Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Skepticism, Libertarianism, and the Autistic Mindset

Skeptics doubt the existence of God. In my opinion, religious belief is founded upon a category error; the use of social intelligence to understand facts about physical universe. Why questions presuppose an intentional actor. If someone asks me why a t-shirt is lying on the floor, it is not a question of how it came to be there, but of why someone left it there. The how allows for a wind to have blown it there from a position where it might be drying, but the why looks for the reasons that someone left it there.

Likewise, religious questions assume an intentional actor, asking why questions. Science cannot answer why questions, because the questions bear assumptions that are not established. In this sense, skeptics' doubt about the existence of God are entirely valid. You must first establish the existence of agency before asking agency related questions.

But this tendency to ask about intentionality where none exists is typical of people who rely upon social rather than rational intelligence. The converse, among skeptics, is to rely upon rational intelligence rather than social intelligence. But this, too, has its hazards.

Social intelligence is what autistic and auspergers people lack, and it now seem to me that this is broader in the population than previously believed, and only problematic in people on the autistic spectrum. Those on the autistic spectrum, no matter how shallowly, are right about religions, but wrong about much else. I believe that any discussion of ethics must begin with social intelligence. Hume and Kant did not begin with this, and I think this led to a muddled theory of ethics during the Enlightenment. An is cannot be an ought unless the ought is an is--in other words, ethics must be foundational to personality, an inescapable assumption in all things, and this ought is a product of social intelligence. There is no "view from nowhere" in ethics--all ethical considerations are from a human perspective, and human beings are social animals. Rational intelligence is useless in establishing this foundation. Isolation is death, physically and psychologically. Society is life, and society requires compassion and cooperation. But rationality will not tell you this. A study of history and psychology might, but even that is open to interpretations, which can go horribly wrong under the influence of ideology. And oddly enough, much of religious ethics are rational, abstracting from human concerns and making an ideological supreme being the cornerstone of the entire system.

But to people who value rational over social intelligence, the idea of social interdependence may well be foreign concept. It's not that they can't think of it, but it is not the first thing they think of, and other ideas can get in the way. Libertarianism is one of those ideas. Libertarianism is attractive to people who see the world exclusively in rational terms because it promises them a world where they do not need to be concerned with others--a world where social intelligence is not required. I believe that Marxism operated in the same way, a one-size-fits-all system of ethics that bypassed social intuitions in favor of rational ideology. The same applies to Utilitarianism and a wide variety of other ethical systems, including the work of Peter Singer, which in my opinion would be disastrous in application (his suggestion that we send half of the wealth of the first world to the third world would be the equivalent of nuclear carpet bombing--look at what oil wealth has done to Saudi Arabia.)

Furthermore, this may go a long way to establishing why there is so much anger seeking a target on the internet in general (populated largely by nerds) and particularly among the skeptical community, who rely almost exclusively on rational intelligence. Much has been said about misogyny among these groups, and it's true, but this may be a symptom, not the root cause. The root cause is more likely to the accumulated rage of people who do not know how to conduct themselves with others, and who often fail in self-presentation, verbal self-defense, and reading social cues from others. And this would be nowhere more evident than in their dealings with the opposite sex. Hence their antagonism towards women, whose motivations and reasons would appear indecipherable to them. On average, women tend to specialize more in social intelligence while men focus on rational intelligence, although the split is more like 60/40 on both sides, rather than all or nothing. This is why autism is so much more prevalent in males.

In summary, words of advice to my rationalist fellows:

1. You are right about religion, but this doesn't make you smarter overall, just smarter in one particular way.
2. Ethics is a matter that begins in the heart, not in the head. If you start with rationality, you will go nowhere.
3. You have little core competence in subjects relating to social matters, including politics and sociology. Your theories on these subjects are very likely to be bunk. You will be attracted to easy answers based upon rational constructs, but human society is the most complex phenomenon in the natural world, and we have no comprehensive models for it. Never assume that you do.
4. You probably have anger management issues because you don't know how to express your anger, or many of your other feelings, in an effective manner, and this has left you at the mercy of those with better social intelligence. Begin with the understanding that tantrums just make you look like a loser, and try to learn compassion and discipline.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Formula

There is a standard formula for media which draws and engages people, a formula followed by publishers since the 18th century. We can see it in yellow journalism of all kinds: shock jock radio hosts, Fox News, the Huffington Post, and political blogs of all stripes. It goes back to the Penny Dreadfulls, to the rags of the French and American Revolutions. Even Ben Franklin was a notorious purveyor of yellow journalism, which is how he kept his publishing business profitable.

