The Art of Debate

The primary inspiration for this post, which I’ve been meaning to write since I started this blog, is a 1995 webpage titled The Art of Conversation. In fact, as I’ve done with this post, it could be called The Art of Debate, since debate over a topic — a dialectic — is what drives these (in fact ancient) ideas about discourse and rhetoric.

The page’s authors (Dean & Marshall VanDruff) give it other names: Conversational Cheap Shots! (on the site’s main page link) and Conversational Terrorism (on the page itself). The graphic, which I’ve shamelessly recreated here, calls it How Not To Talk.

Regardless, it’s about how to have an honest effective debate that actually goes somewhere. (Be that concordance or disagreement.)

I should emphasize this post isn’t directed at anyone or anything in particular. I’m not grinding any specific axes here. The seeds of this predate my blog by over a decade — I’ve been a fan of the page since the 90s. I’ve put off posting about it expressly because I don’t anyone thinking it’s personal, but it’s been sitting in my drafts folder long enough.

As always when I venture to write prescriptively or normatively, I speak only to my own experience. These prescriptions may not lead to a successful debate (since everyone needs to abide by them), but I’ve found them helpful in keeping me intellectually honest in my own thinking. Because they are about logical fallacies, they keep me from too much mental silliness.

§

Rather than the art of conversation or debate, it might be better to think of it as the skill of conversation or debate. Anyone can learn and practice the rules of a dialectic.

That said, there can be an art to it as well. The ability to find the most effective words or metaphors can, indeed, be something of an art and tied to a person’s innate creativity. In some ways, there is a connection between debate and storytelling. A narrative can help make an argument compelling.

Yet practice always improves one’s skills. I have, more than once, been accused of verbal “judo” or “jujitsu” — the implication being I’m somehow using unfair tactics. While I can appreciate how intimidating it can feel (I run into people who make me feel it, too), the only way to grow is to work at acquiring the skills. No pain, no gain.

To some extent, one’s ego is always the enemy of learning. To the extent we’re sure we know something, we often close ourselves to further thought about it.

I recently encountered a quote by Josh Billings that puts it well:

“What gets us in trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

It’s when we’re most certain that a small voice in our heads should ask: “But also maybe not?” Never take yourself too seriously.

§

The How NOT To Talk webpage is divided into key sections:

  • Ad Hominem Variants
  • Sleight of Mind Fallacies
  • Delay Tactics
  • Question As Opportunity
  • Cheap Shot Tactics and Irritants

The titles give a sense of the basic categories of dialectic error, and they all make good reading. If nothing else, one can keep track of how many of them one encounters while traipsing through comment sections (or even some blog posts themselves).

There is also that the page is fun and easy to read. Every once in a while I open it and read it just to refresh and remind myself.

I think it’s all too easy to fall into these. The first skill we must gain is the ability to hear our own words and spot when we resort to these tactics. We’re only human, and we all do it, even when we know better!

Note that these tactics can be successful if the other party is fooled or distracted by them, but using fallacies or bullying is what I consider unfair. The goal of the dialectic is intellectual honesty, not sophistry.

§ §

I’ll mention Rational Wikipedia as another, more detailed, source for learning the skill and art the dialectic. As with the Wikipedia we all know and love, this resource is also ad-free.

Also as with Wikipedia, it’s very easy to lose hours Wiki Walking.

(Nothing to do with the topic, but another wiki I enjoy is Emojipedia. It isn’t ad-free, though. I also used to love the TV Tropes wiki, but it’s ad-bloated AF.)

§ §

For something a little bit different (but along similar lines), check out The Crackpot Index, by mathematician John Baez (who is, indeed, related to Joan).

This is another webpage that goes way back. The page says copyright 1998, so at least that far. It seems like I recall references to it going back even further, but that could just be my faulty memory.

The Index offers 36 weighted characteristics or traits that one may note when encountering someone with self-developed ideas on the internet. The weighting varies from 1 to 50 points. (The list actually has 37 items, but #1 is that everyone starts off with a goodwill -5 points.)

