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Isn't there a category in psychology for normative concepts, the ones in normative science that are concerned with logic, concepts of method, math, ethics, morality, romance, art, and science?

Isn't the category of cognitive concepts, more or less insufficient when measured with normative concepts?

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  • 1 month later...

Ralph,

I finally remembered this and actually found it. I will organize my thoughts and write some things.

But for now, in The Romantic Manifesto (I forget which essay, I believe it was "Art and a Sense of Life"--I will have to check), Rand came up with a category of mental activity called "normative abstractions" as opposed to cognitive ones. Like what you just said above, I used to think it was "normative concepts." But it wasn't. It was "normative abstractions." I'm grateful to whatever snarky bastard corrected my on that years ago. :) 

(It's true, too. All of it. I know longer remember who corrected me, but I do remember it being snark-level snarky and I am truly grateful since this has provided me with a world of thought since.)

At the end of a long and twisted road, because of this, I came up with my idea of a "cognitive before normative" process in handling new information. One has to identify something correctly before one can evaluate it correctly--that is, if correspondence to reality is the standard. 

I wanted this to be the only correct way of disciplining rational thought. But after a lot of study in neuroscience, modern psychology, and so on, I realized that "normative before cognitive" is the normal sequence of the mind. From babies all the way into senility. Without a whole lot of that first, there can be no "cognitive before normative." But "cognitive before normative" is where all the good stuff happens in human progress.

Oddly enough, this landed me right in the middle of narrative and story. 

And, man, is this a long topic (including your questions, which to me, fit right in.)

:)

Anyway, I have not forgotten you. I have been treading water time-wise with the Trump and Deep State thing and had no mental space for much else. 

However, I am enormously pleased that you are finding OL a good place to publish your thoughts. I even feel I need to look at conceptual constructivism again (I bookmarked your email way back when :) ).

Michael

 

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  • 3 months later...
On 2/8/2021 at 6:02 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

One has to identify something correctly before one can evaluate it correctly--that is, if correspondence to reality is the standard.

I'm just starting to visit the links you provided me, so I apologize in advance if you've answered my questions/points elsewhere. Regarding your post here, it strikes me that in order to evaluate something correctly, not only must you first identify it correctly, you must also identify yourself correctly, since any moral evaluation involves the object's relationship to yourself.

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5 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I'm just starting to visit the links you provided me, so I apologize in advance if you've answered my questions/points elsewhere. Regarding your post here, it strikes me that in order to evaluate something correctly, not only must you first identify it correctly, you must also identify yourself correctly, since any moral evaluation involves the object's relationship to yourself.

MisterSwig,

That is exactly what a lot of people do on autopilot in O-Land and I believe it is a humongous epistemological error. Maybe "error" is not the best term precision-wise. Sliding down the slippery slope of turning "kind" into "degree" in order to turn it into another "kind" is what I am talking about. I've seen this happen a lot.

Here is an example from Rand of what I am talking about. In The Romantic Manifesto, she started discussing different forms of art and arrived at painting. Then she got into modern art, especially modern art painting. After she discussed and ranted about how modern art is against humans, she said (I paraphrase) that a canvas hanging on a wall with smudges on it is not a painting, meaning not art.

So here is the process in my own paraphrase. Art has a category called modern art. (Then the slippery slope starts.) Modern art sucks so bad, it kills the human spirit and so on. Then the bottom of the slope. Modern art is not art.

:) 

Back to you. If you are saying "identify yourself correctly" because that is a super-important identification to get right if the Law of Identity is to mean anything to you, I'm right there with you, If you say "identifying yourself correctly" has to happen before you can identify something else correctly, say, bitter melon as a food, this starts getting into the realm of deducing reality from a principle as one's epistemological foundation (which is the portal to the slippery slope and a wickedly deceptive form of what Rand called "primacy of consciousness"). And once that happens, the next step is to say "every 'is' comes with an 'ought,'" rather than "every relevant 'is' in the right context could come with an 'ought.'"

It's obvious (at least to me) that correctly identifying the nature of rare tiny single cell deep sea creatures is not all that important to human life. So why would someone not be able to correctly identify the nature of such creatures without first identifying himself or herself? Suppose the person is drooling beast bonkers but can identify stuff like a boss? How about mad scientists? Or, for that matter, modern scientists sucking on the government and/or crony corporatist teats for their survival? Do they identify themselves correctly? Ever? 

:)

But, man, can they identify things correctly, even when they lie about it (which, from what I see, is often).

 

Different levels of identification and long-term memory

Besides, there are different levels of identification which more or less follow the three main cognitive-level types of long-term memory. (I got this from Impossible to Ignore by Carmen Simon, PhD. Although this book is more self-help for businesses and business people than information on neuroscience and modern psychology, it is based on these sciences.)

 

Reflex

First level memory is reflexive. This type is about as innate as it gets and identifications at this level start with normative and only then move to cognitive. For example, falling causes fear in all humans. We later ignore the fear when we learn falling is safe in certain situations, or we even turn it into fun. But identifying and evaluating falling develops from innate fear. In fact, this innate fear (leading to base-level normative abstractions) makes it real easy to correctly identify things that cause falling. 

