Updates and Additions to Aesthetic Knowledge

FatherIf beauty did not exist, it would be pointless to talk, write, or think about it. All human beings recognize the existence of beautiful things and all languages have a word for beauty. This indicates that beauty exists. It makes no sense to think that we would all have a word for “water” if water were purely imaginary. Words are communal and connote a degree of shared experience. If they did not, we would be incapable of understanding each other. It would be a very frustrating world if there were no convergence of opinion at all about what is and is not beautiful, and if aesthetic judgments were totally idiosyncratic and arbitrary. Each language has a word for “love,” too. Love is invisible, but real and important. Not everything that is real exists as an inert physical object. To perceive beauty requires a creative act on the part of the perceiver. It is possible to travel through what should be a beautiful landscape and to remain unmoved and blind to beauty. There should be a sense of exaltation, but oftentimes we are just not in the right frame of mind. Being bored or tired is going to interfere with the ability to perceive beauty. For something to be beautiful something must be evoked in the subject. In this sense “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But, crucially, this is not the same as saying that beauty is a mere nothing and is whatever someone says it is. It is only to say you cannot see it if you are in the wrong frame of mind, and if you just cannot rise to the occasion. Continue reading

Friends Like Us

[Written for the benefit of students who wonder if an evil person can be happy. Note the double meaning of the title.]

Plato, in The Gorgias, points out that we are friends with people who are like us, morally and intellectually. This is confirmed by ordinary observation and modern psychology. Plato also comments that he who is without temperance will not be able to do what is just and holy with regard the gods or man. He will lead a robber’s life and look to the main chance, unable to give others the consideration they are due.

Eric Fromm suggests, in The Art of Loving, that our ability to be happy is limited by our ability to love. This seems true, especially if we include moral aspiration, and also beloved activities. Achieving some kind of mastery concerning the things we love doing, the inspiration of the divine and higher, and communion with friends, children, spouses, and community, all seem crucial to eudaimonia (flourishing).

If we are a parent, or a teacher, a doctor, or an accountant, an engineer or a police officer, we have a duty to those we serve; namely to do what we think is in their best interests. If the child, student, patient, client, or community, loves us back and says nice things about us, that is very nice. But, we cannot pander to them and do and say what will flatter them, assuring them that no effort is required on their part. Love is a gift and should not be sought directly. We must do what we think best in the role that we are playing. Only then can we have self-respect and only then can any love sent our way have any meaning or worth. We want to be loved for what we really are, and what we really are must be worthy of love. A flattering, pandering, sycophant, should he be the recipient of kindly sentiments and thoughts knows he is not worthy of love and that this good will has been bought with fraudulent coin. Continue reading

Notes From Underground shines a light on The Genealogy of Morals


While Dostoevsky was unaware of Nietzsche, Nietzsche wrote in Twilight of the Idols that Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn, having chanced upon Notes From Underground in a bookstore in Nice in the winter of 1886-7. Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals and Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground both explore the distinction between two human types. As a brilliant novelist, Dostoevsky depicts the shortcomings of both. Nietzsche, on the other hand, tries to describe someone who was everything Nietzsche was not; a picture of health and a man of action, which ends up being about as plausible as the hero worship an eight year old might have for his friend’s sixteen year old, motorcycle riding, brother. Notes From Underground is a diagnosis of the mindset driving Nietzsche’s admiration of the “master,” while being himself much more of a “slave.” Dostoevsky also had more in common with the “slave” in real life, and could see what attraction being a “master” might have for such a person, while categorically not falling for this fantasy. Dostoevsky’s ability as a novelist to inhabit a character without identifying his own ego with it would have been a big help in this regard.

Dostoevsky was short, epileptic, and a compulsive gambler. Nietzsche was perpetually sick with chronic headaches and digestive problems. Reading and writing, his main occupations, strained his eyes and made both conditions worse. He was generally in pain while writing. Unlike Dostoevsky, Nietzsche was unread and unloved in his lifetime. He would typically print five hundred books or so at his own expense and end up giving most away.

In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche refers to “mastery morality,” to be contrasted with “slave morality,” the German Christian morality of the nineteenth century. Annoyingly, Nietzsche does not attack the best of Christian thinkers, but the uninspiring Christian-influenced German ethos of hoi polloi of his time. The opposite thing happens when someone finds an insightful quotation from some Native American chief or other and imagines that all Indians were wise, balanced, quasi-philosophers.

According to Nietzsche, the “master” resents no one. He is not a puny, frustrated little worm, fantasizing about switching places with someone of higher rank. The master ignores his social inferiors and has time only for those of his own class. He engages in manly activities associated with vigorous good health like hunting, war,[1] and adventure. Nietzsche is a great analyst and critic of resentment, presumably partly from first-hand experience as an unread author, and sees it as the weak’s impotent rage at the strong turned inward in frustration at not being able to punish its proper target. Nietzsche is right that resentment is indeed an unlovely sentiment but, as Thomas F. Bertonneau pointed out, it is preferable to actual violence. Resentment is the residual emotion of violence deferred.

