Monday, December 31, 2007

Rationality

I'm going to start a new post, because the old one is getting cumbersome being loaded with so many issues.

Howard brought up the question of rationality, non-rationality and irraationality and later Howard said: Ira is right that we can’t expect all of mankind to become rational after being indoctrinated with organized religions’ dogmas for so long. But why excuse or promote this inflexible irrationality?



I'm not comfortable with calling religion irrational. Let's start with the dictionary definition of rational. Mine says that rational means having reason or logic. It seems to me that for the most part religions are logical and have reasons for what they propose. Let's also stipulate that we're talking about religions with a personal god, i.e., a supernatural being having personhood or intention. Although you and I may believe no such being exists, that doesn't automatically make the religion irrational. I would contend that all thinking requires a leap of faith at some point. Euclid's geometry is held to be the ultimate in rational thinking, but it requires faith in certain axioms in order to get started. The Declaration of Independence rationally explains why the Framers believe they are correct to separate from England, but they require an intuitive assumption. "We hold these truths to be self evident.....) All reason is built upon assumption. One of the reasons we come to different conclusions about almost everything in this world is our intuitive assumptions. For example, almost everyone in today's America would agree by virtue of rational thought that it was wrong for Europeans to take this land from the indigenous people. However, many people of the nineteenth century would start their reasoning from the axiom that no people nor person can truly possess a piece of this planet. Possession does not come simply by being born in a place. What one possesses comes only from conquest and the constant defense against incursion by others. Thus with a different first assumption or axiom, one arrives perfectly rationally at two very different conclusions concerning the taking of land from the Indians (or anyone else).



As to the idea that religious indoctrination being virtually unassailable simply because of age, I have to differ. I don't think that the age of a tradition has anything to do with its survival. What counts is the number of people who currently believe in a tradition. When that number is beyond a critical value, the tradition is very difficult to overturn. I don't think the age is much of a factor except as a measure of durability. The traditional place of women in society was thousands of years old when it was overturned in a very short time. World War II, The Pill and the disappearance of the icebox contrived to make the old tradition obsolete. The survival of a tradition has more to do with its benefits and its adaptability. If a tradition cannot bend, it will break. Religion has shown itself valuable to the individual and society despite a changing environment and has been able to make small adaptations. To my mind, the most important adaptation in the survival of modern religion has been to look the other way when the membership sins. The "love the sinner, hate the sin" concept in modern Christianity is ingenious. It allows a member to attend church on Sunday and lie, cheat and steal on Monday with impunity. Hence, humans can remain members, pay their tithe and do whatever they wish without the condemnation of their peers. That's a lot of flexibility.



Let me finish with a short Wikipedia quotation concerning one of the strange fathers of rationality. "In Croton Pythagoras established his academy and became a cult leader. His community was governed by a large number of rules, some dietary, such as those commanding abstinence from meat and from beans, and others of obscure origin, such as the commands not to let a swallow nest under the roof or not to sit on a quart measure. The movement was united by the belief that “all is number.” While the exact meaning of this may be none too clear, that it led to one of the great periods of mathematics is beyond doubt. Not only were the properties of numbers explored in a totally new way and important theorems discovered, of which the familiar theorem of Pythagoras is the best example, but there also emerged what is arguably the first really deep mathematical truth – the discovery of irrational numbers with the realization of the incommensurability of the square root of two."

16 comments:

Ira Glickstein said...

A scientist's job is to describe what is. Howard and I believe non-rationality is inherent in our genetic makeup. Irrationality is enshrined in time-tested religion memes.

It takes generations for mature memes to change and even longer for genes. Totally rational behavior, based only on the reason and logic of benefit for an individual animal, would not promote survival of the societies the individual animals belong to.

Joel compares the "leap of faith" necessary for religious belief to the "faith in certain axioms" required for Euclidian geometry. I don't think there is any comparison.

Each of Euclid's axioms are testable by any intelligent person. For example, considering a flat plane (such as a piece of paper), it is clear that: 1) Any two points can be joined by a straight line, 2) Any straight line segment can be extended indefinitely in a straight line, 3) Given any straight line segment, a circle can be drawn having the segment as radius and one endpoint as center, and so on.

Religions that assume a "personal God" require members to believe in a supernatural being, with powers beyond human comprehension, who personally cares about them. The only evidence is found in scriptures that recount "God" speaking to patriarchs some thousands of years ago. Rational study of scriptures reveals internal contradictions. Unlike Euclid's axioms, there is no way to rationally test religious assumptions.

