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Dragonfly,

Let's take this to another thread, as it is going in the direction of epistemology, which bores a lot of people.

The present thread is about the lovely mockingbirds in our lives who bring beauty and joy to us through their singing.

I invite you to start it and I suggest "Chewing on Ideas."

Eh..yes.. of course.. well, you know, as English is not my native language it's not so easy for me to write some coherent article, it takes a lot of time to find the approximately right formulations... But perhaps I might just start something by asking a question. And what is better suited to put the cat among the pigeons (or the dragonfly among the flies) than to ask what the objection of Objectivists is against compatibilism, the notion that "free will" is compatible with the brain as a deterministic system. Discussions on Objectivist forums about this subject always generate a lot of heat but very little light. I still have to hear a coherent and compelling argument against compatibilism instead of an angry " it's obvious that it can't be true!" or "I know that it's false!" (if not: "A is A!"). Well it's not at all obvious to me, and perhaps we may have a discussion here without immediately letting the randroid dogs loose.

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df...

I have noticed a lot of talk on this also. One comment on rhetoric first.

In Internet discussions, there are two types that send me into a coma. The first is what I call the "I said/you said" routine where you take a long, well-thought out post, copy it into the message field, then chop it up, interjecting comments as you go along.

I don't mind quotes or even doing this at times. What gets to me is when you just read a post, then have to read a small portion of it again to then read something like, "That's interesting" or "LOL" or "I used to be that way" or whatever.

My eyes start glazing over, I go into alpha and the scroll seems to take on a life of its own.

The second is argument by example. Examples often are not used to illustrate a point; they are used to be the point itself, or be a refutation to a point. This gets into a series of more examples ("well, suppose there is a..."and off you go). These things get really long and as you said so wisely and aptly, they "generate a lot of heat but very little light."

I have found discussions on free will and determinism to be full of these two kinds of rhetoric, so I skip them a lot. Don't get me wrong. I like going into a coma. I just prefer to choose when and how... :)

Anyway, there is a field of Objectivism called psycho-epistemology which deals with the interaction between automatic operations of the subconscious and conscious thought. Frankly, this area is very much in its infancy - both in formal neuroscience and in Objectivist thought.

This is due, in Objectivism, to Ayn Rand's way of thinking. She did a great deal of, hmmmmm...., let's call it rational introspection. She would think about an idea based on her own personal observations (or a bit of reading), connect concept chains in her mind and then come up with theories and formulations. She went extremely far with this for philosophy and did brilliant work. Basically she went back to the ancient Greek days and did what they did - look at the world and make observations. She especially eschewed the system of basing her work on a lot of footnotes to footnotes.

When you get to psychology, however, especially psycho-epistemology, this approach made her more of an armchair psychologist than an effective theorist. For example, she wrote a great deal about emotional integration, but not very much on the different types of memory.

I can't remember her discussing brain parts like the thalamus (sort of like a clearing house and exchange for sensations), the hippocampus (cognitive learning and memory) and the amygdala (emotional learning and memory), yet this discussion should be at the base of psycho-epistemology. (This is a bit oversimplified, but you can find it in one absolutely fantastic layman's explanation of the brain's workings in Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.)

Ayn Rand did discuss cognitive abstractions (identification) and normative abstractions (evaluation - emotions) in her book on art, The Romantic Manifesto, and used these observations, once more grounded in her own "rational introspection," for coming up with her theory of "sense of life." As I mentioned, this came from thinking about matters, not from any scientific study. But psychology is a science, not a philosophy.

(I qualify "introspection" with "rational" because she did not seem to be nearly as good at "emotional introspection." According to the accounts of both Brandens and many others, she repressed pain a great deal, with disastrous results - and her fiction is full of people who do that as a virtue.)

This introspection approach to insights is a whole lot more fun than reading dry factual books on a subject, so many of her followers swallow Rand's views on emotions, free will and things like that whole, without any further research. When they do their own thinking, they try to go the introspective route too. (This is one of the reasons for the "myriad of examples" type of rhetoric.)

Probably the greatest misconception that has arisen in Objectivism is Ayn Rand's statement in many places that she can program everything in her subconscious through rational thought and will. At those times, she glosses over the part about automatic mental functions, which she discusses elsewhere, and makes them seem like they ALL can be programmed.