At the extremes, the first item, “1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false,” and the last, “50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.” The others all fall between (2–40 points).

It can be fun to see what kind of score various thinkers rack up. Even published authors can be involved in the game (Tegmark, Penrose, others with striking and original ideas).

If nothing else, like Art of Conversation page, it’s fun to read.

§ §

It all boils down to a phrase I’ve used already: intellectual honesty.

Honesty is generally an important, even vital, part of most human relationships. Honesty and trust are closely connected. Responsibility is another aspect of this; we gain trust in being responsible for our actions and thoughts.

Another quote I encountered recently, this one due to (Lutheran minister, theologian, hymnodist, and poet) Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676):

“When a man lies, he murders some part of the world. These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives.”

Indeed. Lying is bad, m’kay? Lying in science is double-plus extra bad, m’kay?

(As an aside, internet spam has made it increasingly hard to source quotes. The bulk of quote sites are loaded with ads and spam. The internet claims Gerhardt said it, but I can’t find the actual source text or even what it’s called.)

§

As an example, considering the following very common sentiment:

We know Dark Matter is true, we just need to find it.

This is the default assumption made by many astronomers and physics theorists today. The belief holds firm, even as the window for possible candidates grows experimentally smaller and smaller.

Yet the truth is that the only facts we have involve cosmological observations that don’t accord with our current models of galaxies and their clusters. The notion of Dark Matter (DM) is that something physical but invisible accounts for this. It may be something we already know about (black holes, neutrinos, etc), or it may be some new particle (such as a WIMP). So far, nothing has been found in any experiment (and there are many of them).

On the other hand, consider a common view from the opposing camp:

We know MOND is true, we just need to prove it.

Again observation has turned into a belief that becomes the keel of further thought.

The opposing idea, some sort of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), is that at very large scales, gravity acts differently than on smaller scales. In this case, smaller scales include entire star systems, so we wouldn’t expect to see the effects of MOND locally. They only show up at galactic scales.

Both of these ideas are currently speculative. No factual evidence exists either way.

More to the point, both the above views are unwarranted. They aren’t as intellectually honest as they could be. They aren’t intentionally dishonest, but keep in mind how Hell Road is paved.

§ §

There can be a question of which view, if any, to trust or take on faith. We can’t all be experts on every topic, so in most cases we need to take the word of someone more expert. But what to do when even the experts disagree?

Alternately, what if some disregarded outlier idea turns out to be the truth and mainstream thought turns out to be wrong?

We might use some metaphorical graphing:

Figure 1. Mainstream thought. (broad=green, narrow=red)

Figure 1 introduces the notion of a collective concordance (or consensus, if you prefer) about some specific topic. The idea here, in variance with most of real life, is that everyone is basically on the same page, but there is variance when it comes to the details.

The curve in red represents seriously unusual agreement on the topic. This is especially rare in modern thought. (There is — of course — an xkcd comic that addresses this.) The green curve represents more diverse opinion, but still centered on basic agreement about the subject at hand.

There are cases where a graph like this does make real world sense. For instance, if the subject was a given TV show or food dish. What’s more likely is distinct competing opinions. For instance, the DM vs MOND situation:

Figure 2. Two disagreeing, and thus competing, schools of thought.

In this case two separate ideas compete for a single prize, the truth that explains our observations. (Which is always the prize in science.)

Such situations (normally) can only exist when, as with the DM-MOND debate, facts don’t exist to prove or disprove either view. The only honest position intellectually is that we don’t know.

The height of the curves in Figure 2 is not meant to represent my position but what I take as the more mainstream one. In fact, I find myself leaning more and more towards MOND. (But no one knows.)

Things can get even more complicated when there are multiple competing views:

Figure 3. Many diverse opinions about one thing.

This example illustrates (some of!) the different interpretations of quantum mechanics, but it could equally apply to the field of theories about human consciousness (HOT, GWT, IIT, etc).

I think there is a strong (and kind of obvious) correlation between a lack of facts about a subject and the number of theories that arise that seek to explain it.

