5) Reason is all very well and good, but Dude, there's a time and a place...

Strafio's picture

In the previous essay I pointed out that there were various forms of reasoning which wasn't always suited to being scientific. The looser, more metaphorical reasoning, that we see in theology also has its place. Now I'm going to go a step further and claim that reason in general isn't always appropiate. As I pointed out in Reason for Reason, we reason for a reason, and for some situations reasoning just isn't appropiate. Sometimes it's a matter of practicality, that reason can find an answer but the moment demands a different approach. In some cases reason will only confuse things, and in those situations we have to step back, stop trying to consciously think and let our brain work its magic in producing what we call insight and intuition.
This essay is anything but anti-reason, it will be making full use of reason.
It's just that when we've had some successes with reason, we might make the leap to thinking that we should always use reason, which is ironic as I've yet to see such a leap be rationally justified!

But isn't putting aside reason irrational by definition?
Not really. We wouldn't call someone irrational for telling a joke or for relying on their instincts to dodge a ball rather than mathematically work out the trajectory of the ball. We only call someone irrational if they're trying to do something that ought to be using reason.
At the end of the day it's a question of practicality - is reason the right tool for the job at hand?
So far this has been fairly uncontroversial - we obviously don't use reason for jokes or in the heat of a sports game. My controversial claim is that reason isn't always the best path to truth. I don't merely mean situations where you don't have time to think things through rationally so you're forced to make your best guess, I'm saying that some questions are better answered without reason altogether. Reason, as a tool, just isn't cut out to face certain problems.

Reason requires its foundations to be in place.
It works with a conceptualisation that we already have.
This means that if we are approching a new subject where we haven't fully grasped the concepts, reason cannot even get off the ground. Attempts to reason will force us to make interpretations of the new concepts, based on our other concepts, rather than allowing us to grasp them naturally as they really are. Trying to reason too soon, before we've properly grasped the concepts involved, it forces us to invent makeshift concepts to stand in.
Rationalists have a history of over-simplifying concepts, trying to package them into tighter definitions which make them nicer for the philosopher to deal with, but also disconnects the concept from its true nature, and that means that any answers we get will also be similarly disconnected.

New ideas need time to grow and mature before we can put them through the process of reason. Trying to apply reason too early on can only kill the creative process. Don't misunderstand me here, I'm not saying that we shouldn't attempt to reason out new ideas, after all, attempting to reason can be a good way of getting to know the subject at hand and this will improve the understanding. What we must avoid is making expectations or demands on a subject that it must be ammenable to reason. To do so is to make the assumption that everything knowing is within our conscious grasp. Should we really limit ourselves to just our conscious thought?

The role of intuition
Reason is linguistic thinking where we consciously work through problems with an inner dialogue.
Intuition is what we call knowledge when we don't consciously know where it came from.
One example is our wits, our instant reactions to a situation.
Dodging a ball, giving a snappy reply to an unexpected question, these are examples of having a quick wit. They are short snappy answers, that aren't as carefully thoughts through as reasoned thoughts, but are there for 'blink and you miss it' situations where a reasoned answer would just be too slow.
Another example is insight.
This is much slower than reason, and much, much slower than wit.
Wit sacrificed care and accuracy for speed. What advantage does wisdom have?
Wisdom is one of the slower functions of the mind. It analyses all the empirical data we receive, a bulk too large for our conscious reasoning to manage, and with innumerous calculations it picks up on patterns too subtle for our conscious reasoning to pick up. It gives us an insight that would just wouldn't be able to obtain with conscious reasoning.
Not to mention that it is free from the weaknesses of reason pointed out in the previous paragraph.

That's not that intuition is without its flaws.
As we don't know the steps involved in its method, it is therefore open to making fallacies, taking correlations to mean more than they do. Reason has famously corrected many errors that we intuitively make. Take an example:
Imagine that a length of rope was tied around the Earth, just enough to give a tight fit around its diameter. Now imagine 2 metres was added to the rope, making the fit that little bit looser. How large would the gap be under the rope?
Barely any? Enough to slide a coin under? Enough to crawl under?
What does your intuition tell you?

Highlight the text to see the answer:
Mathematically, the circumference of a circle/sphere is 2 x Pi x r.
So C + 2m = 2 x Pi x (r + gap)
So the gap = (C + 2m)/(2 x Pi) - r
= ((2 x Pi)(r)+2m)/(2 x Pi) - r
= r + 1m/Pi - r
= 1/Pi m
Which is roughly 33cm - easily enough to crawl under!

Did your intuition guess correctly? Mine certainly didn't!

Both reason and intuition have their strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes our intuition will mislead us and it will take a rational analysis to clear things up.
Other times our reason will be based on misconceptions, will lead to stale conclusions, and we need to await new insight from our intuition in order to get a fresh look and re-evaluate our initial assumptions.
There's no fixed method on which one to choose.
A good rule of thumb is to roll with one until it experiences problems.
We tend to know when our intuition needs looking at when it bring us two contradictory beliefs, a dilemna that we must solve through reason. Reason, while we should expect some results to be counter intuitive, can come to conclusions so far removed from our experience of the world that it suggests something has gone wrong. The best bet is to be open to solutions from both ends - after all, if we try the best of all worlds then surely we'll get the best results!

The psychological effect of too much reason
They say that you can have too much of a good thing.
Whatever you do, if you focus too much on it then there will be a lot you miss out on. Reason is no exception. When we put ourselves in the mindset of being rational we are putting on a certain kind of thought process. Obviously, different thought processes give different results, but there's more to it than that. There's also a psychological effect that can affect our very approach to situations and even our outlook to life. Our modern emphasis on conscious thought has made us lose confidence in our unconscious abilities. Back when we were kids were able to just 'do' things. Now, unless we have a linguistic monologue thinking things through, we tend to consider ourselves out of control and would account any good we do to pure luck. This leads many of us to discard important information that our intuition gives us.

