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I love Steven Pinker and his defenses of rationality. Seriously. I totally agree: We should be rational. I have a degree in math, the most rational subject.

But reading the opening lines of his new book last night I choked.

“Rationality ought to be the loadstar for everything we think and do. (If you disagree, are your objections rational?)”

Well, yes, my objections are at least as rational as possible when objecting to a claim based on an undefined word -- “loadstar.”

I would like to suggest to Pinker a more rational opening, which I think leads to a much stronger defense of rationality (and would help clean up his current post).

“We should be as rational as it is rational to be, neither more nor less.”

This admits the obvious − that we cannot be totally rational. But it also suggests something quite wonderful. We have an irrational faculty called intuition, which is often even better at getting right answers than rationality.

And because intuition is easier and faster, it is often rational to use it rather than wasting too much time rationally planning the very best direction for escaping the lion we just noticed in the grass.

This is an example Pinker uses in his book's third paragraph but misunderstands. He implies that the caveman’s only alternative to rationality for coping with “the lion in the grass” is to rely on a “suite of biases, blind spots, fallacies, and illusions.”

Intuition is simply off his radar.

John von Neumann, the father of game theory and the most brilliant game theorist bar none, developed a theory that could be used to play poker rationally. Yet he was unable to carry out that rational calculation. Some cowboys were known to be extremely good at poker even without his theory. Yes, they used rationality − and heaps of intuition. Using only pure rationality, they might never have won a single hand.

Interestingly, the folklore of intuition is vast. One famous story is that the arrangement of carbon atoms in benzene (they form a ring) was discovered by the German chemist August Kekulé when he dreamed of a snake biting its tail. When stuck on a complex problem I often study it intensely before I go to bed. Frequently, I wake up with a useful insight in the morning that occurs to me before I even remember I was working on the problem. Intuition!

Now here’s what would clear up Pinker’s post. What he has done is assume three axioms and then use rationality. He finally makes this clear when he says, “When you combine self-interest and sociality with impartiality … you get the core of morality.” By “get” he means you can logically deduce morality from his three axioms: (1) self-interest, (2) sociality and (3) impartiality.

I think he’s right that you can, although it’s a rather limited morality, and to go much further he will likely need more axioms.

What he has done is to mimic math. Mathematicians pick a set of axioms (assumptions) and then prove what things they imply. Science often works the other way round − observing what’s true and figuring out underlying assumptions that predict the observation. But we can’t scientifically observe morality.

My complaint is that Pinker has mystified the process of choosing his axioms. He keeps wanting us to think his assumptions are rational, and he gives subtle “rational” arguments. No, it's easier than that. Axiom (1) and (3) are just assumptions − starting points. And axiom (2) is just something we observe to be true − basically a scientific observation.

So the proper argument for (1) and (3) is, “I like these, and you probably do too, so let’s give them a try.” That’s much simpler than phony rationality. (That’s what mathematicians do.)

And pretending to be rational when you can’t be (e.g. when picking assumptions) leads to irrational statements, like,

“As soon as we start insisting to others, ‘You must not hurt me, ... we cannot also maintain, ‘But I can hurt you.’”

“Maintain” is another non-logical, undefined word, but I’ll guess he means “believe” rather than “proclaim.” In this case, his claim is just wrong. Quite a few people believe “you must not hurt me, but I can hurt you.” They are called sociopaths. And they are the key to understanding much of our politics. I’ll bet you can even think of one (starts with a T).

We can’t be rational all of the time − like when making assumptions or playing poker. But that’s OK. We have very powerful intuitions for the hard problems. Of course, we make lots of mistakes both when trying to be logical and when trying to intuit. But that’s life for us Earthlings. So just keep this in mind.

1. Be rational about when to be rational.

2. Never, ever toss out rationality because you think it’s bad (or white).

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You appear to be basing the "rationality of morality" upon the human's relationship with other humans. But what if a person is completely self-sufficient such that they don't need society? One rather unfortunate implication of your argument is that the more independent a person is (i.e., the more power they have), the less moral they need to be to remain rational. In other words, might makes right and in your system the main variable is power, as it is in all systems of human morality that exists apart from God.

Your dismissal of the Eutyphro dilemma is irrelevant. The dilemma itself is false: something is not good merely because God wills it, *nor* does God will it because he is subject to a higher authority of goodness. God commands moral behavior because he *is* the highest authority and goodness or morality is part of his nature and character. It is consistent with who he is, and he cannot act or command in opposition to his nature. We reflect this morality in our own reason because we are made in God's image (whether or not we personally believe it).

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"Evolution, moreover, works on populations, not individuals..."

I presume that in the book, with a greater word count to play with, you explain that you are not defending group selection over selection at the level of the gene.

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Back again. I'm a curious type, always trying to improve myself in various Ways. So I read the Hanania Newsletter article. I gotta say I didn't detect any venomous trash but, then again, I didn't see a whole lotta light shining either.