 

Habit

The next long term memory stage is habit. According to Simon, this is less instinctual and is developed from repetition of chosen actions that do not necessarily relate to each other in the natural world. For example, riding a bicycle. You will not find bicycles in nature, nor bicycle-riding, nor bicycle-riding organs, like you do wings on birds for flying. We learn, then automate, each step of the way. And we have that in memory to call on anytime we wish for identifying anything related to human-machine mobility.

 

Volition (goals)

The third long-term memory stage is goal derived. This is mostly what O-Land people mean when they talk about volition being the root of cognition, thus the epistemological part of identification--broken down as differentiation and integration in ITOE. At this level, we have to be careful. An O-Land observation can sneak in that is brilliant in one context, but doesn't work here. what is it? The impossibility of excluding the agent. For example, when talking about axiomatic concepts like existence or identity or consciousness, a person (the agent) has to exist, have an identity and be conscious as a given to even consider it. 

(Apropos, the metaphysical part of identification is correspondence to reality.)

For normative abstractions at this level of memory, the nature of the agent is the standard of value as a given. But for cognitive concepts (epistemologically), the only given is the way, or better, set of ways the brain (meaning here the cortex sitting on the lower parts of the brain) processes information. We can metaphorically call this map-making. 

I don't want to keep going on technically since this would take all day, so let me borrow a term used often in NLP: "The map is not the territory."

(Warning. There is a lot of hokum and controversy surrounding therapy uses of NLP, but the core of NLP is sound. Simply put, NLP processes are developed by studying experts from many different angles at the times the experts are doing what they do, extracting the things that work the best, then setting up training routines based on this for people to develop skills faster and easier than normal. In other words, NLP can be used not just for therapy like curing phobias or for covert hypnosis, it can also be used for learning to play the violin well, or developing high performance in a sport, etc.. This is a long discussion so more at a different time. Right here I am trying to avoid a negative knee-jerk reaction from anyone reading this to an insightful phrase that is spot-on.)

When we identify things at this third stage of memory and complexity, we use observation, but we also keep checking what we are examining against the "maps" in our minds. To give a silly example, but one that makes the point, suppose we see a person walking toward us in the distance. And suppose this person has three legs. It is far easier to identify that the person has three legs and this is not normal (cognitive) than it is to perceive whether the person is friend or foe (normative). We do that by comparing what we see against the "map" of normal person in our mind.

Granted, friend and foe each are represented by corresponding maps, but to be certain in terms of human interactions, we have to first identify that the being is a human and. if relevant in terms of the map, what kind of human. Cognitively, a three legged human really stands out at this level and poses a serious challenge to our identification processes. :) Normatively, it doesn't tell us whether to flght/flee, engage in a friendly manner, or seduce sexually. 

Note, maps do not exist conceptually (for the most part) at other levels of memory/identification. They are deeper underground. To go back to the example of bicycle riding, we know when a person is doing it wrong when we see a person getting ready to fall over, and we feel it is wrong before we can identify it. This is not because we reasoned out a concept and that reasoning is our standard (our "map"). We automated a skill, i.e., made a habit, and this is the "map" we peg what we see to.

Damnation...

Once again, I start in and don't know when to stop. And then I start running out of time for my other stuff. :) 

So I'll have to leave this right here. In this form, it is more an open set of prompts for thinking than well-fleshed out ideas.

But prompts are good. At least I think so...

:) 

Michael

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18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

If you are saying "identify yourself correctly" because that is a super-important identification to get right if the Law of Identity is to mean anything to you, I'm right there with you, If you say "identifying yourself correctly" has to happen before you can identify something else correctly, say, bitter melon as a food, this starts getting into the realm of deducing reality from a principle as one's epistemological foundation (which is the portal to the slippery slope and a wickedly deceptive form of what Rand called "primacy of consciousness").

I'm not saying either of those, though I do agree with the first one.

My point is about forming a normative idea about something's value. You do this by relating the thing to a standard of value, which is your own life. Your life is the standard, so you must identify your life before you can determine whether something is beneficial or harmful to it, or irrelevant.

This can be an enormous problem if you misidentify your life. Let's take an extreme, psychotic example where someone mistakes himself for a garbage can. If he tries to sit on the curb and eat garbage, he'll get sick and probably die or be rushed to a mental ward. Thankfully most people identify themselves at least as thinking animals and thus put a little thought into what they consume, maybe trusting the supermarket or restaurant to give them beneficial food. But then many misidentify other aspects of their lives, such as whether they're immortal, and then they value books that teach them how to reach heaven.    

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18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

It's obvious (at least to me) that correctly identifying the nature of rare tiny single cell deep sea creatures is not all that important to human life.

Which human life? You're treating the standard of value generally and not applying it to the particular units from which it was abstracted. Correctly identifying a sea creature might be highly important to a marine biologist seeking greater understanding of sea life. Perhaps it would lead to a Nobel Prize or other career success.  

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MAN's life is the standard of value. Not one's own life.

The identification is that of "man", foremost, and what is right and proper for "man" is the standard.

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1 minute ago, anthony said:

MAN's life is the standard of value. Not one's own life.

The identification is that of "man", foremost, and what is right and proper for "man" is the standard.

