Compassion for Terrorists?

Hello friends,

There is a problem in all of us. For every in-group, there is an out-group. We are each rejected by many people in some way and we likely reject others whether or not we know it, just by the nature of the identities we adhere to. Neuroscience shows that each of us subconsciously values some groups of people more and others less in some ways. The problem is, when we don’t learn about this and take real and regular action to fight against that tendency, it can lead us to dehumanize others. Unchecked it very often leads many of us to devalue some groups of humans so much that the moral laws we normally follow regarding how we treat other humans no longer apply. One key weapon that exacerbates this is propaganda. In this time of terrorism and racial divide, we all need to be vigilant. We need to examine ourselves every day with every news article, Facebook post, Tweet, comment from a friend or family member, political debate and media report. Each bit of information that comes in has the ability to shift the needle of our heart away from the humanity of a group that isn’t our own. When this goes unchecked long enough, we believe the lie that “they” aren’t as valuable as “us.” Then… death.

I’m going to ask you do something. Please, watch this video. It starts slow, but it is so good and relevant to the recent events that I’m willing to beg you to engage with these ideas. If it helps even one person realize that we’re all capable of dehumanizing and withholding normal morality towards other groups, and you and I are not exempt to this – I’ll gladly beg. Please, watch it.

That was just a clip that wasn’t very explanatory of the video. Please see the full episode called “Why Do I Need You? from David Eagleman’s series on PBS called The Brain.

I’m not writing about this solely because of the deep sorrow we now feel about what happened in Paris. A friend recently posted these links along with the statement, “It is estimated that around 100 people, many being innocent men, women, and children, die in Syria EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. What happened in France is tragic. So is the murder of ANY human.” Here’s the death toll count and a wikipedia article about the casualties. This is about human nature. And I don’t mean to universalize it. It’s about my nature. It’s about your nature. We each need to understand how you and I work and how to combat the things about us humans that lead to suffering – in us and those around us. I’m working on it as well. It’s about raising the bell curve, and we can only do that collectively – as a collective of individuals.

Compassion fatigue. That’s a term my wife used last night and I love it on so many levels. But for some groups, the phrase falls short of the deep bias that we don’t see because so many of our neighbors share it. I’ve heard about the “blue eyes–brown eyes experiment” from the video several times before and found it extremely useful for helping people visualize the injustice and irrationality of prejudice. In today’s racially divided world full of terrorism, I think we all need to consider what it means and find a way to convey that meaning to others.

Identifying with terrorists

I just saw an article saying “Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents.”

I, like many of you, am now seen by some others as a terrorist. It doesn’t matter that, in my case, my “atheism” isn’t a belief that no God exists. I much prefer weak agnostic weak atheist possibilian, with a big focus on the possibilian part. Technically, I’m as much of a theist as an atheist since much of the time I think some causal prior intelligence is as likely as no prior intelligence. Some moments I think it’s even more likely. Just owning the atheist label has marked many of us, as most labels do, with a misrepresentation of our actual views.

The last thing I want to do is write about events of suffering and pain and death. When I experience activation of the pain matrix (see the video for what the means), I’m not drawn to writing about it. I usually suffer in silence. If it’s about the loss or pain of another that I cannot affect, I want to hug my children and my wife. I want to hit the pavement, the trail, or the gym. I want to spend time in quiet contemplation, identifying and grieving with the families, those suffering in the hospital, and the families of those who caused such devastation, and yes I even offer up prayers. Where I’m drawn though, is to the terrorists themselves. Always to them. I don’t know if this is normal and I understand that many will disagree. I did not lose my child to the actions of a terrorist, so I cannot possible imagine how I would feel or judge those who default to hatred. I only know that my heart gravitates to those who are committing or have committed the atrocities. Christians may find themselves unconsciously whispering, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I identify with the notion I’ve repeated many times on this blog.

  1. We should be both humble and allow some uncertainty in our ideas about the universe and God because statistically some of our ideas must be false, especially some closely held ones since those are, on average, the least objectively examined ones.
  2. We cannot know for certain that – if we were born in someone else’s environment with their DNA (neither of which any of us have any control over) and shared their exact experiences – that we would be any different from them.

These are both relevant to everything I write on this blog as they are central to my philosophy and why I respect those who disagree. Part of my goal is to illuminate the first point (1) so that all cultures can exercise some caution and expand their understanding of the flawed reasoning that plagues us all (cognitive biases and logical fallacies).

The second point (2) is an explanation for why I respect all people, even when I do not share their conclusions or opinions. They are me. I am you. I’m not saying that things are completely deterministic. Quantum uncertainty affects some percentage of our decisions in some ways, but we are still bound up in our DNA and experiences. Everyone’s beliefs are rational and justified to them at the time. There’s another level at we each judge another’s beliefs or actions, and we form groups and collectively judge them. That is necessary for societies to function and we all understand it. The point in this post is to explain that I, personally, may disagree with you but I don’t judge your beliefs too harshly, because I can see myself in your actions and in your beliefs. I did not choose to be me and not to be you when I was born. Can you offer me the same courtesy and recognize that you could have been me? Can you do the same for the victims? My father once said that there is a fine line between being willing to die for a belief and being willing to kill for one. Can you see yourself in the beliefs and actions of terrorists, were your birth in accordance with theirs? Can you love them? And not because you feel God commands it, but because you identify with them as a human. Not a sub-human. A person… just like you.

I am certainly not advocating that we justify their actions. Because I understand someone does not mean I lay down my objections to the consequences of the beliefs and actions they impose on others. Nor would I want you do allow me to trample another. But we all already know how to hate, and rage, and seek death, and prosecute, and yearn for revenge. I know of few who will benefit from a post encourage such a response to the perpetrators of violence. That’s built into being human. I do believe we need to fight against the ideology that leads to terrorism, but terrorism is just one example of those on the other side of the bell curve. The best way to do it may not be involve being completely devoid of understanding and compassion for those engaged in the extremist beliefs (potential terrorist are one example). This post isn’t about how to hate jihadists (if you aren’t one) because that’s natural. It’s about the part we don’t often see through the rage – the subtly shifting compass needle of compassion that eventually prevents us from caring about those whose views we see as extreme.