Do I "excuse or promote" the lack of total rationality in religion? At first I said "no", but, after thinking about it, I do "excuse" it because this type of belief, while not literally true, is IMHO necessary for the success of the larger society. For any society to compete, it must trigger the genetic fighting instinct and send young people off to war. That is rational from the point of view of the larger society, but not strictly rational from the selfish point of view of an individual.

You provide an excellent example of how, starting with different assumptions, rational logic can yield totally different conclusions regarding Europeans wresting control of the Americas from the indigient peoples. I think "we stole it fair and square".

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

OOPS - In my previous Comment I meant "indigenous" people (not "indigent" :^)

While I am at it, let me Comment on the last two points in Joel's excellent Topic, woman's liberation and the Pythagoreans.

One advantage of memes over genes is that they can change more rapidly.

The genotype evolves due to random mutations and crossover which alters a small percentage of DNA codes and mixes and matches genes from mother and father in different patterns. The phenotypes (individual animals) compete for resources and mates and, in general, those with the gene combinations that best "fit" the environment have higher survival and reproduction rates. The less "fit" gene sets tend to die out.

Memes work in a similar way, but more rapidly. (I like Dawkin's word "memes" because it sounds like "genes". It captures the concept better than "traditions" or "customs". Memes include things like language and imprinting and indoctrination.) Memes are inherited not only from your father and mother, but also from siblings, relatives, neighbors, teachers, books, media, and so on. Unlike genes that require random chance, memes can be modified on the basis of rational thought.

However, despite "Rosie the riveter" of WWII, and modern kitchen and laundry appliances freeing women from some domestic duties, and more jobs that require brains over brawn, women are still not out of their "traditional place" in most of the world or even in the US and westernized countries.

Logically they should be. My wife and daughters and many women I know are nearly totally there. They are the exceptions.

It has been nearly 200 years (ten generations) since women first got the vote (in New Zealand :^). Some Islamic countries allow them to vote but most restrict or forbid it. It will, sadly, be many generations before the woman's liberation meme trumphs.

The strange dietary and other beliefs of the Pythagoreans stand in sharp contrast alongside their ultra-rational mathematical discoveries. That illustrates the amazing flexibility of the human mind! I have met some ultra-religious people who are, at the same time, absolutely rational scientists. One was a biologist who had done important genetic research and who nevertheless insisted the biblical creation timeline was true.

"Strange is man when he follows after his gods."

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

It seems to me that we are short a word here. We have "rational," irrational" and non-rational" so far. Perhaps we need a word for incorrectly yet impressively reasoned. How about malrational or some such word.

Ira said in a previous post: "Spinoza gets the emotions and their relations to each other right, but (IMHO) for the wrong reasons. Spinoza's dedication to reason was so strong that he was totally in control of his emotions. Like an asexual psychologist who goes to the burlesque show and watches the audience, Spinoza observed the human condition like an alien anthropologist!"

Spinoza is not one of my favorite philosopher guys. (Neither is Plato, but at least one can say that even if he didn't have any of the answers, he asked all the right questions.) Spinoza was admired by Einstein for his efforts to put the investigation of God on a firm mathematical footing, not necessarily for his conclusions. Spinoza tried to be the Euclid of the study of God. The only trouble is that he failed. His notions of the properties of infinity were wrong and therefore his most fundamental statements and propositions are all wrong. For instance, the proposition that there cannot be two infinities is wrong. (The set of all rational numbers and the set of all irrational numbers, for instance.) However, given the state of knowledge of numbers and the lack of understanding of momentum, Spinoza can be forgiven his errors. With respect -Joel

joel said...

Ira also said: Each of Euclid's axioms are testable by any intelligent person. For example, considering a flat plane (such as a piece of paper), it is clear that .....

Joel responds: Let's not forget that all of Euclid's geometry can be "proven" by an intelligent person's recourse to experimentation or measurement of the type you describe. In Euclid's system an axiom must be accepted for what it is; an assumption. Everything after that is pure logical proof. Useful non-Euclidian geometries are of course possible using different axioms that are not apparent to intelligent people. However the results are highly useful (and more accurate) in a relativistic world.

We have the same problem with Newton. An attractive force is axiomatic for Newton. Such a force was counter-intuitive at the time. The results were acceptable and useful, but nonetheless, the axiom remains unproven and illogical. So, we have a situation in which a highly rational system of thought is built upon an irrational assumption.

