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Uri Geller on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show
August 5, 2007 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Nostalgia and skepticism collide in this short video of Uri Geller's legendary failure on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, introduced by frequent MeFi subject James Randi. More context and nostalgia in this longer version, which features Geller with a young Barbara Walters, and on The Mike Douglas Show, along with Randi's expose of "healing evangelist" Peter Popoff. If you want to waste even more time, just start clicking on these YouTube search results.
posted by The Deej (93 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Why people are so drawn to the irrational is something that has always puzzled me. I want to be, if I can, as sure of the world, the REAL world around me as is possible... I want the greatest degree of control."

The human instinct TOWARD the irrational seems to me to be the most rational thing imaginable. As far as I'm concerned, the "control" he's seeking is purely illusionary, and his adherence to it just as irrational as any sideshow mystic's shtick.
posted by hermitosis at 1:20 PM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


hermitosis: I don't understand. Irrationality is rational, and science is snake oil? Can you explain?
posted by futility closet at 1:30 PM on August 5, 2007


Are we playing telephone here, or are you able to actually read what I said?
posted by hermitosis at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2007


The human instinct TOWARD the irrational seems to me to be the most rational thing imaginable.

Why? It might be "human," but "rational"?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:49 PM on August 5, 2007


Bend that spoon.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:49 PM on August 5, 2007


Randi is back on this week's Skeptics Guide.
posted by the cuban at 1:52 PM on August 5, 2007


The human instinct TOWARD the irrational seems to me to be the most rational thing imaginable.

Perhaps a long time ago, evolutionarily speaking. As thinking beings we leaned towards irrational explanations (the sun being driven across the sky) for rational things (the movement of planets and space theory) because we lacked the scientific framework necessary to parse these events in a rational manner.

As far as I'm concerned, the "control" he's seeking is purely illusionary, and his adherence to it just as irrational as any sideshow mystic's shtick.

Control is a strange word choice here, I agree. But to focus on that rhetorical choice obfuscates what I think is his larger, and more relevant, point. The same point made by Dawkins, Fry and countless others: The scientific explanation, which is constantly evolving and gaining new understanding of the world around us, is infinitely more satisfying than an irrational "supernatural" explanation because it works. It's testable, verifiable, collaborative, and true.

The adherence you speak of to science is inviolately separated from religion and mystics by that fundamental concept, truth. Empirically tested, mathematical certainty that no religion can provide, no sideshow can produce, and no mystic can guarantee. If someone told me I adhered to that, I would take it as a compliment.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2007


I want the greatest degree of control, I've never involved myself in narcotics of any kind, I don't smoke, I don't drink, because that can easily just fuzz the edges of my rationality, fuzz the edges of my reasoning power, and I want to be as aware as I possibly can...

You're doing it wrong, James. The real awareness comes out at the fuzzy edges, when you let go of the control.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


Because as thinking, aware beings, confined in our understanding of our lives by the limitations of our consciousness, exploring aspects of life and this world that are beyond what we consider possible is an important part of personal growth.

I think science has proven itself historically as being the most interesting (and arguably, the most successful) when scientists are inspired to explore the irrational, not merely confirm the rational.

What is the motivation of a person becomes a slave to total rationalism? Is it a reaction based in true love for the world as they know it, or in fear of the unknown? Does a human life, let alone science, benefit from that point of view? Are experiences that one cannot understand or explain worth having? Do they become more or less valuable if they end up yielding an explanation?

The scientific explanation... is infinitely more satisfying than an irrational "supernatural" explanation because it works. It's testable, verifiable, collaborative, and true.

Yes, it works on things that are testable, verifiable, collaborative and true. But not everything is, not even nearly. Worshiping something that works just because it works and not because it is beautiful reduces the beauty of the human experience by half.
posted by hermitosis at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


As far as I'm concerned, the "control" he's seeking is purely illusionary, and his adherence to it just as irrational as any sideshow mystic's shtick.