To me (and I suspect to her, also, as she did talk about automatic functions that are not programmed), the real truth lies somewhere in the middle. There are emotions and evaluations that are prewired in the amygdala, which will trigger automatically in certain instances, regardless of the thinking that was done to "program" it. Goleman even talks about an "emotional hijack" which seems very similar to the accounts I have read of Rand's temper outbursts. (See the thread on people who knew her in the Branden Corner on this forum, or Barbara's PAR or Nathaniel's JD or MYWAR for examples.)

Then there is a part of the subconscious that actually can be "programmed." I believe that morality is one good way and it works. But it is not the whole story. Morality is for operating the faculty of volition only.

Psychology most definitely is another way to program/deprogram the subconscious. There exists a series of effective techniques tested empirically both in formal experiments and in recorded therapy. (See Nathaniel Branden's sentence completion technique, or death bed technique, for example.)

Incidentally, both the psychological and moral purpose of programing/deprograming the subconscious is to achieve a healthy self-esteem.

How all this ties into free will and determinism is that common sense tells us that certain reactions and value choices are automatic and come with our brain - while others are open to being chosen (and programmed). Roger Bissell throws desire and time into the equation, and I have seen people literally get tied into intellectual knots trying to talk around that.

Anyway, I do get your drift. It often seems that people who talk about these things want to have a volitional mind only and not a deterministic brain to put it in.

Michael

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Dragonfly-

How is it that you have established that the brain is a "deterministic system"?

I haven't established that the brain is a deterministic system, but it is a reasonable assumption. In view of the temperature of the brain and the size of its functional building blocks, it is very unlikely that quantum effects will determine the functioning of the brain (the brain is just too hot). That doesn't necessarily imply that quantum fluctuations will never have an effect, but that such an effect will at most be incidental, and not relevant for the systematic functioning of the brain.

Based on our current knowledge of the physics and physiology of the brain this is the most logical assumption. We make the same assumption for the functioning of the rest of the human body.

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df...

How all this ties into free will and determinism is that common sense tells us that certain reactions and value choices are automatic and come with our brain - while others are open to being chosen (and programmed). Roger Bissell throws desire and time into the equation, and I have seen people literally get tied into intellectual knots trying to talk around that.

But the question "free will and determinism" has nothing to do with the question of automatic and/or chosen/programmed reactions and choices. These may be interesting in themselves, but they divert us from the main question, namely the compatibility of what commonly is called "free will" (the possibility to choose between several alternatives) with "determinism" of the brain, where the latter is defined as the fact that the state of the brain in terms of the functionality of its fundamental building blocks (cells, neurons, or groups of them) at a certain moment uniquely determines the state of that brain at a later moment (ignoring possible glitches), in other words the brain as a classical Newtonian system.

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df,

I have not read much Newton since high school, and that was longer ago than I would like to think about.

I am unclear as to where the problem is. There are a couple of threads going on over on another forum on this and, for as much as I try to focus on them, I keep getting the impression that one person is talking about one thing and another is talking about something else. My mind starts wandering.

So, let me try to get down to basics for our discussion.

To me it is obvious that brain cells have their own unique nature and they cannot act and function otherwise. It would be very difficult for me to envision a brain cell trying to carry out the functions of a bone cell or muscle cell (other than figuratively, like when you call someone a bonehead or meathead). A brain cell must do what a brain cell does and nothing else. (I am presently reading a highly technical book on this called Neurophilosophy by Patricia Churchland.)

Now free will. I called this the "faculty of volition" in my essay on addiction and I include it as a component of the conscious mind. I also consider it to have an organic nature and consider it to be exercised in brain cells.

It is a higher function, thus there are some biological things that come first - ones that override it, so to speak. One, for example, would be proper nourishment. It will not function without physical nourishment for the brain cell.

Another more sticky one is desire. If the desire is biochemical, as in thirst (which I analyzed in the addiction article), then this will constantly override the exercise of volition, butting in and showing that it is a stronger urge than normal conscious choosing. (It is possible to choose not to drink anything until you die, but I would consider that to be a complete malfunction of the faculty of volition - a pretty interesting discussion in its own right.)

Another would be memory, which Objectivist literature does not cover too much. There are several such areas.

More hardline Rand students seem to think that choosing to think can be done as a prime cause, sort of blanking out where the capacity to think in itself comes from. This has origin in Rand's statement that the first choice is the choice to think (in her observations on developmental psychology, for example in ITOE, and elsewhere).