Of course, not everyone follows the formula; it is possible to draw a following with insight and information, with genuine knowledge and expertise. You can attract people with this, but it requires effort, and it won't make you rich. Your profit margin will be low, and you won't become a media baron--at best, you will become a media presence.

But if you wish to become a media baron, the formula is simple. Here it is:

1) Choose Your Audience: Decide what your target audience is. It must be a broad section of society, usually a major political faction or party. The smaller and more special interest the group, the smaller your following. So, for example, don't target a specific Christian sect, target all Christians, and keep it vague. Lumping them all in together will become easier once you define them by providing enemies. It is far easier to unite people against something than it is to unite them for something. The key is to create something they can all hate.

2) Make People Angry: People are engaged by strong emotions, and the best is anger. Too much fear will drive them off, sentimentality is hard to maintain (though some manage), and laughter takes talent. Anger, though, is dead simple. It requires no research, no talent, and little expense. One needs only follow the rules of the formula.

3) Create Enemies: Tell your audience that those who disagree with them are dedicated to their downfall. Tell them that these people are their enemies, and if they should suceed, all that your audience have ever worked for or hoped for will be undone. Tell your audience that they are dangerous, and that their success will bring on something akin to the apocalypse. Prurient outrage is the easiest; show that the enemy likes sex, and your audience will never forgive him.

4) Build Strawmen: Under no circumstances present these enemies as reasonable people. Distort their views until they become monsters. Having done so, demonstrate how these views lead to every manner of crime and catastrophe. Depict them as advocates and practitioners of every vice and sin imaginable, and encouraging the same for everyone else.

5) Lie: Lies will feed your accusations, and outrage the opposition, so you will now have anger from all sources. Even your opponents will now frequent your media, if only to try to counter what you are saying. This will give you their names and addresses (which you can sell) and extra sales, but you can also select the worst of these outraged responses to print or post for the amusement of your target audience, and the further outrage of the opposition.

6) Teach Nothing: Reality is surprising and rarely conforms to our expectations, but anything that does not conform to the expectations of your audience will make them uncomfortable. Shield them from this, or they may desert you. If an new fact appears, spin it so that it does not challenge their beliefs. If there is a lesson to be learned, hide it. The only lesson they should hear is for others, not for them. Assure them that there is nothing that they need to learn. Best of all, this means that you require no research, which is expensive. You need only provide opinions on what is already known, and this is dirt cheap.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Be Good?

In response to a number of blogs and articles which claim that there is no material reason to be good, and the claim that morality is a holdover from religion, there are a number of responses that have stood the test of time. Plato's Euthyphro is one, in which it is pointed out that if goodness is based upon the opinion of higher beings, it is still merely a matter of whim, and that their must be a standard higher even than the gods by which the good is judged. It has also been observed that the ethics of religions themselves evolve through co-opting the ethical advances of the societies of which they are a part. Slavery is a good example: there is nothing in the Bible against it, and yet all of Western civilization has come to the conclusion that it is wrong. The same is now happening with regard to women's rights and gay rights. These changes are imposed upon religions from without. They must come from elsewhere. So what is the root of human goodness, and the driving force behind ethical reasoning?

As any society advances and grows in numbers, it is faced with problems related to higher populations making greater demands upon limited resources, and higher population densities which must be managed so that their living space (ultimately, cities) do not become toxic waste dumps. The solution to these problems is technological; unless these problems are solved, high mortality rates will keep population numbers low. Technology is required both to allow for lower mortality and to cope with the greater numbers made possible by it. This growth of technology is a growth in knowledge, and to deal with this the society must pursue increasing specialization. We need doctors in multiple fields, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, programmers, engineers (again in multiple fields), policemen, city planners, accountants, and so on.

