Monday, August 18, 2008

I just know I'm right.

A few posts ago Casey was just being Casey when he wrote in a comment

I think it's really most interesting that you're willing to accept so easily [Mark Halpern's] argumentative premise: that physical reactions are not rational, and that that makes them irrelevant.

By now, haven't we all learned the follies of "rationalism," and the ways in which the claim to rationalism often occurs on both sides of a dialectical argument or strictly in self-interest or whatever?
And because he's being Casey I don't dismiss his claims. Plus he was kind enough to take his ideas a little farther in a post of his own. He draws a line between "heady" and "hearty" approaches to experience. He aligns these with left-brained thinking and right-brained thinking respectively.

I'm going to ignore the issue that he raises regarding right/left-handedness. I'll focus on the topic of reason and logic being valued over... faith? Beauty? Intuition? Feeling? Physiology? Irrationality? Which is it Casey?

In my post I actually go into a defense of the relevance of physical reaction. My concession to Mr Halpern was that my reaction is not the reason you should agree with me. Nor do I argue that you should agree with me. The point of my correspondence with Halpern was that I should not change my mind based on his claims. Because I value the weaknesses I see in them. And Halpern was making a reciprocal point.

So let's look at Casey's larger issue here. He claims in his thesis
that the rational and non-rational thinking are co-equal (if very different) ways of encountering the world.

And I get the impression that he thinks I would disagree.

My thesis: We are not more "heady" than "hearty."

Through a comment thread at another blog I have been contributing to an extended debate on a topic that combines politics religion and science. I don't need to be specific about it here because this is neither a political nor religious forum and I'm not very interested in making it one. But in the more than 4000 words that I've written over there I have asked for evidence of scientific claims and I have rejected claims that are based on logical fallacies and loaded definitions and circular logic. But I have also rejected claims simply because I don't value what those claims privilege. I have told other contributors that their fears are not my fears and that their values split from mine because I simply believe certain things are self-evident. Based on what you might ask? Well it can only be my values right? And how can I argue the self-evidence of a view with someone who says it's not so. Clearly they are making the more logical claim. If we are disagreeing about obviousness then how come they don't see what I see? Because ultimately my argument is based on a principle -- not on criteria met. If I may paraphrase my ultimate rationale in that argument: fear is not a reason to protect yourself from an unknown outcome.

Perhaps politics and religion make this point too easily. Such arguments are not often the in the demesne of rationality.

I could of course turn to the arts and start another rational argument providing evidence that intuition and appreciation of the irrational is in healthy competition with logic. But I think I'll take a more interesting approach. In my next post I'll argue that linguistics doesn't always rely on the rational. And I won't ignore the arts. I'll try to connect my point to my new time killer: Lost.


  1. The valuation of concepts like "rational" and "reason" isn't as interesting to me (even if both are being privileged equally) as who gets to define them and from where they derive their power to define.

    To say that humans are either "heady" or "hearty," logical or illogical, or both, brings up the interesting questions of who gets to say which practices or concepts are which, and who gains by such distinctions.

    Casey seems comfortable (at least in the post you reference) in letting neuroscience make the distinction, in locating the rational/irrational binary in the physical structures of the brain, and in classifying people (at least for the sake of argument) by handedness. As a right-handed artist, I have all kinds of problems with this.

    As neuroscience tells us more and more about how the brain works as an organ, I think it's important not to let scientists (or their more popular surrogates) be responsible for telling us how we work as people or how we should act. It's a responsibility I'm sure they don't want, and one which they're completely unequipped for. Social Darwinism comes to mind as a potential example.

    I guess my questions are, "Whose definition of 'rational' are you using?" and, "Who does it hurt?" If your answers are 1) a white guy and 2) poor people, then I suspect you and I are using the same definition.

  2. One more thing: I think what I really should've been asking about is "what constitutes knowledge?" Scientists (good ones) are full of answers for this question -- they say some things about skepticism and then use the scientific method and appeal to our shared assumptions. Good enough.

    But is there revelation? Is there knowledge that comes either by intuition or by another kind of observation?

    And all of this isn't unrelated to linguistics -- didn't Chomskey get famous suggesting that the structure of language is in us when we arrive on earth?

    Also, sorry, but I took my blog back down. :(

    I gotta use blogger for my students this fall and I don't want to have them reading my anti-science/pro-schizophrenic-mysticism posts right away. I'm considering audience, y'know?


Thanks for reaching out.

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