The capacity to think conceptually is a higher mental function than perceiving and it kicks in automatically. Only after it kicks in and the faculty of volition is running can one choose anything at all on a conceptual level.

One can then choose to use this capacity according to a "will" or let it flop all over the place by whim.

btw - Animals can choose between alternatives on the perceptual level and they do this all the time. What they do not need is morality, since that is something for a conceptual mentality. But they do choose their actions based on values.

Is any of this anywhere near what you are talking about?

Michael

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I have not read much Newton since high school, and that was longer ago than I would like to think about.

That isn't important for this discussion, if you just keep in mind that classical or Newtonian mechanics is a deterministic system.

I am unclear as to where the problem is.

That is exactly my point, I see no problem either. But other people do.

There are a couple of threads going on over on another forum on this and, for as much as I try to focus on them, I keep getting the impression that one person is talking about one thing and another is talking about something else. My mind starts wandering.

That's also my my impression, it's just too confusing to follow.

So, let me try to get down to basics for our discussion.

To me it is obvious that brain cells have their own unique nature and they cannot act and function otherwise. It would be very difficult for me to envision a brain cell trying to carry out the functions of a bone cell or muscle cell (other  than figuratively, like when you call someone a bonehead or meathead). A brain cell must do what a brain cell does and nothing else. (I am presently reading a highly technical book on this called Neurophilosophy by Patricia Churchland.)

Now free will. I called this the "faculty of volition" in my essay on addiction and I include it as a component of the conscious mind. I also consider it to have an organic nature and consider it to be exercised in brain cells.

I'd formulate it a bit differently. The faculty of volition is just an aspect of consciousness (animal or human), and consciousness is a high-level description (seen from the intentional stance) of what our brain cells are doing.

More hardline Rand students seem to think that choosing to think can be done as a prime cause, sort of blanking out where the capacity to think in itself comes from. This has origin in Rand's statement that the first choice is the choice to think (in her observations on developmental psychology, for example in ITOE, and elsewhere).

That idea has always struck me as nonsense, and it amazes me that so many people swallow that idea uncritically. On what does she base that belief? How can you choose to think? Choosing already implies thinking. The only thing you can do is to choose not to think by blowing your brains out, but I don't think that is what she means. Now some people have tried to make this notion more acceptable by amending it to the choice "to focus or not to focus". But that is still a very simplistic view which has no basis in reality, which is vastly more complicated than such a binary choice, supposedly leading to either clear thinking rational independent Objectivists or to fuzzy thinking evading evil whim-worshipping second-handers, collectivists, subjectivists etc. etc. Wouldn't it be nice if the world were that simple?

btw - Animals can choose between alternatives on the perceptual level and they do this all the time. What they do not need is morality, since that is something for a conceptual mentality. But they do choose their actions based on values.

Right. They can't deliberate or project the possible consequences of their choice in the future like we do, it's more a range-of-the-moment choice, but it is a choice.

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  • 2 months later...
That idea has always struck me as nonsense, and it amazes me that so many people swallow that idea uncritically. On what does she base that belief? How can you choose to think? Choosing already implies thinking. The only thing you can do is to choose not to think by blowing your brains out, but I don't think that is what she means. Now some people have tried to make this notion more acceptable by amending it to the choice "to focus or not to focus". But that is still a very simplistic view which has no basis in reality, which is vastly more complicated than such a binary choice, supposedly leading to either clear thinking rational independent Objectivists or to fuzzy thinking evading evil whim-worshipping second-handers, collectivists, subjectivists etc. etc. Wouldn't it be nice if the world were that simple?

I think she meant more choosing "higher levels of thinking" rather than just mentally swallowing every idea that passes one's way. I.e. critical thinking rather than being a sheep. At least, that what I *hope* she meant. At the base level, every human that's alive right now is "thinking"-- what to eat, where to go, go to sleep now?, etc. Also to use the word "focus" isn't an accurate phrase either, as different people do have different levels of focus depending on their neurotransmitter/brain blood flow activity. Focus is affected by the attentional areas in the brain. Most people *can* focus in general, but, I can't say that it's true for everyone at a fully-loaded level.

Do you mean fuzzy thinking as in fuzzy logic?

In any case, Rand was no neuroscientist. Gotta keep her in context.

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Jenna,

I hate to admit it, but I was not familiar with the formal system "fuzzy logic" that is used in building household appliances until now. As a counterpart, I love it when I learn something new like this. Thanks.