Tony,

Dayaamm. 

Finally we agree on something fundamental about this issue.

:)

Michael

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

This can be an enormous problem if you misidentify your life. Let's take an extreme, psychotic example where someone mistakes himself for a garbage can. If he tries to sit on the curb and eat garbage, he'll get sick and probably die or be rushed to a mental ward.

MisterSwig,

You don't even have to go that far. How about smoking?

People have mistakenly assumed that their very human lungs were delivery mechanisms for transforming a mix of garbage into pleasure. Most of them thus degraded their senior years, and way too many of them got sick with things like emphysema and cancer of the lungs, throat, tongue, etc.

These are people who did not correctly identify themselves first before evaluating what was good and bad re smoking.

Rand even turned smoking into man controlling fire at his finger-tips, Bernays turned it into torches of freedom for women, and I smoked for years to fulfill some kind of half-assed self-image, I guess. Believe it or not, I smoked 7 years, stopped 7 years, smoked another 7 years, and now I do not smoke and will never smoke again.

Regardless of the reason, none of us thought much about the human body, our own human body, as we developed the smoking habit. Granted, the extent of toxicity back then was not known, but our bodies sure told us something on first puff. Almost everyone gags when they start smoking. Then there are all those years of all that phlegm. Hellooooo...

So this is just one example of where I agree with you. 

 

Story trance

I don't want to make this competitive, so please don't take it as such. But there is so much more beyond a static view of identification and evaluation (which is how I used to see it and how your words come off to me). Now, I see this issue from different frames that I had never thought about before due to my Objectivist perspective. I see it deeper than just a linear process using an adult's way of thinking.

There are a few such hidden presuppositions in the Objectivist philosophy that make one easily go off into artificial limitations, presuppositions that blind one to parts of reality. Note that I am not talking about agreement or disagreement. I'm talking about simply not seeing something, not taking it into consideration, not realizing it exists. One such case is the nature of the human life-cycle in terms of the brain.

Here is a great example: the value of stories to people. This is an area Rand covered within the realm of literature for adults, but not too much elsewhere. And she especially did not go into what kind of stories are relevant at different ages. In O-Land, you will sometimes see a person talk about this, like mentioning children's fairy tales and things like that, but they are getting that from observing the culture at large, not from thinking about the nature of story itself, nor about the nature of the human brain from the standpoint of the human life-cycle.

I became aware of this "blank" where thought should have been in my own mind when I read a book called Entranced by Story: Brain, Tale and Teller, from Infancy to Old Age by Hugh Crago. When I first came across this book, I almost didn't read it. The title just didn't seem sexy enough from my view of trying to create models of perfect humans. See Rand's article in The Romantic Manifesto "The Goal of My Writing" for an explanation of this, or maybe her interview with James Day, but I am sure you are already familiar with it. I had adopted that view--as universal--as my own for years and applied it to story in general. I still do for certain kinds of stories (and they are wonderful), but I have since learned that this is not the main purpose of story in human life.

 

The interpreter -- the chicken and shovel

For a hint at what is the main purpose of story, there's a little sucker in your left brain a neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga, calls "the interpreter." This part of the left hemisphere does nothing but compose narratives in order to fit things you perceive to causality, whether they fit or not. In other words, the story creator (the interpreter) inside of you, and me, and everyone else, will lie its ass off to us if nothing else makes sense. :) (And it will lie for some normative reasons, but that's beyond the scope here.)

Gazzaniga discovered this when he performed a famous experiment where he surgically severed a patient's corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is basically the brain's connection between the left hemisphere and the right. For as icky as that sounds, this was and still is an effective treatment for severe cases of epilepsy. After the procedure, a person is able to function normally. But there are some sneaky little differences between before and after and Gazzaniga discovered one by dreaming up ways to isolate and test the two hemispheres when the main cable (so to speak) between them was cut.

Don't forget that the left brain controls the right part of the body and vice-versa. 

So here is what Gazzaniga did. He had a patient cover one eye and showed him a picture, then had him choose related pictures with one hand, then the other . This didn't produce much, so he came up with the idea of showing each eye a different picture at the same time without the patient knowing it. He devised a contraption that would do just that.

He showed a chicken claw to the patient's right eye (which goes to the left brain where the interpreter is along with the language center), and a snow-covered scene to the left eye (which goes to the right brain, which does very little in the way of words). In effect, the result was that the patient had a word for the image of the chicken claw, but no word for the image of the snow-covered scene. If you asked him about the snow-covered scene, he couldn't tell you anything about it in words. But nonverbal knowledge of it was still lodged in his right brain.

Then Gazzaniga showed the patient a series of pictures, two so obviously related to the images the patient saw a caveman could get it right, and the other pictures not related at all. The related pictures were a chicken's head and a snow shovel. To further dig down, he asked the patient to pick one picture with each hand. At the end, he asked why the patient chose what he chose.

As it turned out, the patient chose the chicken head with his right hand (which goes to the left brain). Don't forget that his left brain had seen the chicken claw, so the left brain had his right hand choose the chicken head. And further don't forget that his left brain had no knowledge--no memory--that a snow-covered scene had just been seen.

