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Long-term Optimism

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However, our perception of something is not a mental representation of that something within our minds. We perceive the item, not some fabrication constructed by our sensory and mental equipment. We perceive an item the way we do because we are what we are and have a specific sensory equipment and a specific mental equipment. But this does not mean that we perceive something for what it is not. Nor does it mean that our grasp of an object is somehow super-added to what the thing is. Nor does it mean that our grasp of an object is somehow less than what the object is. We perceive the object, which is why our perception is objective.
I would point out that in some cases, we do perceive something for what it is not. Some people, for instance, are colorblind. Surely red and green are not the same frequencies? So in certain instances, something is supper-added to what the thing is. What about a visual illusion? We may perceive an outlined cube that doesn't exist. We just perceive it as such. But I agree that the vast majority of individuals perceive most objects for what they are but not absolutely (as in, an individuals perception is not all-powerful).

So, when we look at a tree and see the branches, the leaves, the bark, etc. that is what the tree is. Those branches, leaves, and bark are not a mental representation of the tree. It is not something that is constructed out of "imperfect" information regarding the tree. It is the tree that we perceive!

That is what the tree is, but our experience of it is individualized. In most cases, it isn't imperfect information - but it is limited.

Perception is the starting point of all knowledge precisely because it is infallible; and therefore objective. We don't have volitional control over how we perceive something -- i.e. we cannot chose to see the leaves as pink when they are in fact green, like some sort of computer color coded display -- we perceive it for what it is, as it is, and have no control over how we perceive it via some internal control system. If your position was correct, then you are implying that we would have some sort of internal control over how we perceive something, as if we could program in a color code for a specific frequency. That is the bottom line for what it would mean to say that our perception of an item is a representation of the item. But our mind is not a little person inside us who is looking at a computer display screen! You may say that is a straw man argument, but that is the implication of saying our perception is a representation.

As I pointed out earlier (I used colorblindness, but there are other examples that I can use if you like), perception (in some cases) is fallible. Perception is the starting point of all knowledge, but we aren't all-knowing because human perception isn't all-powerful. It is very accurate, but it is not perfect. It is not infallible.

I don't think that we have volitional control over how we perceive something, but I do think that we have our own individualized filters. I am 5'10". You are X'Y". We'll never see the same object exactly the same if we're standing upright because we will have different experiences of it. In other words, I agree that we have no control over how we perceive it, but I don't think we all perceive the same way. We cannot make red, green and green, red, but sometimes, that's just what happens. Likewise, I can't experience the tree exactly as you experience it. We can have very, very similar experiences, but that doesn't mean they are the same. My experience of the tree is not your experience of the tree. A is not a. A is related to a, but it is not a.

Edited by NewYorkRoark
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I don't mean to interject per se, because I think the dialogue here is very good, but I did want to make a contribution to the efforts here.

Consider this:

Two people walk into a room and lay eyes on an object that they each have never seen. Being naturally curious, they both proceed to examine the object. (the actuality of the object here is irrelevant as 'it' could be anything) With each avenue of sensation, they have they spend a considerable amount of time 'gathering data' if you will.

Being that they are two distinct individuals, the actual 'experience' (sensory data) of the object will undoubtedly be different. The difference being minuscule at most, and unless plagued by an act of evasion, each 'experience' of the object, though different, will not contradict each other nor will they be non-objective, they saw what they saw. The point is that, as rational individuals and the volitional animals that they are, it is very possible that when asked about the object, and thus compelled to convey their sensory data in the form of conceptualizations, the two outcomes may be drastically different.

Depending on their scope of knowledge it is very possible that one person may have very well come to a conclusion about the function/use/identity of the object that the other had not. One person may have seen, in whole, every component of said object but was not able, because of some lack of knowledge to integrate their observations into an understanding of the nature of it. This however does not lead to the conclusion of any limit, handicap, or epistemological dichotomy between one or the other's knowledge. It simply plays to the difference in scope of one person's knowledge compared to the other.

The reason this applies to this thread is that, to purport that 'perception' is limited by it's nature and thus non-objective or somehow 'unwhole' is to deny the very nature of perception and that of knowledge. It is due to the fact that knowledge is limited (by the context of all of an individual's perceptions and integrations) that one is able to call it knowledge. To claim that knowledge or perception is somehow 'unwhole' or subjective because of the varying degree of details or scope is the same fallacy as a cry for omniscence in order to claim any knowledge of the universe.