But see, I don't think that most people's attraction to things like astrology, magic, spoon-bending and the like are due an eschewing of control or an embracing of chaos. It's just a different means of seeking control. Only (in Geller's case) instead of controlling matter with hands or tools, it's controlled with some putative mental force.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:03 PM on August 5, 2007


You're doing it wrong, James. The real awareness comes out at the fuzzy edges, when you let go of the control.

Again, I feel compelled to comment.

I'm well aware of the long history of narcotic use in religious ceremonies, mystic rites of all stripe, and of course the individualistic psychoactive experiments of the 60s and 70s. Many people claim to have epiphanies that contextualize past experiences in a new way that they feel is enlightening in some manner.

There are other purported effects, but for this discussion on rationality I think that's what it boils down to: The use of narcotics is used to induce a state in which the user feels a "truth" about something, usually mystical or spiritual. As you said, "awareness".

But I would agree with James that this awareness is exactly what he said: a product of fuzzy rationality. It can certainly be said that imagining the sun as being dragged by a fiery chariot across the sky is "fuzzy rationality". That scenario is the product of a brain undeveloped in a certain sense, or at least an unscientific one that is forced to evaluate natural phenomena with limited resources, producing an irrational result.

Filling our modern day, rather advanced and rational brains with narcotics induces a state of fuzzy rationality, to say the least. Which in many cases seems to give the user an "awareness" that is produced from the fuzzy edges, but is no more "true" or "rational" than Apollo.

In my opinion.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:07 PM on August 5, 2007


James Randi Educational Foundation.
"Uri Geller has been demanding the removal of certain videos of himself from Internet sites. In the interest of preserving this valuable data, the JREF will host these video files in perpetuity. We encourage you to view them, download them, and disseminate them widely."
posted by ericb at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2007


Randi's $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge.
posted by ericb at 2:09 PM on August 5, 2007


The scientific explanation, which is constantly evolving and gaining new understanding of the world around us, is infinitely more satisfying than an irrational "supernatural" explanation because it works. It's testable, verifiable, collaborative, and true.

Satisfying? Sure. For making cars go, and building computers, and medicine. I'll buy that.

But the scientific explanation is manifestly not satisfying when it comes to existential questions.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:10 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, cool info ericb. I wonder why Geller wants "certain videos" removed? Hmmmmmmm...

The most amazing thing about Geller is that he is still making a living with this crap.
posted by The Deej at 2:11 PM on August 5, 2007


The Mike Douglas show. Now that was a trip down memory lane to a wood paneled family room with shag carpet.
posted by srboisvert at 2:11 PM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm well aware of the long history of narcotic use in religious ceremonies, mystic rites of all stripe, and of course the individualistic psychoactive experiments of the 60s and 70s. Many people claim to have epiphanies that contextualize past experiences in a new way that they feel is enlightening in some manner.

What about the equally long history of "narcotic" use by scientists, philosophers, engineers, artists, and technologists, resulting in similar (and very productive) epiphanies?
posted by hermitosis at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2007


This really makes me wonder about all of the Uri Gellers that lived hundreds of years ago. Today we see them for the /crazy/lying/ people they are, but back then, they were probably labeled prophets, holy men and what not.

There's a reason why virtually no religions (Mormonism, Scientology, etc., obviously don't count) are founded today and a major reason is probably that we are better equipt to expose prophets and holy men for what they are.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2007


Previous James Randi threads - 1, 2, 3.
posted by ericb at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2007


Randi's greatest trick: Project Alpha.
posted by The Deej at 2:16 PM on August 5, 2007


The most amazing thing about Geller is that he is still making a living with this crap.

And he's a "Friend of Michael."

Michael's Psychic Friend -- "Uri Geller Speaks Candidly About Jackson."

