Man cannot survive except by gaining knowledge, and reason is his only means to gain it. Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. The task of his senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason, his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind.
– Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged
[This is part 1 of a planned 3 part series on the philosophy of Ayn Rand and its influence on my life. This first part serves as an introduction to Ayn Rand and her philosophy and the context within which I first learned of her work.]
Like religious belief, the late Ayn Rand is not a subject for polite conversation. She evokes such extremes of emotion in those who know of her that it’s almost impossible to have any rational discussion about her or the philosophical movement she inspired. Coupled with the fact that Ayn Rand’s ideas have had an immeasurably profound influence on me, this makes the present essay the most intensely personal and hence most difficult to write of anything in the entire site thus far.
Continue reading Ayn Rand and Me (Part 1)
This month’s issue of Popular Mechanics has an article on the latest advances in mind reading technology: using magnetic resonance imaging machines to determine without ambiguity what a subject is thinking about. As a practical matter, the main experiment cited in the article is actually not that impressive since there was a base success rate of 50 percent simply by guessing what the test subject was thinking about. As a foretaste of what is to come however, it is intriguing. As the imaging resolution goes up and the database from which the raw images are interpreted grows, the accuracy of such devices will only increase. It is well within the realm of the possible that eventually such devices may be available in a portable form.
Continue reading The Death of Free Will
Ordinarily, I try not to make this blog into a “today on QT3” sort of thing, but at times something comes up that’s too interesting and relevant to my own interests to ignore.
A poster on QT3 recently linked to an article by Dinesh D’Souza attacking atheism based on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Admittedly, the argument does not constitute an affirmation of theism. It merely seeks to demonstrate what D’Souza considers to be a failing of atheism. Essentially, D’Souza argues that, as Kant pointed out, the province of reason is limited to the things that we can perceive and to the things as we can perceive them. This means that we have no way of knowing what Kant calls the noumena, the things as they are in themselves, unfiltered by the limitations of human perception, and to D’Souza this opens to door to religious faith.
Within hours of the original post however, QT3 member Hawkeye Fierce posted an excellent response:
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason has always seemed like a lot of mental masturbation to me. He says that the capacities of reason are limited because our perception is limited, and that there could exist phenomena that we are simply incapable of perceiving in any way. I suppose that could be true, but if we are unable to perceive these phenomena, I don’t see how it follows that we should act any differently. Reality may be bigger than we can perceive, but if the part that we can’t see can’t actually affect us, it may as well not exist. And if it can affect us, well then it’s no longer imperceptible. Also, without experiential information, all theories about what the imperceptible universe is like are equally valid and invalid, so there’s no reason to pick one over the other.
I can really put it no better than the above. D’Souza writes that he tried to get a rebuttal from Daniel Dennett but didn’t get a satisfactory response. This seems like a pretty good response to me.
The chief movement of modernity, Kierkegaard holds, is a drift toward mass society, which means the death of the individual as life becomes ever more collectivized and externalized. The social thinking of the present age is determined, he says, by what might be called the Law of Large Numbers: it does not matter what quality each individual has, so long as we have enough individuals to add up to a large number – that is, to a crowd or mass. And where the mass is, there is truth – so the modern world believes.
-William Barrett in Irrational Man
First published in 1958, Irrational Man is something of a dinosaur next to the sexily titled and slickly paced philosophy books that fill today’s bookshelves. Despite its age and the sad fact that some of the ideas in the book have aged less than gracefully, it remains as its back blurb says, “widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy ever written”.
These days existentialism takes a back seat to its offspring, postmodernism, and it is unfortunate that in the minds of most people, the “scientized” sophistry, sometimes frivolously so, and abstruse language that so characterizes contemporary postmodern literature is inevitably linked to existentialism as well. It may therefore be surprising that I, the author of a site dedicated to reason, identify strongly with some of the central tenets of existentialism.
Continue reading A Book: Irrational Man