sarkology

intellectual norms as wireheading

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on June 11, 2013

Here’s another related bunch of ideas. Let’s see where this goes.

Why do humans tell stories? I think it is because stories reinforce social and moral norms. The modern idea of a theory, as in theory of relativity, theory of evolution, etc., is based off of that psychological hardware. What?!

Yes. In stories, you hear of a brave man saving a drowning child. This is to exhort readers to be brave men who save drowning children. But what about intellectual norms? For example, one must use Bayes rule. But what is the story? The use of Bayes rule? Yes. With science there is feedback in the form of empiricism. So for example, the Ptolemic model exhorts the circleness of orbits, but such circles must be corroborated in reality. In the case of philosophy though, it is quite different.

In philosophy, there is a tendency to go as meta as possible. This is so that one can short-circuit that feedback loop of norms and bahavior, such that norms become behavior and behavior become norms. It’s really just a form of wireheading. You see, with morality governing human bahavior for instance, one gets a kick out of affirming moral norms, but that cannot compare to the sheer ecstasy of actually behaving like an upstanding citizen. With intellectual norms with high dose of meta however, object and meta levels blur. So that simply by doing meta one gets high on the satisfaction of norms. The philosopher is basically a norm-addict.

We all know what happens with addicts. They are escapists who want nothing to do with the real world. So philosophy gets ever more detached from reality. More philosophy for philosophy’s sake. This happens even in the case of philosophies which purportedly try to engage directly with the practical world. For example, science has recently been sold as the prime driver of technological progress. But that is just plain untrue. Technological progress happens mostly by trial and error, based not on scientific theories but on highly domain-specific heuristics and rules of thumb. It is scientists which retroactively steal credit for certain high profile inventions as they spin out a yarn of applied science.

But science is supposed to produce technological progress. So we keep throwing in more government funding and founding new fake fields of supposedly-practical enquiry, corrupting real science in the process. But what is real science and why is it worthwhile? Well science is basically art, art should be beautiful and should not be required to be functional. Insisting that art be functional only leads to the spiritually barren practice of ‘design’. I want my toaster to work. I want my Rembrandt to be beautiful. I don’t want a Rembrandt toaster.

I think democracy is another related form of wireheading. In democracy everybody gets to advocate some policy or another without at all being exposed to the consequences of such policies when put in practice. Brave men actually have to save drowning children, but pro-immigration folks do not have to live in immigrant-majority places. I’m sure pre-democratic folks do also have political opinions, but politics was never an obsession of the common man. Neither does the common man derive much satisfaction from politics, for he does not have that all-powerful-symbol of the vote. With democracy, the story is that you matter, nevermind the fact that your importance is mere story. The norm is the behavior which is the norm.

All this leads (I hope) to another idea I call monuments and technology. Art is harmless. Art does not affect the mundane but important workings of a society. The painter does not ruin the furniture the carpenter makes. Alas this is not the case with a society with an advanced case of rent-seeking parasitism. The industrial revolution was not a product of scientific knowledge. But rather science is a monument built on top of the success of the industrial revolution. Another example would be GDP and educational spending. The narrative is always that educational spending is investment in human capital which leads to our nation’s wealth. That narrative is as narratives tend to be, backwards. Nation’s celebrate their wealth in the form of educational expenditure. The absurd amounts of money an American students spends for college and the wholesale import of Anglophone universities into Abu Dhabi are cases in point.

Both are necessary. We need monuments and we need technology. The finer things in life and the substrate which provide for those finer things. Trouble is when we confuse to the two. In democracy, political ideals and practical governance. In industry, science and technology. In universities, education and vocational training. More generally, and the main thrust of this article, theory and practice.

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2 Responses

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  1. moral progress | sarkology said, on June 23, 2013 at 11:10 am

    […] too lived thick in the midst of their dilemma. Which is to say you would be operating in far mode, taking things out of context, and trying to signal the integrity of your conscience for a present-day audience, as opposed to […]

  2. what do you care for argument? | sarkology said, on November 14, 2013 at 4:13 am

    […] and does not evince much intelligence. Your common internet user arguing politics only cares about wireheading norms. A libertarian only cares about arguments of a libertarian style for example, and so he gets a kick […]


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