Thursday, May 19, 2011
There is much I disagree with in each of the posts from Armed and Dangerous that I link below -- a few big ones are Buddhism, the author's implicit determinism, his understanding of the nature of emotions, and the idea that any scientific theory can be blown out of the water at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless, I find the kind of mental exercise Eric Raymond talks about intriguing. Disturbed by his realization that scientific fraud arouses within him similar emotions that sacrilege would in a religious person, Raymond discovers a premise that he needs to examine: "I am not like a religious person."
He then gives himself permission to "kill" the premise by playing a sort of devil's advocate. As he puts it, "[I]magine the world as it would be if the most cherished belief in your thoughts at this moment were false. Then reason about the consequences." What Raymond does in the case of the premise that he differs from religious people results in him seeing, at least in part, how he resembles them (roughly, in having a value-orientation) and how he nevertheless differs from them (roughly, in terms of his epistemology).
On this particular issue, I personally would not need to "kill the Buddha" to understand why things like scientific fraud or pseudoscience arouse intensely negative emotions on my part, or things like great scientific accomplishments cause me to feel awe or reverence. For one thing, I suspect that I have thought about the nature of emotions and of what religion offers to man more than Raymond. Nevertheless, I can see how a tactic like this can help untangle one' thinking about issues one isn't clear about.