Saturday, June 09, 2007

Magical Thinkers

The magical thinker has a complex of symptoms and deficiencies which is variously called Romanticism by David Brin, or Intuitionism, or Intuitive thinking, or Magical thinking, or when I'm feeling pejorative, monkey thinking. They are incapable of reasoning about abstractions because they have a mental handicap similar to but infinitely worse than dyslexia.

A dyslexic sufferer perceives the world as having symbols (barely above perceptions) to be jumping around and not staying still. They'll look at a page and the letters and numbers will be shifting. An extremely strong dyslexic would be incapable of learning to read.

Magical thinkers are much worse off because it isn't symbols that are jumping around but raw concepts. Just like a dyslexic can't read because the letters keep moving, so a magical thinker can't reason (assemble and disassemble ideas out of concepts) because the concepts keep moving around in their head.

Because of this they rely on pseudo-thinking, or lower-level thinking. This lower level thinking, the first three levels of Bloom's taxonomy of cognition, consists of strictly applying the concepts already in their possession. Basically, they are rearranging their prejudices and fitting concrete perceptions to already existing abstractions. Since assimilating (creating) new abstractions is as painful to the magical thinker as learning to read is to the dyslexic (except you only learn to read once) the magical thinker avoids forming new abstractions at all costs.

As a result of this, the magical thinker relies completely on a given set of 'received' abstractions. Abstractions like "nigger". Bingo, there you have racism. But also abstractions like "soul". It should interest you to read Jesse Bering's The God Fossil. Essentially, belief in souls (conservation of qualia / permanence of consciousness) is either innate or learned extremely early. It is only as a young child that most people abandon this belief.

Magical thinkers evidently can't discard such a concept because they 1) rely on it too much, or 2) can't assimilate structural identity. Structural identity by the way is the understanding that a molecule of CO2 is absolutely identical to any other molecule of CO2. Not "the same kind" but absolutely identical. Many (most? all?) magical thinkers cannot understand this concept. They believe that a molecule of CO2 has an essence that designates its identity. That it has a soul.

Other non-abstract "abstractions" which magical thinkers rely on and never learn to discard include emotions and anthropogenic thinking. You see this when religionists anthropomorphize the physical universe in a god. You also see this in eco-zealots when they anthropomorphize nature. Think of Mother Nature, Gaia, "nature will punish us", blah blah blah. You see this also in animal "rights" activists. The notion of assigning morality or rights to animals is self-contradictory gibberish because animals can't reason. That doesn't stop animal "lovers" from saying that animals are "just like us". Or hey, maybe they are. Maybe animals are just like them. Which would give us humans leave to slaughter them like cattle.

That's another problem with magical thinking. Because it is so unsophisticated, it is highly symmetric. It's based on raw associations, correlations, and not more complex asymmetric relations, causations. And the arrow of causality usually doesn't run the way the magical thinker would like it to.

Furthermore, since magical thinkers are incapable of reasoning, but sometimes capable of synthesis, it stands to reason that they would fuck up synthesis. That is, they do not comprehend synthesis. This explains why magical thinkers routinely confuse insight (a product of synthesis) with gibberish. Literal gibberish, sentences that do not have any meaning because they are either not well-formed or are self-contradictory. Generally, magical thinkers do not recognize self-contradiction because they cannot apply modus ponens. The deep magical thinkers think that contradictions are insights. For example: the Mystery of Christianity which is their "three in one" god. "mystery" is just a euphemism for gibberish.

Now consider the fact that magical thinkers confuse gibberish with insight, and that they believe in souls. Suddenly you have spirits and ghosts. If you actually reason about spirits you will realize why they are gibberish. Spirits are not actually non-corporeal because can be seen and affect matter. But they are also not corporeal because they can pass through solid objects. They're gibberish.

The interesting question is why this particular gibberish came about. The answer to this can be found in Lloyd deMause's Foundations of Psychohistory. Humanity was born deeply psychotic and hallucinatory. Hallucinations have many of the traits ascribed to spirits.

The same answer can be found in Julian Jaynes' The Origin Of Consciousness since human beings living three millenia ago constantly hallucinated gods and other divine beings. It was an efficient way for one hemisphere of the brain to communicate with the other hemisphere. And indeed, this explains the importance ascribed to numerology and incantations. Numbers and letters, symbols, are powerful Magic to primitive people. Because they fulfill the crucial function of intra-cranial communication.

Symbols, together with souls, constitutes the whole foundation of any mystical system. Think of JRR Tolkien's fondness for languages and his reliance on Spirits to describe LOTR's cosmogeny. So we see that this explanation describes a great many phenomena.

