A Bayesian Approach to Better Logic

You probably have noticed that I say the same things over and over again. I’m well aware, but I try to say them in different ways. I’ve written many times about how discourse at any given time follows a mode that is either objective, religio-aesthetic, or political. A mode is form of conduct consistent with a given mindset, but that does not mean that the people engaged in the mode actually have the mindset, and to suppose they do is not logically rigorous. For example, a scientist may be passionately arguing the evidence because his reputation is on the line (that is, he’s politically motivated), but as long as he argues according to the strictures of scientific debate, he’s not in a political mode. A given conversation might range back and forth or vacillate quickly between modes, but those trained in a certain mode can hold to it. Politics easily dominates a conversation because everything we do has some motivation behind it. Again, though, that does not vitiate the idea — or the potential of observing — the mode itself.

So one thing that confuses people when I talk about the religio-aesthetic mode is my summing it up as the mode of irrational human truth, of art broadly defined and of religious feeling. It doesn’t sit well with people generally to think of art as either irrational or nonpolitical. Well, the mode of defining things is the objective mode, and it’s difficult to interpret one mode in terms of another. But here’s what might help. We have evolved emotional, intuitive thought-heuristics for survival. We can use logic to guide these intuitions but the intuitions themselves follow a different process than abstract logic does. They were, after all, evolved to line up emotions with the goals of survival, and the “right” answer there is survival, which just happened to be rational enough times that the very concept of rationality could carve out a space for itself. But what’s an example of this problem of evolved intuition not actually being rational? Well, a friend of mine brought this up in the context of applying Bayes’ Theorem to intuition, and sent me a link to a video similar to the following, which I think is a tad more accessible than the one he actually sent:


The religio-aesthetic mode is about exploring the direct experience of evolved heuristics, and the truth it puts you in touch with is a _human_ truth that cannot be fully appreciated from the logical mode; it’s an answer to logically unanswerable questions, at the level of feeling: What’s the meaning of life? Why is love better than hate? Does a song move me? What is the value of a scary movie? We can attempt to answer these questions logically from premises we come up with, but that’s objective-mode stuff. Religio-aesthetic mode stuff is about feeling the answer. And since we are emotional creatures, it’s really impossible for us to participate in the logical mode without feeling the correctness of a logical proposition. But while emotion is essential to the process of logic at the level of motivation and a feeling of understanding (you know that little dopamine hit when the lights go on and you finally really get something you’ve been taught?), logic itself works whether you’re doing it or a computer is doing it, and so far, our computers feel neither smugness for the correct calculations nor chagrin at their errors… as far as we know. [I’ll follow up with another post with another link my friend gave me on the issue of motivation and Bayes’ Theorem.]

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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