Kill the Buddha

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.

-- CAV


Kyle Haight said...

My analysis is pretty simple. Reason is my basic means of survival. Betraying or corrupting reason strikes at the foundation of my ability to survive and flourish, i.e. it strikes at the root of my ability to pursue and attain values. For someone trained and presented as an exemplar of reason to deliberately and systematically undercut it constitutes an attack not merely on a value but on the faculty which enables the human pursuit of all values.


Gus Van Horn said...

Hear, hear!

Inspector said...

Yeah that one caught my eye too. Pretty smart fellow, but it seems to me like he gets these personal revelations where he works through them step by step... but they've already been covered by, well... you know, Objectivism 101.

He's not wrong when he uncovers these things for himself, of course, it's just that he could probably save himself a lot of trouble.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I think he should give Objectivism another shot.

Gus Van Horn said...

Well, Rand does discuss both the nature of emotions and the illegitimacy of religion's claim to "religious" emotions at various points, but I think it's still valuable to work through such connections for oneself, including how the apply them to one's life. In other words, there are levels of understanding of her philosophy, and I am not wild about saying that something is "covered" by "Objectivism 101." I have seen too many people with a surface understanding of Objectivism or -- worse, who parrot things that Rand says without really understanding them -- to feel comfortable saying something like that anymore.

Inspector said...

Oh, don't get me wrong - it's quite wonderful to see someone work something like that out. And fundamentally, even armed with the master key to figuring things like this out, as it were, we still all have to work through it all ourselves or else it's just like those parrots you've been posting about lately.

(I share your interest in birds, by the way)

What I find frustrating is that I sit here watching someone struggle through building a structure like that with their bare hands when an invaluable set of tools is sitting *right there* beside them. Or even that it's already been built, if they'd just turn around and *look.*

Perhaps you didn't know - I asked once if he'd heard of Objectivism, and he's read at least some of the philosophy, but didn't quite take to it. He wasn't specific, but he did imply had something to do with this very subject.

Which is why I threw in the "101" bit.

If he thinks that Objectivism has something to disagree with on this subject, and yet comes to what appears to be the very same conclusion... well, I think that merits him taking a second look.

Perhaps this new insight he's made will help him to see that he might have more to agree with than he had previously thought.

Whether or not one ultimately has to think through every conclusion oneself, I have to think a person isn't doing themselves any favors by *not* reading the books that already have done it, and laid out the means to do not only that, but a whole lot more.

Gus Van Horn said...

You should search his blog some time. I did once and recall learning, through some comment he made, that he thinks Rand's epistemology is baloney and, coming from some obscure modernist angle, that the "take down" would be easy. Let's take him at his word that he really is unconvinced that Ayn Rand is right: There's only so much one can (or should try to) do about this, and past a certain point, it's a waste of mental energy to exasperate oneself at someone else's failure to see things your way.

Regardless of how obvious Objectivism might seem to you or me, the fact remains that many aspects and applications of it are NOT obvious, and it is unfair to others (and a waste of one's own time) to get wound up over what looks like someone else's obtuseness, when one drops the context of what it takes to grasp Objectivism.

It takes a hell of a lot more to grasp Objectivism than just reading Rand's works, or even doing so with genuine curiosity and an even-handed approach to unfamiliar ideas. (Otherwise, with their sales numbers, we'd be well on the way towards a strongly Objectivist-influenced culture by now.) To allow yourself to become exasperated with someone who is clearly intelligent, and yet doesn't agree with everything Ayn Rand says (although he seems like he should), is to come dangerously close to selling Rand's achievement short.

I prefer to focus, with great relief, on the fact that Eric Raymond at least is honest enough to admit he disagrees with Rand, rather than put himself forward as some kind of expert on Objectivism or proponent of Rand's.

Inspector said...

Well, I see your point, but if anything it doesn't so much sell the philosophy short, as it does the achievement of correctly understanding it. Which, yeah, sorry.

I have a bad habit of doing that with things I've done: considering them simple in retrospect (because a principle - philosophical or otherwise - once understood, *does* seem simple and clear as day), and then getting annoyed with other people who don't also do them.