I'm disappointed, tho, with M. Pinker in this respect: Besides "Rationality" I've got two other books by him on my Kindle and two more on paper. It turns out that I would need to view them with a great deal of SUSPICION. Since I've got approximately 995 other books I've bought, which I'll never read in my lifetime, no matter how long or short...

I don't have enough energy to follow up on some notions I had on the article. So I'll cut to the chase. But, frequently, I put my WORST foot forward, so if a person isn't READY to "hear" what I "say," then they can ignore it, probably forever.

I went to a 4-year school to become a scientist. I failed out first semester, sophomore year. (I learned how to kiss a girl, which I'd never done during High School, so there is that. :) I don't have even an Associate's Degree, due to the required "Speech Communications" class. Attempted one speech, and that was all she wrote.

So my views, quantitatively, can be valued at zero. That's the easy course which most people with degrees, ESPECIALLY advanced degrees, invariably take. That's not something I have any say in, so just can't bother me one Way or t'other.

Which brings me to my hypothesis:

Given the Scientific Method APPEARS to be useful only in the case that things can be quantitatively measured... ? (I'm looking for exceptions here.)

ARE there things that will NEVER be quantifiable? Or will it eventually be the case that, once EVERYTHING is quantified, then Ultimate Truth can become Reality?

UNTIL then, hasn't it ALWAYS been the case in Science, in the previous 400 years, that what we thought was the Scientific Truth has been further developed by new, unforeseen, ideas? Won't there ALWAYS be questions that Science has yet to determine? Always? "The more You know, the more You know what all it is You DON'T know," right? Infinite questions, right?

When You consider the mathematical odds, wouldn't it be safe to assume that there's intelligent life out there that will probably NOT have the same five, six, or more senses, and be.. say.. 10,000 years in advance of us, Scientifically? Looking at it that Way, isn't it likely that we will be limited in what our Science describes as Truth that this assumed-species will have better answers to describe as Scientific Truth? Invariably.

In any event, I was interested in this statement by M. Pinker:

"And if it’s a revolutionary claim, if it’s an 'everything you always thought was wrong' claim, then it might be wrong."

Yah, good policy. However, it's noted that great leaps in understanding Scientific "Truth" come from JUST these kind-a claims.

And BETTER policy would be to ASSUME that everything You always thought was RIGHT is even MORE likely to be wrong. Because it's not challenged nor challengeable, right?

I won't go into how I view M. Pinker's illogic could go right into the lines of Sam Harris's illogic, if they don't already. M. Harris wrote a book called "Free Will" where he proposes that 2 murderers and rapists had NO CHOICE, and therefore really should NOT be PUNISHED for what they did. How can they be, when they had NO CHOICE. If, say, WE had the same genes, upbringing, environments as these two murderers and rapists, then WE would-a had NO CHOICE but to rape and murder a Mother and burn down the house with her two (living) young daughters inside. The idea that they had NO CHOICE means, to Harris, that all a human is comes to a sack of biochemicals which DETERMINE all our actions. (NO CHOICE.)

Some logic, THAT.

That was a long article, but I spend most-a my time reading BOOKS so, as Elmer Fudd used-ta say: "Th-th-th-th-that's ALL folks!"

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At least in this post, Pinker spares us the venomous trash which he expressed in his interview with Hanania, at https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/rationality-requires-incentives-an/comments#comment-3098457 , e.g.:

"why does it appear that humanity is losing its mind? How could *any sane* person believe in QAnon or chemtrails.... ? .... There are people who bump up *against reality*, like the vax deniers who come down with COVID...."

(As if *any* vax denier *ever* claimed, that the vax might not have *some* capacity to hold off covid!)

Now that he has gone down such spectacularly degenerate roads, I'll pay no heed to anything he writes, until he fesses up, to the magnitude of his intellectual *malpractice* in that interview.

And, I'll be at least somewhat suspicious, of those who *tout* him.

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I use “M.” like the French do, for Monsieur but ALSO for Mesdames and Mademoiselle EQUALLY. ALL CAPS are ITALICS. :)

Weeeel... Here goes nuthin'. First off: TY (thank You) M. Pinker. Enjoyed the essay and already bought the book. TYTY.

"A little about me, tho nobody'd probably be interested:"

I'm EXACTLY (italics) 50% Fundmentalist Atheist. That's how I was raised. I'm EXACTLY 50% Spiritimotional. I'm a lousy meditator, but the brief periods I did, I meditated fairly DEEPLY. I've lived with people, and I've been Robinson Crusoe for LONG periods of my life. I was a data-entry operator (briefly), a programmer, an analyst, a manager, and a freelancer over 26 years. I've been to some extreme edges of thinking/feeling and, AFAIK, those are false dichotomies. Dunno if I'll every expound on that idea or not.

I don't mean to offend M. Pinker, but likely he'll never read this anyway. If so, apologies if I do.

The problem with the Rational Mind is that it's a closed system. The further one goes in thinking the Rational Mind is the proper, or only, way to view things, the more logical that view seems. We've left Descartes in the dust, with today's youth tethering their BRAINS (recall, italics) to the computer in their phones. At least one EXTREMELY logical person, Sam Altman of Y-Combinator and OpenAI fame, believes if You unplug an advanced AI MACHINE You'd be committing murder. I think MOST rational people would view that as delusion. Or, at least one person, namely me, most certainly DOES.

