Rio Lobo

Just the introductory guitar, which is lovely.


Anonymous said...

Hullo Grim,

I've taken a stab at defining a philosophical tool. I thought you might like to read it:

Grim said...

So, my first thought about that is that it is an artifact of language. We can restate any disagreement as a consensus that we disagree about X because we are using the referent X to designate something about which we disagree. OK, that's true, sure.

Yet consider the case in which you and I disagree about some X, where X is named by a word in English. Then a third party enters the discussion, and they have another idea about X, which they treat under a name in Japanese, Y. It is very likely given the radically different languages and cultures (although not necessary) that X and Y will differ in some content. Neither they nor we may understand exactly how X and Y are different. Therefore, we may agree to substitute X for Y in saying that we all have a disagreement about X (or about Y).

If we do, we are in error. We don't in fact disagree about X, so restating the problem this way introduces an error not present in the original dispute.

In fact, we don't actually have a word that captures exactly what our disagreement is. Since we don't understand each others' concepts well enough to formulate a word that refers to the dispute, we cannot actually restate our dispute in the form of a consensus.

I've formulated this objection in terms of a difference between languages, but it works within a language too. Consider a case in which we are disagreeing about some X where you and I have subtly different concepts to which we are using the same word to refer. (E.g., "equality.") Now it sounds like there is an X about which we disagree, but really there is an X and a Y. X refers to my concept, and Y refers to yours. If we reframe this as a consensus -- "We disagree about X" -- then we're suggesting a level of commonality that is not actually present.

Some thoughts to help you in your process of developing this idea.

Anonymous said...

Grim, thanks for an absolutely fascinating response.

I'd argue to you that my limit case, "we agree that we are _not sure_ whether or not we disagree," covers most of the bases you have described.

But I'd also like to flip your response on its head, and suggest that it is our use of language _itself_ that is the artifact here, and that the phenomenon being described (however imperfectly, in language) is real.

We agree, I think, that language is necessarily an imperfect descriptor of events (the map is not the territory). We also agree, I think, that measuring the precise conceptual contents of anyone's mind is impossible, be it linguistically or otherwise.

At first glance, the rare exception seems to be in the narrow professional circumstances where language has been formalized and then standardized, usually through some sort of consensus-driven process. But I think that even here, the problem persists.

Even in a formalized language, there is a fuzziness that persists at both the high resolution end of the spectrum (personal granularity of preference in professional terminology, especially near terminological boundary conditions: what is an emotion?) and at the low (every linguistic community has its fringe members; just watch incoming freshmen as they try to define epistemology).

Therefore, it seems fair to say that individual human interpretations of real-world events must remain to some degree a black box, and that estimating them from outside must remain something of a black art.

To me, this state of affairs suggests that what we ought to do is trade the "formal philosophy" hat, with its intimations of mathematical precision and formal rigor, for our old "natural philosophy" hat, with its heuristic common-sense-making capabilities.

This is something of what I am after in articulating the Law of Radical Consensus. Rather than getting tangled in a futile linguistic search for Exact Unity of Concept, in a real world that does not permit any such verification to take place, I am looking to identify a method of taking real-world measurements that we might heuristically call "Good Enough."

When one unknowable being is trying to communicate with another unknowable being about shared events in a real world, a certain loosening of the reins is called for.

My first aim is to define a universal heuristic mechanism by which such communicators can zoom out, bypassing local disagreements, until self-evidence and Radical Consensus have converged in a shared understanding that is Good Enough for the real world. From there, it should be possible to reason inward together, backing in and out via consensus as necessary, until the point of disagreement is pinpointed, at which point it can be decided what (and what not) to do about it.

My second aim is to couch that mechanism in language suitable for helping a bunch of non-linguistic-professionals, or at least professionals from vastly different linguistic disciplines (say, political left and right), find a way off the emotionally escalating zero-sum path we are currently on, before it erupts into existential violence.

My third aim is to identify the rigorous universal rules that do emerge from the physics of the whole situation. But this comment is overlong already...

Thanks again for your response,


Anonymous said...

I should have said that the third aim is where we get to put our formal philosophical hats back on. That could indeed be the fun part!

Grim said...