In 2002 he was trying to help Michael be the first pop star to fly into space:
"The psychic is also helping Jackson prepare for the proposed flight by holding regular sessions where, as Geller puts it, '...we train our minds to empower each other.'"
posted by ericb at 2:18 PM on August 5, 2007


It seems we are talking at cross purposes here, lazaruslong.

I think it's great that people like James Randi make an effort to prove that Peter Popoff, Uri Geller, and the like are charlatans. He is catching them out in tricks and lies.

But there are some things that science can never get at, and these kind of metaphysical and ontological questions won't be solved even with a million James Randis typing out their rational and reasoned thoughts for a million years.

So yeah, reason is a useful thing as far as it goes, I just think James Randi, by denying himself all the good things that narcotics can provide, is fetishising his rationality.

Plus, he's missing out on a lot of fun.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


@hermitosis

Because as thinking, aware beings, confined in our understanding of our lives by the limitations of our consciousness, exploring aspects of life and this world that are beyond what we consider possible is an important part of personal growth.

I think science has proven itself historically as being the most interesting (and arguably, the most successful) when scientists are inspired to explore the irrational, not merely confirm the rational.


Are you confusing rational and irrational with known and unknown?
What is an example of science exploring the irrational? It seems to me that is sort of a logical impossibility. If you apply science to something irrational, it debunks that theory. Like Randi and faith healing, aura reading, et cetera.

If what you means is that science is most interesting and successful when it begins to explore an area of the natural world that has been previously unexplained or explored, I certainly would agree.

Just because we haven't been able to or gotten around to "explaining" or "exploring" something doesn't mean it's irrational.

What is the motivation of a person becomes a slave to total rationalism? Is it a reaction based in true love for the world as they know it, or in fear of the unknown?

Slave? I'm not quite sure how you become a "slave to rationalism". If you mean what is the motivation for a person to live and think on a daily with a moral and investigative basis that is rational, I suppose it just makes more sense to me and others than living and thinking with a supernatural or religious framework. What makes us value one framework over another is a huge discussion, but for the purposes of this discussion I think evidence and empirically verifiable explanations is a pretty good start.

As a "slave to the rational" I must say I love the unknown! It means we haven't run out of stuff to study and test and learn about!

Again, what you are writing makes me think you are confusing two concepts. Unknown != irrational

Does a human life, let alone science, benefit from that point of view?

Well, seeing as how you are typing this on a computer on the internet, I would say yes. To just name one of a million examples of how science and a rational point of view benefits human life.

Are experiences that one cannot understand or explain worth having?

"Experiences" are a pretty big topic. I thought we were talking about natural phenomena and the relative merits of science's method of explanation versus that of the mystical. The relative value of personal experience is just that: personal.

Do they become more or less valuable if they end up yielding an explanation?

Well, explaining a phenomena or experience in scientific terms instead of mystical ones adds one more piece of the puzzle of the natural world to the scientific lexicon. It's one more set of data added to the collective, that can be tested refined and integrated into other data sets to further human understanding and improve the human experience. So yes.



The scientific explanation... is infinitely more satisfying than an irrational "supernatural" explanation because it works. It's testable, verifiable, collaborative, and true.

Yes, it works on things that are testable, verifiable, collaborative and true. But not everything is, not even nearly. Worshiping something that works just because it works and not because it is beautiful reduces the beauty of the human experience by half.


Words like worshipping, slave, et cetara are red herrings. I'm not really sure what you mean there.

Science is beautiful.

And it works.

And while yes, it does work on a limited number of subjects, we're always learning. Some things seem impossible to explain, still. Some behaviors of very very small things and very very large things seem mysterious. But just remember, 1,000 years ago just about every piece of technology you touch on a daily basis would fall into that category. If we manage to avoid blowing ourselves up, imagine what we will know in another 1,000 years.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:28 PM on August 5, 2007 [6 favorites]


Blah. Contrary to my previous posts, I don't want to get into a huge thing. I hear what some are saying, and I think I'm understanding your point.

