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Smart People Say Stupid Things

Sam Harris:
...religion remains the only mode of discourse that encourages grown men and women to pretend to know things they manifestly do not (and cannot) know.

It would seem that Professor Harris is not familiar with the academic discipline known as "economics" or the journalistic endeavor of "financial marketplace reporting" wherein talking heads identify simple but un-checkable factors like "optimistic reaction to the president's speech" or "profit taking" to explain the behavior of the vast and stunningly complex dynamic system called "the financial markets."

Or perhaps he would classify these modes of discourse as sub-categories of religion. And perhaps he would be correct to do so.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2007 08:54 pm (UTC)
Perhaps we should strive for more authentic speech, and henceforth only quote numbers, data and theorems back and forth at each other.

Bonus points if you say it in a monotone "robot" voice. And pay lip service to "logic" like Mr. Spock.
Sep. 13th, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)
Rational Exhuberance
Sounds pretty dysfunctional. What's the desired outcome?
Sep. 13th, 2007 09:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Rational Exhuberance
Why, to avoid saying things we do not or cannot know, of course!

...At least, for materialistic definitions of "knowledge" that a priori exclude everything that you can't describe with numbers.
Sep. 13th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Rational Exhuberance
I still don't see what you're getting at. What's with the pantomimed autism? Why the insistence on using only numbers? What's wrong with, "I'm hungry," or "I just got home?" Those strike me as non-numerical statements about things I know. Am I missing something or are you responding to something you read elsewhere?
Sep. 13th, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Rational Exhuberance
"I'm hungry" is purely subjective and immeasurable, and therefore irrelevant (to anyone other than you). There is biochemical Fact behind it, but you are expressing an opinion about it rather than stating the verifiable.

"I just got home" is closer to the summit of absolute Fact, but it is still subjective information. To convey it to another, the other has to take your words, or those of eyewitnesses, on Faith (boo, hiss); there is no objective, empirical measuring rod that can confirm it.

I am just mocking the viewpoint of self-styled Village Atheists that invisible things don't exist, or don't matter.
Sep. 13th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Rational Exhuberance
I am just mocking the viewpoint of self-styled Village Atheists that invisible things don't exist, or don't matter.

Ah. It seemed like you were defending the absurd pronouncements of economists and rolling out the epistemological equivalent of New Math to do so.

Yeah, the New Atheists are a silly bunch, but they seem to be selling a lot of books, so you can expect to hear a lot more of the same.
Sep. 14th, 2007 11:04 am (UTC)
Of the new atheists, Harris is definitely one of the uglier ones. He seems to have a particular hatred of Islam, going on for a whole chapter in his first book about how this religion is somehow worthy of particular scorn and fear (for the usual ridiculous reasons which smack of nothing more than petty racism). I was aghast when I read a passage that considered under what circumstances torture might be "ok".
Sep. 14th, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)
Religion, Faith, Spirituality
I haven't read either of Harris' books, but I'm on his mailing list, and so I have some notion of what he's about. The really nutty thing, from my perspective, is that many of his followers think he's too soft on religion and can't stomach the fact that he'd like to separate religion from spirituality and spare some elements of spiritual practice from the cleansing flames of "reason."
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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