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I would point out that in some cases, we do perceive something for what it is not. Some people, for instance, are color blind. Surely red and green are not the same frequencies? So in certain instances, something is supper-added to what the thing is. What about a visual illusion? We may perceive an outlined cube that doesn't exist. We just perceive it as such. But I agree that the vast majority of individuals perceive most objects for what they are but not absolutely (as in, an individuals perception is not all-powerful).

I did a whole series of essays replying to this notion over on the Forum 4AynRand Fans which you can look up using this link that I called epistemology and hierarchy.

I also think that you are using the term "perfect"and "imperfect" without taking man's life as the standard. In other words, all living beings have certain abilities (Aristotle called these powers) that makes it possible for them to survive. And these abilities or powers are perfect in that they are what they are and give you the abilities that you have.

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Depending on their scope of knowledge it is very possible that one person may have very well come to a conclusion about the function/use/identity of the object that the other had not. One person may have seen, in whole, every component of said object but was not able, because of some lack of knowledge to integrate their observations into an understanding of the nature of it.

I agree that this has nothing to do with the "limits" of perception, but rather it has to do with the nature of the human mind: The mind is individual. What a person is able to observe and to integrate has more to do with his learned abilities and skills, rather than perceiving something or not perceiving something that someone else may or may not be able to perceive. After all, Helen Keller did rather well for herself, once she was taught sign language, even though she was both deaf and blind; and she even learned how to communicate her ideas via the spoken word! So, even though she lacked two very crucial perceptual abilities, her mind was able to integrate what information she could perceive -- primarily touch -- and became a very intelligent woman.

But even for someone who has all of the normal perceptual abilities, the world can come across as a booming buzzing confusion even in adulthood. I remember when I first started to work at a very large chemical industrial plant. At a distance, it was just a bunch of unusual buildings spread out over many acres. Some noises could be heard, but it was just background loudness when compared to the surrounding mostly silent wilderness.

Our orientation began in an enclosed office room for several days, and then upon "graduation" we were taken out the back door which lead directly to the heart of the plant. There were new sounds, new sights, new smells -- none of which seemed very pleasant -- and it was impossible to integrate what we had just learned with our perceptions. I mean, pipes were running every which way, small explosions seemed to be going off every few minutes, areas were belching something, and it was just a confusing mess all around!

However, after a few weeks of getting to know the plant in the particular via perception and trying to tie it all in together with what I had been taught, my mind began to settle down and it wasn't so confusing any longer. In fact, I began to be able to identify and mentally isolate the various sounds and smells and sights, so that I could then re-integrate these into an inductive knowledge of the plant. Had I just been given the orientation without the walk through and later working in detail at the plant, I would not have been able to put it all together -- at least not any more than a floating abstraction.

And I've noticed that even once I have developed skills to do a particular job, and have become very highly skilled at it, a new working environment can still set me into a state of confusion, because the automatized little motions no longer apply in the new setting. I might want to reach for a wrench which was over there at my old work place, but is now over here at my new work place; so I need to stop and observe before pressing on, instead of just reaching. This, of course, takes extra time and can be very frustrating. Even skills need to be re-integrated from time to time, depending on the circumstances (which may change).

Of course, in the working environment, there are always those who don't understand this principle, so they think one is stupid because one is hesitant for a while. And there are the jokesters who know damn right well that it takes time to get to know one's way around, so they will try to misdirect you and get you to jump through all kinds of hoops just for the hell of watching you make of fool of yourself. And there are those who watch your every move and try to make something out of it, even though you weren't trying to say anything by the gestures but were merely working. I've developed ways of dealing with each of these types -- without implying that these types are exclusive, since there may be others -- and do my utmost best to turn it around on them when the time is appropriate! I don't like to be messed with; especially when I'm working.

The overall point is that perception is the begin point of all knowledge even though one may have an orientation to go through for a while. Holding one's ideas as a floating abstraction is not very efficacious, because reality is not floating in nothingness -- it is as real as it gets.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I think you are trying to lump together, perception, memory, and conceptualization as representations of an item in your pseudo-concept "subjective", but I hope I have clarified how these are different enough that one cannot lump them together. In effect, one can't have a conception of "perception-memory-conceptualization" as one mental unit, because perception of an object is infallibly correct, memory can be distorted by imagination, and conceptualization is voluntary data compression which can be done incorrectly (i.e. not according to the facts).

This isn't as clear as it should have been. It was ambiguous, and therefore suggestive. So, let me clarify it further.

In Objectivism, the terms "intrinsic," "subjective," and "objective" are used a bit differently than in other philosophies. What these terms refer to is the nature of concepts ( or universals) and how they are developed, where they reside, and their relationship to existence. The term "intrinsic" refers to the idea that concepts are an aspect of existence apart from the human mind; the term "subjective" refers to the idea that concepts are an aspect of the human mind apart from existence; while the term "objective" refers to the idea that concepts are developed from an observation of existence that is then integrated by the human mind.