(A great example is the many papers published seeking to explain how neutrinos could go faster than light back when the CERNOPERA collaboration thought that’s what they were seeing.)

§

As far as which camp to align with, if one is indeed moved to align with any, when views seem roughly balanced, that probably either means everyone is equally in the dark (as in quantum mechanics) or that all views have strong merits but also strong flaws.

When competing camps don’t resolve there’s always a reason. It might be that everyone is guessing. It might be that everyone has a good point.

It’s important to understand that, in some cases, there is no right answer. It all comes down to one’s worldview and goals. Progressive versus conservative government is one good example. The only solution in such cases is compromise and coexistence.

In science, however, we can hope for facts. And at least sometimes things aren’t quite so balanced. Consider, for instance:

Figure 4. Axions versus SUSY.

The standard model (of particle physics) has a strong concordance, although, as Figure 3 showed, there are competing, mostly equal, interpretations of what the math behind the standard model means.

The notion of axions seems well-grounded (even if they are named after a soap), and while no evidence has been found so far, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if some showed up. Axions aren’t quite as well-grounded as, say, the Higgs boson was, but they also don’t seem too extreme an addition.

Supersymmetry (SUSY), however, increasingly seems a losing bet. No supersymmetric particles have ever been observed, and the window has gotten quite small. Such particles are approaching putative mass regimes that tend to eliminate the reason they’re theorized in the first place. The idea, in fact, seems to be dying.

One might also put String Theory in the same place as SUSY, although for different reasons.

§

The best tool is a strong science foundation that allows one to make some degree of sense of these claims. Foundational skills translate to all areas of science.

Then one can compare concordance in views. Climate change, for one example, has a very strong concordance. Even if one takes the outliers seriously, they’re still outliers and need to be treated with skepticism.

As is often said, “Extreme ideas need extreme proof.” Something that runs counter to well-established mainstream thought needs to justify its existence.

Further, all speculative ideas must always be taken with a grain of salt. Experimental data always trumps theory, no contest.

§ §

There are two very important aspects to all this:

  1. Admitting the weaknesses of one’s position.
  2. Admitting the strengths of the opposing position.

People tend to suck at both (because ego), yet in almost all cases both are manifestly true. Very few positions are without weaknesses, and any debate worth having indicates a topic with strong points on both sides. That’s why the topic is up for debate!

Polarization, something that’s a huge social problem right now, comes from this inability. Very few seem capable of admitting an opposing position makes good points, even though one doesn’t agree with them. We seem to conflate the idea of a valid argument with the idea of truth. They aren’t the same. Logic — correct logic — is often wielded in service of a point, right or wrong. (But the intellectually honest avoid and resist sophistry.)

There is also this list of important skills presented in order of increasing difficulty:

  • I don’t know!
  • I might be wrong!
  • I was wrong!
  • You were right!

I’ve known people who really choke on that last one.

§ §

Many, myself included, sometimes question the value of philosophy. It is a field prone to naval-gazing, and I’ve always found the profession of Philosopher a bit suspicious. Sometimes I think the only valid profession for a philosopher is teaching philosophy.

The learning of which I consider both useful and important for exactly the reasons explored in this post. It teaches clear thinking. It teaches us to question our assumptions and beliefs. Nearly all the ideas here trace back to philosophical concepts.

Debate, of course, is right up Philosophy Alley.

Stay rational, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

20 responses to “The Art of Debate

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Yay! One less ancient post lurking in my Drafts folder!

  • Peter Morgan

    “Such situations (normally) can only exist when, as with the DM-MOND debate, facts don’t exist to prove or disprove either view. The only honest position intellectually is that we don’t know.”

    I think it’s also an intellectually honest position to pick your boat and sail it to the best of your ability.

    I suppose you effectively introduce this possibility near the end of your post, when you mention “two very important aspects”, “Admitting the weaknesses of one’s position” and “Admitting the strengths of the opposing position.” If I can keep those at least a little honestly in mind, I hope it’s OK to pick a boat because otherwise my sunk costs are overwhelming.