Seemingly off-topic, here's an analogy. Ibram X. Kendi (FKA Ibram Henry Rogers) defines antiracism as follows: https://twitter.com/JohnHMcWhorter/status/1399670923221946372

"...antiracism is pretty simple using the same terms: Antiracism is a collection of antiracist policies leading to racial equity that are substantiated by antiracist ideas."

This from the LEADING AUTHORITY of antiracism is just an ANALOGY, not an example of rational thinking. I'm just saying that the rational mind, of itself, can't readily take a view outside of the rationality it proclaims to have.

"I cannot insist that only my interests count just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can insist that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe..."

I would say that's pretty much 100% Truth.

"And so any argument that privileges my well-being over yours or his or hers, all else being equal, is irrational."

This is something that SOUNDS like if follows from the previous two sentences. But does it really?

"When you combine self-interest and sociality with impartiality—the interchangeability of perspectives—you get the core of morality."

Again, SOUNDS good.

But after reading "The Master and His Emmisary" by Iain McGilchrist, I would recommend we look at the WHOLE picture. When I do that, I tend to look at things primarily from their PRACTICALITY, as opposed to what sounds good.

You'd hafta do a WHOLE (recall, italics) lot more meditating than I've done, to claim that You can get away from the internal biases coming from the Subconscious Mind(s) that are totally, completely, and ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT on genes, upbringing and environment, right?

I'm not without biases, but I'm impartial to the point that it's not of much concern one Way or t'other whether I live or die. I could be proven wrong in this view, in my final moments, if I cry out, "OMG, I'M DYING. NONO!" Until then, I stand on this assumption: You'd need to be VERY IMPARTIAL to get at the core of morality, the way You define it, Sir Pinker.

And this view also overlooks the PRACTICAL in that it assumes if two people actually COULD be impartial, they'd arrive at the same ideas of what morality is. Golden Rule? Good place, as You've illustrated.

PRACTICALLY speaking, good place to AIM for.

"None of these statements depends on taste, custom, or religion. And though self-interest and sociality are not, strictly speaking, rational, they’re hardly independent of rationality."

I apologize if this offends ANYbody. I wrote a piece called "Science vs. Religion: The False Dichotomy." Perhaps I'll expand on that one day and re-publish it. If You catch my drift, the SUPREMACY of the Rational Mind is a matter of faith. Believe it or not, it is.

My OPINION is that self-interest and sociality ARE rational, but go BEYOND rationality. ICBW. But, of course, I don't believe their INDEPENDENT of it either.

"Life presents many opportunities to help someone, or to refrain from hurting them, at a small cost to oneself. So if everyone signs on to helping and not hurting, everyone wins. This does not, of course, mean that people are in fact perfectly moral, just that there’s a rational argument as to why they should be."

I believe this myself, and give a lotta money (about 30% of my $29K Social Security lately) to charities. Someday I hope to invest myself (ie time). At the same time, these statements are rather nice fairy tales.

It's true that nobody's "perfectly moral." But the argument basically boils down to, "If everybody was like ME, the world would be a better place." That's such a false statement that I'm surprised. It's an example of the frailty of the Rational Mind. Binary thinking USED-ta be known as something that normally breaks down because it's too simplistic. Like M. Kendi's ideas on antiracism. You're racist or antiracist. ONLY possibility.

So, "a couple" thoughts on the conclusion. (Which sometimes turns out to be more than two. ;)

Yes there are many opportunities to help, at small cost. MOst-a those are helpful in small ways. Kindness to strangers, &c., &c. There are many opportunities that cost one whole "heckuva" LOT. What most people don't recognize is that the more EXPANSIVE the help is, generally speaking, the more likely the HARM of it is gonna come to near-equal the good of it. That's just how it works, AFAIK. I'm thinking on a societal level, on this point.

On a personal level, knowing when something You do is gonna help or harm someone? VERY delicate. May harm in short-term but help in long-term. Or vice versa. Need a crystal ball on that one, which are rare to find.

But this idea that "if everyone..." First off, rationally, that's a mathematical impossibility. Would be nice, sure... Happen? Nup. Nowhere close. We're 7 or 8 billion and climbing, looking at the WHOLE picture. Yeah, all that is a semi-rational argument to be nice. As a practical matter. A lotta what-I-call the "airhead meditators" feel that day is coming. Me?

I type, I hit post, I read. But I'd be surprised if anything i wrote depended on there being a God or the Cosmos, or WHATEVER. Don't think it contradicts itself, rationally, nor contradictgs there being a God, &c.

But a month from now? I don't usually end a piece this Way. But everything written by me or ANYBODY, actually, is contingent. But ESPECIALLY me. (I read a lot, and as new information (data) comes in, new garbage goes out. ;)

TYTY anyone taking time to read this tome. Dunno it will even fit.

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