, but, if one does look at it in that light, it seems to be saying, "We can deduce from the axioms of Cave Rationality that anything that exists, exists within the cave and is subject to cut and control by Cave Rationality." I hope that it is pretty obvious to most of you that one can accept that the above can be a true statement (i.e. a statement about what can be deduced from the axioms of cave rationality) and still not accept the claim that Cave Rationality enjoys any privileged epistemological advantage outside of a limmited sphere of operation.

If, in all games, you start with the assumptions that:

"Consciousness perceives reality, it doesn't create it."


"A thing can't be both A and non-A."

then you'll be assuming a winning record in the regular season and starting in the playoffs.

Forgive me for serving up a frozen pizza rather than a meal I prepared from scratch, but I need to get to work on the comic. Here's an excerpt from Wilson Bryan Key's "The Age of Manipulation" that I think speaks to this matter.

"Consistency appears a fatal flaw in every iron-clad system, theorem, or law of language--whether linguistic, pictorial, or mathematical. Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote, "If one never contradicts himself, it is certain he knows nothing." Inconsistency is a natural human condition, cerainly for language systems. An illusion of consistency, however, can easily be constructed--either in relationships between person and persons or between persons and things. Ad and public-relations technicians construct and sustain illusions of consistency--at least until someone takes a careful, critical look. Consistency is a constructed role individuals play in various occupational situations. Politicians and corporate executives often become very adept at the role. Consistent reconciliations of inconsistency are perceptually constructed. They may look good on paper, but they are inherently fake.
"To disagree with, or disobey, the language structure heretically violates the conventional wisdoms. Paradox, inconsistency, and contradiction are normal expectations in scientific logic and reasoning. When one does not find them, extreme caution shold be the rule. Can anyone actually _be_ what they have consciously and unconsciously molded themselves into an appearance of being? Actually, the more consistenly honest someone appears, the more carefully the silverware should be guarded. Images are stereotypes, lies, cosmetic concealments, and misrepresentations. Images usually conceal their opposite characteristics. When contradictions do not appear, they have been deleted or camouflaged. Intelligence analysts search for consistency constructed to fulfill normal expectations, then distrust it completely. Personnel investigators usually question too-perfect resumes. "Verbal, pictorial, or mathematical statements _can_ be both true and false. Truth and falsity are perceptual conclusions and constructions. They are products of the ways humans feel, see, hear, think, smell, and believe they know, or are manipulated to believe they know. Humans usually impose perceptual evaluations upon reality for practical reasons. Motives, of course, can be altruistic, self-serviving, or varying degrees of both. The first question in language behavior analysis should be "What is the speaker really trying to do?"

> Another corollary of identity is the Law of causality. Causality is the law
> of identity applied to action; the identity of an object determines how it
> will act.

How an object will act depends not only on its own characteristics, but on the conditions and forces that bear upon it. The exact circumstances of an event are never duplicated, and any law of causality applied to a particular "type" of object, event or circumstance will, by necessity, always be a simplification that ignores some aspect of the situation that has a causal influence on the event in question. We have learned to selectively focus on, what are for our purposes, the most relevant causal influences and ignore the vast majority which have little noticible effect, and this lets us formulate and apply generalizations that allow us to put robotic toys on Mars and splice genes, but those successes aren't particularly pursuasive from an epistemological standpoint.

Anyway, it's time for me to get to work.

Take care, all.