Then he chose the snow shovel with the left hand (which goes to the right brain) and don't forget that his right brain had just seen the snow-covered scene. But it had no knowledge--no memory--that he had just seen a chicken claw with the eye going to the other hemisphere.

One would think the patient would say he chose the chicken head to go with the chicken claw because they are related, and ditto for the snow shovel to go with the snow-covered scene. But that's not what happened.

The patient said he chose the chicken head to go with the chicken claw and the shovel to clean up the chicken shit.

:) 

The patient's interpreter in the left brain did not have words for the snow-covered scene, so it simply did not take the scene into account. But it did know that for some reason the patient had chosen a shovel. So it simply made up shit to make that choice make sense. And it did this instantly without hesitation.

There are all kinds of places online and off to read about this, but here is one I can quote it and give you an image: The Interpreter: a Spontaneous Creator of Stories.

Quote

 

The task was simple enough: The subject is shown an image on a screen, and is asked to use each hand to pick a card from a series of picture-cards lying in front of him. The picture on the cards should be related to the image on the screen. The person was then asked to explain why he chose each of the two cards.

What the split brain subject did not know, is that each hemisphere was shown a different image. Thus, the left hemisphere of the young subject, P.S., was shown a chicken claw, and he therefore picked a card with a chicken with his right hand.

The right hemisphere was shown a snow scene, so with his left hand he correctly picked a card with a picture of a snow shovel.

Here is a graphic depiction of the experiment:

image.png 

A graphic depiction of the experiment, taken from Gazzaniga’s article (Gazzaniga, M.S. [1983], “Right hemisphere language following brain bisection: A twenty year perspective“The American Psychologist 38, 525-537, 534.

The full description of this experiment can be found, for example, in Gazzaniga and LeDoux, 1978, The Integrated Mind).

So each hand made a correct choice according to the content revealed to the opposite hemisphere, each functioning as an independent brain.

But only one hemisphere has a speech center. Commonly it is the left one (for people who are left handed it is the opposite). And naturally, only the hemisphere with the speech center could explain, in words, why it picked the card that it picked. In our case, only the left hemisphere, which saw the chicken claw, and picked with the right hand the card with the chicken head on it, could explain its actions.

And this exactly was the surprising part: the explanation. Here is how Gazzaniga reports about it:

When P.S. was asked why he picked these cards, he responded: “I saw a claw and I picked the chicken, and you have to clean out the chicken shed with a shovel” (Gazzaniga [1983] 534).

That's the ole interpreter for ya'.

:) 

Look this up some more if you are interested. It's a fascinating study. There have since been many similar studies and they all come up with the same essential result.

 

Back to Crago

Hugh Crago studies which stories are relevant and of value to which age groups over a human lifespan--that is, which kinds of story consistently induce a "story trance." And it is fascinating. For an example relevant to you and me, if a person comes across Atlas Shrugged for the first time, how does the story (from a "story trance" lens) affect the person? I'm not talking about whether the reader identifies with the ideas or not. I'm talking about story trance, or as psychologists call it, transport, or colloquially, "getting lost in a book," and so on. After all, even people who hate Atlas Shrugged step into the story for a while.

The result? To people coming of age into pre-adulthood, they just can't get into Atlas Shrugged on first contact. No story trance. And for people who are winding up their lives and going into old age, they can't either. This is due to their innate values and perspectives at each respective life-cycle. 

They don't need to identify themselves correctly to have these different perspectives and values. These particular perspectives and values come with being a human.

So cognitive before normative is not either-or. Nor is self-knowledge (articulated in a left-brain kind of way, which is what most discussions I have seen in O-Land mean) always a prerequisite for evaluating something. One can evaluate it in terms of itself, for example. Or in terms of it's good-bad impact on other species. The human mind does all this depending on what you are examining.

(As an aside, from Crago's book, I finally understood how and why and what in poetry works. It's roots are in a person's language development in infancy. To me, this was more fascination and awe...)

 

Oops

Once again, out of time.

So same caveat as before. Food for thought.

:)

Michael

 

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12 hours ago, anthony said:

MAN's life is the standard of value. Not one's own life.

I believe you're referring to the Objectivist standard of value, which is an abstraction defined by Rand. I'm talking about the biological standard of value, which Rand does identify in The Objectivist Ethics: "An organism's life is its standard of value." (VOS, p. 17)

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I believe you're referring to the Objectivist standard of value, which is an abstraction defined by Rand. I'm talking about the biological standard of value, which Rand does identify in The Objectivist Ethics: "An organism's life is its standard of value." (VOS, p. 17)

MisterSwig,

In the same essay Rand clarified what she meant when she got to humans, but, if one is to look at it through a biological lens as you just mentioned (and I am not completely on board that biological lens is the best way to characterize this), she essentially turned "standard" and "purpose" into synonyms.

Quote

The Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.

The difference between "standard" and "purpose" in this context is as follows: a "standard" is an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man's choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. "That which is required for the survival of man qua man" is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man. The task of applying this principle to a concrete, specific purpose—the purpose of living a life proper to a rational being—belongs to every individual man, and the life he has to live is his own.

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.

One could ask, so which is it? Is the ultimate value (meaning an individual organism's own life) the standard of value for all living organisms? That is, except when we get to humans? Or is standard of value and ethical purpose two ways of saying the identical thing?