What a horrible name for a system, though. It sounds like the logic used is fuzzy, not that good logic is being used on inherently fuzzy concepts.

I see that a lot of extreme positions that get taken to ridiculous lengths in many Objectivist discussions could use a bit of this approach. But don't tell one of these dudes you want to use "fuzzy logic" on the issue. His manner of thinking is usually fuzzy (but highly prejudiced) and he will immediately jump to the wrong conclusion and think you want to undermine clear logic.

:D

(btw - Welcome aboard. I hope you like our little home.)

Michael

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I hate to admit it, but I was not familiar with the formal system "fuzzy logic" that is used in building household appliances until now. As a counterpart, I love it when I learn something new like this. Thanks.

I didn't know it by name either, until about a month ago when I was looking up words like "data", "statistics", "probability", and "certainty". Funny thing is, is that instead of AP Calculus in high school, I went for Discrete Math (which covered rudimentary basics). We dealt a lot with number sets (through our own data gathering or through given numbers), and how they correlate.

What a horrible name for a system, though. It sounds like the logic used is fuzzy, not that good logic is being used on inherently fuzzy concepts.

I agree. It just sounds like whoever's using it got cotton for a brain-- when, in fact, one probably has to use their logic skills at a higher level to do this. Well, at least, I did. And what's *really* funny here is that appliances work off fuzzy logic. An argument against fuzzy logic is as well an argument against some basic household appliances.

I see that a lot of extreme positions that get taken to ridiculous lengths in many Objectivist discussions could use a bit of this approach. But don't tell one of these dudes you want to use "fuzzy logic" on the issue. His manner of thinking is usually fuzzy (but highly prejudiced) and he will immediately jump to the wrong conclusion and think you want to undermine clear logic.

It's usually a position where *some* people talk about certain fields as if they knew exactly what they were talking about... despite the fact that those in the specified fields have bled out the ears working on their field to come up with a new contribution to humanity's progress; while those who want to argue against such fields end up quoting people who are *also* not in the field. It's baffling. I'm *still* waiting for someone to quote an actual peer-reviewed neuroscientist-- *any* neuroscientist. Hasn't happened yet. And it's not as if Google Scholar doesn't exist, either! Information and knowledge is so available!

Also wrong conclusions and snap judgements based on little knowledge is just as bad as those preachers walking around. I'm glad to find folks who can and will learn, and who can and will teach me-- all with due respect for life, for reals.

(btw - Welcome aboard. I hope you like our little home.)

Thank you! One of the coolest things that drew me here was Dragonfly (I think) who was describing math at RoR-- and how he?she? was so unafraid to critique Peikoff. Just that fact-- that someone can say "Hey, lookit, I'm using my brain actively and unabashedly-- this guy's wrong!" really perks my ears up. And your writings-- really putting thing to the test-- like what the philosophy really says-- instead of just accepting things within a narrow mindframe and things that need more explanation with our current knowledge. I applaud any efforts to *really* critical think-- not just to *say* it-- but to *do* it. So thank you! And I have learned from you.

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In general, I find that on the whole rank/file O'ists do not like compatibilism any more than they like anything else that involves pluralism.

Why they don't like pluralism is another question.

best,

rde

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I think she meant more choosing "higher levels of thinking" rather than just mentally swallowing every idea that passes one's way. I.e. critical thinking rather than being a sheep. At least, that what I *hope* she meant.

Well, that's really the problem with Rand's formulation: probably no one takes it literally as that would obviously be nonsense, so everyone is trying to give his or her own interpretation of her words. (And what does that remind us of?)

At the base level, every human that's alive right now is "thinking"-- what to eat, where to go, go to sleep now?, etc. Also to use the word "focus" isn't an accurate phrase either, as different people do have different levels of focus depending on their neurotransmitter/brain blood flow activity. Focus is affected by the attentional areas in the brain. Most people *can* focus in general, but, I can't say that it's true for everyone at a fully-loaded level.

Exactly, I coudn't have said it better! The Objectivist view of human consciousness is hopelessly simplistic: people either think (Objectivists) or don't think (the others), either focus (the Objectivists) or don't focus (the others) etc. Of course one can't avoid simplification in describing such complex systems as human consciousness, but the binary system promoted by the Objectivists is a ridiculous caricature.

Do you mean fuzzy thinking as in fuzzy logic?

