RE: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Mon Aug 26 2002 - 11:45:55 MDT

> 3) Beethoven's internal processes for tweaking the melody to find one
> that achieved the effect he wanted are not all known. But if you
> name any
> specific one, I will undertake to show how rationality underlies it.

But it's not a matter of "tweaking"... it's a matter of an overwhelming
experience of creative inspiration.

Many creative people have experienced forms and ideas pouring out as if from
some unknown inner source. Forms streaming, emanating, exploding -- so much
faster and more elegantly fit together than if they were consciously
reasoned out.

I started with Beethoven, but I don't know that much about his creative
process, so I'll shift to someone I'm more familiar with...

The most striking description of the creative experience I have seen was
given by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his autobiography, Ecce

"Has anyone at the end of the eighteenth century a clear idea of what poets
of strong ages have called inspiration? If not, I will describe it. -- If
one has the slightest residue of superstition left in one's system, one
could hardly resist altogether the idea that one is merely incarnation,
merely mouthpiece, merely a medium of overpowering forces. The concept of
revelation -- in the sense that suddenly, with indescribable certainty and
subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes one to
the last depths and throws one down -- that merely describes the facts. One
hears, one does not seek; one accepts, one does not ask who gives; like
lightning, a thought flashes up, with necessity, without hesitation
regarding its form -- I never had any choice.

"A rapture whose tremendous tension occasionally discharges itself in a
flood of tears -- now the pace quickens involuntarily, now it becomes slow;
one is altogether beside onself, with the distinct consciousness of subtle
shudders and one's skin creeping down to one's toes; a depth of happiness in
which evern what is painful and gloomy does not seem something opposite but
rather conditioned, provoked, a necessary color in such a superabundance of

"Everything happens involuntarily in the highest degree but as in a gale a
feeling of freedom, of absoluteness, of power, of divinity. -- The
involuntariness of image and metaphor is strangest of all; one no longer has
any notion of what is an image or metaphor: everything offers itself as the
nearest, most obvious, simplest expression.... "

OK -- so Nietzsche's experience of inspiration was particularly
overpowering. But it differs in intensity, rather than in kind, from the
"everyday" inspiration experienced by ordinary creative people.

Sometimes this "overpowering force" of which one is merely a "medium" is
experienced as an actual alien entity. In these relatively rare cases,
creative inspiration blurs into paranoid hallucination, or religious
inspiration. The great science- fiction writer Philip K. Dick was an example
of this. He felt himself being contacted by an artificial intelligence from
another star system. This AI being fed ideas into his mind, giving him the
plots for his last few novels, especially The Divine Invasion and Valis.
Dick's vision is too complex to discuss here in detail; I will merely quote
one entry from his journal:

"March 20, 1974: It seized me entirely, lifting me from the limitations of
the space-time matrix; it mastered me as, at the same instant, I knew that
the world around me was cardboard, a fake. Through its power I saw suddenly
the universe as it was; through its power and perception I saw what really
existed, and through its power of no- thought decision, I acted to free

In no way is this sort of shit "tweaking", and in no way is it *consciously*
experienced as any kind of rational calculation about how to create a great

Is it rooted in unconscious inference operations? Partly, but also in a lot
of other unconscious noninferential operations, including some damn mixed-up
irrational emotional ones.

Does this kind unconscious irrationality contribute to the overall
effectiveness (what you call Rationality) of the person embodying it? Sure.
Nietzsche wouldn't have created his philosophy, Dick wouldn't have created
his novels, without these unconscious, wildly irrational processes.

Would they have created better philosophy and fiction without these
irrational processes, following a purely rational (in the narrower sense)
internal methodology?

Well, *no human ever has*.

In the human brain, some sorts of creative achievement seem to go along with
rampant internal irrationality.

Could Van Gogh have painted better sunflowers if he'd been internally
proceeding in a less whacky, more explicitly rational (in the narrow sense)
way? Well, no great artist has ever proceeded in an explicitly rational

It seems the human brain is only capable of creating some kinds of great
works, if it uses tremendous amounts of irrationality in the process...

Phil Dick was being "rational" in the sense that he was proceeding toward
his goal of creating great sci-fi works, pretty effectively. But some
subprocesses that his brain used toward that goal were pretty damn

-- Ben G

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