Now all of these specializations create informational disparity. If I bring a car in to have it fixed, I probably have no idea what needs to be done, the cost of the parts, the work involved, or the true cost of all of it. I have to trust that the mechanic is not cheating me. There is competition, of course, but it is never perfect. I may have to go to a particular shop who specializes in my make of car. I can, of course, do research on this and become something of an expert on the car I drive. But I have limited time; I cannot master all things, I must trust specialists in their area of specialization. Indeed, in order for an advanced civilization to function, it must operate on a basis of trust. Otherwise the advanced civilization that we now enjoy would become impossible. Life without trust is nasty, short, and brutish.

Consider societies where this trust does not exist. In ours, we take something from the shelf, and pay the sticker price. In societies that do not have this level of trust, they haggle over every price. But haggling takes time and expertise that could be better spent on our own areas of specialization. As a result, societies that haggle are poor.

Trust requires honesty. Salesmanship can only work if the claims made by salesmen are largely true. Every lie, every cheat, every act of sleaze costs us all. The liar is a freeloader. He is exploiting the trust that the rest of us work hard to establish for a quick payoff. He thinks he is getting away with it, but he isn't. First, of course, he is eroding the trust that our society needs to maintain itself. In this way, he is like the coyote in the Warner Brothers cartoons, sawing away at the plank that is supporting him over the abyss. But it goes further than that. If he brags to his friends about what he has done--and he will, to seek approval and justification for his actions--his friends will react in one of two ways. They may be encouraged to follow suit, thus eroding the foundation of society still further. Or, they may smile and nod, and realize that their friend is not to be trusted. And they will warn others, and for his short term gains, this man will pay a hundredfold.

Few sins can survive the light of truth. Honesty is the universal acid that burns all evil. War and tyranny require a bodyguard of lies. And honesty is required to sustain us in the style to which we have become accustomed; the style to which everyone in the world aspires to. So, to live a good life, you must be honest. And to be honest, you must be good.

Morality, it turns out, is required by the human situation. It is inescapable, if you wish to live in a world worth living in.

But some will say that that does not matter, that human concerns for comfort and prosperity are irrelevant, and that what is good might require mass human suffering. This is the morality of abstract principle. This is the morality of the bolsheviks and the Reich. Francis Fukuyama said that there are some mistakes you need a PhD to make. There are some mistakes you need to think too much, and feel too little, to make.

Let me take you on a thought experiment. I take your index finger and place it on a slab of granite, and with the other hand I take a three pound sledge, and I crush the end of your finger. Not enough to sever it, but enough to reduce the last two bones to razor sharp fragments of serrated bone, exploding the joint, permeating all the flesh--flesh, I might point out, which is so completely permeated with nerve endings that they can detect brail points a couple of millimetres apart, and all of these are now screaming a single signal of pain. The pain would be so intense that, if you were subject to cardiac weakness, it might well kill you. But at the very least, it will annihilate you. "Cogito ergo sum", Descartes said, but there would be no cogito, and no sum. You would cease to exist before a storm of raw qualia that would burn away all consciousness of everything except for that finger. You would become simply an animal in pain.

At that moment, if I were to ask you, "Is this good?", you would answer "No!" And you would know the truth of that with every fiber of your being. This is what a fact feels like.

Hume said that you cannot get an ought from an is. But what if the primal ought is an is? I suspect that all morality begins with a baby bumping his head, stubbing his toe, mashing or burning his finger, and screaming incoherently to the world, "THIS IS WRONG!" Psychopaths never connect their own pain to others, but normal people will, and will understand that unnecessary pain, particularly extraordinary pain, is always wrong, and not just for them, but for everyone.

And from this, all the rest follows.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Rise of the Goobermenschen

I read an article recently in the Nation about Nietzsche and Hayek. I'm not certain the author firmly establishes the link to Hayek--the main thrust of the argument seems to be that they were both from late 19th century Vienna--although some quotes near the end may nail his thesis, namely that Hayek did not favour liberty for the masses, but only for the elite. Frankly, I've always thought Hayek's work on distributed systems of information supported democracy and egalitarianism, but Hayek himself may not have seen it that way.