I’ll be picking up Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism to help me understand the culture that creates beliefs that would lead to terrorism. I think if we’re serious about loving others who disagree with us then beginning to identify with the hardest-to-relate-to will move us a long way in that direction. Things like – certainty that God calls you to some beliefs and actions towards other groups, witnessing genocide of your people caused by these “other” groups, belief of a reward in the afterlife for certain faith and actions, continual “anti-other-group” propaganda poured into you from your in-group throughout life – these things and more continually reinforce that belief that the “other” group is sub-human. We could be them. I hope they can look at you and see the same of you. They may hate you, but if they only knew they could be you, and that you have reasons for you beliefs that make sense to you, if only they’d take the time to get to know you.

I disagree with terrorists, but I respect them as people just like I respect you. I don’t want them to dehumanize me, and I want to be careful not to dehumanize them. For the sake of our shared existence, and our shared humanity, I pray for them. If there’s a God listening, perhaps it may help on some level. But ultimately, I pray because it helps me synchronize my heart with theirs. Wars, and the fear of them, will rob us of our humanity as we blow past compassion fatigue and into red hatred. Our only hope is to actively and intellectually carve off the calluses that our nature secretly encases around our heart. Cling to the message of Jesus, or Buddha or the scientific rationality that our similarities outnumber or differences. Let us build on those similarities. Maybe, in time, as we try to understand one another, our similarities will diffuse the power of the ideologies that lead to human-human suffering and death.

Conclusion

As we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, but we also dehumanize a version of us that we could have easily been (and in some real sense, a version of you that is). We are all biased against other groups in our subconscious. We can only prevent that bias from growing and resulting in dehumanization by consciously fighting against it through attempting to understand those with whom with differ. That’s the point of 1 and 2 above and the recent posts on raising the bell curve. David Eagleman’s video is immensely useful in understanding the complexities we’re talking about.

As a final effort to let this resound, I want to share a story with you that, if it were believe to be true by a society, would lead to the most moral behavior of any society I can imagine. It’s like the Veil of Ignorance but with narrative and a compelling call that echoes for long after the end of the story. It was written by Andy Weir who wrote the very excellent book that just became a blockbuster movie, The Martian…

Please read The Egg and let me know if it moves you. I may put the full contents of that story in a future post.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

10 comments

  1. This is a brave post Russell. I applaud you for looking at this matter from a different perspective.

    We have an instinctive response of wanting to hit out, to strike back, when we have been hurt or when those we identify with have been hurt. But a detailed study of past terrorist actions show that in most cases, as unpalatable as it might seem, that these sort of conflicts were eventually solved by negotiation rather than fighting.

    One of the greatest fallacies of the human mind is the thought, ‘this time it is different’. No, the past is invariably our best guide for the future.

    Demonising others is rarely constructive, a solution is far more likely if we can bring ourselves to understand why they think the way they do.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. We also need to realize that OUR politics affects this situation in ways that go well beyond defense spending and military action. Every vote is an act of international relations. These people did not just wake up one day and decide terrorism is the way to go. And it isn’t enough to just blame Islam (or any other religion) for radical acts of violence. When we debate things like climate change and trade agreements, or decide whether or not to sign and abide by UN initiatives, or even choose which products we will buy and at which stores we will buy them, we are making choices that can affect the hatred and divisiveness that seem to define our world today. There are ways to end terrorism, or at least curb it, that, true, aren’t as easy as bombing them to kingdom come, but are much more loving and understanding, and which honor our shared humanity in ways that war simply cannot.

    What happened in Paris is unjustifiable. But it’s not just about deciding how to retaliate most effectively. It’s about learning to live more effectively, more humanely–and that involves each of us as much as it does the “crazies with bombs.” That label is easy to assign, but it misses the point. “Every man’s death diminishes me [and every man’s act of violence implicates me], because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    Thanks, Russell, for this post. I’m on my knees begging right alongside you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “devalue some groups of humans so much that the moral laws we normally follow regarding how we treat other humans no longer apply”
    You seem to have adopted a Kantian, moral imperative framework here concerning Value Theory, which has its ethical roots basing the standard in the Market (notice the analogy between the “value” of money and the “value of humanity” starting in the colonial era still used today). This seems like mere Emotivism, that one has a general “feeling of value” toward another.

    I think your PBS video, while sentimental and perhaps with a good end in mind, is ultimately flawed and begs the question between secularists and religionists. I would recommend the Neuroscientist and Philosopher Hacker for you to (1) show general conceptual confusion in both neuro and cognitive science in our day and age in a poor attempt to reduce certain “properties” or “relations” to material substrata like neurons. E.G. a “relation” is not a “thing,” it is a connection between “things.” In short, there are camps in these sciences, material reductionists (the video), formal reductionists (all reality is a picture show in my brain), substance dualists (bouncing back and forth between previous two), hylomorphicist (material and form, including Christians, Jews, Muslims).
    You’re Kantian Ethic assumes a substance dualist position on reality hits a contradiction here as the video is a material reductionist account of reality.

    “We should be both humble and allow some uncertainty in our ideas about the universe and God because statistically some of our ideas must be false, especially some closely held ones since those are, on average, the least objectively examined ones.”
    —if this is true, then can I show some uncertainty about this very proposition? E.G. One cannot be “uncertain” about the principle of non-contradiction, lest they be both certain and uncertain the proposition is true and false simultaneously, and if they try, then that attempt to be both true and false simultaneously, ad infinitum. This seems to be a kind of reaction to Cartesianism (formal reduction) whereby you’d logically have to become certain about you’re uncertainty, a contradiction, for then you’d be certain about something. Secondly, the argument that closely held ideas are the least objectively examined ones seems an unsound premise. Syntax of sentences typically have subjects and objects, “I believe 2 + 2 = 4” or “I know it’s a fact 2 + 2 = 4.” The subject has a belief which is the object. I understand you’re wont to make a general statement about the unexamined life, but it doesn’t follow because a belief is “close” that it is unexamined. Indeed, you’ll find those with well defended positions hold them closest, and it is this proximity that allows reflection and seeking understanding. It is the unexamined belief that is a problem, because that person is NOT holding the belief closely, they’re holding it out on their sleeve or next to them.