With these definitions in mind, one can do a further analysis and realize that neither percepts nor memories are concepts and therefore, according to the above outline, do not come under the heading of intrinsic, subjective, or objective -- at least not strictly speaking. While both percepts and memories come about due to our interaction with existence, they do not come about by a process of mental (cognitive) abstraction. Percepts are the raw data, and memory is the storage of that raw data in non-conceptual form. Of course memory can also store concepts and cognitive elements -- that is one can remember what one was thinking -- but memory is not conceptualization; although one can use conceptualization to better access memory (i.e. put a label on a memory or conceptualize a memory for easy retrieval).

Using the tree example mentioned earlier: When we perceive the tree we perceive it in a perceptual form depending on the senses being used to be aware of the tree; When we access that information internally, we remember the tree; When we observe two or more trees, we can then develop the concept "tree." We do not perceive the concept "tree" nor do we remember the concept "tree" until we have developed it by means of a volitional attention to the trees and mentally abstracting what is different about a trees versus other things we perceive, and then integrating the similarities of one tree to the other tree into one mental unit. This process of conceptualization is objective so long as it is based on the facts and so long as it is done in a non-contradictory manner (i.e. so long as it doesn't contradict other concepts we have already developed).

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I apologize for taking so long to reply, but I wanted to thoroughly investigate the discussion you provided in the link. Would you mind responding more directly to this comment (in response to yours):

Both concepts are axiomatic, but existence has primacy. This is, existence comes first. An object exists whether or not there is a consciousness to perceive it. Consciousness cannot exist if there is nothing to perceive.
As for the definitions you provided, those help significantly. I do believe we were/are/will be using slightly different definitions - and perhaps that would be a nice place to revisit.

For instance, these statements seem to contradict the other:

while the term "objective" refers to the idea that concepts are developed from an observation of existence that is then integrated by the human mind.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

What exactly would "objective reality" mean if objective is meant (in Objectivist philosophy) as you defined it?

Edited by NewYorkRoark
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Would you mind responding more directly to this comment (in response to yours):

"Both concepts [existence and consciousness] are axiomatic, but existence has primacy. This is, existence comes first. An object exists whether or not there is a consciousness to perceive it. Consciousness cannot exist if there is nothing to perceive."

Both existence and identity are axiomatic concepts because at our first glance we are aware that there is something there at the perceptually level. To put it in terms of emphasis: "there is something there" (existence) versus "there is something there" (identity). The objects that we perceive are not created -- in whole or in part -- by our perceptual apparati nor by our mind, they exist even if there is no one there to perceive them or even if there is no one there to conceive of them. However, to be conscious requires there to be something to be conscious of. Consciousness is the awareness of something. Once we are aware of something, then we can introspectively be aware that we are aware of that something, which is how we develop the concept of consciousness -- our grasp of our grasping (if you want to put it that way). If there was not anything there for us to be aware of, then awareness would not be occurring.

The three primary axioms in Objectivism are: existence, identity, and consciousness. In one sentence one can put them all together: There is (existence) something there (identity) that I am aware of (consciousness).

For instance, these statements seem to contradict the other:

1) "while the term "objective" refers to the idea that concepts are developed from an observation of existence that is then integrated by the human mind."

2) "My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that: Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears."

Context is crucially important. Statement (1) is referring to epistemology (the nature of man's mind), whereas statement (2) is referring to metaphysics (the nature of existence).

What exactly would "objective reality" mean if objective is meant (in Objectivist philosophy) as you defined it?

Objective reality means that existence is real, is composed of entities (objects) that act according to their nature, and can be grasped by the human mind. But the human mind, in order to grasp existence, must act in compliance with objective reality. One's emotions, wishes, hopes, or fears do not change the facts; nor do they conceptually identify the facts.

One might feel love, for example, but if one does not have any current facts to back up that assessment, then the facts must come first, if one is to remain objective (proper functioning of the human mind in grasping existence conceptually). And, as one does not have the object to be aware of and thus does not have consciousness, so if one does not have the facts then love can not be real.

One might wish that someone would be such and such a way, but they are what they are, and one's mode of consciousness will not change those facts.

One might hope that one can somehow get the proper information to make an objective assessment, but barring those facts, all the hope in the world won't float that boat.

One might have fear that someone is out to do them harm, but, once again, an emotion is not the means of making an evaluative assessment of the actual facts.