No, that is a technical term as you'll have discovered yourself in the meantime. A term like "fuzzy logic" is just like a term "imaginary number", you shouldn't attach much importance to the term itself, it's just a label, like the color of a quark is a label which has nothing to do with real colors.

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Thank you! One of the coolest things that drew me here was Dragonfly (I think) who was describing math at RoR-- and how he?she? was so unafraid to critique Peikoff. Just that fact-- that someone can say "Hey, lookit, I'm using my brain actively and unabashedly-- this guy's wrong!" really perks my ears up.

Welcome Jenna, and thanks for your kind works. Sometimes - sometimes? make that nearly always - I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness on those forums, as people just don't seem to understand what I try to say. I don't expect them to agree, but their comments are so beside the point (and they congratulate each other for every misunderstanding: well said! well said! no doubt generating lots of Atlas thingies for each other) that I sometimes think: why am I doing this? I could as well talk to the walls! Therefore I'm glad to know that there was at least someone who did appreciate my contributions. :-({|=

Oh, eh, BTW, it's a "he"...

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Dragonfly:

"Exactly, I coudn't have said it better! The Objectivist view of human consciousness is hopelessly simplistic: people either think (Objectivists) or don't think (the others), either focus (the Objectivists) or don't focus (the others) etc. Of course one can't avoid simplification in describing such complex systems as human consciousness, but the binary system promoted by the Objectivists is a ridiculous caricature."

Gosh, that almost made me cry, it felt so good!

Not all-inclusive of people who study Ayn Rand, but I know a lot of the ones you are talking about. It is perplexing, really.

Objectivism provides a great clarity. It is very close to a spiritual conversion. And, it provides an excellent framework for dealing with others in the marketplace.

The rest of it, I could take or leave. Definitely low marks in the psychology and interpersonal skills areas.

rde

Love her, try not to hate them.

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I don't really have anything on topic to say here, but I just wanted to tell Jenna that I am glad to see her posting here. I've read a lot of what you have said at RoR, and have always enjoyed your posts. So welcome!

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By "thinking" she meant the effortful attempt to attain and /or maintain clarity of one's mental contents and to sift and test those contents for consistency and accuracy, not merely the having of mental contents. "Thinking" in her meaning entails an expenditure of effort; it doesn't "just happen." It isn't just having thoughts.

I don't know of any place in all of her writings (though there might be such a place in a journal entry -- I haven't read all of the Journals book -- or in a commentary which I'm not remembering in ITOE) where she herself spells out her meaning. However, I was in attendance during a Q & A when she was also present following one of Leonard Peikoff's lectures and when he answered along the lines I've indicated.

One of the attendees had asked the question, What was meant by "the choice to think?," and had added that he (AR assumed that the questioner was a "he") "couldn't stop thinking." I was sitting where I could hear her when she wryly muttered almost under her breath upon the question's being read, "I'd like to meet him." Leonard also heard her, and he repeated her quip. The audience duly laughed, ha, ha, ha. Then he answered with essentially the answer I've given (I don't remember his exact words, which probably elaborated beyond mine; he always tended to be long-winded).

Ellen

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I think it's well to beware of assuming, just because Objectivists are so often so incredibly simplistic in their views on key Objectivist issues, that Ayn Rand was likewise simplistic. I think it's good to remember that she was very much smarter than a large percentage of her followers.

On the "choice to think" issue though...

When I got to that part of Galt's Speech (it's within a few pages of the start of the speech), I was stopped WHAP in my "tracks," wondering WHAT does she mean? I tried for maybe an hour or so to figure it out (meanwhile I'd skimmed frenziedly through the rest of the speech looking for any hints), then closed the book and went to sleep. (I was reading in the early morning hours, after a long week in which I'd had a group of friends home for a horsebackriding party, and I'd ridden by day and read by night. My friends had left the day of the night I got to the speech.)

The next several days I went around trying really hard not to think, to see if I could do that -- since I'd assumed that she meant "to have mental content."

I've never believed that what she says in the speech is at all clear, though I know people who say they felt that they understood it right off. In '97, I had a bit of exchange with Nathaniel on the issue, trying to get through to him why I find what she says in the speech deuced unclear. He, I gathered, wasn't in the mood for that discussion at the moment and he replied giving the issue short shrift, saying that he thought the meaning was perfectly clear from the context, and that what "they" (he and AR) meant by thinking was "any purposeful cognitive activity which has contact with reality as its goal."

