RE: Books on rationality... uh, Philosophy?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Jun 09 2002 - 20:28:56 MDT


> Elsewhere I thought that you wrote (but perhaps it was
> someone else) that we could all be talking about the
> same thing, but using different terms (and perhaps
> different concepts).

Yes, that was me

> Yes, it should be possible even
> starting from a solipsist POV that having a *model* of
> an objective reality would be very practical, and
> certainly could not be dismissed out of hand as an
> hypothesis.

I agree, this model can be useful. On the other hand, it can sometimes be
counterproductive. When interacting with people who have very different
approaches to life, or who come from very different cultures, it can be more
useful sometimes to assume that reality is subjective and there are
multiple, sometimes-overlapping realities.

In science, the "single objective reality" model is pretty useful. In
personal life, I find it less so. In quantum physics, its utility is
certainly debatable (it's been much debated by pretty smart people, without
a firm conclusion).

> Specifically, where do you find fault with the conjecture
> that there is a material universe "out there" and that we
> are evolved creatures within it?

It's a useful hypothesis, which I find valuable sometimes.

It doesn't explain to me very well what I experience while deeply
meditating, or what I experienced in the past while tripping on LSD or
mushrooms. At those times, I found/find other hypotheses more useful.

Of course, from the realist perspective, meditation or psychedelics just
cause you to experience certain illusions thru affecting your

But from the relativist, mystical perspective, empirical reality is just a
kind of "autopoietic system", a kind of self-referential attractor that
holds itself together, without any more "fundamental reality" than any other
illusion -- just with a higher degree of cohesion and persistence...

I find each of these views valuable in different ways, and I particularly
enjoy maintaining them both at the same time ;)

But, I am a weird dude, what can I say...

> > This is elementary stuff, but realist philosophers don't seem to get it.
> Realist philosophers going all the way back to J. J. C. Smart have
> dealt quite adequately with hypotheses that our brains are in vats.

I read a lot of that stuff 12-15 years ago, but I was never convinced....
My memory of it is fuzzy though. If you'd like to refresh my memory with a
couple paragraphs, I wouldn't mind.... I do remember reading an awful lot
of tedious philosophy papers about brains in vats, that's for sure!

Philosophically, I consider myself a "pragmatist" in the sense of Charles S.
Peirce (e.g. volume 8 of his collected works, "Scientific Metaphysics"). I
don't agree with everything Peirce said, but most of it. I am also pretty
sympathetic to the late philosophy of Nietzsche, e.g. Book III of the "Will
to Power", and "The Twilight of the Idols."

Finally, I'll reiterate that, while I find philosophy both fun and
intellect-strengthening, I don't take it all that seriously. It often does
strike me as a bunch of word-play, in the late-Wittgensteinian sense.
Remember, Wittgenstein's main point in his late work was to convince people
not to bother to do philosophy, because it was mostly just quasi-meaningless
playing with words. He failed in his mission of course, his work has merely
served to stimulate more and more philosophy papers ;->

-- Ben G

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