Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rationality vs Mysteries

1. In Carl Sagan's so-so novel Contact, an atheist scientist has a conversation with a minister about the relation between faith and science. The scientist character suggests they find themselves a wrecking ball, one of the huge used to demolish buildings. She says they shoud let the ball swing, and that they should each choose where to stand in its path.

The scientist says that she'll used physics to calculate the closest possible safe place to stand. The minister should pray about where to stand.

I was a Christian when I read this story, maybe 12 years ago. I felt a little shock, one that I ignored and shoved away for quite sometime. That shock was the realization that at no point would my faith ever ask me to be in a position where I could be proven wrong.

2. I do not mean to make the old point that faith is unfalsifiable, but it's a related idea.

There are two reasons why we might not know something. The information might just not be available to us, or for some reason, it is impossible for us to understand a given idea.

What did Napolean have for breakfast on June 16, 1785? The information is not available to us, but it could be written down somehere, right? We just don't know where. Let's say this is an incidental limitation on knowledge.

What is it like to be a bat? We can't answer that question - not because the information is not available, but because you must be a bat to experience being a bat. Let's say this is a constitutive limitation on knowledge - no matter how smart we get, we'll never be able to fully answer the question of what it is like to be a bat.

3. I'd like to propose that we can use the distinction between incidental and constitutive limitations on knowledge to make a further distinction between faith and reason.

Incidental limitations are an easy matter for both faith and reason. We will probably always be ignorant about some things, whether Napolean's breakfast on a particular day or whether or not Adam had a belly button.

The difference comes with the constitutive limitations. I think that while both reason and faith have their own versions of constitutive limitations, they react to and handle them differently.

For reason, constitutive limitations are usually seen in one of two ways. They can be reducible to particularily complex incidental limitations - the current debate over brain science is one example of this. Increasingly, people are coming to believe that the mystery of human consciousness actually can be explained in terms of the brain.

Or, constitutive limitations are a matter of hypothetical thought experiments, such as "what is it like to be a bat."

So reason takes constitutive limitations either as challenges to be overcome, or as productive hypotheticals.

Faith, on the other hand, takes constitutive limitations to be fundamental. These limitations are not challenges to be overcome, or interesting hypotheticals, but key points in religious metaphysics and ontology. The will and nature of God, for all that is displayed in revelation, is fundamentally not understandable for humans.
These limitations are mysteries. Even the most hardheaded, apparently rational apologists will eventually admit to believing in mysteries. They will be couched in rational terms, and they will be protected against claims of irrationality, they will be defended to the death, but they are there.

4. Back to the opening story. I think that story hints at a real difference between faith and reason. Reason is inherently risky; it depends wholly upon demonstrations made in public. There is never a point at which one may say "we can't know this" or "we can't question this."

Faith will never ask you to put up or shut up, intellectually speaking. Oh sure, it might ask you to become a martyr, but that has nothing to do with the truth of a faith. Faith is never going to ask you to be in a position where you could be proven wrong on a fundamental basis. No matter how clever or knowledgeable your atheist opponent, you will somehow be able to retreat into mystery.

I am not claim that apologists are pig-headed or stubborn. I am not setting up the atheist version of total depravity, claiming that religious people's hearts are darkened by intellectual sin or something like that. I'm saying this retreat into mystery is a feature, not a bug.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Cunning of Boredom

An axiom: people enjoy everything they do. If we're invested in something, it is because we enjoy it. It's unconscious. If you are doing something, it is because on some level, you unconsciously enjoy doing it. If we can't enjoy something, it isn't on our radar. It is uninteresting; it is boring. Anyone of us could probably find some pleasure in, say, being a rock climber, but the vast majority have no investment in it. Many of us might find enjoyment in thinking about being a rock climber, but that enjoyment is enough, and the actual work of learning to climb is boring to us.

People definitely enjoy being in shitty situations. All things being equal, shitty situations can be changed with enough effort or imagination or solicited help from others. The guy sitting on his couch enjoys being depressed; if he didn't, he'd get up and do something. Being depressed is just about the worst feeling in the world; on a conscious level, it is nothing but suffering.

So let's say we can consciously suffer from things that we unconsciously enjoy.

