Ep. 40 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Wisdom and Rationality



my notes

  • Wisdom is a meta-virtue for the virtues
  • Individual pull pole for the relationship with the collective creation and cultivation of the meta psycho-technology for creating the ecology of psycho-technology
  • Need it before, during and after quest for enlightenment, systematic response to the perennial problems

Science of Wisdom

  • Science identifies wisdom as the systematic seeing through illusion and into reality, at least comparatively so → insight

(I think of it as seeing the patterns that are useful to us as opposed to not seeing the pattern. Is not seeing the pattern the same as seeing an illusion? Hope he defines illusion here)

  • Systematic insight, not just into a particular problem but into a family of problems

(why does it need to be a family? If one picks up on a particularly insightful insight on a particular problem do we not call that wise? Are there different degrees of wisdom?)

  • Piaget:
    • systematic errors in the way that children see the world,
      systematic errors, systematic way in which kids overstrain their cognition
    • eventually get systematic insight, not just into this or that instance, but insight into failures of conservation as a kind of error
    • insight not just at the level of framing, but transframing, systematic insight.
    • Gives sensibility transcendence.
    • As the child is to the adult, the adult is to the sage
    • Automatically connected to the problem of enlightenment
  • McGee and Barber
    • Wisdom not about what you know but about how you know it
    • What’s the process involved?
    • Rationality: not just on the product, pay attention to and find value in the process of cognition
    • Kekes: descriptive knowledge vs. interpretative knowledge
      • Descriptive is grasping the facts
      • Interpretative is understanding the facts: grasp the significance of what you know (relevance realization)
    • perspectival/participatory aspect to wisdom
      • Pragmatic self-contradiction - contradiction in the perspective in which make the statement and the identity you have in making the statement
      • Ex: “I am asleep” - nothing logically wrong with that, pragmatic self-contradiction, because have to be awake to say it. Not just pointing out a fact, pointing to myself with it. (not lucid dreaming)
      • “I am wise” carries with it a sense of pragmatic contradiction, to state that seems to be an indication that in a perspective, and you have the identity of not being wise
      • Ex; Socrates I know what I don’t know
      • Awe: this two faced thing between horror and wonder
    • Wisdom has perspectival/participatory, not about having true beliefs, it’s about what perspective can you take, what identity do you have
    • Seeing through a misframing, transframing, world opening up, I in a coordinated manner and opening up to and through it
  • At the core of wisdom is overcoming self-deception
  • Stannovich:
    • Systematically overcome self-deception = rationality


  • Rational cannot be equated to a facility with syllogstic reasoning

(though of course, that can be a part of it)

  • Cannot be reduced to logic
  • Broaden the notion of rationality: capacity to overcome self-deception in a reliable manner
  • Affording flourishing → optimization of cognitive processing
  • Reliable: not perfection or certainty: but high probability of functioning successfully

(I put it as “Low chance or bias/error”)

  • Systematically: not operational just in one domain.
  • Ex: rationality vs. expertise. Become an expert in tennis. Not expert in being good at. Studied it. Acquired a high proficiency in the set of skills, should be considered an authority
  • Expertise: find a domain, bounded domain, that has a reliable set that has complex, difficult, well-definable set of patterns and problems - doesn’t transfer, will interfere with other domains
  • Have to pay attention to way we can BS ourselves. Often confuse people’s expertise.
    • Ex: expert in physics, have expertise there, about knowledge, getting at what’s real, seems to be similar to philosophy, so presumably someone can transfer their expertise to philosophy? Or saying philosophy is dead or useless (self-contradictory), fail to see that the similarity between the two may entail they should not be listened to because their expertise may be interfering
  • Expertise is not systematic, limited in its domain
  • Rationality applies within each domain, apply across many domains
  • Someone is rational if they can note self-deception when doing their daily life
  • Rationality is domain general notion vs. context specific notion
  • Continuum - the more systematic the more rational they can be.
  • Optimize set of procedures to achieve the goal you want - as optimize your cognition, can shift and change the goals

Cognitive Science of Rationality

  • Bunch of experimental results seemed to show people are irrational
  • Stannovich
  • Ex: give people certain problems to solve.
  • Pond of water, lilypads growing on it. Every day pads double. On day 20, the entire surface of the pond was covered. On what day was the pond half covered?.