In a like manner we have many intelligent thinkers of the past making the assumption that the world is under the control of an all-powerful and perfect Being. They proceed with great intelligence along a rational path that leads to provable errors like circular planetary orbits and geocentricity. Do we say that these intelligent people were irrational? or their reasoning was incorrect? or that their first axiom was wrong? With respect -Joel

Howard Pattee said...

I agree with Joel that “rational” is too vague a term. I also like “malrational” ― the clear, logical, argument that is wrong. The scholastics using Aristotle’s logic to justify their religious beliefs might be an example; Spinoza also.

To back up a bit, Joel said, “As to the idea that religious indoctrination being virtually unassailable simply because of age, I have to differ. I don't think that the age of a tradition has anything to do with its survival. What counts is the number of people who currently believe in a tradition. When that number is beyond a critical value, the tradition is very difficult to overturn.”

I agree that age is not the cause of survival of traditions. I think most organized religion memes persist and appear unassailable primarily because that is the way they are imprinted in the young. To believers they are unassailable because they cannot assail what is taught to them as the “Word of God” and “Eternal Truth.” I do not have much evidence for Ira’s claim that they persist because they are socially adaptive. I have a lot of evidence that organized religions are deadly competitors. They have never cooperated.

This is NOT the fault of the genes that are the precursor for all kinds of healthy personal religious beliefs. Like the genes that are the basis for language, religious genes are non-specific with respect to the memes of particular religious dogma or the memes of a particular language. It is clear that as a child the religion you believe in, like language you speak, is indoctrinated by your family and its local culture. Fortunately, we are usually taught language without fear and moral threats, and we naturally become aware that other languages work just as well as our own. On the contrary, organized religions are usually taught as the only Truth, the final Word of God, and that if you don’t accept this dogma you will not only be rejected by your family and friends, but you will be in deep trouble with God. I do not see evidence that this is a healthy approach to religion. As the parochial schools, madrasahs, yeshivas, and home schoolers know only too well, if you imprint a religious meme early and strictly enough in children then their adult minds will never be free of it. This is certainly one reason for the persistence of unhealthy religious memes.

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel has introduced an interesting tangent related to Spinoza's concept of God and of infinity.

Joel makes two claims:

1) "Spinoza was admired by Einstein for his efforts to put the investigation of God on a firm mathematical footing, not necessarily for his conclusions."

2) "Spinoza tried to be the Euclid of the study of God. The only trouble is that he failed. His notions of the properties of infinity were wrong and therefore his most fundamental statements and propositions are all wrong. For instance, the proposition that there cannot be two infinities is wrong."

I'd appreciate more information on these claims, particularly an Internet link or two with a quote from Einstein's writings about Spinoza and his conclusions regarding the nature of God.

I am not sure that Spinoza used the term "infinite" (for example in claiming that God had an infinite number of aspects) in the sense that mathematicians use it in their human-created abstract world of mathematical concepts.

I interpret Spinoza as claiming that God is the entirety of the Universal substance, of which the Earth and biological life on it are but an infinitesmal part.

According to quantum mechanics, energy comes in discrete packets ("quanta") and thus is not continuous (it cannot be infinitely divided into smaller and smaller quantities). Since energy and mass are interchangeable (E=MC^2), mass is not infinitely divisible. I do not believe anyone claims there was an infinite (in the mathematical sense) quantity of energy/mass at the "big bang" event, so the Universe consists of a finite quantity of energy/mass quanta. If space/time is curved in upon itself and consists of ten or eleven dimensions (according to string theory), some of which are quite tightly wound, and if space/time is also quantized, then the Universe, which appears to us to be continuous and infinitely large, is both finite and discrete.

When mathematicians consider infinity and levels of infinity (aleph-0, aleph-1, and so on) and offer mathematical proofs that Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis (1874) is consistent with ZF set theory (Godel 1940) or not (Cohen 1963), they are manipulating a discrete set of symbols that may or may not relate exactly to the real world. I, personally, am not impressed with Godel's "diagonalization" at all!

To "Flatlanders" (limited to two space dimensions plus time) the surface of a finite sphere is infinite because they can go in what appears to them to be a straight line in any direction forever. We humans are only one dimension higher than Flatlanders, and thus nearly as far from the inconceivable ten or eleven space/time dimensions of the real world.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Ira said: I'd appreciate more information on these claims, particularly an Internet link or two with a quote from Einstein's writings about Spinoza and his conclusions regarding the nature of God.