    I don’t want to come off harsh or judgmental here but I think there are four or five philosophical systems you’re subscribing to and almost none of them go together. While your intended end of having people be “compassionate” is seemingly good? (if I knew what your definition of compassion is), I would encourage you to ponder on how “identifying” with someone or saying “you could have been born in my country” answers any questions. If I say 2 + 2 = 4 but in your land y’all say 2 + 2 = 5, by “identifying” with them we bracket the logical question aside and resort to Emotivism, that most illogical and irrational of philosophies. We will not understand Islam as long as we look at them through the lense of “certainty” (Descartes), valuing humans (Kant), tolerance (Locke). As long as we assume “Christianity” and “Buddhism” and “Scientific Rationality” will just magically synthesize, we don’t engage critically in dialogue with one another. E.G. Christianity works fine with Scientific Rationality as long as by “rationality” we mean logic. If we mean “material reduction” then we find two camps of Scientists, the hylomorphicists and the material reductionists, thus teleological fights in Biology, conceptual fights in Neuro and Cognitive Science. Christianity says Christ suffered for salvation, Buddhism says suffering is an illusion. These two have an argument to have with one another also.

    In short, or long at this point 🙂 we will not understand each other with wishy washy expressions on valuing and identifying and tolerance because those are both part of the 1500’s up Liberal Tradition (conservatives and liberals) you only find in the U.S. & Europe. When you try to frame the conversation that way, you’re already pushing your Emotivism down their throats. Saying we’re both “persons” begs the question, for what we mean by “Human” is different in different traditions. But that is a question we might all begin with.

    Q: What is meant by “Human?”

    Peace be with you,
    Fr. Gregory Tipton

    ecuga.org

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    1. Hi Gregory!

      Welcome. I need to start of with an apology. I just saw your comment and approved it, and I do want to give you some response, but I don’t have much time to address these topics today. I also don’t want to put off addressing them because I won’t have much time for the blog until January, and I don’t want to let it sit that long. I might not come back to it if that happens. Since I only have 15 minutes to skim and respond, you’ll probably see a lot of typos and unaddressed issues. My apologies. I’ll give you what I can now and wish you the best until next time. 🙂

      “devalue some groups of humans so much that the moral laws we normally follow regarding how we treat other humans no longer apply”
      You seem to have adopted a Kantian, moral imperative framework here concerning Value Theory, which has its ethical roots basing the standard in the Market (notice the analogy between the “value” of money and the “value of humanity” starting in the colonial era still used today). This seems like mere Emotivism, that one has a general “feeling of value” toward another. I think your PBS video, while sentimental and perhaps with a good end in mind, is ultimately flawed and begs the question between secularists and religionists. I would recommend the Neuroscientist and Philosopher Hacker for you to (1) show general conceptual confusion in both neuro and cognitive science in our day and age in a poor attempt to reduce certain “properties” or “relations” to material substrata like neurons.

      I’m not completely following where the flaw is in what the video is saying. It sounds like you may be skeptical that cognition can be reduced to neurology. If that’s the case, I’m also not certain that the physical mind is the only actor in the brain, but I have no good reasons to assume it isn’t. Everything seems to have a purely physical correlate from what I’ve seen so far – at least I can’t point to anything that doesn’t so the theory seems sound enough to edge my belief that way. There could still be nonmaterial happenings going on to make cognition work, but it seems an unnecessary complexity (defying Occam’s Razor) to explain what we see in neuroscience.

      E.G. a “relation” is not a “thing,” it is a connection between “things.”

      My view is that relations are the only things that exist. There are no things. Only relations. Or things are relationships. It depends on how you want to look at it. But it’s relationships all the way down as far as we can see. Also, addressing what I think may be your point, more complex emergent properties can certainly come from fewer groups of simpler relationships. It would be helpful if you could clarify where the confusion and poor attempts can be found. Is it in any attempt to reduce cognition to a physical brain, or am I missing your thesis altogether? If so, my apologies again. I’m rushed. There will probably be more confusion as I press on… 🙂

      In short, there are camps in these sciences, material reductionists (the video), formal reductionists (all reality is a picture show in my brain), substance dualists (bouncing back and forth between previous two), hylomorphicist (material and form, including Christians, Jews, Muslims).
      You’re Kantian Ethic assumes a substance dualist position on reality hits a contradiction here as the video is a material reductionist account of reality.

      Okay, I’m not seeing the contradiction. Can you help elucidate it for me? How does the substance dualist view, as you’ve described it (one that bounces back and forth between material and formal reductions views) contradict with a material reductionist view? But more on point of the topic of this post, what about your classifications of the philosophies behind the views that lead to explaining cognition and neuroscience actually discounts any of the ideas in the post?

      “We should be both humble and allow some uncertainty in our ideas about the universe and God because statistically some of our ideas must be false, especially some closely held ones since those are, on average, the least objectively examined ones.”
      —if this is true, then can I show some uncertainty about this very proposition?

      Of course! 🙂 I’m not claiming certainties though. I’m urging people to question the things they’re certain about that may not have been given the level of examination that would grant them the level of certainty they’re assigning to the beliefs.

      E.G. One cannot be “uncertain” about the principle of non-contradiction, lest they be both certain and uncertain the proposition is true and false simultaneously, and if they try, then that attempt to be both true and false simultaneously, ad infinitum. This seems to be a kind of reaction to Cartesianism (formal reduction) whereby you’d logically have to become certain about you’re uncertainty, a contradiction, for then you’d be certain about something.

      We agree. This has been my understanding of epistemology for some time. But this doesn’t really appear applicable to the notion that some of our beliefs, statistically speaking, are false in some way.