What exactly is the information content of "We're not sure whether or not we disagree"? Try constructing a truth table for that. It may be that what you're considering a limit case is really just a case of conveying no information. The only thing that seems to survive is the "we." If there aren't in fact two (or more) of us, then the statement is false. You aren't worried about the solipsistic case, though.

Otherwise, it's true regardless of the facts. That's not finding consensus by widening the frame, but finding consensus by constructing a tautology. If there's nothing that could make it false, then there's nothing that could make it meaningful.

Grim said...

E.g., draw a truth table that considers a case in which our concepts do or do not agree with each other, so we either are or are not actually discussing the same thing; and, on the other axis, whether or not we agree about that concept. Given that we cannot be sure that our concepts agree (whether or not they do), doesn't your limit case return true in every instance?

If so, it's a tautology.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps so, Grim, but it may be a tautology whose time has come! I’d argue that the limited information it conveys, in the form of its sole surviving word “We,” is _the_ critical inflection point in day-to-day human interactions.

(I welcome the opportunity to make that case, as until reading your comments I hadn’t yet realized I needed to make it explicitly. This is why these internet conversations are so important.)


Our national political space is increasingly dominated by deftly curated communication bubbles, within which people have been trained to write off information that doesn’t match the tailored political lensing being supplied by their respective bubbles. The bubble denizens are now trained do this so reflexively, and so well, and with such an easy smug pride, that whatever is said by “unapproved” messengers generally goes unheard, or at least unconsidered.

[Similar problems dominate with respect to my own professional bubble, the insular world of classical music. We are working on it, but it is hard.]

In other words, and this is important, the current social media environment ensures that even airtight rational arguments are now useless as persuading instruments, unless your target audience is already receptive to _both_ the message (the argument) _and_ its carrier (you). This situation is unlikely to improve of its own volition.

It is also a dangerous state of civic affairs.


Now let us consider a particular point of view. Inside the bubble of the philosophically inclined, within which I also include those of us who have direct personal experience with the unforgiving nature of actions and their consequences in the real world, a carrier’s credentials pale in importance next to the truth-content of its message.

This is largely because we who inhabit these particular bubbles believe that the real world has the final vote. Therefore, we tend to want to verify, through empirical observation and through formal argument, “what is really going on out there,” regardless of who or what is bringing the information. We want to know what works.

But, when measured against the ever-growing social media noise machine that is busily inflaming (hitherto) consequence-free opinions in the wider world, the leverage of those of us in the rational bubble is dropping, isn’t it? And that real-world trend is putting more and more strain on our social fabric. The protected fantasies of smug bubble dwellers may yet succeed in dragging all of us over a very real cliff together, for we are now too linked to disengage without grievous loss.

Rational argument, alone, is no longer enough to effect a sufficient change in course.


Enter the Law of Radical Consensus.

As you have correctly pointed out, the sole informational content of the Law is “we.” However, because that “we” is also imbued with tautological universality(!), it powerfully contradicts the message of the bubble curators that “us or them,” as defined by the curators, is necessarily the only available option.

In other words, by forcibly widening the frame, the Law of Radical Consensus reveals to all a universal method for discovering shared premises, where (for many) none had been thought to exist.

Consider it as an opening salvo in the battle to philosophically engage with those who live outside the philosophical bubble, in order that more concrete engagements may be forestalled. That is its purpose.

[For this reason, I described it as a philosophical tool. Not in the sense of “doing” philosophy, but rather in the sense of leading others “to” philosophy.]


Anonymous said...

To circle back around to your initial comment about language, then, the issue seems to be how I should _describe_ what I am trying to build.

Properly described, my Law of Radical Consensus might be labeled a simple device of Rhetoric. But 95% of the potential readership has no idea what Rhetoric is, and can't be bothered to look it up.

In order to be effective in my goals, I need to avoid getting stuck "preaching to the choir." This means I need to speak to as broad an audience as possible. Yet if I do so, it becomes nearly impossible to engage those who regularly employ what I have been calling "professional terminology," as our working definitions (and indeed the premises) no longer align.

Add the observation that I seem to be one who thinks in architectures, rather than words, and the problem metastasizes...