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Notes From the Underground Shines a Light on The Genealogy of Morals

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ChatGPT4 is supposed to be an improvement over ChatGPT3. One thing it can now do is correctly state what will happen if a glass containing a ring is inverted over a bed. The ring will fall out. If the ring is embedded in ice, it will not fall out. If the glass with the ice and ring is left in a warm room for long enough both the water and the ring will fall out. Amazing! It reminds me of a scene from Asterix the Gaul. The Romans have captured Asterix and his druid, Getafix, and are trying to get them to make the magic potion that gives them superhuman strength. Naturally, the Gauls do not want to do this. Getafix gives them a hair growing potion instead. But, before the deception is discovered, the Roman leader, who thinks he has drunk the correct potion, wants to test his new abilities, trying ever lighter loads until he finally picks up a small rock convinced he has Herculean strength. Continue reading

Addition to Will AI Prevent Civilizational Collapse?

The day you can call up a credit card company, airline, any e-commerce company,  to resolve some problem you are having, and you are happy that they put you through to that super intelligent AI will be the day that we should get all emotional and excited about AI. Just yesterday the Fedex bot asked if I wanted a list of a store’s opening hours. I answered, “No.” It responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your answer. Would you like a list of the store’s opening hours?” “No.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your answer. Would you like a list of the store’s opening hours?” “No.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your answer. Would you like a list of the store’s opening hours?” At which point I hung up.

Somewhat narcissistically, I asked ChatGPT4 to describe my own philosophy, only because it is that of which I am most familiar – it has something like 140 real articles and over 200 postings to draw on – and it was pathetic and inaccurate, though directionally correct. I didn’t come out as a SJW, so that was something. If we ask ChatGPT4 some question where we do not know the answer, we will not know that it is a bloviating mess.

Will AI Save Us From Civilizational Collapse?

Edward Dutton rough transcript, plus Tom Holland and others


Capitolene Temple

AI depends on intelligent programmers, smart people who keep the machines working, and a functioning electrical grid. Many countries have lost such a grid and rely on individual generators to get electricity. We have supply chain problems that we are already too stupid to solve. The number of near misses involving planes is going up as we apply DEI to air traffic control. Airlines have announced they will apply DEI to pilots, and medical schools want people with no interest or ability to be surgeons; anyone other than white, Indian, or Asian males. This is a kind of culturally generated stupidification. It is estimated that by the year 2100, at the current rate of decline, our average IQ will be 85 and we will be unable to sustain this level of industrial and technological development. This was the level of intelligence found in Europe in 1100 AD. The movie Idiocracy is too optimistic. Intelligence is needed to create machines, less intelligence is needed to maintain and fix them, but some intelligence is needed nonetheless, and a functioning infrastructure is required. The problem is caused partly by the smartest most educated women not having children, and only those on welfare and in regular trouble with the police having above replacement levels of children.

Dutton notes that the trouble with things like ChatGPT, artificial intelligence, is that they are trained to solve well-defined clear problems with regard to which they have a great deal of feedback data from which they can generate a model. This is a system where they are successful if they manage to follow the model and unsuccessful if they do not. They are trained to solve a very specific narrow problem. There may, in fact, be a large expansion of solutions to narrow problems and a collapse for the need for low-skilled jobs. [One might add, in moderately skilled jobs too, such as graphic design with the advent of DALI.] If people do not have work and what they regard as a sufficient standard of living this could cause problems and revolutions and lead to a general collapse. Continue reading

Social Psychologists’ Attack on Intuition and Expertise


…Iain McGilchrist points out that psychologists love to find ways of tricking and defeating our intuitions in an effort to prove them unreliable. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow comes under criticism for doing this. Thinking fast for Kahneman, a social psychologist, denotes intuition, and the slow part, rational analysis. Because intuitive insight is so fast it can seem that it involves prejudice; some kind of illegitimate hack, but this is not the case. Schizophrenics can lose their theory of mind (ability to estimate the emotions and thoughts of others) and must instead attempt a conscious analysis, with typically poor results. This “thinking slow” does not work well at all and is distinctly inferior to intuition. One personal example is the ability to tell whether an actor is really playing the violin or not. It is possible tell with near certainty within two seconds. A negative judgment, in particular, is basically infallible. …Someone with the ability cannot explain how he does what he does. In fact, this is the case with all expertise. A doctor who is an expert diagnostician is relying on years of experience, similar cases, and things that make this case distinctive. This cannot be summed up in words. An expert radiologist relies primarily on a Gestalt impression of the x-ray and the non-verbal right hemisphere deals with Gestalts. One very expert doctor, who McGilchrist describes, would make his hospital rounds daily, apparently socializing, chatting with his patients. What he was actually doing was looking for any tell-tale changes in the faces of his patients as to whether they were improving or getting worse. Using this method, he could identify problems two to three days before the more junior doctors helping him. He would not be able to verbalize this skill either. A sensitive philosopher knows that “if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” This is intuitively obvious as a matter of basic philosophical insight…

