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Is Objectivism Falsifiable or Merely Explanatory?

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Let's "unpack" this sentence folks...

"At birth, a child’s mind is tabula rasa; he has the potential of awareness—the mechanism of a human consciousness—but no content."

"At birth" is clear and certainly can be disputed that there is pre-birth brain activity;

"child's mind," not brain, is the reference;

"potential of awareness," I think we can stipulate that she meant "conscious awareness" of "objective reality" here. However, we know that there is unconscious "awareness" that is constantly running in the brain/mind in the background all the time;

"mechanism of human consciousness," now, what is being referenced here?

"no content," not "no knowledge." I believe this is an awkward statement, but not necessarily fallacious, or, begging the question. Additionally, that specific question implies a hidden agenda, rather than an awkward verbal construction.

Adam

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Why Rand is any authority on the mind or brain at birth is beyond me. Content wise, who is an authority?

--Brant

I loved the womb, btw

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"no content," not "no knowledge." I believe this is an awkward statement, but not necessarily fallacious, or, begging the question. Additionally, that specific question implies a hidden agenda, rather than an awkward verbal construction.

Adam

No, I don't think so. From ITOE:

"Man is born tabula rasa; all his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of his senses. "

Knowledge and "content" are used interchangeably (I don't have any quibble with this on its own). But this is as clear petitio principii as I have ever seen. Not acceptable.

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The rest doesn't matter - potential/mechanism whatever - not relevant. The definition of knowledge assumes/necessitates tabula rasa. Therefore the conclusion is contained in the premises. That's it. Simple as that. The argument is DOA.

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It's pretty clear that a third trimester fetus's neural system is developed enough to have some perception via touch and sound. How aware it is is debatable. Of course, there are websites fond of exaggerating the degree of awareness. So tabula rasa is true to a large extent but not entirely. Obviously, there is some earlier time at which it is entirely true.

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It's pretty clear that a third trimester fetus's neural system is developed enough to have some perception via touch and sound. How aware it is is debatable. Of course, there are websites fond of exaggerating the degree of awareness. So tabula rasa is true to a large extent but not entirely. Obviously, there is some earlier time at which it is entirely true.

So? Still earlier our atoms were in a star somewhere. This says nothing.

Rand's tabula rasa idea simply states that before we have any experience, we have no knowledge of the type that derives from experience. A rather meaningless circular tautology (if that's not redundant). This cannot be used as a basis for arguing anything.

Bob

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It's pretty clear that a third trimester fetus's neural system is developed enough to have some perception via touch and sound. How aware it is is debatable. Of course, there are websites fond of exaggerating the degree of awareness. So tabula rasa is true to a large extent but not entirely. Obviously, there is some earlier time at which it is entirely true.

Indeed, maybe tabula rasa would be less controversial if, instead of pointing to birth as the starting point, we moved it backward to some appropriate point during our time in the womb. A newborn already has a certain number of months experience with sound and touch, and maybe even the beginnings of the notion of cause and effect. Kick your mama, and there will (often) be a reaction. But is an embryo tabula rasa? It doesn’t even have a brain yet, the question is hardly applicable. Also, the brain doesn’t pop into existence all at once, it goes in stages and takes time. Reptilian, mammalian, the whole tripartite thing.

There’s a part from a great Joseph Campbell lecture that I think serves as an effective illustration, or way to frame the issue. It’s not on YouTube or anywhere public that I know of, so you’ll have to take my summary. He’s talking about how humans use myths to inform the big transitions in life, the long childhood and all that, then gives a counter example from the animal kingdom. A case where inborn knowledge suffices. On some island (I forget where) turtles come up on the beach and lay their eggs. The laying is timed so that the eggs all hatch next time the moon is full. As soon as the baby turtles pop out (there’s an army of them), they all start a mad dash towards the crashing surf. None ever go the wrong way, they all instantaneously “know” what they need to do and how to do it. As they’re running fast as their little feet will carry them, birds arrive for the feast. They dive bomb the newborns, hence the need to make it to the safety of the water. There’s a comparable example from one of the herd species of the Serengeti, where the newborn is ready to run with the herd within minutes of dropping out of the womb. By contrast humans are born with what? An instinct to suck, not much else. We don’t survive by our instincts and reason isn’t automatic, ultimately that’s the point.

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So? Still earlier our atoms were in a star somewhere. This says nothing.

Rand's tabula rasa idea simply states that before we have any experience, we have no knowledge of the type that derives from experience. A rather meaningless circular tautology (if that's not redundant). This cannot be used as a basis for arguing anything.

Are you saying there is some other kind of knowledge? If so, what is it? An innate idea? Leibniz's monads?