      Secondly, the argument that closely held ideas are the least objectively examined ones seems an unsound premise. Syntax of sentences typically have subjects and objects, “I believe 2 + 2 = 4” or “I know it’s a fact 2 + 2 = 4.” The subject has a belief which is the object. I understand you’re wont to make a general statement about the unexamined life, but it doesn’t follow because a belief is “close” that it is unexamined. Indeed, you’ll find those with well defended positions hold them closest, and it is this proximity that allows reflection and seeking understanding. It is the unexamined belief that is a problem, because that person is NOT holding the belief closely, they’re holding it out on their sleeve or next to them.

      “Closely held ideas are the least objectively examined ones” IS an unsound premise. We agree. My claim is different. It’s that SOME closely held beliefs are the least objectively examine ones. Confirmation bias, pattern matching, innumeracy of very large numbers, the fallacy of affirming the consequent, projection, some versions of religious faith that are accompanied by a strong reward and/or punishment, the argument from authority (especially we reduce our critical thinking when a respected or influential or perceived authority figure is speaking), etc. – all these and more of the fallacies and biases I linked to plague our human reasoning such that we often believe things in a disproportionate degree according to the evidence when the biases and fallacies are stripped away. Most of these errors in thinking are ill-understood or even acknowledge by most people leaving them unable to know which beliefs have been impacted in which ways, and therefore unable to critically examine them. We’ve all created a latticework of beliefs that build on other previous strong beliefs (like penned-in answers in the crossword puzzle of life – see coherentism and fallibilism) that may not be accurate. The inaccurate penned answers lead to more inaccuracies and some cognitive dissonance. The biggest contributor is a motivated reasoning, which allows us to rationalize those penned-in answers in spite of evidence that contradicts them. These flaws in our human reasoning mean that SOME of our closely held beliefs are, statistically, less objectively examined. We believe them strongly despite this because they fit in with other things we already believe and for which we have some level of emotion investment. In other words, if we stopped believing them, it would shake our world in some way, so we take them for granted and things that are dependent on them often get less critical examination (if 2-down fits perfectly between 17 and 14 across and they’re in pen, how critically do I need to examine it?). I hope this makes sense.

      I don’t want to come off harsh or judgmental here but I think there are four or five philosophical systems you’re subscribing to and almost none of them go together. While your intended end of having people be “compassionate” is seemingly good? (if I knew what your definition of compassion is), I would encourage you to ponder on how “identifying” with someone or saying “you could have been born in my country” answers any questions.

      I don’t think the views I’ve expressed represent incompatible philosophies. I’d like to understand what, specifically, is incompatible about my actual statements rather than your perception of the classifications we placed around philosophies that you think I subscribe to because I linked to a video that you think probably subscribes to them. 🙂 Also, “you could have been born in my country” is not what I’m saying. It’s “I could have literally been you…” and much more that I won’t repeat in this comment due to time and length.

      If I say 2 + 2 = 4 but in your land y’all say 2 + 2 = 5, by “identifying” with them we bracket the logical question aside and resort to Emotivism, that most illogical and irrational of philosophies.

      People are humans with emotions. I’m not sure we learn how to love them and see them as ourselves and learn how to negotiate and relate and help them and overcome our differences to live in peace without using those emotions. And in some views, emotions are a subset of logic.

      We will not understand Islam as long as we look at them through the lense of “certainty” (Descartes), valuing humans (Kant), tolerance (Locke). As long as we assume “Christianity” and “Buddhism” and “Scientific Rationality” will just magically synthesize, we don’t engage critically in dialogue with one another. E.G. Christianity works fine with Scientific Rationality as long as by “rationality” we mean logic. If we mean “material reduction” then we find two camps of Scientists, the hylomorphicists and the material reductionists, thus teleological fights in Biology, conceptual fights in Neuro and Cognitive Science. Christianity says Christ suffered for salvation, Buddhism says suffering is an illusion. These two have an argument to have with one another also.
      In short, or long at this point 🙂 we will not understand each other with wishy washy expressions on valuing and identifying and tolerance because those are both part of the 1500’s up Liberal Tradition (conservatives and liberals) you only find in the U.S. & Europe. When you try to frame the conversation that way, you’re already pushing your Emotivism down their throats.

      I’m not arguing for any of those views in isolation though. I feel like this comment is a lot like this. I saw we need to use quality X and you say that sounds like philosophy X which is flawed. I say we need to use quality Y and you say X and Y are incompatible. In my view, there is no perfect philosophy and we all reason with an aggregation of many ways of thought that have been previously demarcated and labeled as a philosophy. My real point is that human reasoning is flawed and those flaws are not always intuitive – and they often make dehumanization and its resulting cruelty more present if we don’t watch out for them. Is there a flaw in that premise?

      Saying we’re both “persons” begs the question, for what we mean by “Human” is different in different traditions. But that is a question we might all begin with.
      Q: What is meant by “Human?”

      I’d be happy to answer this but I’m out of time and I’m struggling to see the relevance to this or the different philosophical differences in what someone might mean by “human” that might be relevant to this post. Perhaps you’d be willing to offer a definition of “human” you think I might mean that would invalidate the points in this post?

      Thank you for the interesting dialogue. I hope I’ve cleared up more things than I’ve confused and that the typos weren’t too numerous.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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      1. Hey Russell,

        Thanks for your extending treatment of my thoughts, I know I am often far too long-winded.

        In a nutshell, calling a “relation” a “thing” is conceptual confusion, of the likes Hacker has written much about with his fellow Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Neuroscience, etc. fellows and co-workers. A “relation” is a description of an “order of things,” but by definition is not a thing. If we did assume it was a thing, we’d quickly have to deny physical reality. To say all reality is only relations is to reduce reality to an order while denying the things that are ordered. Or in other words, the whole comes before the parts, for “parts” are a way of making a distinction in a single thing, and it’s relation to other parts in that whole. This is formal reduction, whereby all we can say is there are structures, orders, relations, but no actual things. This is Matrix-like thinking, it denies physical reality and is incompatible with the sciences. See recent neuroscience books on topics like ‘the world is an illusion’ for such examples. To hold to it because nothing has contradicted it yet is to bracket out the huge body of scientists and literature out there that does actively and explicitly defy Occam’s Razor. See nonlinear equations for graphing weather as well as the neural mapping of the brain which both contradict Occam’s material reduction, and recent work in theoretical biology. Quantum fields right now are perhaps the greatest counter-evidence to Occam. The problem right now is that bad scientists are arguing against plain facts that we’ve seen in say quantum fields that contradicts Occam. The counter-arguments often dismiss the data, holding fast The Dogma of Occam’s Razor. We have to let the clock analogy for the cosmos go. Now, we might say, “I have to good reason to assume physicalism is not sufficient,” but that might be irrelevant unless I’m a scientist or am familiar with their work. A man who has only seen cheese eaten as food might say, “I have no good reason to suppose anything other than cheese is food” when someone tells him people eat other things. But then the man is only talking about what he knows, not the world around him. He’s stuck in his head, unable to look outward.

