mcgann_letterhead

#18 On truth, beauty and exploitation

Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m just trying to be part of the fun of a unique, intricate worldview but strict naturalism is hard to argue against. You don’t really need the more pragmatic parts of your argument either, namely cordoning off existence in order to illegitimatize bad concepts. It only brings more questions, like does this mean that only things that exist should matter?

Continuing along this thread. Yes some abstractions are more fake than others. And this implies that some are more real than others. Reifying communist and religious ideologies have led to some of the worst things in the universe. But as ideas they share their ontological status with ideas you and I like and would like to reify. Human rights? Free individual expression? One way to distinguish their status is by considering how true each idea is. Human rights are true because they increase the quality of life for everyone. Communism isn’t true because it does the opposite. Truth might take the burden of how reified something should be, allowing you to dismiss their existence without concern about real world effects.

Truth is also a great way to cross a species divide, and is more accessible than real things. Indeed Deutsch has the entire conversation without mentioning what’s real, which leads me to think he equates truth with existence. Which is an implication neither of us are ready for right now.

The insects, flower, human triad is fascinating. When you say “Abstract things… have meaning by dint of the way they leverage the real world” this is most clear in terms of the insects and flowers. Without intelligence these two somehow stumble onto shared ideas of attractiveness. This might be a “rule of thumb” style discovery, arrived at through tinkering, that doesn’t need a deeper, conscious realisation to utilise.

I’m picturing a Venn diagram. Assume there is a space of thinkable thoughts. Some of these are true, and some of these can be stumbled upon through aimless tinkering. But not all shared ideas are true. While truth can be exploited by dint of dumb activity, truth itself is accessible only with the mind of a person.

To expand on this I think any motive (unintelligent) being can stumble onto reliable rules of thumb like this. While some of these might be tapping into deeper, precise truths, the being doesn’t directly experience these truths (i.e. doesn’t realise what it’s doing). An intelligent being, in addition to finding rules of thumb, can go a level deeper. When we utilise explanations (and test it) we not only gain avenues for exploitation, but we consciously realise and directly experience these truths. By the above model flowers and insects exploit beauty, but only humans experience it.

A distraction. I think many people assume that exploitation is the outcome of intelligence. I’ve seen people lose their shit when a bird smashes a nut with a rock, thinking that it’s way more intelligent that we thought. No, it’s just a more intricate rule of thumb. The model of intelligence above happily destroys this false equivalency.

While we experience the truths directly, some might say we still don’t experience the actual real world directly. This would suggest that intelligence only lets us go so deep. Perhaps intelligence might be the second level of three, motive/intelligent/???.

Intelligence also has a side effect of producing too many explanations, and we have a compulsion to stack them up on one another as high as they’ll go. I did it just then. We like them so much we find some of them beautiful, which is so self-referential my head hurts. Truth = existence = beauty? I’m out.

Mat