Joel responds: I'll get to work on it right away. Be patient, because I broke all the most fundamental rule concerning backing up my computer data. My older Mac has died and I can't seem to revive it. My new Mac doesn't seem to like the memory sticks I used to backup my old files. Anyhow, I want to recover that information. It was a website about Einstein's religious beliefs which I'm sure I can find again. With respect -Joel

joel said...

Hi Ira,
Though I haven't recovered my files, here's a site that has information about Einstein's religious views and one quote for flavor. Let me emphasize however that I don't care about Einstein (or anyone else). I'm a non-authoritarian. It's the idea not the man that counts for me. With respect -Joel

http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/spinoza2.html

From a letter to Dr. Dagobert Runes, Sept. 8, 1932, Einstein Archive, reel 33-286, quoted in Jammer, pp. 44 - 45

When asked to write short essay on "the ethical significance of Spinoza's philosophy," Einstein replied:

I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza. But what I think about this man I can express in a few words. Spinoza was the first to apply with strict consistency the idea of an all-pervasive determinism to human thought, feeling, and action. In my opinion, his point of view has not gained general acceptance by all those striving for clarity and logical rigor only because it requires not only consistency of thought, but also unusual integrity, magnamity, and — modesty.

joel said...

Howard made the following interesting comment.

Fortunately, we are usually taught language without fear and moral threats, and we naturally become aware that other languages work just as well as our own.

Joel responds: Perhaps it would be interesting to examine the counter-examples. There might be some commonality with religious conflict. The Belgians still are fighting about their languages; French and Flemish. They definitely are not as rational about the situation as Howard might hope. In France, there's a movement to bring back the ancient language of the Langedoc, which makes no sense at all. Hawaiian chauvanistss insist their children should be taught science and mathematics in Hawaiian despite the fact that the Hawaiians were a stone age people lacking in any technological vocabulary. French Canadians insist on their language being used on road signs in Qu├ębec. The Chinese and Japanese insist on their pictograms despite the fact that they are an impediment in the computer age. Governments all over the world fund committees for the preservation of the local language.

Howard is exactly right that there is no reason for us to remain stuck on a particular codec just because we grew up with it. Nevertheless, we seem to be stuck, for no rational reason. English is the de facto lingua franca of the world, but the suggestion that this situation should be formalized brings anger akin to suggesting everyone should adopt the same religion. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

I don't want to "pile on" against Howard, but I have to agree with Joel's critique of Howard's idea that "we naturally become aware that other languages work just as well as our own."

Joel mentions several recent counter-examples of xenophobia (fear or contempt of foreigners or strangers who speak different languages). Many people become enraged when they hear a language different from their native tongue, or even a person speaking their own language but with a foreign accent.

My grandparents and Vi's parents had foreign accents. Therefore, we are quite tolerant in that regard. Our childhood exposure served us in good stead as adjuncts at Binghamton University. A little effort trying to understand goes a long way. Faculty and students with foreign accents can be as smart, or smarter, than native English speakers.

However, some of our students and other faculty members found it difficult to understand foreign accents. Some members of our synagogue here in Florida could not understand the Israeli-accented English spoken by a member and therefore did not want him to lead any part of our service. (For his part, he was probably distressed by our terrible accents when we recited the Hebrew prayers :^).

As usual, there is a very good biological explanation for xenophobia! Every breed of songbird has a particular "species song". (Experiments with birds raised in audio isolation proved they never-the-less sing a simplified version of their species song.) However, each neighborhood group of birds of a given species sings a different elaboration of that species song. If a conspecific with a different "accent" invades a tree, it is attacked and chased away.

Similarly, tribes living in proximity, who may be related several generations back, nearly always develop ways of detecting a non-tribe member. This takes the form of language variations, hair styles, facial markings, etc.

These are biologically-based adaptations for "kin selection". Animals from birds to tribal humans use this type of xenophobia to protect their territory and resources.

In modern industrialized society, much of this type of kin selection language tribalism has died down, only to be replaced by what may be called regional or occupational or professional language xenophobia.

For example, what I call "soda" is "pop" in other regions. In the Binghamton, NY area, we eat "speidies" and "hot pie", (shishkabob and pizza). "Beethoven" street is not pronounced "BAY-toven" but "B-THOV-en". In New York City, "Houston" street is not "You-ston" but "HOUSE-tun". In the US bicyclists say "car up" to warn others of an approaching car, probably derived from "Car! look up". In England "car up" means a car coming from behind, explained to me as derived from "car up your bum".