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So? Still earlier our atoms were in a star somewhere. This says nothing.

Rand's tabula rasa idea simply states that before we have any experience, we have no knowledge of the type that derives from experience. A rather meaningless circular tautology (if that's not redundant). This cannot be used as a basis for arguing anything.

Are you saying there is some other kind of knowledge? If so, what is it? An innate idea? Leibniz's monads?

That's the crux of it yes. There exists other kinds of knowledge or there does not exist other kinds of knowledge depending on how you define it. But you cannot define knowledge as Rand did, and then make the tabula rasa claim. That is fallacious.

Some birds and fish somehow "know" how to migrate to their spawning grounds without prior experience. Babies kinda "know" how to do some things, but is this knowledge? Yes or no, depending on how you define it. However, this is not relevant to the form of Rand's argument. Regardless of what you believe knowledge to be, Rand is clear on how she defines it. This is what makes the form of her argument fallacious. This is "pre" true or false. The form of the argument is logically illegal.

Bob

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FWIW, I think Rand was too smart not to know this was a fallacy. She was all-too-familiar with fallacious reasoning. In my opinion, this (and other examples) were deliberate. That's a opinion, but the fact that the reasoning is a fallacy is not an opinion. That much is certain.

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Rand overextended with the "tabula rasa" notion.

The only way to make that work is to say that an infant's mind is "tabula rasa" in terms of concepts with words attached to them. That meaning of "tabula rasa" makes her statement true. I know of no newborn who speaks a language. But I'm not so sure that Rand would have limited it that way.

Rand-bashers try to make Rand's "tabula rasa" statement a point that invalidates the entire philosophy, but all that does is show they have the same agenda-driven mindset as the one they presume to bash. They just go at it from the opposite end.

I hold you can isolate Rand's oversimplifications and oddities, relegate them to "not valid," and still get enormous benefit from the philosophy. I know this is true because I get such benefit while doing exactly as I just said.

Michael

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FWIW, I think Rand was too smart not to know this was a fallacy. She was all-too-familiar with fallacious reasoning. In my opinion, this (and other examples) were deliberate. That's a opinion, but the fact that the reasoning is a fallacy is not an opinion. That much is certain.

I disagree with it being fallacious and that she deliberately made a fallacious argument. Facts go against her position (tabula rasa at birth), but that is all.

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It's pretty clear that a third trimester fetus's neural system is developed enough to have some perception via touch and sound. How aware it is is debatable. Of course, there are websites fond of exaggerating the degree of awareness. So tabula rasa is true to a large extent but not entirely. Obviously, there is some earlier time at which it is entirely true.
Indeed, maybe tabula rasa would be less controversial if, instead of pointing to birth as the starting point, we moved it backward to some appropriate point during our time in the womb. By contrast humans are born with what? An instinct to suck, not much else. We don’t survive by our instincts and reason isn’t automatic, ultimately that’s the point.

Ninth,

I am not even sure about the sucking instinct. In my narrow experience, a newborn has to be guided to the nipple, and encouraged to suck. After the first few times she quickly connects the manner she's held, and the vision of breast, to "Yummie! - food." (I guess.)

Nothing like puppies and kittens which have the instinct (inherent knowledge) and keen sense of smell to identify what to head for immediately after birth. Them I know more about.

I can easily accept findings that a baby is having sensory experiences in utero for 'x' number of days before birth. It makes sense, considering the unbelievable rate of knowledge- input and retention after birth (something like doubling every 24 hours?) - that they hit the ground running (so to speak.)

I'm puzzled by how this contradicts Rand. She writes in 'Cognition and Measurement': "...chronologically, man's consciousness develops in three stages: the stage of sensations, the perceptual, the conceptual - epistemologically,

the base of all of man's knowledge is the PERCEPTUAL stage."

and,

"It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality."

Therefore, surely Rand's "tabula rasa" does not deny sensations, within the womb and outside it (which all animals share)?

- no, what crucially matters for her is the perceptual stage - at which a baby is starting to take in "existents" all around it.

i.e. it is this perceptual stage that is tabula rasa at birth - stimulated into action by the baby perceiving existence.

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Facts go against her position (tabula rasa at birth), but that is all.

Which in part answers the question of the thread whether Objectivism [or any other philosophy as well] is fasifiable. If a philosopher makes statements that can be subjected to scientific testing, it is possible to falsify them.

It is not possible to falsify philosophical statements that express value (or disvalue) judgements, like e. g. Heidegger's "Nothing Noughts", where existence is conceived primarily against the backdrop of its ultimate annihilation. This focus on the ultimate "Nothing", on the threatening void permeates the philosoper's personal attitude toward existence.