        Emotivism is not the notion that we’re creatures with emotions, Emotivism is a historical movement of thought that embodies most European and United States folks’ following the European Enlightenment. It reduces all moral claims to “boo” or “yay” emotions. If I were to say “I believe 2 + 2 = 4” the Emotivism simply hears “he likes 2 + 2 = 4,” but they do not hear “by believing 2 + 2 = 4 I’m saying I think it’s true regardless of my affections” (though I do have affection toward it because I ‘wanted’ to know it’s answer.)

        The issue with saying human reason is flawed is that it’s so general one can apply it anywhere and all time, even to one’s own statement about reason being flawed. You are, and I think unknowingly, repeating Martin Luther’s philosophy. His denial of reason using reason is quintessential to some American forms of ‘reasoning.’ Now if we don’t want to be so general, we need to apply that general statement to a particularl, put them into a relation, then conclude something, i.e. a syllogism. Saying “sometimes people reason wrongly” while true is as helpful as saying “sometimes people reason rightly.” Furthermore, saying some are bound statistically to be wrong while it might be generally right, is not applied to any particular. If we’re supposed to internalize this comment to our own particular beliefs, we end up committing the Ecological Fallacy. We need general statements indeed, but we can’t apply statistical evidence about a group to a particular.

        What I’m saying regarding the X, Y, philosophy comment is not that X looks like philosophy X, but that X IS philosophy X, and it’s not just ethereal ideas but embodied in historical institutions, cultures, and groups. E.G. there’s a reason why many American Atheists and modern Evangelicals get along just fine in the work place — it’s not compassion or tolerance, it’s that they’re both Emotivists, and essentially are two sides of the same coin. That’s because The Enlightenment, The Great Awakening, Skepticism, are inseparable from modes of work and play.

        Having said that, I totally agree that dehumanization does result from poor reasoning, but what I think is “dehumanizing” is to treat rational, dependent, animal whereby “animal” I mean a thing with passions and appetites, as if it were not that kind of thing. An Emotivist would think dehumanizing is to ignore or hurt an emotional creatures feelings. What we mean by “human” here matters. So the debates in neuroscience ranging on whether physicalism, substance dualism, or hylomorphicism are right, all will change how we interpret the data.

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        1. Hi again, Gregory!

          In a nutshell, calling a “relation” a “thing” is conceptual confusion… If we did assume it was a thing, we’d quickly have to deny physical reality.

          I said it’s relations as far down as we can see. I make no claim about whether or not some ultimately fundamental unit in the substrate of reality has any meaningful property (or “thing-ness”) apart from any relationship. Nobody can possibly know that, and our science has little hope of ever telling us. I build simulations many days of the week. In theory I see how self-aware beings inside a simulation may be forever blocked from the fundamental makeup of a reality that generates it’s universe.

          When you say it’s a conceptual confusion to a call a relation a thing, that depends on the context and how you intend to use the label. I think it’s often a conceptional confusion to forget that we know of no physical things that are not made up of relationships. The primary exceptions might be some fundamental particles (which are really just perturbations in a wave field) or forces (which may all be combinations of other entities are far down as we can see), but those aren’t known exceptions, just ones we cannot test. We don’t have a theory of everything yet, and we don’t fully understand the quantum world or the full potential of information theory to explain it. Even when/if we ever do, we’re still trapped in a box, so saying things with certainty about what does or doesn’t compose the fundamental building blocks in our universe is taking things too far – individual thing(s) with at least one indivisible property or ultimate pattern/relationship in the noise of randomness? As it stands right now, things don’t get much more fundamental than wave functions and charges (plus and minus being arbitrary labels for the fundamental “relationship”). Is a charge without it’s opposite really a thing? What about a wave? They’re more transcendent aren’t they? Must we really force our human labels onto such terms and insist that reality bend to them?

          To say all reality is only relations is to reduce reality to an order while denying the things that are ordered.

          I have no idea if reality is ultimately only relations or if there is something that exists in any meaningful sense which has a property which undergirds physical reality without itself being a relationship or two or more other things. Neither does anyone else. But I’m not making that argument. All I’ve been trying to say is that to say, for example, that a relationship cannot be a thing – such a statement is not applicable in all contexts. Many things are just a relationship between two other things. We label that relationship as a new property in itself. There’s nothing contradictory there and denying that relationships can sometimes be “things” is intentionally defining something away – often in order to support some notion of physicality that creates unnecessary contradictions to disprove some world-view. I just made a relationship between two database tables. The relationship has no properties but it is still a thing because from one I can access the other. Electromagnetic is a relationship and a thing, as much as any relationship is a thing. If we define relationships as excluding things, the definition is as likely to be contradictory as the philosophies that are derived from it.

          This is formal reduction, whereby all we can say is there are structures, orders, relations, but no actual things.

          I’m not talking about “all reality,” just about what we can see right now. Whether or not there are things on the macro scale that can be defined as relationships and vice versa (there are) has no bearing on how things must be viewed at the sub-quantum substrate level for which the answers are presently a little less clear.

          This is Matrix-like thinking, it denies physical reality and is incompatible with the sciences. See recent neuroscience books on topics like ‘the world is an illusion’ for such examples.