I've always wondered -- because she never spelled out and because of the way she herself seemed to refer to persons who, as she viewed them, don't think -- if the way she arrived at her idea of thinking as the locus of volition was something as basically simple as this: That she asked herself what did she do that others didn't do, and answered that she thought and they didn't. (Remember, for instance, the scene in Atlas where the cigarette vendor who has a newstand in the Taggart terminal says to Dagny about liking to picture the glowing tip of a cigarette as a spark of fire going along with the spark of thought in a mind (remember, folks, don't interpret this anachronistically; it was written years before the cigarettes and cancer research), and Dagny wonders, "Do they ever think?" The incident seemed suggestive to me of how maybe AR herself felt.)

---

And, to Jenna: I, too, am delighted to see you here! I always look out for your posts on RoR.

Ellen

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Wow! You guys *like* what I write-- not that I think I suck or anything-- but I just have this attitude that goes like: "Hell, I've got a logical idea/response-- I don't know everything-- but let's just see where this opinion takes me! In any case, I'll learn something! Maybe I'll teach someone something too in the process!" After that, I await for the fire and brimstone (just kidding). Really, after that, it's out there; I move on, and I just make sure that in 20 years it's not going to come bite me in the a** when I have to meet people or when I become famous. :D

My 3 months of "independently studying Oism" journey has been eye-opening, and it has most especially honed my mind in a lot of ways that *some* Oists may not like. I find that funny. It has made me able to call myself a "Jennaist". :)

Objectivism provides a great clarity.

It can, if one uses it wisely and with the whole of being human. There is clarity in dichotomies, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate for the entirety of life. There is clarity with insight and wisdom, but how can one achieve those by hasty and automated judgement? There is clarity that comes with compassion, knowing, and understanding; as well as well thought out anger, sadness, and pride.

There is clarity in Objectivism, but there is clarity in life itself. Yes, we can know life... but how many *really* know life? I know this whole paragraph sounds strange and hippity-dippity, but I don't know how else to describe it-- clarity from acute, sharp, yet gentle, widened thinking.

When I got to that part of Galt's Speech (it's within a few pages of the start of the speech), I was stopped WHAP in my "tracks," wondering WHAT does she mean?

Okay, here's my long (feel free to skip over it if it's boring to you, I'm fine with that [insert grin]) AS/Galt's Speech story: A lot of people say it changed their life for the better, so I think that's cool; I do love it when a person chooses to live and love their life. The question is *how* they've done it, and the results on themselves and others. I've met people from all kinds of results, in person and not. Since I am a science geek, I do notice trends; the results cover a rainbow of ranges. I also noticed results battling other results, and vice versa. It got *ugly* at times-- I read fast and deep, and in the past 3 months, I have read a TON of argumentation. That's my data-- the words, the semantics, the rhetoric, the meanings, the cause and effect. Note: I did *not* look at the people-- I still have *very little* clue who said what, and I don't really care. It sounds harsh, but I'm just not into that.

So I correlated, pondered, compared, contrasted, and drew conclusions from the data. In the middle of all that, I got so disenchanted I was about to leave. At the end, I saw within the data that life truly is what one makes of it.

I digested AS within the context of *my* life, and I looked at my own response. The book is *fiction*. That's reality. It had its beautiful parts. It had powerful (but robotic) characters. They're ideals-- somewhat Platonic sounding-- in that they were some other type of reality. That was what bothered me about this. I could already imagine lots of people running ragged trying to *be* one of these characters. That bothered me, and it still does; what could prove it is that some people will still lose track of reality despite the book's message. And healthier minded ones will not.

It was enigmatic-- dramatic, well-paced-- and Galt's Speech was something I was already on the way to thinking-- in general. So, no, AS didn't change my life. *I* was changing my life. Rand agreed with me on some general things. Now, I read her words for contextualized affirmation mostly; I understand the basic axioms.

That said, Rand had great descriptions of people. She could really make an emotional statement w/o stating it. She had great descriptions of passion and setting. She could describe people very well; it was something I noticed in the way she switched tone, word choice, description. But, one must be careful of being drawn in too much with rhetoric, semantics, tone, and wording. Our brains respond to words, no doubt about that; we respond to tone, to our language's sentence structure. As well as I found understanding in her words, I also had to understand linguistic power and to separate it from who I am. In essence, distance myself and not be personally bound up; to appreciate it as a work, as a product.

