Sunday, September 11, 2011

Insightful or Rational? Meandering Reflections...

Circular reasoning upsets our sensibilities and infinite regress troubles us. I'm no exception. But on reflection it does strike me as odd that we are willing to postulate infinite space in all its varieties, closed or open, and yet regard their logical equivalents as fallacies. Certainly saying, "Children should not be tortured because it makes them suffer" is to some satisfactory. But to others, the intellectually curious, it begs the question "And?"

"Is torture not by definition the infliction of suffering? So, what you are saying is, in effect, that we should not torture because it is torture? And why did you specifically mention children? Does this imply we can can cause suffering to teenagers and adults but not the innocent?".

Intellectuals are like children. Almost anything you say to them begs a question. But forbid we get caught in a loop! It unnerves us. And having learned the magic of derivatives, we expect something as concrete and as solid as a number if we split the world into ever smaller parts. Concrete?? A number? What are those abstract ideas called ZERO, ONE and TWO anyway?? What does concrete really mean?

James P. Houston of Scotland, a.k.a. Curious, proposed on Talking Philosophy that perhaps morality requires no justification at all. This is tantamount to intuitionism. James concurrently asked what could possible justify not subjecting children to torture. A bit odd, but all right, let's run with it. Children and torture it is.

So, child torture is wrong because...well, to cause suffering is simply wrong, child or not. End of story! Right? Yes, but a thorough and universal application of this insight seems to implore us to something like Jainism. Unless we declare suffering a purely human condition. And even so we might have to come to terms with violence against our brethren in order to defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness against the brutality of the unenlightened. Those pesky vikings surfing the crest beyond the firth, willing to ransack, pillage and cause untold suffering.

We could claim that what got us into a Gordian knot above is reason itself. So we shed reason as such and abandon ourselves to the pure realm of intuition. Aum vajrapani hum...You will simply know when violence, and the ensuing suffering, is due and when not. I can sense in my very gut what it means to defend oneself and what it means to inflict undue torture. To the intuitionist this might seem fine, but I for one will have to scream out "Hold on! We have just jettisoned what seems to have given us Euler's formula, de Brogli waves and the Boyer-More algorithm!" I cannot, will not, no no no! It upsets my intuition and gives me heartburn. Calcium carbonate, please!

The Zen butcher might reprimand me, "Whenever you eat, you eat too much!"

He will fill me with sake and kick me onto the beaten path.

"Where do you get those wonderful steaks from anyway, Mr. Butcher?"

"What do you think, they grow on trees!!!

Off I go. Back to the mountain.

Philosophy is replete with claims about the obvious. We've developed a whole vocabulary to appeal to people's most basic sensibilities. Prima facie, self-evident, tautological necessity. The intuitionist will point to this and admonish the rationalist for trying to explain everything. "Why do you ask for the reason we should not torture children? Do you question that 1 + 1 = 2? Or that the ratio of a circle's circumference to diameter is always pi? Shame on you!"

"Fair enough. More sake, please. Can I get off this mountain now?"

Good houses are certainly built on firm bedrock, not puffy clouds in the sky with who knows how many thousand's of feet to the ground. Levitation is an art mastered only by the few "enlightened". And a little skepticism from the rest of us is not out of order. How do we chaff the "enlightened" from the "quacks"? Is it not the philosopher's job to socratically find that bedrock on which everything is built, and make such distinctions? Ah, yes, but the intuitionist bypasses all that nonsense, silencing the mind in 6 easy steps.

But for the rationalist there is, alas, no repose. She remains unconvinced. Her mind is still restless, her thoughts unsettled. Yes, she is aware of the conclusions of her own project: the incompleteness theorem. Ah, the incompleteness theorem, yes, the incompleteness theorem smiles the intuitionist.

"But what about everything between here and the unprovable axiomatic base of everything", protest the rationalist. She is flustered but insistent. "What about finding the smallest string of all strings? Help me Chaitin and Kolmogorov! Help me! "

"You mean Brahman", whispers the intuitionist. That magnificent but incomprehensible force behind everything. "Speak with me, Aum... " Ring, ring. "Hold on. Have to take this call. Brahmy is on the line. Be right back"

"Brahman, shaman", says the rationalist in stubborn refusal. "You know who wrote that software that makes it possible for us to share so much data over wireless frequency channels based on fast Fourier transformations? I did, my friend I did!" She is combative. "No torture because it's torture?? Brahman, shaman!" She is worked up.

"I have to call you back, dude. I've got Ms. Fizzy Tizzy Logic here. She's off on one of her dangerous escapades again. Yeah, I know. Exactly. Spot on. I'll call you right back, Brahmy." Click. "Look Ms. Fizzy Tizzy No Fuzzy, sometimes things can't be explained by your simple rules. And when you try it, you conclude that the moon is made of cheese. Come on. The moon is not made of cheese, is it. You just know that smack right there, no."

"No, it isn't. Obviously not because...."

"It isn't? You sure?"

"The whole moon is cheese thing is just bad prepositional logic, that's all! Look, it's easy to prove that..."


"I know what your trying to do Mr. Mushy All Feel Goody! You're just trying to get me caught in a game of stacking turtles on turtles!"

"You can call it what you want, baby. Your way it's turtles all the way. Not everything has a sufficient reason. Sometimes you just know, hotcakes."

"So Mr. I Feel It All Here in the Heart, are there an infinite number of primes?"

"Sure, yeah..."

"And how do you know this Mr.Cuddles? You feel it right there in your gut, do you?

"No, but Euclid...ah, ok, fine. Ah, yes, but what's a prime? Ha! Right there! Eh? What do say about that"

"A prime is by its very definition..."

"Never mind. I gotta call Brahmy back. I should give you the number. You definitely need to kick back, relax and connect sometimes".

Something rational is something achieved through the faculties of reason. In logic – its main tool – the conclusions must by necessity be a product of the assumptions. The illogical is something nonsensical, something that is unsound. When held in the mind it only produces disharmony. The consequent always necessarily follows from the antecedent. Logic cannot by the very nature of what it's meant to be, produce something that does not follow from the premises. This is true regardless of whether we speak of propositional, modal or any other type of logic.

If logic does not produce results by necessity, the very logic used to achieve the result must be altered. But what is consequently true is not necessarily correct, and what is consequently false is not necessarily incorrect. Everything hinges on the antecedents, the proposed axioms, the assumptions we make. If the axioms are correct, the result will be correct. And if the axioms are incorrect, then the conclusions will be incorrect. Or, in the latter case, I should say might or might not be incorrect. You can still produce a correct result despite flawed assumptions. They are unrelated to one another. But, importantly, you cannot produce a flawed outcome from accurate assumptions. Logic demands that it be structured such that this is an impossibility.

The rational is a powerful process, a set of strict rules that when applied step by step produces a valid outcome. It's no wonder that so many intellectuals are enamored with the rational to the detriment of the intuited. But its outcome will only necessarily accord with the facts if, and only if the facts used as an input are themselves true. And herein lays the crux.

So intuitions continue to haunt us as we descend the endless stack of ever stranger and transmogrified turtles. The transcendent truth – that torturing children is plain and simply wrong – temptingly calls us to abandon our search for stringent and logically foolproof grounding.

And then, as we are ready to nuzzle in the obviousness of it all, we are side swiped by the insanity of...

And we begin with fervor to again find undeniable, logically uncontradictable proof of the, to us, seemingly obvious, that child torture is an abomination. Turtles! Here I come!


1 comment:

Jim P Houston said...

Why don't cats grow on trees?