          I think you misunderstand my views. There’s nothing in my philosophies that is, to my knowledge, incompatible with science. It feels like you’re still taking a few of my words, assuming I must hold view X and projecting that view X stems from philosophy X’ which is incompatible with some views from philosophy Y’ and therefore my views must be false. But from what I’ve read, I don’t actually hold view X and X’ and Y’ aren’t incompatible in the ways you describe at the level you describe.

          To hold to it because nothing has contradicted it yet is to bracket out the huge body of scientists and literature out there that does actively and explicitly defy Occam’s Razor. See nonlinear equations for graphing weather as well as the neural mapping of the brain which both contradict Occam’s material reduction, and recent work in theoretical biology. Quantum fields right now are perhaps the greatest counter-evidence to Occam. The problem right now is that bad scientists are arguing against plain facts that we’ve seen in say quantum fields that contradicts Occam. The counter-arguments often dismiss the data, holding fast The Dogma of Occam’s Razor.

          This is another example. I mentioned Occam’s Razor and you seem to be saying that I hold to it in the face of facts. You also mention “bad scientists”. Occam’s Razor is just a rule of thumb when two hypotheses are equal in all other respects, and that’s the only form I use it. I’ve long said I don’t even trust Occam’s Razor in all respects throughout the universe since causality is questionable in the quantum world and we can know nothing about probabilities outside of our universe, if such a thing exists or was causal in any sense we can reason from. So you’re preaching to the choir here. Also, I wouldn’t say any of the examples you’ve given are necessarily counter-evidence to Occam’s Razor. More like a misapplication of it’s scope in the first place. Your mention of “bad scientists” rather than misapplication of science smells funny. 🙂

          We have to let the clock analogy for the cosmos go.

          I hope you’re not assuming I hold to a traditional clock analogy for the universe. There is definitely some order in the universe as there must be in any sufficiently large set of randomness, and things may have been wound up, but quantum uncertainty play a heavy role, and given our limited observation and understanding at the scale we exist, many things certainly aren’t ultimately predictable for us anytime soon (if ever). If there’s something in that philosophy you disagree with, please let me know. I really do want to know where my false views are.

          Now, we might say, “I have no good reason to assume physicalism is not sufficient,” but that might be irrelevant unless I’m a scientist or am familiar with their work.

          I’m not sure why that would be irrelevant, despite your “stuck in his own head” analogy. What’s wrong with saying I have no good reason to conclude our conscious thoughts must require something beyond the physical mind. I believe that’s where this topic comes from. You think it must require something more and I think it might require something more, but I can’t say that it must. You’re losing me here.

          Emotivism is not the notion that we’re creatures with emotions.

          Since you felt it useful to mention that, I’m curious if you think that’s what I believe emotivism is?

          Emotivism is a historical movement of thought that embodies most European and United States folks’ following the European Enlightenment. It reduces all moral claims to “boo” or “yay” emotions. If I were to say “I believe 2 + 2 = 4” the Emotivism simply hears “he likes 2 + 2 = 4,” but they do not hear “by believing 2 + 2 = 4 I’m saying I think it’s true regardless of my affections” (though I do have affection toward it because I ‘wanted’ to know it’s answer.)

          That’s an interesting expression of emotivism. I’ve mainly considered it in reference to ethical and value considerations rather than judgments on concrete things like mathematical deduction and labels. What you’re describing is seems more relevant to the debate about logical positivism which is a precursor and somewhat of a requirement for emotivism. I’m wondering why you’re bringing up emotivism. You seem to assume I reason this way and I’m wondering why. The truth is that I’m neither a logical positivist (I never have been), nor an emotivist by most definitions I’ve seen.

          The issue with saying human reason is flawed is that it’s so general one can apply it anywhere and all time, even to one’s own statement about reason being flawed. You are, and I think unknowingly, repeating Martin Luther’s philosophy. His denial of reason using reason is quintessential to some American forms of ‘reasoning.’ Now if we don’t want to be so general, we need to apply that general statement to a particularl, put them into a relation, then conclude something, i.e. a syllogism. Saying “sometimes people reason wrongly” while true is as helpful as saying “sometimes people reason rightly.” Furthermore, saying some are bound statistically to be wrong while it might be generally right, is not applied to any particular. If we’re supposed to internalize this comment to our own particular beliefs, we end up committing the Ecological Fallacy. We need general statements indeed, but we can’t apply statistical evidence about a group to a particular.

          There’s a lot in this paragraph to unpack. First, I don’t just say human reason is flawed an leave it at that. Though just that statement alone is enough to help us question whether our reasoning might be flawed in some way and where. Sometimes this encourages us to think critically about some ideas we’ve previously given a pass. What I do, and I what I did already in my previous response, is list which fallacies are unknown to use and plague us the most. I provided specific areas that tend to be a problem. As far as using reason to determine reason is flawed – this only confirms that there is a flaw in reasoning. If either the conclusion or the conclusion that led to the conclusion is flawed, it only reinforces the idea that our conclusions should rarely be trusted with ultimate certainty. Reason should be trusted more than many other things, but we must realize there are several steps to reasoning (e.g. we don’t not become consciously aware of actual reality directly through our senses, but rather our interpretation of reality after it passes through those flawed senses and several phases of constructions before arriving at our conscious thought) that are each imperfect. This doesn’t mean reasoning is worthless, just that it isn’t 100% accurate all the time, and knowing what the flaws are and how to critically look for them can prevent us from being wrong about things we’re extremely confident about. I’m not sure if you assumed I thought a different way about this or if you actually believe this approach to evaluation the world is flawed in some way.

