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Reason, intellectualism’s Vanishing Point

From QUORA: Why do philosophers accuse other philosophers of talking nonsense?

Reason is central to a person’s capacity to think. I assume that this point is not debatable. All people readily declare reliance on reason for their thinking and theories. But precisely, what do they mean by this? Specifically, wouldn’t one think that reason is the same for all thinkers?

Recently, I posted a question to philosophers on Quora to get clarification:

The question – What is reason? Not a definition. How does one do it? (see also the epilogue)

If you think everyone agrees, you would be wrong. Follow the link and read their answers. No one agrees. Some question responders even declare this disagreement explicitly:

We have different recipes for different situations.

Prashant Brahmane

No one agrees as to what reason is. That’s the ANSWER to the question. This is why philosophers accuse other philosophers of talking nonsense. Philosophers don’t think the same way.

I think this is likely why civilization is a mess at the moment too.

The question is: WHY DON’T WE THINK THE SAME WAY?

Reason – A Proper Process for Reason:

Alternatively, could we accept this universal process for thinking:


Truth is established when a hypothesis meets both the necessary and sufficient conditions. Note especially, that the proposed hypotheses must be disprovable.

  1. The necessary condition is met when a hypothesis explains the observed situation.
  2. The sufficient condition is met when all but one hypothesis, including unknown hypotheses, have been disproven.

In other words, one and only one hypothesis is permitted as an explanation for the observed. This requirement is essential for the hypothesis to be declared to be the ABSOLUTE truth.

The above process means further:

  1. The necessary condition is achieved only through PROOF;
    1. Consider this step decision-making (occurs in the habit-brain–see image 1 below);
    2. The decision-making person, because they are proving truth, draws upon what they already know within the SELF (see the habit-brain–see image 1 below);
  2. Whereas, the sufficient condition is achieved only through DISPROOF;
    1. This particular step is reason (see reason–image 1 below);
    2. This is the PURSUIT of truth. The process never concludes because of the unknown hypotheses. This is why the reasoning person cannot claim truth. They cannot ever know the unknown hypothesis.

The bottom line: There is absolute truth, but a reasoning person cannot claim to know it because of the unknown hypotheses.

1. From René Descartes’s philosophical “first principle”:

‘cogito, ergo sum’, or 

‘I think, therefore I am’ — Note: think, or I am thinking makes no difference.

Using the new description for reason above, how can this phrase be interpreted?

As so many philosophers do, Descartes sought to identify what can be known as true. From there, Descartes believed, the library of human knowledge could thus be constructed. At this stage, his thinking was concerned with establishing or proving truth. This particular point is critical. Refer to item 1 above (both or either numbered paragraphs for reason). Proving (truth) is “necessary condition” thinking. And crucially, this activity occurs exclusively within the habit-brain or SELF. It is explicitly not the process of reason. Instead, it is better thought of as processing for decision-making. I know it feels like thinking. But it is not. It is deterministic and without free will. Simply, the SELF uses what it knows. Nothing more. It is the so-called subconscious. Yet, it is not precisely subconscious. Habit brain thinking is more accurately pre-conscious. Benjamin Libet, in his groundbreaking research on consciousness, makes this clear. For philosophers and this document, Libet’s work is a must-read.

Nevertheless, Descartes observed that a thinking person could not trust their senses. Apparently, Descartes’s senses had previously misled him. Thus, he found it necessary to doubt everything he believed he knew. Eventually, he concluded that it was not possible to prove anything as true but his own existence. As a result, Descartes’ coined his cogito phrase.

Descartes further wondered if he could even fully trust his mind with problems like “2+2=4.” Surely the mind could enjoy confidence in simple math. But I declare here that one cannot. In other words, the problem was not just the senses. The problem is with both the senses and the habit-brain–i.e. the SELF. It is not possible to accept the SELF’s understanding of what is true on anything. The SELF knows only what it has learned (or can process), and much of that, because of how it often gets these thoughts or behaviors (other people), is wrong or flawed.

This premise may be hard to accept but consider the following revealing video. The hypnotized (consciousness asleep) woman is externally directed to lose (or forget) the number two. Her SELF complies. Later, after she is awakened, her consciousness nevertheless senses that something is wrong but does not know what it is. If this video is true, one must conclude that the habit brain or SELF can be trivially misled. Therefore, Descartes was right. The habit-brain (self) and its connected senses cannot be trusted.