I guess for me, it comes down to this: Science explains a lot of shit. It didn't always explain a lot of shit. So it will probably explain more shit as time goes on. So for the shit it can't explain yet, instead of explaining it with bullshit as filler until we can, let it lie and be happy we've still got a ton of shit to explore.

Yeah.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:32 PM on August 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Thanks for elaborating on your perspective, lazaruslong, even if mine only intersects with it at the edges.

I wish I had time to respond further, but as a veteran of these threads it is hard to measure the good it would do against the loveliness of the summer evening and feel like I have anything to gain by dwelling on the matter. If you'd like to discuss further in email sometime I'd be happy to.
posted by hermitosis at 2:37 PM on August 5, 2007


Science Is Shit.
posted by ericb at 2:39 PM on August 5, 2007


I'll buy that, lazaruslong.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:46 PM on August 5, 2007


I am a big fan of science. I believe that if psychic powers are real then it's something which the scientific method is our best bet for figuring it out. That is, if there are any rules or system or even trends to it at all (which basically means: if it's understandable), science ought to be an effective tool to learn about it and understand it.

The psychic claims that James Randi debunks are not themselves irrational - the psychics are still talking about rational universe, where things happen for reasons. They are merely claiming to be privy to a bonus set of interactions that the rest of us are incapable of. It's the irrationality of their defense and other of people's unstudied acceptance of these claims that gets both my and (it seems) James Randi's goats.
posted by aubilenon at 2:49 PM on August 5, 2007


Popoff pops up in 2007.
posted by The Deej at 3:19 PM on August 5, 2007


There's a reason why virtually no religions (Mormonism, Scientology, etc., obviously don't count) are founded today and a major reason is probably that we are better equipt to expose prophets and holy men for what they are.

Not really - there are quite a few religions that have been founded in modern times. Granted, many are "refurbished" Old Timey 'Ligions in new clothes, but so are many established religions like Christianity. There's nothing new under the sun. The major difference is that they haven't been around long enough to be considered stable and lasting; but eventually some will become minority religions (Hellenic Paganism, anyone?) or fail, and others will survive to become part of the establishment. In the process, I suspect that the successful ones will mellow out as they become mainstream, but I suppose that depends on one's opinion of whether today's mainstream religions are extreme and exploitative or not.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:23 PM on August 5, 2007


The human instinct TOWARD the irrational seems to me to be the most rational thing imaginable.

You say this and when people don't get it you make a snide comment about telephone, hermitosis? Maybe they didn't get it because it doesn't make any sense. If you want to reject the use of "rational" as a meaningful yardstick or goal, you can't appeal to something being "the most rational thing imaginable" to defend that.

Compare: Suppose I say, "It would be good if we stopped using 'good' as a measure of value." Well, who cares if it would be good to stop using 'good,' because the point I was making was that "good" was a bad measure, right? That would be a dumb thing to say. Similarly, why would you, hermitosis, care if the human instinct towards the irrational was "most rational," since you do not think that rationality is a valuable measuring stick.

One might think that the fact that you appealed to the rationality of 'the human instinct towards irrationality' as a positive feature of that instinct illustrates a serious problem with your viewpoint, but you could avoid the problem easily by using a different measure: framing the human instinct towards irrationality as a good thing rather than a rational thing, for example. Of course, then you would lose the clever turn of phrase that you achieved through the juxtaposition of rational and irrational. There are people who think that the appropriate response to the realization that the universe is simply brimming with unexplained things is to infer that "inexplicable" follows from "unexplained" and stick their heads into the sand or some hot shit psychoactive drugs. It seems to be an unfortunate truth that those folks value rhetoric over clarity, but I guess it makes sense because if they ever got clear on what their views actually are then they'll see the holes in them, and since they're committed to the "even science hasn't figured it all out this shit will blow your mind LOL" view, they don't understand the difference between a little hole and a gigantic chasm, and then they THINK THAT URI FUCKING GELLER CAN BEND SPOONS WITH HIS MIND BECAUSE AFTER ALL, QUANTUM MECHANICS AND GENERAL RELATIVITY HAVEN'T BEEN UNIFIED YET AMIRITE? Great post, Deej.
posted by Kwine at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2007 [5 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, the "control" he's seeking is purely illusionary, and his adherence to it just as irrational as any sideshow mystic's shtick.
posted by hermitosis at 1:20 PM on August 5