          As far as statistics only applying to a population and not to an individual, you’re also preaching to the choir. That’s pretty much my tag-line in most conversations about statistics. If you think I’m doing this somewhere, you’re probably just not understanding my full argument. I’ll assume I just did a poor job communicating it. And when I mentioned statistics it was not to say that some of us have wrong beliefs. It was to say that, statistically, all of us likely hold some false beliefs, but we don’t know which ones they are or we wouldn’t hold them (by definition). Recognizing that we hold some false beliefs, it should make us more humble in our certainties, especially considering that our closely held beliefs are also statistically the ones we question the least. Sometimes this is for good reason since they’ve been testing in the past, but often it’s for logically bad reasons because we built those beliefs up to level of certainty before we were aware of the flaws in our reasoning I mentioned which may have contributed to their strength. Now those beliefs may be beyond our desire or ability to examine unless we willfully make the choice to examine them in order to, as objectively as possible, ferret out any false beliefs. Beliefs don’t live in a vacuum so we don’t want to be confidently wrong about something. A wise man holds his beliefs in proportion to the evidence. If we don’t make ourselves aware of the the biases and fallacies that plague us first, motivated reasoning can make our confidence in a false belief even worse which we trick ourselves into thinking we’ve even more justified. Then we see people with different beliefs as fools rather than people like ourselves who’ve just had different experiences. This is the point of my mentioning that statistically we hold some false beliefs. We all need to critically examine our closely held beliefs from time to time, but only after thoroughly learning about the flaws in our own reasoning. When we do we need to update our confidence levels appropriately and have humility knowing that some of them are still likely false – and we’re no better than the next person because we’re all operating with imperfect and biased cognition.

          What I’m saying regarding the X, Y, philosophy comment is not that X looks like philosophy X, but that X IS philosophy X, and it’s not just ethereal ideas but embodied in historical institutions, cultures, and groups. E.G. there’s a reason why many American Atheists and modern Evangelicals get along just fine in the work place — it’s not compassion or tolerance, it’s that they’re both Emotivists, and essentially are two sides of the same coin. That’s because The Enlightenment, The Great Awakening, Skepticism, are inseparable from modes of work and play.

          Your approach of taking comments and then continually driving them back to a philosophical camp where you feel they best belong and then making assumptions about the other persons arguments based upon what you believe those grounding philosophies say (and how they compete and contradict with other philosophies) – it’s unusual and a bit challenging to follow. I still think it’s leading to a lot of false assumptions about my actual beliefs. For example, I definitely do not fit in your description of Emotivism.

          Having said that, I totally agree that dehumanization does result from poor reasoning, but what I think is “dehumanizing” is to treat rational, dependent, animal whereby “animal” I mean a thing with passions and appetites, as if it were not that kind of thing. An Emotivist would think dehumanizing is to ignore or hurt an emotional creatures feelings. What we mean by “human” here matters. So the debates in neuroscience ranging on whether physicalism, substance dualism, or hylomorphicism are right, all will change how we interpret the data.

          Emotions are part of the pain matrix, so I’m not finding the distinctions you’re making here about Emotivism very helpful. I’m doubtful that most people fit neatly into these camps you’re describing. I responded to this in the previous comment, but I’ll add that one of the problems I’m having with this conversation is that you seem to believe someone has to hold one of these philosophies with some level of conviction in order to discuss things that might fall in one camp or the other. I don’t have to know for certain whether physicality rules in order to weigh in here. It’s those who do have a firm belief in one or the other that are being the most colored by their philosophy, and usually for good reason given whatever evidence they’ve seen. All I’ve really said regarding this is that I haven’t seen evidence of a requirement for non-physicality in order to explain consciousness and that I think physicality alone may be sufficient. Are you still insisting that that must be due to my American skepticism following The Enlightenment after The Great Awakening which worked together to form my Kantian views on top of my Logical Positivism and resulting Emotivism? I’m neither a Kantian nor a Logical Positivist nor an Emotivist which is why time spent deflecting those philosophies in this context is a bit strange. I get that you’re primed to see the world in these camps and I’m sure you will find some people who hold one of the views so strongly that it colors their conclusions on the topics.

          I don’t focus on humans but on pain-sensing entities. I’m glad to hear that you agree with the thesis that at least some of the devaluation of other conscious, pain-sensing beings (often brought about by fears based on perceive threats) can be at least partially mitigated by actively learning about and seeking to shore up some of the logical fallacies, biases, and other flaws in our reasoning.

          Thank you for taking the time to respond. 🙂

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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          1. Greetings Russell,

            I see we’re both longwinded 🙂

            “Thing” is an ambiguous word in English, I’ll give ya’ that. So to clarify I’m not asking if there is a fundamental particle, I’m asking if the structure dictates, orders, and influences particles, on every level. This is difficult to see given we have no unified theory. But I think there’s good work being done in Systems Theory across disciplines, especially meteorology, physics, & biology that show the whole dictates what the parts can or can’t do, as well as what relations they may or may not enter into. A marsh’s boundaries dictate the possibilities and how things will function, just as software dictates what you can and can’t do with databases. If these scientists are right then Occam (not just his ‘simplest answer’ but his corollary that simple always defies structure/order/relations and things being ‘for the sake of’ other things must be rejected. Physicalism, Material Reductionism, Positivism, and all the other names it goes by, must be thrown out. What is counted as “evidence” here has been the quandary for the last few centuries. We at first only admitted “sensible” evidence as evidence, but then scientists realized some chemical reactions occur faster than the eye, so Empiricism was abandoned. Then we said physical evidence even if we can’t sense it but have tools that tell us they’re there. Now that physicalism assumption of what counts as “evidence” is under suspicion. As it has been since Democritus.

            I get you’re frustrated with me putting things you say into camps. This is because words have histories and all language is constricted by grammar. I can say “I’m not a baseball player,” and yet people keep seeing me playing baseball they’re going to look at me funny. If I call it “goblinball” they’re going to look at me funnier still and say, “whatever you call it, you’re doing all the same moves.” The person playing baseball doesn’t have to have a conviction about baseball, they may never heard the word before, they may be unaware of it, they may even mix a little baseball with a little volleyball and football. One doesn’t have to know or acknowledge to be.

            Regarding the thesis, I’m not sure I agree with what you’ve just stated. I don’t believe things have values, nor do I think broadening the scope to conscious pain-sensing beings is helpful, but rather ignores clear distinctions we make in kinds of things and their relations to one another in the environment. I don’t want to treat my brother like a dog. Christopher Reeves died from an accident because he couldn’t feel pain in his leg. I get vaccines that are painful for my good. Fear once paralyzed me from saying what I should have to someone, and fear once saved me from falling off a cliff.