    Anyway, nice post.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks!

      Oh, I think we absolutely pick a boat. If we don’t, we’re left swimming around aimlessly. 🙂

      The trick is understanding it’s provisional (and trying like hell to pick wisely). One’s boat might have holes that eventually sink it. (Talk about sunk costs!)

      The other thing is, a lot of progress, some might even say all progress, comes from those willing to sail their boats beyond the comfortable confines of concordance. (The risk is that one can sail right off the edge of the map — there be dragons there!)

      Given we’ve got an active conversation going, I was especially concerned you might read into this post, but there truly is nothing for you between the lines here. Your program might not be quite my cup of tea (to the extent I can even keep up with it), but I think it’s a good program. Any breakthroughs in QM will come from thinking like that.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Finally posting this now was, in part, inspired by the last few posts, and the comments for those posts, on the Triton Station blog by astrophysicist Stacy McGaugh.

    In particular, both short quotes (due to Billings and Gerhardt) come from posts by Dr. McGaugh. So do the two contrasting views on Dark Matter and MOND. I find them all worthwhile and worth spreading. I hope you do, too.

    (I will add that reading Dr. McGaugh’s blog is what has me sympathetic towards MOND. McGaugh started all-in on DM, but was convinced by data over time that MOND needed to be taken seriously. I’ve found the blog articles — and Dr. McGaugh’s intellectual honesty — compelling.)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    The older I get, the more I think Dale Carnegie had a point. You can’t win an argument. The longer it goes on, the more people become entrenched in their position, and the higher the chance of relationships getting damaged.

    I do think there’s value in sharing conclusions, hopefully along with the reasoning that led to those conclusions, and maybe answering each other’s questions. But once that’s done, it doesn’t seem like continuing to go over the same points is productive. (Admittedly, recognizing when that point has been reached is often a tricky judgment call.)

    There’s a lot to be said for going get an ice cream cone instead.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Make mine Rum Raisin!

      Yes, definitely the dialectic is hard and takes some effort, self-awareness, and intentionality, but there are tools we can use to cut through a lot of the static. Not necessarily perfect or always successful, but, at least in my experience, useful and worthwhile.

      We can think of debate as a detailed examination of points and their ability to stand scrutiny. If our ideas can survive vigorous debate, they may have something to them. Public political debate has unfortunately become a joke, but colleges and other debate societies still preserve and practice the skills.

      If nothing else, these skills help sharpen one’s own thinking! (Both math and philosophy are good at that.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Thinking about the Dale Carnegie point,… the dialectic isn’t really about winning an argument so much as having it honestly. (For one thing, by the time something is an argument, positions definitely are entrenched.) As I mentioned in the post, a dialectic can end in concordance or disagreement. In the latter case, the value can be in delineating the specifics of the disagreement. Sometimes (admittedly not often, but I’ve seen it) that generates a reevaluation in thinking. At the least it provides clarity and honesty.

    As I also mentioned, some issues don’t have a single right, or even best, answer. The answer one gets depends on one’s worldview. If we admit to multiple worldviews, we must also admit, at least sometimes, to multiple answers. (As a trivial example, what’s the square root of four?) In such cases the dialectic is, again, about exploring the issues and delineating the boundaries.

    That said, in many cases there is a fact to the matter. Both science and philosophy seek those facts — science arguably having done better at it because of its physical basis compared to the metaphysical ultimate answers sought in philosophy. But philosophy is more about the journey; science is about destinations.

    Debate does come from the philosophy side of that Yin-Yang. When science has facts and a concordance, there’s nothing to debate. It’s the undecided issues that are, as they say, food for debate.

    There’s no question people have their personal belief systems, and equally no question argument won’t change them. Our egos make saying “I was wrong!” or “You were right!” very difficult. Even admitting the validity or strength of opposing arguments, or the weaknesses of one’s own, can be a challenge. Social discourse increasingly trains us to polarize and take no prisoners.