But what I was struck by, yet again, was the crude elitism of Nietzsche's philosophy, the ebuliant rush to kneel before the ubermensch. Yet despite all of his appeals to classical standards, Nietzsche's overman is a hero without virtues. All forms of morality are simply the imposition of the masses upon the Great Man. And the obvious question is that, if someone really is a Great Man, how is it that the masses were able to tame and subjugate him?

The answer is, they don't, nor was Christianity the origin of the virtue of charity. Generosity has always been the trait of great leaders; in the early sagas of northern Europe and Iceland, the great king is called the ring-giver, a man, or woman, whose exercise of charity and generosity sometimes takes them to the point of penury, and in this way inspires the loyalty that makes him or her a great leader. Christianity did not make charity a virtue, it simply recognized what was already regarded as a virtue in the ancient world, for Christianity owed as much to the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans as it did to that of the Jews. And in all of these cultures, charity was a virtue.

The truly great man or woman will rise in any society, and will do so with the blessing of the masses, because they will combine at least some of the classic virtues that all admire: generosity, humility, loyalty, courage, intelligence, creativity, honesty, wisdom, and knowledge. Any system of governance that discourages these or does not reward them will be quickly surpassed. Competition does not merely exist between individuals, but between groups. And any society that does not respect the full range of virtues will find itself in trouble.

Moral realism is a consequence of epistemological realism. If nothing is true, nothing can be good, and conversely, if one recognizes that there are facts that are the case, one must eventually accept that there are certain rules of social conduct that are better than others. Curiously, Nietzsche fell prey to a vestigial dogma; when he gave up Christianity, he did not give up the idea that all morals came from God. But he was no fan of evolution either. If he had been, he might have realized that we have evolved a conception of what is fair and good--indeed, we came to this point before we were human. All of the great apes share this sensibility. A chimpanzee, given a root vegetable when his neighbor is given a piece of fruit, will throw the vegetable away in protest, even though he is hungry. Even dogs know what is fair; a dog who plays roughly, and who does not bow and apologize for too rough play, is ostracized--a penalty that is usually lethal.

Because Nietzsche ignores the virtues, he became the champion of mediocrity, however much he wanted to be otherwise. Everyone thinks they are the ubermensch. Everyone thinks they are above average--it's a well known cognitive defect of our species. By stripping the hero of virtues, Nietzsche made it possible for anyone to claim to be a hero. His lowbrow descendant, Ayn Rand, painted greed as the mark of the hero, a development that Nietzsche would have despised--indeed, he despised most of his descendants. His sister married a proto-nazi, whom Nietzsche despised, and they came to blows with Nietzsche the loser.

It is astonishing how many intellectuals praise the marshal ethic, even though it is at best the willingness of the strong to protect the weak against thugs, while at worst (and most often), it is simply the ethos of the thug. Physical courage is of course a component of intellectual courage, but this does not mean a willingness or the capacity to beat people up. Rather, it means a determination to stand ones ground against physical threats. This is the essence of the Hegelian Master-Slave dialectic, in which the master becomes master by his refusal to accept any other role, and the slave overthrows him by doing the same. Christopher Hitchens, who, after forty years without physical exertion could not even be reasonably expected to be able to run away, much less fight, still stood his ground against physical threats and made no attempt to hide himself from those who meant him harm. Feminists would do well to take note; physical prowess is not required for physical courage, only the determination to stand one's ground. Only when feminists do this without resort to the protection of male officialdom will they be taken as equals, rather than delicate flowers to be coddled--and managed--by the man folk.

And yet, the thug is another example of the ubermensch gone to seed; the man of a single virtue, and a dubious one at that. A person with the virtues to avoid war, and to defeat the thugs with words, is worth a thousand who can win a war, because if you are at war, you've already lost.