A second axiom: While the only motivating force for action is unconscious enjoyment, there is no one thing that humans inherently enjoy. There is nothing in the world that demands our investment, there is nothing that we have an obligation to enjoy. No one thing needs to be on our radar. We do not need to consciously suffer from the unconscious enjoyment of something shitty. Neither do we need to find conscious pleasure in any one thing.

The upshot: all our unconscious enjoyments are bordered by boredom. Boredom is the complete absence of unconscious enjoyment. And that border is always movable. Enjoyment is always surrounded and defined by boredom. Boredom is the assurance that our enjoyments can change.

Enjoyment lies to us and tells us that we will never change. Boredom lurks in our peripheral vision, telling us the arbitrary object of our enjoyment is just that: arbitrary.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Boring Game Theory

The world is a boring place. Much of the bullshit floating around is a series of attempts to deny this basic truth; people want justifications for their passionate attachments that make it seem like those attachments and investments are somehow necessary and the truth. But, alas, there is nothing but humans and the black void around us. That void - the pure contingency of all that is - stands as a constant rebuke to our endless attempts to dominate the world with another one of our stupid, petty concerns.

Game theory is one of those attempts. The authors of such blogs as Chateau Heartiste want to explain why a set of behaviours - those blessed with the term alpha - work so well on such a wide variety of women. In their experience - and for the sake of conversation, let's say they are correct - this collection of behaviours is really, really effective at getting women to fuck you and make you sandwiches.

Their answer is evolutionary psychology. Given that evolutionary psychology is to critical thought as creationism is to science, that is not the correct answer. The real answer: plain old behaviour modification. As I said in the previous post, people are boring. And because they are boring, they can be taught to dance through blows and petty morsels.

These evo-psyche influenced game theorists want to insist is that humans - normal humans, a key distinction - have one specific set of desires, and that these desires can be elicited or satisfied with a specific set of rewards and punishments. For their purposes, the key desires are that women want to be dominated by an alpha male, and that men want to fuck lots of women.

Here is the crux of the bullshit, however: in order to get to their concept of "woman," a long list of abstractions and exclusions need to be made. Some women are excluded from the game even before it begins: lesbians, the transgendered, the disabled. Others are excluded because they do not appear where the game is played: bars. Still others are left out by virtue of occupation - "lawyer cunts" is a popular term on Chateau Heartiste. And finally, age: older women are staid. Settled. Not exciting.

The selection continues: only women that dress in a certain way and wear makeup in a certain way are included in the set "women" that game is concerned with. I doubt anyone has even attempted game on a butch lesbian.

In other words, the only women that game is observed to work on are the women that PUAs are aware of: the young and self-consciously hot. All others are invisible; they do not count as "normal women." In other words, the only woman that exists in the PUA world is the classic partial object, the cause of desire.

After the selection process, PUAs narrow down their expectations: fucking and sandwich making. Other concerns such as marriage are excluded. Marriage would, of course, require a much greater range of behaviours to be displayed and accepted.

Women are only acknowledge to the extent that they display this narrow range of behaviour; either they accede to a pump and dump, or they are put on rotation as part of a harem. The cost of deviation is banishment from the PUA world.

This is what the PUAs are attempting to explain: why a set of rewards and punishments elicits a narrow range of behaviour from a narrow range of women. Their myopia leads them to believe that these behaviours are the pinnacle of relations between men and women, that everything can somehow be reduced to them. The extensive exclusion process gives the lie to this.

And because they ignore their own exclusion process, they think that their narrow range of possibly accurate observations and experiences can be generalized to humanity as such. It is a loop: lesbians are excluded from game; the range of women that PUAs engage with are declared to be "normal"; lesbians are not normal. QED. They are repressing something or they are damaged.

The selection process is a large part of the real answer as to why game works. Old school behaviouralism makes for shitty anthropology and a shitty theory of subjectivity, but if you are willing to abstract out a large portion of humanity and behaviours, then it is perfectly capable of explaining why that subset behaves as it does under specific circumstances.

If a girl hates you, you will be on her mind constantly. Hate is a strong investment, and one strong investment can morph into another easily enough. Contempt, however, is a weak investment; it will not get you into a girl's pants. Poking at someone's insecurity is a great way to throw them off and to get them into your frame. Letting it be known that you only want them to do a handful of things - dick sucking, wearing tight dresses - is an easy way to make someone secure. They feel like they know how to please you, and that is a comfortable situation.