    When ends up happening with polarization is that beliefs become so entrenched they became exaggerated and extreme, which naturally makes them weaker and harder to defend. That leads to more denial, greater entrenchment, and more exaggeration. It ends up just being a Red-Blue war.

    The goal for scientists and intellectuals is working to gain the skill of intellectual honesty. That’s why websites like How NOT To Talk and Rational Wiki exist. Because this stuff doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that must be embraced, learned, and practiced.

    People talk about self-improvement. Well, this doesn’t involve committing to kale or hitting the gym every day. Bonus, it doesn’t even involve math! 😉

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    Intellectual honesty and the ability to acknowledge that “I don’t know” should be the bedrock for philosophical pursuit and equally, it should be the grounding principle that guides the science of metaphysics. My latest book: “THE IMMORTAL PRINCIPLE: A Reference Point” addresses that very issue.

    The immortal principle is literally “I don’t know”. But the even greater question is: how can “I don’t know” become a reliable reference point from which to garner and build an understanding of Reality? It is a daunting task attempting to undertake such a grand scheme, it’s almost like trying to climb a rock face without any ropes or climbing gear.

    Yeah, I’ve actually published the book and ran off a few copies but I doubt that it will ever be released to the public. It’s an intellectual endeavor that defies the ability to capture with words.

    Your other points are interesting in the light of my metaphysical model because at the end the day we are all wrong and we are all right. This is because true-ness, real-ness and right-ness is a context.

    Anyway, nice post…..

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks!

      Not sure what to make of your immortal principle. It does seem that, for us humans, “I don’t know,” can be a driving force that leads to science (and jealous lovers) attempting to find answers. It’s a mantra to always keep in mind, our ignorance personally (I don’t know tensor calculus) as well as species-wide (we don’t know what time is). Certainly it’s a critical aspect of epistemology, and along those lines can be a factor linked with being humble in religions.

      Still, I think I like more the positivity of the (hopefully immediately) following notion of, “Well, let’s try to find out!” 😀

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Note For the Day: I have always and ever resisted epistemological gnosticism, I generally find myself at odds with theists andatheists, whether the god be Abraham’s, Newton’s, Kant’s, or one of their own creation. (Admittedly, it’s a hard bullet to dodge. We all love our own notions, of course we do, and good hard answers are so attractive.)

    But this world has made me so weary of polarization and ideological certainty. Lee’s idea of making “I don’t know” a central tenet is well-grounded in its importance. An important corollary being that, in any substantial disagreement, both sides have strong points and weak points. The failure to appreciate this fundamental truth leads to gnosticism and polarization.

    As an aside, faith is the commitment to not knowing, and there is some thought faith alone — even in the absence of gods — has human value. Prayer, for instance, can be seen as a quiet form of meditation with only personal value. In general, believing in something, without proof, without evidence, can give one a grounding.

    The trick, of course, is what to have faith in.

    • Lee Roetcisoender

      Right on Wyrd……. And lest we forget, the metaphysical position of the agnostic and skeptic alike is a code word for gnosticism.

      “The trick, of course, is what to have faith in.”

      The metaphysical position of “I don’t know” can be a reliable and trustworthy reference point because it never closes the door on possibilities. The trick then becomes one’s ability to have an open heart, the courage and fortitude to walk through that door of possibilities.

      Be humble my friends……

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    “…but not so open your brains fall out!”

    Your final thought reminded me of this from ZZM:

    pp. 151-2/373 of ZMM — Realms beyond reason

    “Columbus has become such a schoolbook stereotype it’s almost impossible to imagine him as a living human being anymore. But if you really try to hold back your present knowledge about the consequences of his trip and project yourself into his situation, then sometimes you can begin to see that our present moon exploration must be like a tea party compared to what he went through. Moon exploration doesn’t involve real root expansions of thought. We’ve no reason to doubt that existing forms of thought are adequate to handle it. It’s really just a branch extension of what Columbus did. A really new exploration, one that would look to us today the way the world looked to Columbus, would have to be in an entirely new direction.”