Heidegger is an antipode to Rand, so to speak. Unlike Heidegger, the human individual's annihilation, although an incontrovertible fact, does not make Rand pessimistic. Her focus is on life as the highest value. This makes her psychological attitude diametrically opposed to Heidegger's. But psychological attitudes cannot be 'falsified'.

I am not even sure about the sucking instinct. In my narrow experience, a newborn has to be guided to

the nipple, and encouraged to suck. After the first few times she quickly connects the manner she's held, and

the vision of breast, to "Yummie! - food." (I guess.)

Nothing like puppies and kittens who have the instinct (inherent knowledge) and keen sense of smell to identify

what to head for immediately. Them I know more about.

Human infants too have the sucking instinct.

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I am not even sure about the sucking instinct. In my narrow experience, a newborn has to be guided to

the nipple, and encouraged to suck.

Yeah I know, I was just conceding it for the sake of argument.

Heidegger is an antipode to Rand, so to speak. Unlike Heidegger, the human individual's annihilation, although an incontrovertible fact, does not make Rand pessimistic.

For some reason I’m getting on a Woody Allen kick.

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Rand overextended with the "tabula rasa" notion.

The only way to make that work is to say that an infant's mind is "tabula rasa" in terms of concepts with words attached to them. That meaning of "tabula rasa" makes her statement true. I know of no newborn who speaks a language. But I'm not so sure that Rand would have limited it that way.

Rand-bashers try to make Rand's "tabula rasa" statement a point that invalidates the entire philosophy, but all that does is show they have the same agenda-driven mindset as the one they presume to bash. They just go at it from the opposite end.

I hold you can isolate Rand's oversimplifications and oddities, relegate them to "not valid," and still get enormous benefit from the philosophy. I know this is true because I get such benefit while doing exactly as I just said.

Michael

I understand what you're saying, really I do. I share this attitude, only to a much lesser extent.

The problem is that she makes much stronger claims. She claims that Objectivism is derived from the foundational axioms so that in a nutshell, Objectivism = Reality + Reason. There are major holes in the reasoning side. Same idea with life as the standard of value. The reasoning is similarly (maybe not exactly though) fallacious in this case as well. And we have the Reality question too - not always in accordance with Rand's assertions either - I digress.

This is much more than just "overextended". These problems are foundational and deadly IMHO.

Bob

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FWIW, I think Rand was too smart not to know this was a fallacy. She was all-too-familiar with fallacious reasoning. In my opinion, this (and other examples) were deliberate. That's a opinion, but the fact that the reasoning is a fallacy is not an opinion. That much is certain.

I disagree with it being fallacious and that she deliberately made a fallacious argument. Facts go against her position (tabula rasa at birth), but that is all.

Facts are secondary to the logic here. If you disagree, you must explain why the reasoning is NOT petitio principii.

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Human infants too have the sucking instinct.

Ah, yes. But could they ever find a nipple, if not aimed in the right direction?

Half blind newborn pups beat them, hands down.

Anyway, 'sucking instinct' is a misnomer, I think - technically it's "sucking reflex."

Like the 'gag reflex', I think.

Babies have no inherent knowledge - 'instinct' - to survive.

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Facts are secondary to the logic here. If you disagree, you must explain why the reasoning is NOT petitio principii.

'A child is born tabula rasa' and 'a child before being born had no knowledge' say the same thing, only in different words. I don't see it as petitio principii because there is no chain of propositions of the form

p1 => p2 => … => pn => p1 as described here. I don't get why you believe her argument is circular. Regardless, like the linked page says, not all circular arguments are fallacious.

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The problem is that she makes much stronger claims. She claims that Objectivism is derived from the foundational axioms...

Bob,

You just showed that you really do not understand the fundamentals of Objectivism.

The philosophy is built from induction, not deduction. So it is not "derived" from any principle. On the contrary, principles are abstracted (not even "derived") from observation at the base. Deduction comes only after that part, and it can always be superseded by reality. Deduction only comes after concept formation, for that matter.

Objectivism starts with observation and experience, not deductive reasoning. Conceptual thought kicks in after the perceptual part, and after abstract integration.

Crack open ITOE and you will see that axiomatic concepts are in Chapter 6, not Chapter 1.

Hell, Chapter 1 (Cognition and Measurement) deals with the mathematical basis of concept-formation and that you need implicit (perceptual) knowledge before you can have explicit (conceptual) knowledge, and Chapter 2 (Concept-Formation) is based on developmental psychology. None of that is "derived" or deduced from fundamental axioms.

I have several differences with Rand on her view of how the brain works (especially since I have started studying neuroscience, albeit neuroscience light so far), but I try to understand her correctly so I can agree or disagree correctly.