Every occupation or profession uses English words that have very specific meanings, often quite different from their general meaning in ordinary English. Some of that is necessary for good communications between co-workers, but it also serves to label the outsider or newby.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

MALrational?

Joel wrote: "It seems to me that we are short a word here. We have 'rational', 'irrational' and 'non-rational' so far. Perhaps we need a word for incorrectly yet impressively reasoned. How about malrational or some such word."

Howard wrote: "I agree with Joel that 'rational' is too vague a term. I also like 'malrational' ― the clear, logical, argument that is wrong. The scholastics using Aristotle’s logic to justify their religious beliefs might be an example; Spinoza also."

I Googled "malrational" and found no Internet definitions available and one usage (dated 05 Sep 2007):

"Irrational means 'not rational'-- not based on reasons. Nothing says the reasons have to be good ones. I guess basing your beliefs on bad logic would be.... 'malrational'. You heard the word here first! I claim it and I want 2.3 NT every time someone uses it in a publication!"

Before we send our 2.3 NT (New Taiwanese Dollars) to this guy let us understand what we mean.

Is "malrational":

1) Conclusions obtained using FAULTY LOGIC on correct assumptions

-or-

2) Conclusions obtained using correct logic on FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS

It appears to me that "irrational" would fit under (2). For example, an "irrational fear of dogs" is based on the faulty assumption that all dogs will bite you or give you a disease, etc. If that were true, then it would make perfect logical sense to avoid contact with all dogs. The logic is good but the underlying facts are wrong. (Such irrational fears are often the result of imprinting/indoctrination - a mother irrationally afraid of dogs who impressed those faulty assumptions on a young child.)

Therefore, by process of elimination, "malrational" would have to be (1), starting with correct assumptions but using faulty logic. Does anyone have a good example of that? One that I can think of is: High levels of CO2 are observed in the ice core record 800 years after the onset of global warming periods (correct assumption); therefore, the current increasingly high levels of CO2 are predictive of a global warming period and we can prevent that from happening by drastically reducing human production of CO2 (faulty logic, of the form: A causes B therefore B causes A).

Ira Glickstein

PS: The guy who coined the word "malrational" is engaged in a facinating discussion on the linked website about the existence of God. He closes all his postings with the following wisdom:

"In freeing ourselves of some of the shackles that held us down, we removed some of the bindings that kept us together."

Howard Pattee said...

I agree with Joel and Ira that language memes can also be dogmatic. That was not my point. When that is the case it only contributes to my point that the survival of such dogmatic memes is not just because they might be adaptive, but because they are taught dogmatically to children at an imprinatable age. They become hardwired, so to speak. This is unhealthy because it prevents adaptation.

The discussion of Einstein and Spinoza leads me to one topic on which I can surely disagree with Ira, Einstein, and Spinoza ― determinism. (Ira and I have differed on this for decades!)

It is true that Aristotle and common sense lead us to believe that every event has at least one efficient cause. The problem is that there is absolutely no empirical evidence for strict determinism, even though approximate determinism is common and often mistaken for strict determinism. Of course “approximate determinism” is strictly an oxymoron. All the currently accepted physical evidence is against strict determinism. Furthermore, common sense in general has proven totally inadequate for small sizes, short times, and high energies, even though it works well enough for ponderable bodies and most human events. A belief in determinism is therefore the same type of useful approximation as was the belief that the Earth is flat. Such common sense memes are difficult to replace simply because one has a very difficult time imagining the alternative until it is forced on the mind by unavoidable evidence.

Howard Pattee said...

Ira’s quote from the Formosan who claims he coined “malrational” is an apparent paradox I have been interested in for a long time.
“In freeing ourselves of some of the shackles that held us down, we removed some of the bindings that kept us together.”
It is nearly the converse of an observation by Igor Stravinsky in Poetics of Music:
“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself from the chains that shackle the spirit . . . and the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

This is generally true, not just for music. For example, it is only because we impose the constraints of grammar that we have the freedom to express ourselves in language. And for some reason I do not understand, when we impose even more arbitrary constraints as in poetry, say a sonnet, we can often express some thoughts even more effectively. This means there must be an optimum level of constraint, because adding too many constraints will obviously limit what we can express.

Both conservatives and liberals should not depend on ideological dogma, but should ask what is the optimum level of laws (i.e., government-imposed constraints) that free the individual from the “chains that shackle the spirit”?

joel said...