thanks for this insight now throw out your computer and go live in the woods with your spirit guide
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:30 PM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


hermitosis just summarized the ridiculously flawed plot of every episode of Star Trek as seen through the eyes of Dr. McCoy.

Sure, Vulcans are superior intellectually. Sure they are super rational. Sure, they are super strong and live 200 years. But. Damnit. You green blooded hobgoblins don't FEEL, do you!

The soft sweet breath of a baby? The lilting tones of poetry? The bright brush strokes of Van Gogh? You can't explain everything through your super-rational double lidded eyes, can you?

Why can't you Vulcans leave room for the mysteries of the universe!

This is the kind of thinking seething with an anti-intellectual hubris that comes from insecurity, a complete misunderstanding of science, and a lack of self examination.

Rationality is about exploring and appreciating mysteries. Not running from them.
posted by tkchrist at 3:33 PM on August 5, 2007 [9 favorites]


The word FRAUD has not yet been mentioned on this page. Rational people can be defrauded because they can be insecure like anyone else. The best defense against fraud has nothing to do with reason or rationality or knowledge. The first line of defense is simple objectivity. The last, emotional line of defense is losing our sense of personal entitlement and refusing to "believe" in anything that lends this sense of entitlement to us. Flee from anything that demands belief, because belief-mongers are announcing their fraud and declaring your stupidity in the same breath.
posted by Brian B. at 3:43 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


hey THINK THAT URI FUCKING GELLER CAN BEND SPOONS WITH HIS MIND BECAUSE AFTER ALL, QUANTUM MECHANICS AND GENERAL RELATIVITY HAVEN'T BEEN UNIFIED YET AMIRITE?</i

Part of what I loved about Mage: the Ascension was that that was partially how it worked- as science progressed, magic became harder and harder.

posted by Pope Guilty at 3:47 PM on August 5, 2007


The real awareness comes out at the fuzzy edges, when you let go of the control.

I just tried this, and what you call "awareness" would appear to be accompanied by a warm squishy feeling in the trouser seat and a very unpleasant smell. In future I shall not be seeking this awareness of which you speak in any room of the house but the smallest one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:15 PM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


there is no spoon.




what?
posted by exlotuseater at 4:19 PM on August 5, 2007


Randi rules. Speaking up for rational, intelligent people everywhere. I'm glad he put the public smackdown on Sylvia Browne too. It's not just fun and games when she tells people their children are dead when they aren't and the fucking police are soliciting her advice.
posted by inoculatedcities at 4:25 PM on August 5, 2007


Filling our modern day, rather advanced and rational brains with narcotics induces a state of fuzzy rationality, to say the least. Which in many cases seems to give the user an "awareness" that is produced from the fuzzy edges, but is no more "true" or "rational" than Apollo.

Not really. Drugs are just another modern technology. The commonly used recreational drugs simply amount to the modern technology of mood control. Because they haven't been around for an awful long time, we haven't developed the understanding and the cultural and social mores that embed them within the cultural fabric the way that alcohol, tobacco and caffeine have been embedded, but given that you can't put the toothpaste back into the tube, I'm fairly confident that that's in the process of happening as we speak.

That said, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The very same people who watch Uri Geller and see somebody with magical powers are probably the same people who embrace magical thinking about their use of intoxicating substances.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:38 PM on August 5, 2007


How did this thread become about hermitosis's incoherent personal philosophy? Which seems to have little to do either with the rational or irrational. If it takes that many comments to explain, maybe there's nothing there.
posted by dhartung at 5:06 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


If it takes that many comments to explain, maybe there's nothing there.