I think one of the most wonderful aspects of Objectivism is Ayn Rand's analysis of where emotions come from, and how romantic love can be fully based on reason -- which means one must go by the facts and not by one's emotions.

Wanting someone to love you without providing them with the appropriate facts for them to make a proper assessment is a betrayal of both existence and human consciousness. It's like saying "You must be aware of me without having any awareness of me," which, as has been pointed out above, just won't work. It is putting an "I wish" above an "it is."

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The three primary axioms in Objectivism are: existence, identity, and consciousness. In one sentence one can put them all together: There is (existence) something there (identity) that I am aware of (consciousness).
Shouldn't identity have primacy over existence (human perception of identity) and consciousness (human acknowledgment of human perception). Correct me if I incorrectly paraphrased existence and consciousness.

Objective reality means that existence is real, is composed of entities (objects) that act according to their nature, and can be grasped by the human mind. But the human mind, in order to grasp existence, must act in compliance with objective reality.

If objective reality is defined by what can be grasped by the human mind but the human mind, in order to grasp existence, must act in compliance with objective reality, aren't you saying that objective reality is separate from the human mind (and has primacy)? Must objective reality be perceived by the human mind to be objective reality? Or does objective reality exist outside of human consciousness?

I do feel bad about pulling you into this conversation, especially given the original intention of the topic. It's just that I think that life is like shooting a basketball: in order to maximize your shooting ability, it's important to better your form. I think of philosophy as the "form" with regards to life and I'm just trying to increase my shooting percentage, so to speak.

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Shouldn't identity have primacy over existence (human perception of identity) and consciousness (human acknowledgment of human perception).

Everything that exists is something specific whether or not we are aware of it. However, we can't always identify it immediately upon perceiving it or becoming aware of it via implication. So, that it exists comes first, that we can identify it comes second, and that we are aware that we are aware of it comes third. As in, "I don't know what it is, but I know it is something" (where identity is implicit).

If objective reality is defined by what can be grasped by the human mind but the human mind, in order to grasp existence, must act in compliance with objective reality, aren't you saying that objective reality is separate from the human mind (and has primacy)? Must objective reality be perceived by the human mind to be objective reality? Or does objective reality exist outside of human consciousness?
Yes, existence exists independent of human consciousness, so in order to know reality we must study the items that do exist, rather than having an inward focus. And we can only have an inward focus once we have some content that arises from the awareness of entities.

The term "objective reality" actually has several components. That reality (and the items it is comprised of) have an existence independent of the human mind, and from that those items can be understood. The understanding of something being what it is does not add identity to the object, but because it has identity it can be understood. I'm using the term "understood" very broadly here, to mean not only conceptualizing the knowledge, but also perceiving it or being aware of it via implication. In other words, our sense do not add identity to the object either, but rather because it is what it is it can be perceived the way it is -- i.e. the green color of leaves is not added to the leaves by visual perception, but rather the leaves have an existence and an identity such that with a certain perceptual ability they are perceived as being green because they are green.

I do feel bad about pulling you into this conversation

The topic was people making an intellectual turn-around, in part due to my input. And I can already see that your mind is changing just in the questions that you are asking, since you are now beginning to better grasp the Objectivist position on certain topics.

And I helped make that happen :D

Whether you go the rest of the way or not is up to you.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The following is a reply to a friend's reply to Peter Schwartz's article Freedom vs. Unlimited Majority Rule. My friend's reply can be found here Establish Individual Rights. One might wonder why I am posting my reply here, instead of on the blogspot, but the reason is that in order to reply via the blogspot I have to sign up for a blogspot of my own, which would become too much to keep track of with this forum, other forums, and my own website. I'm posting it in this thread because one of my reasons for having long-term optimism is the work of the Ayn Rand Institute and other Objectivists around the world.

I'm also debating putting up a whole series of anti-Muslim terrorist cartoons and snub-them images that I began receiving shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and near the beginning of the Afghanistan war onto my website. Keep in mind that one reason we were able to conquer Afghanistan and Iraq so effectively, is that the enemy is easily aggravated by such images and insults; so they popped there little heads up upon being so insulted and got them shot off!

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

While I agree that establishing the rule of individual rights will help to uphold justice both in the United States and abroad (especially in those countries that were / are our enemies), I have to disagree that The Ayn Rand Institute didn't say anything about the German person being thrown in jail for claiming that the Holocaust never occurred. By choosing to speak out on the most grievous attack on individual rights -- Fundamentalist Muslims threatening to kill anyone who shows disrespect to Mohammed, especially those who depict him in cartoons -- they have spoken out against all of that same class, the initiation of force against those who are only speaking and writing without themselves initiating the violation of individual rights (through the explicit and immediate threat of force).