This is one of those slippery slope areas I mentioned with Rand and categories. In this case, according to Rand, an individual life is the standard of value until volition makes an appearance. Once that happens, the standard of value becomes an idea based on induction (man qua man) and the individual life becomes an "ethical purpose."

 

Since you mentioned it...

Besides, I can't resist.

I wrote: "It's obvious (at least to me) that correctly identifying the nature of rare tiny single cell deep sea creatures is not all that important to human life."

And you responded:

16 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Which human life? You're treating the standard of value generally and not applying it to the particular units from which it was abstracted. Correctly identifying a sea creature might be highly important to a marine biologist seeking greater understanding of sea life. Perhaps it would lead to a Nobel Prize or other career success.  

Why did you apply what you call the biological lens here? The particular? Were we not discussing universal values, meaning applicable to all humans? Not just some? In other words, would it be necessary for all men to correctly identify themselves before they would be able to correctly evaluate a rare tiny deep sea creature? In your conception, is that the only standard of value humans can use before they can evaluate something? Certainly, a person can have a personal value-interest in such a creature, but as a standard for all other humans to use, is it not possible, instead, that such a creature can be evaluated indifferently in personal terms (like when doing donkey-work), but using what is good and bad for its species within its environment as a standard of value? 

That's a premise that needs checking.

Including Rand's two meanings for her same words. btw - I find no problem with that. Open any dictionary and you will find two or more meanings for practically every defined word in it.

:) 

The rub comes when one switches meanings back and forth for the same words or terms without clarifying. In that case, the issue is semantics, not concepts.

 

And the beat goes on

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, where this standard/purpose/value issue is discussed and people talk past each other about what Rand said and meant. I, personally, believe a hell of a lot of understanding trouble could have been avoided if Rand had used the phrase "human nature" instead of "man qua man" and the like. 

But, at least this particular semantic thing, which has been beaten to death in O-Land, would not be part of the mix.

One real issue for me is Rand leaving out reproduction in formulating her notion of value and standard of value. Reproduction is one of evolution's mandates for a species to survive (and, by extension, all future individual members of that species). I am an individual human, not an individual thing disconnected from everything else. I belong to a human species.

At the base level, I hold there are individual values driving all of us along with species values. (Another long discussion outside the scope here.)

And then there would still be the issue that Rand defined man as "rational animal," but in practice, she mostly kept the differentia (rational) and shoved aside he genus (animal). Another way of saying it, for Rand. man is animal at root except when he isn't :) 

 

Mind-body dichotomy

Granted, Rand tried to clarify a bit more in the following passage (and a few other parts, but this works like the others for my point)):

Quote

But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body—the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not. 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.

There are three presuppositions here that are problematic from just about any angle. At lease for me once I started digging.

1. Rand states that "the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body" is operated by a standard of value. She then claims man has no automatic values. What's more, that man's "body standard of value" is "automatic and innate," in other words, instinctual. (She denied humans have instincts, which makes that a problem for something trying to learn this stuff.) How can an automatic standard of value be part of human nature and exclude all values?

This is not a gotcha. It's trying to get it right.

2. Rand claims "man has no automatic knowledge," but this is not accurate. I have a lot to say about this from my interest in neuroscience and modern psychology and even storytelling, but there is one thing I would like to focus on here. It's what I call arguing by decree. Rand did that a lot.  She will make a proposition like "man has no automatic knowledge" and treat this as if it is a self-evident axiom rather than a proposition that needs a bit more than a declaration stated with certainty as the standard of truth. I first became aware of this in ITOE where Rand said sensations are not registered in memory. How does she know that? Why? Crickets... Then she went on to talk about percepts and concepts ion the same manner. That's a premise that sorely needs checking.

In fact, Rand's "decrees" smack a lot to me like demanding others take her on faith. Well... at least she constantly said "check your premises." So that's exactly what I do with her ideas, especially since so many of them are ideas I have adopted. 

As an aside, if it seems like I am attacking Rand, I am not. I am merely looking at her work with my own eyes and registering what I see. My own opinion of her and her ideas is extremely high. After all, I named my two sons after characters in her books and I do not regret doing so.

3. This one is a doozy, though, and needs a lot of thought. When Rand leaves out (in practice) the animal part of her definition of man (essentially, the blank slate premise), she is proposing a mind-body split in terms of value that is classical dualism in a new form, but it is a pure form. 

But the truth is that the conceptual brain sits on top of a lot of automatic knowledge and processes. It does not replace them, not can it exist without them. The volitional part and the automatic part work in conjunction with each other and there is a massive amount of literature proving it.

Gotta run... Man, do I blabber.

btw - I will be looking at your video soon. I didn't forget.

:) 

Michael

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7 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I believe you're referring to the Objectivist standard of value, which is an abstraction defined by Rand. I'm talking about the biological standard of value, which Rand does identify in The Objectivist Ethics: "An organism's life is its standard of value." (VOS, p. 17)

Yes, that's an organism, a self-contained biological entity. "An organism's life is its standard of value; that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil".

It can't have an abstract standard of value because it does not and cannot abstract.