McGilchrist quotes approvingly Why Do Humans Reason?[1] by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The authors point out that reasoning is seen as improving knowledge and making better decisions, but that actually, its main function is argumentative. Arguments are necessary when people are unwilling to take what is said on trust…

[1] The link will take you to a Google search page where the PDF can be downloaded.

This is an excerpt that does not start at the beginning. Please click link for the full article. Comments can be left here at the Orthosphere.

Social Psychologists’ Attack on Intuition and Expertise

Creation by Inhibition, Withdrawal, and Forgetting


Iain McGilchrist, in The Matter With Things, notes that one conception of God and the divine is that He created by withdrawing, by making a space. This is related to Lao Tzu’s Tao De Ching that comments that the essence of a cup is the hole it creates and encloses, just as a house is primarily about the space created within it. The womb in which life grows is an enclosure. Cups, houses, and wombs are characterized by absence.

Likewise, to have a thought, it is necessary to forget. To have all thoughts simultaneously is to be unable to think. One thought achieves salience, any others are inhibited. To remember something means to forget nearly everything and just retrieve a particular memory if and when it is desired. Remembering has to be optional. Our brains are, according to one conception, primarily valves and filtering and limiting devices. From a sea of the One Consciousness we pull that which we desire: channeling, limiting, excluding according to whim, character, interests, circumstance, desires and the nature of our imagination. Our thoughts become ours by getting rid of the rest. On this view, the physical brain provides resistance, creating an eddy in the flow like a rock in water, not entirely apart from the water, but nonetheless a distinct pattern discernible from the rest.

If we could not forget, we would remember everything simultaneously. We would have a kind of useless block consciousness. It would be comparable to having a permanently full stomach that did not permit eating. The stomach too is an emptiness that exists nearly as much by what it is not as what it is. Without the ability to forget, we could not think and we could not function. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) involves intrusive memories that are disruptive and is a disease of remembering. To forget nothing and have it all present all the time, one would effectively remember nothing. One would not be able to isolate one memory from the rest in order to actively remember it. We tend to remember only the important things and forget the rest. This is useful and efficient. It does make memorizing things like Latin vocabulary hard, however. Clearly, some part of us regards it as unnecessary and unrelated to our survival.

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Hayek and Genetic Engineering

Friedrich Hayek commented that central planning meant a loss of crucial information about the market that only a free market could determine. How many cars, for instance, should be built? And how much should they cost? Command economies are notorious for not being able to answer that question. East Germans had a waiting list of around thirteen years for one of the crappiest cars ever produced; the Trabant. Its main body panels were consisted of Duroplast, made from recycled cotton and phenol resins from the East German dye industry which would offer very little protection in the event of a crash. The engine was loud, low powered and performing, and polluting.

Only supply and demand can determine the quality, cost, and number of such products that should be made. Your house is worth nothing in dollar terms if nobody will buy it. And a hovel could be worth hundreds of thousands if the supply is poor enough. Just ask a New Zealander or Brit. For instance, a married couple in Wellington with a child bought a house on a cliff with no garden to play in, with a long commute from any place of employment, with no local amenities, and two bedrooms for $850,000 NZD. Before you Google how much New Zealand Dollars are worth on an exchange, New Zealanders, surprisingly enough, are paid in NZD and their numerical amount is no higher and often lower than those in the US paid in USD. Once external forces come in to determine prices, no one knows the cost of anything.

Similarly, evolution has determined the characteristics of human beings. It has “decided” that around 5’10” is a good height for men, depending on the population under consideration, not seven feet. That an average IQ is generally to be preferred. 140 is all very well, but if it truly conferred some huge evolutionary advantage, we could expect the average to be 140 savants. For some dumb ideas, like determinism, G factor of intelligence confers no immunity. Continue reading

Dear Student…

The way formal education works is that students are introduced to hopefully new ideas and points of view with the aim of expanding your current repertoire. Whether you like and agree with those ideas and points of view is entirely your business.

Most professors just lecture, I think. My classes are designed to center around class discussion as much as possible, and more than most. You have your classmates with whom to express your point of view and areas of agreement and disagreement. There is no need for a professor and a student to agree.

The way you have written in your assignments suggests that you think it very important that I stop thinking whatever it is that I am thinking and that I start thinking whatever it is that you are thinking, and that is very important for me to realize just how wrong I am. Continue reading