Hi Ira,

I still haven't recovered my files, but I've found a few interesting things searching around the net. One writer seems to think that an effort to follow Spinoza cost Einstein the discovery of the expanding universe.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week839/exclusive.html

In Spinoza Einstein also found a champion for his belief in a deterministic universe that could be understood by human reason. Spinoza's pantheistic philosophy held that the cosmos was an extension of God or Nature and was therefore fundamentally immutable and strictly ruled by cause and effect. Einstein regarded Spinoza's conception of the universe so highly that he committed what he called the biggest blunder of his career in an effort to preserve his own vision of it. In 1915, he inserted an extra term, the "cosmological constant," into his theory of general relativity so that it would yield a static universe similar to the one described by Spinoza instead of the expanding one his calculations produced without it. When astrophysicist Edwin Hubble's observations revealed in 1929 that the galaxies in our universe were indeed hurtling away from each other, Einstein realized that this error had cost him the opportunity to be the first to announce that the cosmos was expanding.

joel said...

Howard said: I agree with Joel and Ira that language memes can also be dogmatic. That was not my point. When that is the case it only contributes to my point that the survival of such dogmatic memes is not just because they might be adaptive, but because they are taught dogmatically to children at an imprinatable age. They become hardwired, so to speak. This is unhealthy because it prevents adaptation.

Joel responds: I'm not sure about the preventing adaption part. I notice that in this retirement community, people are very adaptive when it comes to Christianity. People don't seem to be as dogmatic as their religions might like them to be. Christians seem to attend whatever church is most convenient and most are unaware of the historical differences that drove them to separate. It seems that's a good thing that may be unique to the U.S.

Joanna and I were visiting an old (of course) church (Catholic, of course) in France. There was one other couple there and we struck up a conversation. He was a Parisian who had visited America. He told me this quip that is very true. "In France we have 347 different cheeses and only one religion. In America, you have only one cheese and 347 different religions."

Where there is religious liberty and diversity, differences that might end up in constant sniping within a religion, instead result in splintering and relative peace. No sect has sufficient power to coerce the others. It seems that this is a highly adaptive and beneficial behavior. With respect -Joel

Stu Denenberg said...

After reading Ira, Joel and Howard's comments here are my unorganized (and hopefully not incoherent) responses:

Joel said: I would contend that all thinking requires a leap of faith at some point. This is a very similar observation made by Pirsig “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. He even has a chapter entitled: "The Church of Reason" claiming that this is where scientists worship and is based on faith which is no different than any other church. I used to work with a biologist who insisted that the theory of evolution was at it's core also based on faith--- what Pirsig would call faith in reason; the faith that reason can and will uncover truth.


Joel said: regarding the Pythagoreans: "The movement was united by the belief that “all is number.” which reminded me of the quote, “God created the Integers, all else is the work of Man” – Dirac?

As far as I can see a meme is just a fancy word for a belief. Am I oversimplifying here?

Joel said: “In Euclid's system an axiom must be accepted for what it is; an assumption. Everything after that is pure logical proof.”

I can go further: what about the inference system itself; when is it permissible to make a logical step, when is a “stretch” and when is it just plain wrong?

Ira said : "Therefore, by process of elimination, "malrational" would have to be (1), starting with correct assumptions but using faulty logic. Does anyone have a good example of that? One that I can think of is: High levels of CO2 are observed in the ice core record 800 years after the onset of global warming periods (correct assumption); therefore, the current increasingly high levels of CO2 are predictive of a global warming period and we can prevent that from happening by drastically reducing human production of CO2 (faulty logic, of the form: A causes B therefore B causes A).'

An example of faulty logic might be might be like the logic used inthe old joke: I’m glad I don’t like spaghetti because if I did like it then I’d eat it and I hate the stuff!” I think this logical error is called “begging the question” where one makes the mistake of assuming the consequence of an argument is assumed in its premise. As the Wikipedia site explains, “the premise (the principle, the beginning) depends on the truth of the very matter in question.”

Howard said: “In freeing ourselves of some of the shackles that held us down, we removed some of the bindings that kept us together.”
It is nearly the converse of an observation by Igor Stravinsky in Poetics of Music: The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself from the chains that shackle the spirit . . . and the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

Reminds me of an old (Jewish?) saying to the effect that: In order to make music a string must be constrained at both ends.


And, speaking of making music, what about you "lurkers" out there? When are you going to come out of the shadows and make your contribution to this discourse? You know this blog really cannot succeed unless more fresh ideas are mixed into it.

End of Sermon,
Stu