Seen on its own in isolation, every organism "on the physical level" (AR cites a plant, or a single cell amoeba and a human's blood circulation, as examples) is "self-generating, self-directing", acting automatically towards maintaining its own life. None have "self" - of course. They are unconscious. 'Purposeful', without (conscious) purpose.

Then, she goes onto the lower conscious species, also organisms which have only automatic responses, their sensations (also, their lives are their own standard of value).

I suggest in Rand's meaning that "man's life", the abstraction, and his standard of value, clearly encompasses the entirety of man's biology and biological needs, so man's standard of value -naturally- has to include his physical well-being. By that standard, a (very non-abstract, "concrete") individual will ~consciously~ address his physicality. For one, he will become aware of painful sensations that warn him of internal/external bodily disharmony and damage (or pleasurable ones that indicate all is physically at ease). 

My point, that there isn't a distinct "biological standard of value" for man; I have not read Rand separately identifying that, as such. As we know there is no Objectivist separation of mind-body. With a human comes a consciousness that 'knows' (beginning at his senses) "values" and "standards" - those physical and 'spiritual'. When one is lacking, he knows the other is affected.

When all is well, one isn't conscious of, say, the automatic loss and regeneration of one's skin cells, or of the liver and kidneys at work. As known, the body of the animal is a vastly complex interdependence of multitudes of "organisms" and functions, from blood corpuscles, the nervous system to the organs, etc. We'll know if one function ceases working.

Nevertheless, an individual who can, abstracts his standard of value from what is good and right for "man's life" - because it is objective. Being alive, and even being healthy doesn't necessarily meet that standard. (Nor does having great virtues and starving).

 

 

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7 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

2. Rand claims "man has no automatic knowledge," but this is not accurate. I have a lot to say about this from my interest in neuroscience and modern psychology and even storytelling, but there is one thing I would like to focus on here. It's what I call arguing by decree. Rand did that a lot.  She will make a proposition like "man has no automatic knowledge" and treat this as if it is a self-evident axiom rather than a proposition that needs a bit more than a declaration stated with certainty as the standard of truth. I first became aware of this in ITOE where Rand said sensations are not registered in memory. How does she know that? Why? Crickets... Then she went on to talk about percepts and concepts ion the same manner. That's a premise that sorely needs checking.

 

:) 

Michael

Michael. I liked your synopsis, but query this point. In the Objectivist Ethics she wrote : "The higher organisms possess a much more potent form of consciousness: they possess the faculty of *retaining* sensations, which is the faculty of *perception*. A perception is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of *entities*, of things. An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by *percepts*" - and so on, p19 VoS.

Now, "automatically retained and integrated by the brain" into percepts (which one could consider an automatic and subconscious grouping of sense- stimuli) might not be those sensations "registered in memory"- as you state this. But what is the effective difference?

Animals and we can make what AR calls "automatic perceptual associations": sight and smell of smoke, the crackle and heat: fire, we go onto high alert - danger!

I have not found her ITOE passage to contrast.

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17 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

How about smoking?

I like that example. Smoking is complicated, however, by the fact that nicotine has a medicinal use as a stimulant. That's not to suggest every smoker uses it medicinally. And even for those who do, the potential or actual harm might outweigh the potential or actual benefit, particularly when there are safer ways to take nicotine now.

17 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I smoked for years to fulfill some kind of half-assed self-image, I guess.

What characteristic(s) did you think smoking fulfilled?

17 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I don't want to make this competitive, so please don't take it as such.

I don't mind if you do make it competitive. I actually prefer it, if that's your style. The primary reason why I post anywhere is to be challenged by people who disagree with something I believe. Life's too short to stumble around with wrong beliefs. I want to be right all the time, and so I seek out people I respect who disagree and aren't afraid to tell me so. 

18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

But there is so much more beyond a static view of identification and evaluation (which is how I used to see it and how your words come off to me).

What did I say that suggests a static view? The part you initially quoted?

18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Here is a great example: the value of stories to people.

Yes, I've always taken stories seriously, ever since childhood when I started writing fiction, then later when I focused on literature in high school and college. Also, I enjoy hiking, and my friends and I tell each other many stories on the trails. Every weekend now I Skype with a Christian and discuss the stories in the Bible. 

18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

For a hint at what is the main purpose of story, there's a little sucker in your left brain a neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga, calls "the interpreter." This part of the left hemisphere does nothing but compose narratives in order to fit things you perceive to causality, whether they fit or not.

Yes, anyone who dreams knows the brain is capable of inventing whole stories at a nonvolitional level. But even this process can be controlled. I've had a lucid dream where I realized I was dreaming and then assumed volitional control over it. It's hard to do though. I only did it once so far. Others are much better at it.

When you're fully conscious you obviously have more control over the stories your brain churns out. You can focus on your imagination and direct it volitionally, correlating it with observation and memory if you choose to do that.

18 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Gazzaniga discovered this when he performed a famous experiment where he surgically severed a patient's corpus callosum.

I always find such experiments fascinating. Thanks for letting me know about this one. Incidentally I often close my left eye while reading. I chalked it up to my poorer eyesight in the left eye, but maybe it has something to do with not wanting to fill my head with stories of chicken shit.