    “Like what?”

    “Like into realms beyond reason. I think present-day reason is an analogue of the flat earth of the medieval period. If you go too far beyond it you’re presumed to fall off, into insanity. And people are very much afraid of that. I think this fear of insanity is comparable to the fear people once had of falling off the edge of the world. Or the fear of heretics. There’s a very close analogue there.

    “But what’s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we’re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought…occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like…because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences.”

    “I’m not sure what you mean by classical reason.”

    “Analytic reason, dialectic reason. Reason which at the University is sometimes considered to be the whole of understanding. You’ve never had to understand it really. It’s always been completely bankrupt with regard to abstract art. Nonrepresentative art is one of the root experiences I’m talking about. Some people still condemn it because it doesn’t make ‘sense.’ But what’s really wrong is not the art but the ‘sense,’ the classical reason, which can’t grasp it. People keep looking for branch extensions of reason that will cover art’s more recent occurrences, but the answers aren’t in the branches, they’re at the roots.”

    A rush of wind comes furiously now, down from the mountaintop. “The ancient Greeks,” I say, “who were the inventors of classical reason, knew better than to use it exclusively to foretell the future. They listened to the wind and predicted the future from that. That sounds insane now. But why should the inventors of reason sound insane?”

    DeWeese squints. “How could they tell the future from the wind?”

    “I don’t know, maybe the same way a painter can tell the future of his painting by staring at the canvas. Our whole system of knowledge stems from their results. We’ve yet to understand the methods that produced these results.”

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I can’t tell if you mean this riff as point or counterpoint. 🙂 I do think there is a Yin and Yang of Science and Humanity. Wholeness and harmony depend on both, and I think our modern age has lost sight of important aspects of what it means to be human. I’ve used the phrase “The Death of a Liberal Arts Education” to describe this since the late 1960s. Our species-wide history of art and literature is just as vital a font of Real Knowledge as the works of Newton and Einstein.

      That said, our current social-political mess, in my eyes, comes more from a denial of reason and a rejection of science. Usually by those unwilling — or perhaps unable — to embrace them.

      The problem with that map of reason isn’t that insanity lies off the edges, but that error does. That’s the dragon that wins. There may indeed be (and I believe there is) much of value found in our intuitions, but there is also much error, so we need to be especially wary when we venture off the map.

      A better metaphor might be the campfire of reason that creates light that lets us see (and warms us and cooks our food). There’s good stuff out on the darkness,… but also bears.

      I question that “conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness.” I think the problem (which is, in fact, part of the subtext of this post) is that people have lost touch with reason and sought unreasonable solutions such as occultism or drugs. Our culture has become unmoored and no longer distinguishes fact from fancy.

      My bumper sticker phrase is: The heart pushes. The head steers.

    • Lee Roetcisoender

      “I can’t tell if you mean this riff as point or counterpoint.”

      Consider the last post a counterpoint.

      “I think the problem… is that people have lost touch with reason and sought unreasonable solutions such as occultism or drugs.”

      I categorically reject this assessment as the underlying problem. There is no such thing as “those people” or “them and us” there is only us, and all of us are defective; and that defect is genetic. The only question that remains unanswered is: what is it exactly that makes us defective as a species?

      I don’t know how familiar you are with Robert Pirsig’s work but, according to your own assessment of what the underlying problem actually is, Pirsig would certainly be considered “one of those people”. So here’s another riff from someone I consider to be a genius: Robert Pirsig himself.

      p. 62/373 of ZMM

      “And so in recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture…two worlds growingly alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way, a house divided against itself. No one wants it really…despite what his antagonists in the other dimension might think.

