Unkown Blogger Pursues a Deranged Quest for Normalcy

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Posted by ubpdqn on December 16, 2010

“You cannot reason a person out of a position they did not reason themselves into”, to paraphrase Jonathan Swift.

We all think. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (both awarded Nobel Prize in Economics 2002) revealed the limitations of human reasoning in probabilistic thinking, even for relatively easily calculable expectations. The way we frame risk-benefit analyses can lead to different decisions from the same underlying state. People in power seem to use framing effectively, whether consciously or unconsciously.

These limitations, attributed to our hard-wiring , do not diminish the developments in all academic disciplines which at their core echo Jonathan Swift’s statement. Progress in these endeavours proceeds on the basis of reason. This is science in the broadest sense. It, like life, is experienced forward and understood in reverse. It is not linear. It is not predictable. History reveals it is not the ordered, fair or civil affair of the texbooks written from hindsight. Once enough time has passed something emerges that has been forged in the fire of critical thinkers across generations. A coherent structured mass of concepts and relations appears to illuminate us. It becomes the raw materials for academic contemplation and commercial application until its is modified again by the furnace of reason. Almost tangible but never to be grasped. Science, the pursuit of knowledge, is a process not an outcome. Perhaps, as Box put it, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. This iterative but not ablative building and rebuilding of these models is a very noble human propensity. The revelations of Kahneman and Tversky, therefore, only help us to better understand and improve our thinking. Reasoning, then, is not a fixed entity or endowment but also fluid. This only makes the whole process more interesting.

The preceding comments relate to the collective activities of humans. The unknown blogger sees it as important for individuals ,whether vocationally a scientist or not, to approach the everyday in the same manner. The domain may be small and personal but worhwhile. The blogger would have long succumbed without some framework. We do not always act “rationally” (nor probably should we). We all, one way or another, reason however. This does not necessarily lead to agreement but without it we are in the dark without any light.

Dark clouds, unfortunately, intrude over the unknown blogger’s (hopefully harmelss) musings.

Power… Scientia est potestas. Knowledge is power. The blogger is disillusioned by his limited interactions with the powerful.

Those with power use knowledge to achieve goals. These goals have emerged from less admirable or rigorous processes than those used to reveal or create the knowledge (depending on whether you subscribe to Platonic philosophy or not). Frequently, the goal is set before the information is understood. Pragmatism sometimes forces the issue. However, reason is frequently used not in the service of understanding but to justify decisions post hoc. The potent Aristotelian principle of the excluded middle is used to dichotomise the world. The simplicity of a binary world makes the business of running the world easier. Black or white. Right or wrong.

Critical reasoning (to test the assumptions, to question the appropriateness of the goals, to evaluate, or just simply to understand) is not deemed necessary and frequently either directly or indirectly prevented.

The lipservice of transparency, accountability and responsibility does not translate into the scrutiny that is in the interest of those subject to the power wielded by the power brokers.

There is a crack in this philosophical rant. It threatens to shatter the perspective. The unknown blogger’s righteous indignation is more than a little informed by the experience of failures to engage those in power with respect to issues of transparency, accountability and responsibility. It may be the blogger’s reasoning that requires scrutiny.

However, even through a mist of frustration, I hope the reader can form some connection with the blogger .

The world is replete with people of good will, of reason. Some of these are in power. Perhaps, the blogger is expressing the desire for a vibrant, vigorous, vigilant (forgive the alliteration) interaction between those with power and those without. If you have such an experience, relish it.

One Response to “Reason”

  1. […] meticulous, systematic explorations were, to me,  evidence of the vital and powerful crucible of reason and science  continuing to percolate, distil, tear down and build up […]

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