19 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

They don't need to identify themselves correctly to have these different perspectives and values.

First, the pre-adults and elderly adults you mentioned must identify their own life sufficiently correctly in order to have any perspective and values at all. Otherwise they would be dead or comatose, incapable of sustaining their own life at the most basic level. Second, which innate values and perspective they have at any point in their life depends on their particular nature at that point, which includes their physical and mental condition and the effects of aging. It also depends on the choices they've made. Third, this isn't my main position. I'm mostly talking about what is required for a volitional being to make a moral evaluation. The identifications required do not need to be 100% correct, but they need to be sufficiently correct for survival of the evaluator. 

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6 hours ago, anthony said:

Yes, that's an organism, a self-contained biological entity. "An organism's life is its standard of value; that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil".

It can't have an abstract standard of value because it does not and cannot abstract.

A human being is an organism. So there are organisms that can abstract.

Rand clearly included man in her idea of "organism."

Quote

...if a man's heart stops beating--the organism dies.

The problem is that Rand, in my view, had an incomplete formulation of the standard of value. Due to man's conceptual faculty, he has a complex standard of value which includes his proper biological functioning, just like any other organism on the planet.  

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

A human being is an organism. So there are organisms that can abstract.

Rand clearly included man in her idea of "organism."

The problem is that Rand, in my view, had an incomplete formulation of the standard of value. Due to man's conceptual faculty, he has a complex standard of value which includes his proper biological functioning, just like any other organism on the planet.  

The clue that she didn't include man is that Rand made distinct "man's life as the standard of value", whereas she specified for lower organisms - " the standard of value, its own life". And that goes for higher animals, "it has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions ...its senses provide it with an ¬automatic¬ code of values".

Looks plain, she built life up hierarchically from plants and amoebas and organic systems and lower life forms, to higher animals to man, and only the last can and should choose his standard of value. "Man's life" says it all: the physical existence - of man; they cannot be separated, i.e., man from biological life.

It is metaphysically given, men are biological beings with the highest consciousness. And no dichotomy. Any other formulation has posed a. dualism b. monism of matter, or c. mysticism of Soul.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

The nature of things

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12 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I wrote: "It's obvious (at least to me) that correctly identifying the nature of rare tiny single cell deep sea creatures is not all that important to human life."

I'd speculate that identifying the nature of life-forms can be an exciting and worthwhile subject of study at the level of single-celled creatures -- especially rare and unique finds. What makes them unusual?

Recast the sentence with an addendum " ... is not all that important to human life on other planets," or consider that multicellular life-forms on Earth all evolved from a thirst for knowledge uni-cellular life. 

Objective study can be dreary and unattractive, depending on the subject, of course, and on the surface of things some knowledge pursuits can seem wholly unrewarding to humanity. On the other hand, if we can understand the nature of those varied creatures that populate the deeps, below our seas, in the crust, we might use unique, rare "trademarks' as a means to discover signals of life on other planets. If there is subsurface life on Mars, for example, future humanity could conceivably harness it to provide the base of a food-chain.

The orienting example would be a correct identification of so-called "chemosynthesis" at deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

For a more droll trigger for discussion or dispute, snatched from sciency headlines:

Altruistic bacteria share their food

Can Microbes Encourage Altruism?

Some Deep-Sea Bacteria Are So Strange, Our Immune Sensors Miss Them

Life Thrives Within the Earth’s Crust

From the story at the last link:

Quote

It’s here that Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a hydrogeologist at the University of Toronto, journeys into the planet’s crust to hunt for signs of life. “You get into a small truck or vehicle and go down a long, winding roadway that corkscrews down into the Earth,” she tells The Scientist. By the time she and her fellow passengers clamber out into the corridors at the end of the roadway, “we are literally walking along what was the ocean floor 2.7 billion years ago,” she says. “It’s an utterly fascinating and magical place to visit.”

Maybe for you, Barb.

Edited by william.scherk
For want of an A
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We have two standard of value: foundationally man qua man (objective) and man qua a man (subjective) which is what's on top or operationally. When the latter violates the former (contradicts) the man is a bad boy.

--Brant

not a representation of Objectivism, but something is not Objectivism just because it's true for knowledge is unto itself and is not philosophical per se

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1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

We have two standard of value: foundationally man qua man (objective) and man qua a man (subjective)...

Brant,

Thank you. This is the distinction people are missing.

Just because one person can does not mean all people must.

Besides, the original point (that I disagree with) was that a person needs to identify himself or herself correctly before such person can evaluate anything correctly. What's more, this is true for all people. (This last has been implied, but it has been pretty clear.)

I find that arbitrary as a condition for all people, or even for most people, at least the ones I have seen and known.

Michael

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On 5/14/2021 at 1:34 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

she essentially turned "standard" and "purpose" into synonyms.

I believe she was looking at an organism's life from different perspectives. On one hand your life is your standard of value, because you use your healthy states as the biological norm that you try to achieve or maintain. If you feel pain, you try to eliminate it and get to a pleasurable condition. And then on the other hand your life is your ultimate purpose, because without it you have nothing. You must always be acting to maintain your life. Or resign yourself to death.

That's my interpretation of what Rand meant. But like I said I think she had an incomplete formulation. So I recognize room for disagreement here. 