I recommend you avoid philosophy classes. hermitosis may be full of it, but the philosophy that doesn't require much elaboration isn't a terribly well-thought-out philosophy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:20 PM on August 5, 2007


I just can't wrap my head around the idea that some forms mysticism must be legitimate because science can't answer everything. This seems to be the general trend of things, and as science advances the number of areas that mystics and shamans can exploit decreases as more becomes known about how the world works.

It just seems imprudent at best, and lazy at worst.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:28 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Peter, you're right with regard to the smokes and booze. I was thinking more along the lines of peyote and whatnot.

Interestingly, we have integrated a mystical faith based system for recuperating from things like alcohol and cigarettes. Tap into your higher power and all that nonsense.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:31 PM on August 5, 2007


I guess it needs to be said again and again that magic is fake.

Magic is fake.
posted by longsleeves at 5:42 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm glad he put the public smackdown on Sylvia Browne too.

It's hard to believe people were dumb enough to believe in this in the first place that a public smackdown would be necessary.
posted by grouse at 5:49 PM on August 5, 2007


I just can't wrap my head around the idea that some forms mysticism must be legitimate because science can't answer everything.

It's one thing to believe in "something bigger." It's another for someone to day "I can prove there is something bigger by doing things that break the laws of physics and defies reality." When someone makes that claim, you first response should be the knowledge that it's fake.

I was in high school when Geller was at his peak, and I did his routines for friends at school, to show it was fake. I found that many people refused to believe I was fooling them, but that I was doing REAL magic, then lying about it being a trick. That seems to make no sense, but such is the need to believe.

There is a lot of psychology involved in performing magic. Knowing the method is only about 1% of being able to actually perform it successfully. That's why it's hard for people to be believe that so many can be fooled by such simple methods.
posted by The Deej at 6:25 PM on August 5, 2007


Hermitosis is quite right. There is nothing rational about thinking that rationality can explain everything. In fact, that it is a rather irrational view, a view at odds with the rationality it puports to support. As said above, rationality is great for some things - computers, cars, physics, medicine and so on. It's totally rubbish at other things - music, love, sunsets, kittens and so forth. There is no reason why rationality should be able to explain anything other than 'a large set of things but not everything', and it is entirely irrational - faith based even - to assume instead that it will explain everything. That is what hermitosis meant by the rationality of embracing irrationality. Because it is irrational to do anything else.
posted by motty at 6:56 PM on August 5, 2007


As said above, rationality is great for some things - computers, cars, physics, medicine and so on. It's totally rubbish at other things - music, love, sunsets, kittens and so forth.

Why are sunsets and kittens not under reason's dominion again? Because you say so? Okay, you're stupid. Hey, philosophizing by fiat is fun!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2007 [6 favorites]


Randi's good at showing up people who profit from fooling others through superstition, but he also takes broadsides at beliefs which probably do not include practical claims that bring people real harm (like many people's religious beliefs). Conversely, he sure was happy to support Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, which, with its denials of global climate change and second hand smoke, fed people a pack of lies.

In other words, Randi himself has been a party to willfully deceiving others. There is little functional difference between supporting obvious bad science and saying that libertarian wizards can cast Remove CO2 Emissions. So I'm glad that he's helped keep people from being ripped off, but he can still basically go fuck himself.
posted by mobunited at 7:02 PM on August 5, 2007


Optimus Chyme, you are the one asserting that reason's dominion is everything. Either justify your assertion or stop with the insults.
posted by motty at 7:11 PM on August 5, 2007


It occurred to me what a debt we must owe to Johnny Carson for making people like James Randi and Carl Sagan household names. Didn't he even have on Madalyn Murray O'Hair?