I am loathe to discuss my disagreements with you, though.

The impression I always get from you is that if a person bashes Rand for outright wrong reasons--like claiming she was a collectivist at root or something like that--I believe you would call that person a profound thinker, say you know exactly what the person is getting at, and crow some kind of imagined victory. I sense your negative judgement of Rand is far more important to you than accuracy. Something like a cognitive bias on steroids.

Michael

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[....] From ITOE:

"Man is born tabula rasa; all his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of his senses. "

Knowledge and "content" are used interchangeably (I don't have any quibble with this on its own). But this is as clear petitio principii as I have ever seen. Not acceptable.

The rest doesn't matter - potential/mechanism whatever - not relevant. The definition of knowledge assumes/necessitates tabula rasa. Therefore the conclusion is contained in the premises. That's it. Simple as that. The argument is DOA.

It isn't an argument. It's an assertion as a two-part sentence, not a premise and a conclusion.

[Rand] claims that Objectivism is derived from the foundational axioms [...].

Where?

Ellen

Add: Michael posted while I was collecting pieces from several posts, and I didn't notice that he'd meanwhile challenged Bob's statement.

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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The problem is that she makes much stronger claims. She claims that Objectivism is derived from the foundational axioms...

Bob,

You just showed that you really do not understand the fundamentals of Objectivism.

The philosophy is built from induction, not deduction. So it is not "derived" from any principle. On the contrary, principles are abstracted (not even "derived") from observation at the base. Deduction comes only after that part, and it can always be superseded by reality. Deduction only comes after concept formation, for that matter.

Objectivism starts with observation and experience, not deductive reasoning. Conceptual thought kicks in after the perceptual part, and after abstract integration.

Crack open ITOE and you will see that axiomatic concepts are in Chapter 6, not Chapter 1.

Hell, Chapter 1 (Cognition and Measurement) deals with the mathematical basis of concept-formation and that you need implicit (perceptual) knowledge before you can have explicit (conceptual) knowledge, and Chapter 2 (Concept-Formation) is based on developmental psychology. None of that is "derived" or deduced from fundamental axioms.

I have several differences with Rand on her view of how the brain works (especially since I have started studying neuroscience, albeit neuroscience light so far), but I try to understand her correctly so I can agree or disagree correctly.

I am loathe to discuss my disagreements with you, though.

The impression I always get from you is that if a person bashes Rand for outright wrong reasons--like claiming she was a collectivist at root or something like that--I believe you would call that person a profound thinker, say you know exactly what the person is getting at, and crow some kind of imagined victory. I sense your negative judgement of Rand is far more important to you than accuracy. Something like a cognitive bias on steroids.

Michael

Induction-deduction from Atlas Shrugged. The philosophy was distilled then elaborated from the novel. What the novel came from was an idea: what if the men of the mind went on strike? Speaking more generally--the novel and the philosophy--it all came from Rand's idea of the ideal man and the requirements of his existence. Mixing up the structure of the philosophy with its creation gets it all backwards.

--Brant

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Anyway, 'sucking instinct' is a misnomer, I think - technically it's "sucking reflex."

Like the 'gag reflex', I think.

The term "Sucking reflex" is used as well. It "causes the child to instinctively suck at anything that touches the roof of their mouth" http://en.wikipedia....mitive_reflexes

There exist several other neonatal reflexes, like the grasp reflex, the Moro reflex etc.

Babies have no inherent knowledge - 'instinct' - to survive.

Instinct is different from knowledge in that it is already present, hardwired, and not the result of a conscious learning process.

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Ayn Rand did not say so, but perhaps she implicitly held that for something to be called knowledge, there must be some kind of integration. She did write: "A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism. It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality" (ITOE,5).

She may also have agreed with the following. A fetus in the womb hearing a sound or touching the uteral wall is only a sensation. There is no integration from more than one sensory modality. Therefore, neither is a percept nor knowledge. It is only after birth that perceptual integration, e.g. sight and sound, sight and touch, can occur.

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It isn't an argument. It's an assertion as a two-part sentence, not a premise and a conclusion.

In the case of the quote above, yes. But that's hardly where she stops with tabula rasa is it?

You damn well know that she extends this circular/fallacious/tautological nonsense much further than that simple sentence. The truth is that the basis of her extended arguments is a fallacy.

Some Rand quotes:

"Since men are born tabula rasa, both cognitively and morally, a rational man regards strangers as innocent until proved guilty, and grants them that initial good will in the name of their human potential."

"He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically."

"Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments."

All based on a fallacy. That's the point, not the single sentence - the larger idea of tabula rasa. Sheesh, thought that was rather obvious.

Bob

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