Nietzsche didn't understand that. And so, we have the Goobermeschen.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Invocation of the Supernatural

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." - Seneca the Younger

I have come to the conclusion that most of religion has always consisted of the invocation of supernatural beings for material benefit. Sophisticated theology was never of interest to the rank and file of believers, but was to those who are, when you get right down to it, so far off the beaten path that they were heretics, or for all intents and purposes, atheists. I disagree with R. Joseph Hoffman when he claims that Spinoza and Einstein were not atheists. Spinoza was considered an atheist by the religious people of Amsterdam, who certainly knew a great deal more of what it means to believe in God than any of the atheist-buts in circulation today. As a former believer I can tell you that the dividing line is not whether you use the word God, but whether you believe you can pray to the thing and expect some sort of result. To be of the faithful, you must be open to the possibility of the miraculous. Close that door, and you have quit the church--all churches, forever. Both Spinoza and Einstein closed that door and locked it shut.

So much ink and invective is spent on the divide between those who believe religion to be true and those who consider it false that almost no attention is paid to Seneca's third party, the rulers. I'm talking about the likes of Karl Rove, Osama Bin Laden, and Vladimir Putin. Rove says in public that he is not fortunate enough to be a man of faith; in private, he calls his base "the crazies"--yet Rove can still play pied piper to that base, and deliver it reliably to you by playing a two note ditty of fags and fetuses. When W. met Putin, he said he knew he could trust him when he saw that he wore a crucifix. But a man who can easily exchange the hammer and sickle with a crucifix does not believe in God, he believes in nothing. And Bin Laden worshipped only himself, and called that Allah. The New Atheists never really concerned themselves with the dreams of the people, until it became clear that those dreams had became weapons in the hands of the rulers.

You might consider the invocation of supernatural beings pointless, given that they don't exist. But politicians invoke God to great material benefit, and it seems to work. They get elected, or gain power in other ways. It's a little bit of magical realism that intrudes upon the mundane. Now here's another bit of magical realism: you know that bit about not taking God's name in vain? I don't think that was about what you said when you hit your thumb with a hammer. I think that when those ancient Hebrews invented the whole damn business, they discovered that their leaders could not help justifiying themselves in the name of God, and this is what those surly, smelly old bastards wandering in from the desert were so upset about when they came up with that particular stricture. This has been going on a long time, long enough to get its own commandment.

Now, why this works has a great deal to do with one of the primary motivations for adherance to religion. Reason and evidence is great, but only if the person you're talking to has made an allegiance to the truth--that is, they are determined to know what's true regardless of whether they like it or not. Not many people have this conviction. This goes beyond science, beyond academic philosophy, and enters into the realm of philosophy as a way of life. Most human beings follow fashion; the loudest voice, the greatest number, the biggest celebrity, the most popular, the most successful, the biggest budget. If you speak for God, you are Oz the Great and Terrible, you speak with a Voice of Thunder, and you are always in fashion. And this applies whether you are a pundit, a politician, or just some idiot trying to shout down your neighbours.

All of which is terrible religion, and would have any self respecting prophet tearing their hair and gnashing their teeth. It's against the rules--their rules, as well as ours. But that's just sophisticated theology, and really, who cares? But it might be interesting to throw this in the face of the next believer who tries to shout at you with a Voice of Thunder.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Defense of Modernity

When discovering facts about the world, there is one method that is proven to work, and only one. It is usually called the scientific method, but it might more properly be called the modern method. It consists of discovering evidence, reasoning from that evidence to a conclusion or general principle, and then submitting both the evidence and the argument to the review of our peers, so that any flaws can be picked out and critiqued. This is the method we attempt in our science, our courts, our journalism, our history, our politics, and in any other area where we need to understand facts about the world.

This approach is now under attack from two directions: pre-modern understandings of the world, which include religion and old folk tales, and post-modern philosophies, by which all models of the world are equally valid. Post-modern arguments are now enlisted to defend pre-modern opinions--in the absence of absolute certainty, post-modernists have made the colossal mistake of assuming that nothing is true, and that all opinions are equal--leaving the field open to pre-modern opinions, not only of religions, but of other pre-modern cultures.