Thus, the actual result is significantly more consequential than Descartes’s initial conclusion. A person cannot, in fact, trust either their senses or their habit-thinking. Yet, the SELF is handy. It is fast and multi-tasking. But merely doubting the SELF is not enough. Doubt implies that the SELF can know truth and that the individual should merely be wary of its veracity. The definition for reason above, however, demands much more. It establishes, that, at no point should a person allow the SELF to claim truth. In other words, rational people must consciously presume that they do not know the absolute truth. This is how a capacity to reason is sustained.

The burden of proof analogy

For Descartes, in his doubt, the burden of proof was on his consciousness to prove that some truth held by the SELF was wrong. Until that point, however, the SELF jealously maintained that its belief was true.

However, in reason, the burden of proof (a burden of disproof really) is indirectly on the SELF as the consciousness is required to disprove all competing hypotheses in order to consider any belief potentially held by the SELF as absolutely true. This bar is impossible to reach because of the un-dismissable unknown hypotheses. The net effect is that a reasonable person’s beliefs are inevitably transitioned out of the SELF and permanently maintained within the prefrontal cortex as hypotheses (models).

Nevertheless, in doubt, Descartes had developed his SELF-awareness

SELF-Awareness

In another version of Descartes’s declaration, he declared:

… [I feel that] it is necessary to know what doubt is, and what thought is, [what existence is], before we can be fully persuaded of this reasoning — I doubt, therefore I am — or what is the same — I think, therefore I am.

Descartes – La Recherche de la Vérité par La Lumiere Naturale (The Search for Truth by Natural Light)

In short: I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.

Because of the new process for reason set forth above, it is not possible to claim that one knows that they exist absolutely. However, this phrase means that, in fact, Descartes had breached his self-awareness. How magical is that?

If he had proceeded a little further and accepted the reason process described above, i.e. no claim to truth, then he could further resolve that:

  • I have self-awareness mastery, therefore I reason

And finally, because reason would have permitted Descartes to take control of his SELF by transitioning truths into the pre-frontal cortex as hypotheses, he might have eventually observed that …

Enlightenment & Nirvana

  • I reason, therefore I have found enlightenment

Nirvana (see epilogue) would be within Descartes’s grasp. Or, if this is more appropriate to you, he would have discovered God’s Grace.


2. St. Thomas Aquinas and his proof for the existence of God:

Remotion

Because we cannot know what God is, but only what He is not, we cannot consider how He is but only how He is not.

Aquinas

Yes. According to the definition for reason above, and since truth cannot be claimed, confidence in one’s hypothesis is achieved through disproof—remotion.

According to Aquinas; “the most perfect [state] to which we can attain in this life in our knowledge of God is that he transcends all that can be conceived by us, and the naming of God through remotion (per remotionem) is most proper …

The primary mode of naming God is through the negation of all things, since he is beyond all, and whatever is signifid by any name whatsoever is less than which God is”

AQUINAS ON WHAT GOD IS NOT on JSTOR

Aquinas endeavors to use reason to prove the existence of God: disproof of hypotheses theorizing what God could be. Yes, in theory, this is reason as defined above. But for God, Aquinas also understands that God is beyond all. This thinking is also in the above definition for reason. I.e., the divine is not disprovable (see the definition for reason above). Therefore, God is always beyond the consideration of reason.

Unfortunately, Aquinas believed that truth could be established (claimed) for questions other than for the existence and nature of God. The definition above states that one cannot.

  • Wikipedia: Used in a religious sense, enlightenment translates several Buddhist terms and concepts, most notably bodhikensho, and satori.
    • Bodhi: While the Buddhist tradition regards bodhi as referring to full and complete liberation (samyaksambudh), it also has the more modest meaning of knowing that the path that’s being followed leads to the desired goal.
    • Kensho: The term kenshō is often used interchangeably with satori, which is derived from the verb satoru, and means “comprehension; understanding”.
  • Nirvāṇa – Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāṇa; Pali: nibbāna; Prakrit: ṇivvāṇa; literally, “blown out”, as in an oil lamp) is a concept in Indian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism) that represents the ultimate state of soteriological release, the liberation from duḥkha and saṃsāra.
  • God’s Grace: The definition of grace could be “God’s life, power and righteousness given to us by unmerited favor.” It is through grace that God works effective change in our hearts and lives. Grace gives us a new life which is not condemned by God.
    • Absolute truth is God’s truth and is not condemned by God.

Image 1: A Functional Model for the Brain

Image 2: A conceptual model for the brain:

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