a blog by josef johann

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dennett on Postmodernism and Truth

via reddit:

What would be wrong would be that since this man didn't acknowledge the gulf, didn't even recognize that it existed, my acquiescence in his shopping spree would have contributed to the debasement of a precious commodity, the erosion of a valuable distinction. Many people, including both onlookers and participants, don't see this gulf, or actively deny its existence, and therein lies the problem. The sad fact is that in some intellectual circles, inhabited by some of our more advanced thinkers in the arts and humanities, this attitude passes as a sophisticated appreciation of the futility of proof and the relativity of all knowledge claims. In fact this opinion, far from being sophisticated, is the height of sheltered naiveté, made possible only by flatfooted ignorance of the proven methods of scientific truth-seeking and their power. Like many another naif, these thinkers, reflecting on the manifest inability of their methods of truth-seeking to achieve stable and valuable results, innocently generalize from their own cases and conclude that nobody else knows how to discover the truth either.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Abraham Maslow on the fusion of fact and value

From The Farther Reaches of Human Nature:

Too many people of limited vision define the essence of science as cautious checking, validating of hypotheses, finding out if other people's ideas are correct or not. But, insofar as science is also a technique of discovery, it will have to learn how to foster peak-experience insights and visions and then how to handle them as data. [...]

I quote a letter from Dr. A. Hoffer, dated February 8, 1963:

We have deliberately used P.E. (peak experience) as a therapeutic weapon. Our alcoholics who receive LSD or mescaline are given P.E. using music, visual stimuli, words, suggestion, anything which will give them what they say is a P.E. We have treated over five hundred alcoholics and certain general rules can be enunciated. One is that in general the majority of alcoholics who respond by sobriety after treatment have had P.E. Conversely, hardly any who have not had P.E. respond.

We also have strong data which suggest that affect is the chief component of P.E. When LSD subjects are first given penicillamine for two days they have an experience which is identical with the one normally gained from LSD, but where there is a marked dampening of affect. They observe all the visual changes, have all the changes in thinking, but they are emotionally flat and are more non-participant observers than participants. These subjects do not have P.E. In addition, only 10 per cent do well after treatment compared to our expected 60 per cent recovery on several large follow-up studies.

Now we make our big jump: This same list of described characteristics of reality, of the world, seen at certain times, is just about the same as what have been called the eternal values, the eternal verities. We see here the old familiar trinity of truth, beauty, and goodness. That is to say, this list of described characteristics is also simultaneously a list of values. These characteristics are what the great religionists and philosophers have valued, and this is practically the same list that most serious thinkers of mankind have agreed upon as the ultimate or highest value of life.

To repeat, my first statement is in the realm of science, defined as public. Anyone can do the same thing; anyone can check for himself; anyone can use the same procedure that I have used and can, objectively if he wishes, record on tape the things that are said in answer to the questions I posed and then make them public. That is, what I am reporting is public, repeatable, confirmable or not; it is even quantifiable if you wish. It is stable and reliable in the sense that when I repeat the operation I get approximately the same results. Even by the most orthodox, positivistic definitions of ninteenth-century science, this is a scientific statement. It is a cognitive statement, a description of the characteristics of reality, of the cosmos, of the world out there, outside the person who is reporting and describing, of the world as perceived. These data can be worked with in the traditional fashion of science, and their degree of truth or untruth can be determined.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Despicable Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen is the author of Coming out Straight, whose book has been used in speeches to justify a proposed law in Uganda to execute homosexuals. This is an absolutely repugnant person. Observe his first statement, that "since the 1950's, the Ugandan government has punished people for engaging in homosexual behavior". Then observe that, minutes later, Cohen says it's "inconceivable" that they would pass a law to execute gays. Inconceivable? If he wants to represent this Ugandan history of oppression against gays as though it were common knowledge, how on earth could he not know that his book and his message would serve as justification for continuation of what he knows to be longstanding practice of oppression of homosexuals?

Then he denies that his book portrays gays as predators against children, which Maddow promptly follows up by reading an offending passage from his book with all of the outrageous claims you might expect. He disavows knowledge of the bill and disapproves it, but defends the sponsor of the bill, who was holding up a copy of his book. He can't even use his appearance as an opportunity to just drop everything and unequivocally state that the bill is abhorrent, no, he uses his airtime to spread his message of "opportunity," seconds after conceding his book is being used to justify execution. What a terrible, terrible man.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The impolite spite of Robby Wright

Robert Wright has again attempted to other-ise new atheists. I think the best reaction by far has been Russell Blackford's:

I take no delight in the impolite spite of Robby Wright. His screed is in need of some serious mothereffin’ rigour. It’s got vigour, but I figure that it’s not worth a widow’s mite – no! It’s kind of a slow bleed of real thought. It’s caught in error. It’s trite .. a kind of thinking-lite, yeah – an unpedigreed stampede of special pleading for creeds and unholy deeds and religious terror. It’s like Wright has smoked too much weed or got too much greed, and now he’s a satellite. An acolyte. A parasite on superstition. He’s turned off the light of reason, looking for a coming season when it gets him a treasonous prize, a kind of commission. His ambition has made him unwise: so now he’s a temporiser, when he ought to be a despiser and a pulveriser. It’s a hideous sight, a benighted blight that we must fight without remission. Thank Jerry [and Ophelia] for his[her] demolition!