      “It is within this context that what Phædrus thought and said is significant. But no one was listening at that time and they only thought him eccentric at first, then undesirable, then slightly mad, and then genuinely insane. There seems little doubt that he was insane, but much of his writing at the time indicates that what was driving him insane was this hostile opinion of him. Unusual behavior tends to produce estrangement in others which tends to further the unusual behavior and thus the estrangement in self-stoking cycles until some sort of climax is reached. In Phædrus’ case there was a court-ordered police arrest and permanent removal from society.”

      p. 71/373 of ZMM

      “All this talk so far about classic and romantic understanding must seem a strangely oblique way of describing him, but to get at Phædrus, this oblique route is the only one to take. To describe his physical appearance or the statistics of his life would be to dwell on misleading superficialities. And to come at him directly would be to invite disaster.

      “… And when you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he’s insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it. Otherwise your own opinions block the way. There is only one access to him that I can see as passable and we still have a way to go.”

      pp. 316-8/373 of ZMM

      “The mythos-over-logos argument points to the fact that each child is born as ignorant as any caveman. What keeps the world from reverting to the Neandertal with each generation is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man. To feel that one is not so united, that one can accept or discard this mythos as one pleases, is not to understand what the mythos is.”

      “There is only one kind of person, Phædrus said, who accepts or rejects the mythos in which he lives. And the definition of that person, when he has rejected the mythos, Phædrus said, is ‘insane.’ To go outside the mythos is to become insane.”

      Or is it???????

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I kinda figured it was counterpoint. The Greeks also gave us rational thinking and the dialectic, so it might have been point. 🙂

        “There is no such thing as ‘those people’ or ‘them and us’ there is only us,”

        Of course; we’re all culpable. (I’m not sure I’d call it genetically defective, though.)

        As to why we’re like this, I refer you to the entire body of human art and literature. Not that there are any answers there, but it well documents what a mess our species is.

        And the heights it’s capable of. It’s reaching for those heights I hope for in other humans. I think critical thinking is an important part of that.

        “I don’t know how familiar you are with Robert Pirsig’s work…”

        I know about Zen but never got on that bus. Nor on the Castaneda bus (although I did read some of those). Never really got on any bus (at least not for long). I tend to reject prophets. My philosophies, such as they are, are a synthesis bits and pieces, shells collected from a very large and varied beach.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I don’t know how familiar you are with Robert Pirsig’s work but, according to your own assessment of what the underlying problem actually is, Pirsig would certainly be considered ‘one of those people’.”

        This has been in the back of my mind ever since. If you think so, I’ve done a poor job of communicating my view, because I absolutely don’t see Pirsig as ‘one of those people.’ Quite the opposite, in fact. Pirsig was an intelligent, thoughtful person who made an enduring and engaging contribution to human thought. Definitely not ‘one of those people’ — not among those who willfully wallow in their own joyful ignorance. When I talk about people being a problem, that’s what I’m talking about. Minds that won’t even step up to the plate and take a few swings. Minds that lack curiosity. Minds that don’t engage.

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    When it comes to the physical sciences within the framework of the mythos I’m all in. But when it comes to philosophy and the science of metaphysics, the mythos is absolutely bankrupt and therefore, one has no choice but to abandon the mythos. One can gather an eclectic assortment of bits and pieces from which to synthesis a coherent metaphysics till the cows come home. But at the end of the day, it’s just a recycling and rehashing of the same old models that have proven over time to reduce to absurdity.

    The Greeks gave us subject/object metaphysics and it’s the grounding model for all of metaphysics to this very day. Pirsig railed against SOM and rightly so, but he was never able to come up with an alternate model that would resolve the intrinsic paradoxes and contradiction built into SOM. He was fairly criticized for that short coming because anyone can find fault with a prevailing paradigm. Finding fault is not enough, one has to actually be able to come up with an alternative model that is superior, one that has the explanatory power to unite and not divide.

    For the record: I will not forget that you actually gave me the acronym RAM for the model I was referring to as the reality/appearance distinction. Reality/Appearance Metaphysics is a grounding metaphysics that has the explanatory power to unite the age old mind/matter dichotomy. For me, this has been a journey into the wilderness of the unknown outside the confines of the mythos that has lasted over forty years. I am satisfied because I found what I was looking for. So with that, I wish you all of the best Wryd.

    Take care my internet friend

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