409. Will As Thou Wilt – 410. Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom

409. Will As Thou Wilt

Another quick aside about Schopenhauer’s famous quote:

“A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.”

410. Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom

Why do I believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow?

Because I’ve seen the Sun rise on thousands of previous days.

Ah… but why do I believe the future will be like the past?

Even if I go past the mere surface observation of the Sun rising, to the apparently universal and exceptionless laws of gravitation and nuclear physics, then I am still left with the question:  “Why do I believe this will also be true tomorrow?”

I could appeal to Occam’s Razor, the principle of using the simplest theory that fits the facts… but why believe in Occam’s Razor?  Because it’s been successful on past problems?  But who says that this means Occam’s Razor will work tomorrow?

Okay, Bayesianism and Occam’s Razor obviously postulate a lawful universe.

But suppose Occam’s Razor were false/we wouldn’t live in a lawful universe, i.e. the more complicated theories/universes are more likely to be true. Imagine yourself living in such a universe:

Thinking and speaking is now impossible! It is more probable that you’ll transform into a strawberry-dragon than that your thoughts and theories would stay the same. You can’t plan for the future at all, because the most complex state of the world has the highest chance of coming into existence, and that would almost certainly exclude the continuation of your consciousness.

This passage illustrates how crazy this anti-Occamian epistemology is:

There are possible minds in mind design space who have anti-Occamian and anti-Laplacian priors; they believe that simpler theories are less likely to be correct, and that the more often something happens, the less likely it is to happen again.

And when you ask these strange beings why they keep using priors that never seem to work in real life… they reply, “Because it’s never worked for us before!”

Now, one lesson you might derive from this, is “Don’t be born with a stupid prior.”  This is an amazingly helpful principle on many real-world problems, but I doubt it will satisfy philosophers.

Sure, you can only justify the use of Occam’s Razor by an appeal to Occam’s Razor and you can only justify using your own brain by using your own brain. Is that circular? Certainly. But what are you gonna do about it? You can’t think on bananas.

At this point I feel obliged to drag up the point that rationalists are not out to win arguments with ideal philosophers of perfect emptiness; we are simply out to win.  For which purpose we want to get as close to the truth as we can possibly manage.  So at the end of the day, I embrace the principle:  “Question your brain, question your intuitions, question your principles of rationality, using the full current force of your mind, and doing the best you can do at every point.

If one of your current principles does come up wanting—according to your own mind’s examination, since you can’t step outside yourself—then change it!  And then go back and look at things again, using your new improved principles.

The point is not to be reflectively consistent.  The point is to win.  But if you look at yourself and play to win, you are making yourself more reflectively consistent—that’s what it means to “play to win” while “looking at yourself”.

Everything, without exception, needs justification.  Sometimes—unavoidably, as far as I can tell—those justifications will go around in reflective loops.  I do think that reflective loops have a meta-character which should enable one to distinguish them, by common sense, from circular logics.  But anyone seriously considering a circular logic in the first place, is probably out to lunch in matters of rationality; and will simply insist that their circular logic is a “reflective loop” even if it consists of a single scrap of paper saying “Trust me”.  Well, you can’t always optimize your rationality techniques according to the sole consideration of preventing those bent on self-destruction from abusing them.

The important thing is to hold nothing back in your criticisms of how to criticize; nor should you regard the unavoidability of loopy justifications as a warrant of immunity from questioning.

Always apply full force, whether it loops or not—do the best you can possibly do, whether it loops or not—and play, ultimately, to win.

(As an aside; the above resembles Bartley’s pan-critical rationalism which is very neat.)

Leave a Reply