            Which is why I asked the question, what do you mean by “human?” But I see now that’s not your topic, but conscious pain-sensing entities.

            So what do you mean by “conscious?”
            What do you mean by “pain-sensing?”
            What do you mean by “entity?”

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            1. Hi Gregory,

              I appreciate your interesting approach to reasoning about all this.

              I think I’ve address Occam and I don’t hold it dogmatically or to a level that is beyond where you do. I hope I’ve explained that sufficiently.

              You claim there must be more to consciousness because Physicalism, Material Reductionism, and Positivism must be thrown out. But as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a strict Physicalist, Material Reductionist, or Logical Positivist. I also make no confident claims about what “must” make up consciousness, other than I don’t presently see that natural laws as we know them cannot possibly account for consciousness on their own. The reasons you’ve provided for why Physicalism, Material Reductionism, and Positivism aren’t true – which is the reason you believe consciousness must be something other than physical – you’ve admitted are not conclusive. It just seems that way to you. So, it sounds like we’re in the same place. Consciousness may be achievable within the framework of the laws of nature. You just think it isn’t while I see no compelling reason why it wouldn’t be. But that’s not the point of this post.

              As for definitions of relation and thing, I think I’ve covered that sufficiently enough to counter your argument that we can never consider thing as a relation by definition – since there are many instances where we must describe a relationship as a thing and vice versa. And since we don’t know whether the ultimate substrate is individual entities with self-contained properties or relationships of two or more properties which don’t “exist” on their own we can’t say things like things are all that exist. This is especially true when every single thing we know of in the universe is made up of at least one relation until we get down to the questionable fundamental substrata – which is really more ethereal and transcendent (charges that only exist meaningfully with their opposites, wave functions, probability distributions, order encased in randomness, noise, entropy, uncertainty, relationships, etc.). Maybe it’s harmonically vibrating strings, but we don’t yet know, and even if we do make the math work we may never know if it’s just a useful mathematical model that describes reality or if some “thing” is underlying it.

              You originally objected and based your objection on this…

              A “relation” is a description of an “order of things,” but by definition is not a thing. If we did assume it was a thing, we’d quickly have to deny physical reality.

              I hope I’ve demonstrated that we don’t know is a reasonable answer to the substrata question (relation or thing), and therefore since all the way up the latter to the macro-scale is composed of relationships, your conclusion that we’d have to deny all physical reality is not a certainty. We’re describing the universe we can sense at the scales we can perceive using grammar we invent to describe logic we sometimes don’t understand at levels beyond our experience (e.g. quantum). But you’re attempting to invalidate our process of learning about the universe by saying it’s debunked if our grammar is imperfect for describing the nebulous ends of our understanding. Forcing the grammar into a rigid box and using that to drive a contradiction in our process of reasoning about the universe is as likely to be flawed as is our conclusions. We need to keep working with what we have as potential hypotheses rather than saying it must be Physicalism and anything that disagrees is wrong. If I knew many people who believed the things your arguing against, I’d point you to them to have it out with them. 🙂 All I’m intending to say is that I’m not prepared to say that since some dictionaries put certain definitions to certain words, that doesn’t mean that we should insist on throwing up our hands when we try to use those words on a topic at the extreme edge of scientific understanding and conclude that the whole branches of science must be wrong since this word doesn’t work right. Our language helps to shape our understanding but it also flows from and adapts to it.

              It’s true that “one doesn’t have to acknowledge to be.” I’m just not sure about your meaning in that paragraph. I said that taking my conclusions and continually making assumptions that they must be derived by means of philosophy X which you think is probably debunked does not demonstrate that the conclusions are wrong unless you can first demonstrate that my conclusions are actually in line with philosophy X, and that philosophy X is actually unsound in some way – but first it would be best to demonstrate that what you assume about my conclusions or reasoning that led to them are actually what I think. We haven’t gotten past any of those yet. So saying that someone who plays baseball is still playing baseball despite what he calls it – that’s true, but It doesn’t demonstrate where my actual conclusions or thought processes are wrong. And I do want to know where I’m wrong. I’m trying to hear you.

              I didn’t say “things have values” so I’m not sure where you’re objection to my thesis is coming from. I wasn’t broadening the scope but clarifying since you asked what I meant by human and then clarified that you think about pain-sensing entities. That’s where my focus is as well.

              My topic here is compassion for terrorists. It’s about recognizing the many ways in which we dehumanize others and working to fight against that by finding a way to identify with them. That starts with recognizing that we could literally be them if we were born as they were (we had no control over our birth) and by acknowledging that some of our closely held beliefs are very likely false. We should have as much compassion and understanding for our enemies and we want them to have for us, despite our false ideas. This is because our confidently held but false beliefs are could have easily been their beliefs and vice versa. A great way to mitigate all this and prevent hatred from settling in is to learn about logical fallacies and biases very well, and then purposefully and regularly examine all of our beliefs through that filter, recognizing that beliefs don’t live in a vacuum and there is a lattice work of interdependence that leads to more and more confident but wrong answers – most of which lead to some form of dehumanizations somewhere. I mention de-“human”-izatio because I’m talking about human terrorists, not because our values are solely directed toward humans. It’s devaluation I’m really talking about. And the focus is not on what we value or how much we value it, but on the relative loss of the that value in our own eyes based upon our own biases and logical fallacies that we aren’t aware of.

              I feel we’ve deviated away from actual issues with my beliefs about the world and drifted into a discussion about your disbeliefs about the world – and those two topics don’t seem to be overlapping. Asking me to define human, consciousness, pain-sensing, entity – these types of questions seem like you’re driving toward something specific. How about you tell me your conclusion you already have in mind and I’ll let you know where I agree or disagree. 🙂

              Gentleness and respect,
              –Russell

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      1. Lots of things are not meant by “human:” a cup, a dog, a tree, grass, oysters, walruses, cars, sunlight, and so on and so forth. We could go on and on, but at some point someone must say “By ‘human’ I mean _____.”

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