But the reason why I dragged out Jaynes and deMause is to outline a simple fact. Magical thinkers rely on thought processes and on "abstractions" which have reached us *from the dawn of time*. I do not believe the concepts involved are actually abstract, they are far too innate.

And since magical thinkers are incapable of reasoning and usually incapable of insight, since they depend on others for the few abstractions they can memorize by rote, this explains their obsession with Revelation. And since they have no ability to reason, since they are incapable of evaluating truth, since they have no access to truth, it also explains the various Relativisms. Especially intellectual relativism, where supposedly objective truth does not exist. Recognizing the existence of objective truth would require them to accept they are mentally handicapped and intellectually inferior.


Shaper said...

> And since magical thinkers are incapable of reasoning and usually incapable of insight, since they depend on others for the few abstractions they can memorize by rote, this explains their obsession with Revelation.

Interesting stuff.

And it would also explain an automatic acceptance of authority, as long as the authority provides them with mystical revelations.

This might explain why Fundamentalist Christians will believe anything their pastor tells them, but will argue all day over Evolution, with a century or more of evidence behind it.

Anything from Science smacks of the objective truth - but they don't believe in an objective, verifiable truth so to a magical thinker anything demonstrated or indicated by Science is merely a wrongly-certain belief in something that's actually only a subjective truth.

Anything from religion, however, speaks to them in their own language. It's unexplained or inexplicable - mysterious - so you aren't meant to understand it. Coupled with a strong authority structure like most churches, it satisfies their want-list for a belief:

Subjective/relativisitic - nobody can prove one way or the other if it's true or false, so nobody can tell you you're wrong.

Mystical thinking - you aren't supposed to understand it, so not understanding it is correct and normal... instead of the source of a crushing sense of inferiority and fright.

Strong authority figure - given they don't understand the basic reasoning, a strong leader (pastor, priest, pope, imam, whatever) simply tells them what to think, saving them the pain of uncertainty and independent/unguided thought.

Herd mentality in the rest of the religious/whatever group makes them feel like they belong, quashes any nagging sense of intellectual dishonesty they may have and allows them to feel better about themselves by excluding and demonising "outsiders".

Anonymous said...

LOL, is it not the case that CO2 molecules may differ in the carbon isotope (C12 vs. C13) they contain? Jussst kidding, I know what you mean.

But I'm not convinced. Abstractions like "nigger"? Why not any other word or concept we use?

This is off on a tangent:

In regards to anthropogenic thinking (etc.), can't we objectively look at/consider what we do to nature, using our ethic and morals? Or are you just against people who claim animals are "just like people". Because how can you logically reason for killing animals for human survival/progress without reasoning for human survival/progress in the first place.

Richard Kulisz said...

Morality can't apply to nature because it can't *include* nature *as a rational agent*. The only way it can apply to nature is as an object, to be used for humanity's well-being.

For that reason, it's immoral to incinerate the entire biosphere but not to exterminate a species or otherwise drive it to extinction. For that matter, it's immoral to create plagues that affect humans ... so long as your in-group is humanity. But not if your in-group is AI.

The aspect of morality that applies to nature is only a tiny minuscule subset of ethics. And ethics treats the entirety of the non-human biosphere as just MEAT to be used in the most long-term efficient manner possible.

So I object to magical thinkers and I object separately to what they breach. And for that matter, morality doesn't directly extend to magical thinkers either because they aren't rational agents. It only applies to magical thinkers to the extent that it would derange rational people to treat magical thinkers as subhuman.

For more, see morality, part 1.

Richard Kulisz said...

'nigger' isn't abstract enough. There are clear instances of niggers in the real world. The concept is synthesized FROM the real world.

I don't know of any rules you could apply to determine whether a concept is abstract or concrete. You need to use judgement.

Take the integers for example. Are those abstract because the Piraha are unable to grasp them? Is the only reason magical thinkers grasp them because they've memorized them by rote?

Certainly, most of what mathematicians understand by 'integers' is abstract. A one to one bijection from the Peano sets? That's abstract. The difference between numbers and their decimal representation? That's abstract.

Finally, when you used the term "CO2 molecules" that connoted individual molecules had an identity, which they do not. If you'd said "CO2 may differ isotopically" then that would have been more neutral and correct.

CO2 does have an identity based on the isotope, the energy of the bonds, the number of filled electron shells ... and that's it. I believe you understand that. A few dozen identities shared between quadrillions of molecules.