Game seems to be a constant process of offering security and taking it away. Play on her insecurity by pointing out a roll of fat, then offer her security be letting her get you a beer. There is a possibly apocryphal story about Stalin: he showed a colleague some chickens he had spent several weeks feeding. Then he set about kicking them and pulling their feathers off. The chickens ran away, of course. A few moments later, Stalin pulled out a bag of feed and offered it to them. The chickens eagerly returned.

Game itself is a tool, and it is neutral; there is nothing particularly meaningful about wanting to get laid. Game theory, however, as an expression and reinforcement of the social relations it deals with, narrows women into chickens and men into Stalins.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Game Theory

"People are boring. Or is there anyone who would be boring enough to contradict me in this regard?" This is a lesson that the PUA "community" could stand to learn - especially the PUAers that overlap on a venn diagram with men's rights activists. People are boring, hey hey, women are people, therefore women are boring. QED.

People are boring. They can be taught to dance through blows and petty morsels. Therefore women can be taught to dance through blows and petty morsels. Pick up methods - otherwise known as game - no doubt works on a surprisingly large portion of the female population. Game is a series of blows (negs) and petty morsels ("gina tingles" and outright orgasms). So yeah, it probably works, and I would not be above employing a little game myself.

Game itself is not one of boredom's enemies. The sadness comes when one descends into the depths of game theory. Game theory is the attempt to explain why game allegedly works so well and so often and for so many different women. The simple answer, they say, and this is why game theorists often overlap with MRAs - is that women crave submission to an alpha male (though enough time spent in the comments sections of game theory blogs reveal this is a hilarious and all too obvious projection).

This idea that women crave submission is nothing other than a flaccid attempt to deny the fundamentally boring nature of the world. There is no rhyme or reason to anything, the world is nothing other than a bundle of more or less incorrigible habits (and nothing is more boring than a habit). But if we inject ideas of gender being universal and wholly natural, in other words, necessary, then we can pretend our own fantasies are necessary responses to the world. And that relieves boredom.

Conspiracy Theories

One of boredom's many flaccid enemies is the conspiracy theory. The idea that NASA used 1960s technology and thousands of man hours to put a handful of astronauts on the moon is too boring, so it must have been a conspiracy. The idea that nineteen lunatics decided to hijack some planes and fly them into buildings is too boring, so they concoct another conspiracy. Even the idea that the Occupy Wall Street and 99% movements are collectives of angry, disenfranchised people is too boring; they are dupes of Obama.

Conspiracy theories always have one thing in common: there is an elite, highly competent and powerful group of people working behind the scenes to continuously pull the wool down over people's eyes. Even more than that, and even more fascinating (in a flaccid way) is that there is an implicit theory of history at work here: the elite group is a kind of perverse vanguard; rather than inserting themselves into the flow of history and guiding the masses towards absolute freedom, they stymy history in the name of their own shadowy elite interests and absolute tyranny

It is easiest to see how this works in economics. What is libertarian economics but a conspiracy theory (note how many 9/11 Truthers are libertarians)? The free market is the pinnacle of the natural flow of history; it is the natural mode of exchange and production, it is what history has been working towards ever since the first coin was minted. And yet! The shadowy elite's shadowy interests conflict with that of the self-made man, the Howard Roark who uses the Earth to build a reflection of his own ego! So, the elite must stymy Roark; carbon credits, taxes, foreign wars, regulations. The elite stymies the natural flow of economic and political history. The free market has the flow of history on its side, but the elite, being god-like (and they are always god-like! What mere collection of humans could plan and conceal 9/11?) interrupt history itself, like a perverse vision of Napoleon at Jena.

The smug self-satisfaction that marks the conspiracy theorist and the libertarian is no less annoying than the smug self-satisfaction of the liberal, but at least liberals hold correct opinions now and again. They might utterly lack critical skills, but at least liberals have a sense that the world, being a banal place lacking necessity and fundamental beauty, could be different. Conspiracy theorists, knowing that the elite are invincible supermen, feel that knowledge of the conspiracies is enough to generate emancipation. They are not duped! They know the score. And the game is so stacked against them that they have decided to sit on the sidelines and listen to another one of Alex Jones' soporifics.