This isn't just a case of mishandling information. Our linguistic modes of thought tend to be associated with certain attitude. It's an attitude that doesn't like uncertainty and is impatient to get answers, an attitude that narrowly focuses on getting the answer rather than pondering the bigger picture behind it, an attitude that demands hard work and effort rather than letting the mind drift playfully. It's encourages to disconnect from our feelings rather than to flow with them. There's nothing wrong with this - it's what makes it good at being what it is, but we can already see how it's a state of mind that we can want to leave behind for certain issues. We certainly don't want to get into the mental habit of depending on it for everything we do.

This is why many people out there feel reason to be something to break free from.
Not that reason is a problem - using reason to dismantle a false belief or solve a dilemna is quite a liberating experience. It's just when people make demands that we should be thinking things through rationally, it's just adding another 'should' to the tyranny. We start to lose confidence in our non-linguistic thought and find it harder to just 'do' or just 'be', without having to have a rational explanation why.
Clearly there are things in life where such 'shoulds' are necessary.
When important consequences depend on our accuracy, this state of mind is the best to ensure that minimal mistakes are made. Is our personal worldview such a subject?
When someone wants freedom from reason, it's not reason they want freeing from so much as the demands that are made on them to use it, even when it doesn't feel right. Such demands might be so off-putting that they might come to undervalue reason altogether, even when it is appropiate...

To conclude:
Reason is the way to settle a dispute or dilemna in our search for truth.
So if someone wishes to debate with us then it's clear that they should use reason.
However, some people go further and demand justification of beliefs from people who weren't looking for debate. Can this demand be justified?
You are demanding that they work with a conceptualisation that they probably haven't fully develloped, and even if they have, if it's not a conceptualisation that you're familiar with then you're probably demanding that they explain it in terms of one you are familiar with. It's like a blind man demanding that you justify your statement that the duck is yellow!

You're demanding that they put ideas that haven't fully flowered to a strict test that it just isn't ready for yet, and may never be. What's more, you're demanding that they use a state of mind that is completely unsuitable for how they are trying to live. Not to mention the fact you're ignoring that our intuition is generally very reliable, even if it does mislead us from time to time.
Reason, when used appropiately, is a therapeutic tool that can liberate us from confusions.
Reason, when demanded, is a 'should' which is as tyranical as the rest of them.
Which image of reason would you rather promote?

Brian37's picture

Who is claiming we are

Who is claiming we are making "demands"?

No, (at least I am) saying "if" you want to prove to me that your claim is valid, this is the standard I use.

I hardly think that is "demanding" anything. Anymore than if my boss failed to give me a paycheck every two weeks, I would be within my reason to say, "I quit".

I think you are too sensitive to some bluntness around here. If someone is going to ask me what I require of them to change my mind Iam going to tell them. I am not the type to sugar coat anything in the intrest of sparing someone's feelings.

I agree that there IS a "time place and context". But I also warn against always avoiding controversy.

How do "I" want to promote reason can be different than how you want to. I do not feel, personally that anyone need be offended when you tell them they have a bugar on their nose.(refuring to flawed logic) When an error is pointed out to you you shouldnt cry, "You hate me" because of the way it was said. The person should look in the mirror, and if they do have a bugar on their nose they would be wise to remove it.

You are you and you deal with people differently than I do and the only thing I agree with is that "time place and context" do matter, but that is the only as far as I will go.

By implication of "how do you want to portray reason" implying that some atheists "demand", seems to be an assumption that they want to be tyrants like theocrats(not all believers, just believers who want a facist theocracy).

Not me, I dont demand that they believe what I do. I do "demand" that they dont expect anything out of me less than intelectuall  honesty. Simply put, if they cant prove it, they cant prove it. I wont hate them or have them arrested or demand a Hitler like goverment used to opress them. I simply wont buy what they are selling.

I would not call that attitude tyranicall in the least. 

I dont know how you came to this conclusion, but this seems a bit presumptive in and of itself as to how all atheists "should" portray themselves.

An individual is an individual to me, be they atheist or theist and we are just as diverse in our opinions and tactics.

If you like the quite conversation with theists, that is you and you are NOT wrong in such. But that does not invalidate in all cases my fang tactic which some theists can handle and dont take personally.

I think you are doing what you are accusing some atheists of, "ignoring the shades of grey".  There is no "template" for our movement. One size fits all is a fallacy.


"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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Strafio's picture

Brian37 wrote:Who is

Brian37 wrote:
Who is claiming we are making "demands"?

It's common to hear "Prove it otherwise your belief is irrational" from people in atheist communities.

Brian37 wrote:
No, (at least I am) saying "if" you want to prove to me that your claim is valid, this is the standard I use.

Then I guess that my arguments weren't aimed at you.
To be honest, I've read many of your posts and you seem to follow a golden rule of reciprocity.
You do not feel the need to attack theism for the sake of it but when someone is happy to preach to you, you see no reason why they shouldn't hear the arguments against their own position.
And you have no sympathy for those who will give it but not take it.
Sounds perfectly fair to me.

Brian37 wrote:
I think you are doing what you are accusing some atheists of, "ignoring the shades of grey".  There is no "template" for our movement. One size fits all is a fallacy.

And you just did what you accused me of - taking my argument to be more aggressive than it actually is. Sticking out tongue
My argument wasn't supposed to be a blanket argument against all atheists - I am one!
It just addressed some of the more "militant" attitudes within our society.