Although Marx made critiques of capitalism that cannot be ignored (or that we ignore at our peril) he also set the stage for post-modernism, with the idea that claims about social relations are not objective, but are always made in the context of the existing political economy, and are therefore relative to the current status quo. But his attack was only upon dominant opinions concerning social relations, which are aggregates of subjective opinion. It has no bearing upon facts. My pen in on my desk, and this fact falsifies all opinions which hold that my pen is elsewhere. Post-modernism jumps from the subjective to the objective, and from the denial of Truth with a capital T, to all truth. Their claim upon Marx as the father of this folly is almost entirely without basis, except that he seems to imply that there is nothing about human social relations that are matters of fact and not subject to revision (a public denial which will, I believe, bury Stephen Jay Gould's reputation in ignominy.) This is the basis of the nature vs. nurture debate, in which Marxists resolutely deny all influence of nature, genetics, evolution, or inborn talent or proclivity. Indeed, this is an attitude which persists across the entire left, which makes them blind to a number of social challenges. Try to talk to someone on the left about the uneven distribution of intelligence, and you will meet a brick wall. In an information age, in which everyone is expected to adapt to rapidly changing job requirements, how can you possibly address the problem of the permanently disenfranchised if you do not come to grips with this? What happens to the ditch diggers, the farm hands, the street sweepers, when all of these jobs are replaced by a man who must be smart enough to run an expensive machine that replaces them all? And so the most burning question of our age will be ignored by the right, who have no interest in solving it, and by the left, who have no interest in addressing it.

This blurring of subjective opinion and objective fact is encouraged by both religions and political ideologies, who find themselves in an empirical deficit, and seek to undermine the very standards of truth to get a free ride. The problem is particularly acute for theologians, whose discipline evinces all the trademark symptoms of an art, rather than a domain of knowledge: endless branching, proliferation, varying styles, forms, schools, a cacophony of opinions without recourse to any means of resolution, with many theologies beginning with outright contradictions, upon which anything can be proven. Certainly there are clever reasonings; Russell's proof that he was the pope, from the premise that 1 = 2, was a flash of brilliance, but utterly fallacious for all its genius, as Russell made clear. The faithful aren't stupid, but their intelligence yields only elaborate rationalizations, not truth. The problem, for theology, is made worse by the absence of any method of resolution. But as Orwell made so clear, without truth or a method to establish it, there is only the boot forever stamping on the human face. This is the Triumph of the Will; without reason and evidence, without truth, there is only force. Religion has no recourse but the boot. And it will always seek the power to stamp out its opposition.

Our modern habit of reasoned discussion and resolution is not shared by advocates of pre-modernism and post-modernism. They believe that there is no method leading to truth, and all opinion is established by force, and must be changed by force. The political correctness they advocate is enforced by the power of the police. The likes of Stanley Fish are court jesters who have long since ceased to amuse, perpetual adolescents under the protection of a king they no longer serve. Not Lear's fool, who spoke truth to power, but a populist fool who does not believe in truth.

If the protection of modernity were ever removed from these fools, they would be consumed by the chaos they invoke. Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for them, they are protected from that by the defenders of modernity, who know very well that there is nothing but the boot for those who abandon it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

We Only Visit Objectivity, But We Do Not Live There

Skepticism is a recurring theme in philosophy, but Descartes introduced the theme of radical skepticism, doubts concerning all knowledge. Modern philosophy was a war with partisans on all sides: idealism, materialism, spiritualism, rationalism, empiricism, and so on. This war reached the twentieth century with two camps still obsessed with certainty, Truth with a capital T. The Anglo analytics sought Truth in empiricism and rationality; the postmodernists observed the failure of the analytics to attain it and decided that there was no truth. But notice the loss of the capital T. The failure to find Eternal Truth does not mean that there is no truth. There is still truth in the particular sense: the cat really did sit on the mat. This does not mean that all cats sit on mats, but the particular event is still a fact. There is also truth in the provisional sense: this model of reality is, to the best of our knowledge, true, until contrary evidence disproves it and a better model is found.

Pragmatism took the approach that there is no truth, but we adopt what works. The problem with this approach is that the model that works best is also the most accurate, precisely because accuracy lends itself to unintended uses. A model of reality which simply proved useful would be useful only in those areas which had already been explored or exploited. But truth, by this model, should make technological innovation impossible, simply because there is no reason to assume that such pragmatic solutions, found workable in one application, would be applicable in novel situations. Take our model of the shape of the world. Because the curvature of the earth is so slight (about 0.000126 degrees per mile,) a flat earth was a workable model for farmers, or for navigators on the Mediterranean. To travel to the Americas, navigators needed the model of the world as a sphere. Newton predicted that the world would be an oblate spheroid; there is, in fact, a difference of about 44 kilometers difference between the radius at the poles and the equator. Useful for telemetry of orbits, perhaps, but not for navigation on the ocean. It later turned out that the earth is ever so slightly pear shaped, with a slight bulge in the north. Interesting, but not of much use unless you needed precise positioning down to centimeters.