If the German government wants to make the claim that evasion is an evil, I'm all for that; but the person who evades has not initiated force against those who he is evading, and therefore the law should have nothing to say about it, nor should the law do anything about it. That is the nature of individual rights: One is free say, write, or do anything one wants to do, so long as someone else's individual rights are not violated.

The people who speak out against terroristic Islam are likewise not initiating force, even if what they say is offensive to those who are practicing Islam. An offensive piece of writing or speaking does not violate anyone's individual rights, so people who do so are free to speak or write what they chose in a society that upholds individual rights.

If your sensibilities are insulted, that is not the initiation of force. It is not the initiation of force if one says that the Holocaust did not occur; it is not the initiation of force if one says that Islam is part and parcel to terrorism by implication (i.e. all those who are not Muslim should be killed); it is not the initiation of force if someone says something in an offensive manner; it is not the initiation of force to speak one's mind when no immediate threats are spoken or written.

I fully support the Ayn Rand Institute's goal of re-affirming individual rights by focusing on the most egregious violations first, since they have a very limited budget and personnel to carry on such a campaign.

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  • 1 month later...

The notion that volition somehow transcends the physical and therefore cannot evolve is wrong. The same argument can be raised against consciousness. Clearly consciousness not only serves an evolutionary function but the mechanisms of awareness (e.g. the pain/pleasure mechanism) is so obviously well-tuned to survival that there is no question that it has been thoroughly subject to evolutionary adaptation. To deny the evolution of the eye, the ear, hunger or pain/pleasure only because they involve consciousness is completely senseless. Volition too is a property of consciousness which has been subject to evolution, and it is as real as the eye or the ear.

Reductionists argue for a pure bottom-up causation model of consciousness. In this view consciousness is just a "side effect" of a bunch of atoms interacting. Consciousness is then just like watching TV: there is a viewer but the viewer has no effect on the program. It is just passively experienced as the show unfolds.

In contrast to the reductionist argument is the emergentist view, with top-down causation. In this view consciousness is an active causal agent that has real influence on the state of the organism. The reductionist would say that a person is depressed *because* the energy level in the brain is low, but the emergentist would say that the energy level in the brain is low *because* the person is depressed.

Clearly both consciousness as such and volition in particular is a prime example of top-down causation. The very fact that we ARE conscious is strong evidence that top-down causation is a real physical phenomenon and precisely the organ that evolution works with and tunes. Why? Because evolution is very efficient. Unnecessary and excess functions are quickly eroded by natural selection. Moles have nearly lost their sight due to living underground for so long where eyes are not needed. Many insects living in dark caves are not only blind but have lost the pigmentation in their skin. In short, evolution weeds out all excess baggage, leaving only essential survivaloriented functions intact. The very fact that we are not mere automata but experience hunger and pain as real sensations tells us that consciousness has a real and necessary biological function that cannot be reduced to automatic behavior. This is strong evidence in favor of top-down causation, or emergent agent causation if you like.

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The notion that volition somehow transcends the physical and therefore cannot evolve is wrong. The same argument can be raised against consciousness. <snip> Volition too is a property of consciousness which has been subject to evolution, and it is as real as the eye or the ear.

I'm not exactly sure who or what you are replying to, since you didn't include any quotes for immediate reply.

Objectivism holds that consciousness is an axiom (self-evident and all-pervasive to man), and that consciousness is efficacious (you had to use your mind to direct your thoughts and your fingers to post your message).

However, evolution is a special science, and Objectivism qua philosophy is not dependent upon the special sciences. A rational philosophy comes before -- or is antecedent to -- any special science, because it is the principles of a rational philosophy that guides the scientist, not the other way around. So, whether or not consciousness or volition (an aspect of human consciousness) evolved or not is beside the point that consciousness and volition for man are self-evident and do not require evolution or any other science to confirm it.

And I wouldn't say that consciousness or volition transcends the physical, but rather that the physical (or matter) is not axiomatic, though consciousness is. In other words, the physical or matter are higher-level concepts, whereas consciousness is at the base of all knowledge and all-pervasive to all knowledge. Epistemology, the study of man's mind, doesn't have anything to do with, say, the biochemistry of the brain; but in order to study biochemistry one needs a rational epistemology as a guide as to how to form concepts and how to place them in the proper context and where to place them in the conceptual hierarchy.

The bottom line is that biochemistry, physics, evolution, and the other special sciences are dependent upon a rational philosophy; and it is philosophy, not the special sciences, that "dictate" the terms of what is rational and what is not.

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