(Paused before hearing the answer: day 19)

  • People assume 10th day. But it’s day 19 (BAM!)
  • Machinery like insight machinery - jump to a conclusion that’s incorrect

(I did have that jump automatically but paused as I thought the problem was probably expecting that. Then thought through it and got to right answer)

  • Machinery that causes to have an insight leads to wrong answer
  • People reliably fail on that kind of task
  • Ex: give test find proposition that strongly agree or disagree with
    • Give them two situations: good, logically valid argument that leads to not-B
    • Give them bad, poorly constructed argument that leads to B
    • Ask them which one of them is a good argument
    • Find reliably is that many people will pick the bad argument - fail at critical detachment
  • When we see the answer, we acknowledge it but don’t reliably apply the right reasoning procedure
  • If can’t independently evaluate the argument independent from conclusion can’t apply reason to the conclusion
  • Ex: Have some evidence that is the basis for the belief. If the evidence is undermined should change belief.
    • Problem with testing that experimentally beliefs are based on all kinds of things
    • They tried to create a belief just in the experimental situation
    • Brought people in, told them about this important skill to see if they possessed, ability to detect authentic suicide notes, give a bunch of notes, tell which is authentic or fraudulent
    • Give a bunch of notes, they make their judgements, give feedback
    • What happens is, later reveal - people were randomly assigned to group A told good at task, grounp B told good at task
    • Group A come to believe they are good, B that they are bad
    • Debrief them. Show them they were only getting feedback randomnly, all notes are all fake
    • Belief that good or bad should be completely undermined
    • Give them a bunch or distractor tasks. Then ask how do you think would do in real life. Group A thought would be good, B - bad
    • Belief perseverance - continue with belief even though only evidence for it has been undermined
  • Suffer from systematic illusion, systematic self-deception
  • Some philosophers psychologists conclude human beings are just irrational
  • Our political/legal systems based on people being fundamentally rational. Problematic
  • Morality depends on rationality can only be held moral if can be deemed rational. If do the right thing due to luck or coercion don’t consider it moral

(Hmm, have to think about this. I do think we can apply reason to morality, it’s the basis of my objective morality system, that said, we tend to drill morality into people, starting from childhood.)

  • rationality isn’t just a thing out in the world, like the earth is round, it is deeply tied to perspectival and participatory knowing, goes deeply to who and what I am, implications for what kind of political citizenship I can have and what kind of moral status can have, legal status, whether mature or not
  • Rationality is a deeply existential thing
  • Why are we doing this?
    • Showing deep connection between wisdom and rationality
    • Existential and political and moral import of rationality
    • Consider expanding and revising notion of rationality in a way that allows us to understand and deepen our understanding of wisdom
    • We are trying to understand wisdom because it is deeply needed for project of enlightenment and addressing perennial problems and addressing historical forces that have driven the meaning crisis

Rationality Debate

  • Debate arose in science: how should we interpret these experiments that are robust and reliable.
  • Should we interpret them to mean that human beings are fundamentally irrational?
  • Cautions against taking thee self–proclaimed promoters of rationality on Youtube to be clear examples of what is rational - pay more attention to the scientific evidence and the debate
  • Cohen:
    • Problem with holding that people are fundamentally irrational
    • To be irrational is to acknowledge and follow a set of standards and fail to meet them
    • Where do we get these standards? How do we come up with our normative theory?
    • Deep sense in which reason has to be autonomous
    • Let’s say standards given from a divine being, commanded → if follow them just because commanded to do so, not a rational act, just giving into authority, give into fear
    • If we follow the standards because we acknowledge they are good and right, then we already possess them (Euthyphro)
    • Reason is ultimately autonomous, not as a God, but it has to be the source of the norms that constitute and govern reason. We have to be the standard.
    • Ought implies can: if lay a standard on you that you ought to do it, implies have the competence to do it
    • Mistake to lay a standard that is impossible, or don’t have the competence
    • We are the source of the standards: but then say “Right, but the experiments show people acknowledge the standards but fail to satisfy them”
    • Cohen: People make two kinds of mistakes:
      • Competence: what you’re capable of doing
      • Performance: what actually done
      • Have the competence to do more than actually done
      • In between competence and performance are implementation processes
      • Ex: if tired have trouble speaking English, but don’t think don’t have the competence. But if get in a car accident and can’t speak - then lost English
    • We have to be the source of it and can apply it
      • Look at our performance and try and subtract errors due to implementation - performance errors
      • What does my competence look like free of performance errors
      • Take our performance, put through a process of idealization, subtract performance errors, get a purified account of our competence
      • That is the standard to which we hold ourselves, come up with a normative theory of which we are the source and are capable, but still fail to meet it
    • Cohen argues all the errors have to be performance errors - we must have at the level of competence all the rational standards. So we must be rational beings. Which means we are rational
    • Next time look at what’s right and wrong about this argument
    • Human rationality is more comprehensive than facility with syllogistic logic, it’s the reliable and systematic overcoming of self-deception, has to do with us exitentially, deeply overlaps with and is a component of what it means to be a wise person. To be able to systematically see through self-deception and into reality in such a way that we can afford meaning in life