But as Isaac Asimov remarked in The Relativity of Wrong, "...if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." The accuracy of our model of the world lends itself to novel and unintended results and uses. A purely pragmatic idea of knowledge does not provide for that.

We actually do know things. These may not satisfy the expectations of Truth, but they are true. These truths constitute knowledge, and knowledge narrows the possible. You can believe whatever you like, but you cannot know whatever you like; to actually know something, it must be true. The fact that my pen is on this desk means that it is not in the billions of other places that it could be. Indeed, it is the nature of knowledge to do so, to settle conjecture upon a single point. And this distinguishes knowledge from expression, which is the business of art, and which is as varied as individual experience and opinion. But no truth may contradict another truth. There are not many truths in the postmodern sense; you cannot affirm A & ~A without accepting nonsense and the death of knowledge. There are only many truths in the scientific sense, truths which link together to form a coherent model of the world. And while a model of reality is not reality itself, there is an isomorphic relation between the two. The model maps onto reality in a consistent way.

True, knowledge may consist of knowing someone's opinion of something, or of knowing the contents of mythologies. It is true that Tolkien's elves were immortal, which is of great interest to aficiandos of Tokien's mythology (of which I am one.) But this does not mean that elves exist, and one cannot spin this into knowledge of basic reality. Theology is knowledge of opinion and mythology, and a form of expression, but it must never be confused with knowledge of reality. Mythology tells us nothing about the world. But it does tell us a lot about ourselves.

Human beings are not very good at discovering truth, and are utterly incapable of discovering Truth. We are, however, very good at motivated reasoning; starting with a conclusion, we're very good at coming up with reasons to believe it. This comes in handy in convincing ourselves and others, but to actually figure something out, we need to submit ourselves to the discipline of evidence and peer review. That is, we need to be willing to admit it when we are wrong, and this is not something that comes easily to us. The material world, the world that exists independently of us, is not the world we live in. It is a world we visit with great effort and expense, and rarely at that.

We live in a world of ghosts. Memes are not ideas, nor clusters of ideas, for ideas have no emotive value. Memes have personality; we take them on because they fit into who we are. They are ideas or mannerisms that we like, usually fragments of people that we identify with, and we build ourselves out of these fragments. We live in an ocean of social currents, dreams, metaphors, longings, fantasies, and biases. Stories are a remarkably efficient means of compressing general ideas regarding the social sphere, about what it is to be human and to live with other people. But the creatures of myth are hyperbolic representations of ourselves and others. not real beings or events in the world. By confusing mythology with fact, the faithful lose these deeper meanings. The myths are about us. Science is about the material world, and world we visit only rarely and see only dimly.

We have no talent for cosmology. Our minds are adapted for the middle world, and the scales of the very large and very small are intuitively incomprehensible to us, as anything beyond space and time would be. Mathematics gives us some grasp on scales outside of our core competence, but mathematics without evidence is simply conjecture, and we will never have any evidence of something beyond our own universe--not any evidence that we can understand. Any question that includes "why" talks about intentionality, but intentionality is rooted in time, in the linear and temporal form or intent, followed by action, followed by consequence. To ask why there is something rather than nothing is an attempt to impose social explanations upon the material, and worse, to project intentionality beyond space and time itself, where intentionality as we understand it cannot possibly operate. This is both a category error and a colossal failure of imagination.

If we are actually going to know anything, we have to accept our limitations, and be willing to admit that we don't know when we don't know. This is not an open invitation to fill the void of ignorance with assumptions. To say that we don't know only means that we don't know; it doesn't mean that therefore, X could be true. X could be anything, and to say that anything could be true is the same as saying that nothing is true. We have to be content with our ignorance, and not fill that void with conjecture.