[i say this as someone who has submitted pieces and critiqued pieces as part of my education. Creative writing was one of those classes, as was a year-long writing course. I'm not a professional writer, but I do hope to be.]

By "thinking" she meant the effortful attempt to attain and /or maintain clarity of one's mental contents and to sift and test those contents for consistency and accuracy, not merely the having of mental contents.

I call this critical thinking, of as much content as I can reach. Critical thinking is effort, it's proactive. If that's what she means, then the vibe of necessitating agreement with one person/group/organization or another blasts critical thinking out of the water. If arguing with mathmeticians on math when one isn't a mathmetician-- by quoting philosophers-- where's the critical thinking there? Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't it make an argument stronger if the arguer actually studied the field they're having problems with? Me, I'd hesitate to even think of critiquing someone else's field if I have never really been there.

If I *have to* agree with Rand or Peikoff or anyone else on everything, that is not critical thinking. And I just have to ask to those who've been around Oism much longer than me: Is it just me that this vibe is floating around? If so, why, given that Rand said philosophy was a guideline?

That she asked herself what did she do that others didn't do, and answered that she thought and they didn't.

My answer: Re: Rand's response-- Ehhh. I've read so many discussions on Rand's actions that now they're irrelevant to me. It's like reading a 50/50 (or 30/30/30) split down the middle of a hypothesis. For every claim, there's a counterclaim. I lost interest in her personal life rather quickly. Eventually, I'm just going to read her words, unpack them, drag them through the firey coals of my brain to my heart's content to test their validity in my life and according to today's reality and current knowledge. I'm not swallowing anything hook, line, and sinker.

On thinking: I'm more specific in my description of what I think she means by "thinking". I've had many discussions with friends about thought, and I've (so far) come to the conclusion that, for me, "thinking" involves not going for Paris Hilton or Britney Spears but to aim towards Einstein, Voltaire, Darwin, Thomas Huxley, B. Russell, [insert role models], etc. In essence, thinking to aim for growth, maturity, and wisdom-- yet keeping in mind one's humanity. I go by "admiration and integration, not imitation". I think that's more realistic and achievable. But that's my conclusion, for my life.

Dagny wonders, "Do they ever think?" The incident seemed suggestive to me of how maybe AR herself felt.

I say the same thing... when I hear a college girl's main goal this weekend is to get completely smashed. I do not say that when I'm reading my neuro textbook, or talking with friends, or reading science literature. It's appropriate in context. Personally, if it's vague, it's interpretable. If it's interpretable, I can think my own way through it. And if there is a rigid, singular, do or die, "right way" of thinking along a certain line, that's not thinking. That's following. I prefer using my brain, not just my spinal cord. :D

the binary system promoted by the Objectivists is a ridiculous caricature

I've also met some cool ones who are more integrated in the middle ranges, and yes, some others who are kosher enough to put my orthodox Jewish aunt to shame (yes, I have an ortho Jewish aunt; she converted). The good thing about choice is that one can choose who uplifts and who doesn't. What some don't realize is that heaven/hell is binary system, too.

Also, this is my thesis: binary systems in human thought. I'll have fun with it. :)

I like this place... lots of good, juicy conversation!

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A very quick response only to one part of your post, Jenna. You wrote:

If I *have to* agree with Rand or Peikoff or anyone else on everything, that is not critical thinking. And I just have to ask to those who've been around Oism much longer than me: Is it just me that this vibe is floating around? If so, why, given that Rand said philosophy was a guideline?

That "vibe" is/has been/probably always will be "floating around" amongst some -- and probably by far, by very far, the majority -- of those who have been attracted enough by Rand to pursue studying her non-fiction work. As to why: a subject explored from some angles on this list, a subject explorable from angle after angle, the same subject as "What in the human psyche produces religions?"

As you read more on this list, you'll find various ideas on the issue which you might find interesting, though by no means "definitive."

Again, glad you're aboard!

Ellen

___

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Hi Jenna,

I know I'm a bit late here, but welcome to Objectivist Living. I had a long day yesterday where I was unable to post (I can't post from work). I do, however, want to compliment you on your posts, they are very articulate and demonstrate clear and rational thinking. The spirit you have shown so far is what we are cultivating on OL. You seem like a very nice person and also very bright so I am sure you will do quite well on your MCAT. Good luck and keep us posted.

Kat

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