On 5/14/2021 at 1:34 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Why did you apply what you call the biological lens here? The particular? Were we not discussing universal values, meaning applicable to all humans?

You brought up the sea creature example which only applies to particular people who study sea creatures. A universal value would be something that every human requires, like food, water, air. And in adults: reason, self-esteem, purpose.

 

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4 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

And then on the other hand your life is your ultimate purpose, because without it you have nothing.

MisterSwig,

Ditto for your species. Without it you have nothing.

That is literal and that is an existential fact.

A biological lens, to me, takes that into account. If that is left out, the lens is not biological.

Once you add that in, the formulation changes a bit. Biology-wise, the "ultimate" becomes "one of the ultimate." 

On a human level (but still through a biological lens), that doesn't mean one has to reproduce as one of the ultimate values to be rational. Just like one does not have to survive at all costs to be rational (such as sacrificing one's integrity in a manner that cannot be fixed to survive.)

But it does mean that one cannot work for the elimination or extinction of the human race and call themselves a rational human. That, to me, means one cannot work for eliminating the family (parents and kids) as a form of organization in society and be rational.

For example, gay people do not reproduce, but, to be rational, they should be aware of the species ramifications of their condition and they should value--on a fundamental level--coexisting with people, a large number of people, in fact--who do reproduce. Taking other elements of human nature into account, that means lots of normal families as neighbors or who live near.

Incidentally, this is not me making prescriptions for gay people. During my dark years, I had a dear friend in Brazil, a poet named Vicente Cechelero, who was gay. This guy:

image.png

In my sober and/or not-high moments (man do I have stories :) ), we talked a lot about what he thought of being gay. He went much deeper than feelings and he was wicked smart. It bothered him that he could not reproduce. (In fact, he actually sired a son because of this--a lady liked him and got him stinking drunk and they did the dirty deed. She got pregnant and Vicente almost had a breakdown--he became a raging alcoholic for a time. Not because she was pregnant, but because he had fucked a female. :) I met his kid a few times. Vicente was back to normal and the kid was cool.)

But his intellectual discomfort was on the species level, not on a psychological fucked-up level. He even told me one of the reasons he liked me so much was that I was straight and took him at face value--that our difference was OK on the deepest level he had experienced. That we were people above our genders. Kind of like brothers, I guess. It's not that I approved or disapproved. It's that the issue did not mean anything to me other than identification.

(This didn't stop him from hitting on me at times, though, the asshole. :) After I would tell him to knock it off, we would laugh about it. :) )

I miss Vicente. Now that he is no longer with us, I can probably reveal where we met. It was at an AA meeting.

Michael

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4 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

And then on the other hand your life is your ultimate purpose, because without it you have nothing. You must always be acting to maintain your life. Or resign yourself to death.

That's my interpretation of what Rand meant.

Interesting. 

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22 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I believe she was looking at an organism's life from different perspectives. On one hand your life is your standard of value, because you use your healthy states as the biological norm that you try to achieve or maintain. If you feel pain, you try to eliminate it and get to a pleasurable condition. And then on the other hand your life is your ultimate purpose, because without it you have nothing. You must always be acting to maintain your life. Or resign yourself to death.

That's my interpretation of what Rand meant. But like I said I think she had an incomplete formulation. So I recognize room for disagreement here. 

You brought up the sea creature example which only applies to particular people who study sea creatures. A universal value would be something that every human requires, like food, water, air. And in adults: reason, self-esteem, purpose.

 

At the individual level, one's life is one's supreme value. You agree with that I guess.  Therefore, one (of course) sustains high standards of biological health ¬because¬ of that self-value. Not despite, or separate from. Abstractly, "man's life" as the O'ist standard of value must and does contain "man's" physicality, survival, and living... and thriving.

Again, there can't be a split for the individual between consciousness and his/her body. As there is not, abstractly, for all mankind, ever. (Until or unless anyone allows a subjective 'split').

"Incomplete"? Right, in the sense that Rand's final deliberations that made it into her literature were concentrated, skeletal, fundamental or radical; I like to say she wrote an "Introduction" to Ethics, an Introduction to Art, and, to Man's Rights, Nature of Government, etc. - like her ITOE:

In each area they need to be fleshed-out, tried and tested by one's thinking, observations and experience - and require much more explorations and explanations by scholars. That's good. Who wants a dogmatic philosophy, one of effortlessly revealed knowledge?

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On 5/14/2021 at 11:24 PM, Brant Gaede said:

We have two standard of value: foundationally man qua man (objective) and man qua a man (subjective) which is what's on top or operationally. When the latter violates the former (contradicts) the man is a bad boy.

--Brant

 

Succinct, Brant. Resolving the abstract to the concrete, and obversely, the individual to "man" is induction<->deduction (/reduction), I think. "Man" is this by nature, so should one be.

A principle applied to reality.

Far too much can be made of and stressed over - Man's life, the standard of value. If one chooses to live as man, rationality, reason, purpose, the cardinal values and virtues are the prerequisite, that's about all.

After that essential choice, the actions one then decides to take are personal-individual directed at and for the benefit of one's own living and physical being - personal and objective, not of course, subjective.

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