What a different world we live in, a scant score later - it's like science fiction in reverse.
posted by broodle at 7:19 PM on August 5, 2007


I don't know if people's impulse toward the irrational is rational. That doesn't seem to be the case to me.

But I do know this: it seems completely impossible to me to put a rational argument in favor of rationality. Rationality can't provide its own foundation. And that's the tough part, because there are some damned compelling forms of irrationality.

Maybe that's why I'm drawn to Judaism so much. A religion which is more rational in application than almost any other still goes on to declare that God's dominion is not rational, and that at a certain level, we must live with contradiction.

Rationality can balk at that. But, unfortunately, it can't really offer an argument in favor of itself. If the world is irrational, then such an argument would be meaningless anyhow.
posted by koeselitz at 7:21 PM on August 5, 2007


There is no reason why rationality should be able to explain anything other than 'a large set of things but not everything', and it is entirely irrational - faith based even - to assume instead that it will explain everything. That is what hermitosis meant by the rationality of embracing irrationality. Because it is irrational to do anything else.



I suppose the difference is, I have faith that the set of things explainable by rational science will increase based on the verifiable steps we have taken throughout history to come to understand the natural world around us.

Mystics and religions have faith that the set of things currently unknown (and in their view, equated as being irrational because of this state) can be explained by........religion. Miracles. Omniscient omnipresent deities with a voyeurism fetish and a lot of spare time.

If we're going to be making leaps of "faith", I'd rather mine be based on the observation of a previous, testable path that scientists have been laying the foundations of for centuries, smoothing out the potholes and adding new lanes, rather than blind belief in a path made of magic and fable.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Optimus Chyme, you are the one asserting that reason's dominion is everything. Either justify your assertion or stop with the insults.

No, he's not. I'm with him on this point.

To beat the analogy to death: 1,000 years ago reason's dominion was tiny. Primitive man developed what today are considered irrational explanations for rational things. Since the advent of humanity, we have exponentially increased our understanding of the natural laws of the universe, and in direct correlation decreased the domain of irrationality.

The snake oil then was that you needed to sacrifice virgins to appease the Great JuJu. Or whatever.

Today it's the faith healer. The psychic. I would even go so far as to argue religion en masse as being antiquated irrationality from a primitive age, but that's a whole 'nother snark fest.

I'm certainly not trying to put words in Optimus Chyme's mouth, but I will unequivocally state that he is not the only person in this thread that believes that rationality can be extended to everything, even sunsets and kittens. And will eventually be extended to even the most existential of questions, given time.

And furthermore, the rational explanation of things in no way detracts from the "beauty" or "mystery" of life. It adds to it.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:58 PM on August 5, 2007


Actually, motty, I think both you and Optimus Chyme are both misguided in thinking that kittens and sunsets have anything to do with any of this. What you are talking about are purely emotional things. There is room for emotion in this world along with rational thinking about physical phenomena. Kittens can be cute, and your favorite band can suck. That's emotional. Believing someone can bend a spoon with brain waves, that's irrational.
posted by Eekacat at 7:59 PM on August 5, 2007


Men lie about that spoonful
Some cry about that spoonful
Some die about that spoonful
Everybody fight about a spoonful
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:03 PM on August 5, 2007


Emotions are particular configurations of chemicals in your brains. There's nothing irrational about them.

I mean, shit, take some mushrooms if you don't believe me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:21 PM on August 5, 2007


rationality is great for some things - computers, cars, physics, medicine and so on. It's totally rubbish at other things - music, love, sunsets, kittens and so forth.

Rationality is fine at explaining music. Music is pressure waves in air coming in precise mathematical ratios and intervals. If there weren't rationality, music wouldn't work.

Rationality is fine at explaining sunsets. They're refractions through more atmosphere as the sun approaches the horizon.

Rationality is fine at explaining kittens, though AFAIK we don't even have their full genome down yet, much less what all of the genes do.

Rationality is, or will be, fine at explaining love, and people's reactions to music and sunsets and kittens. All of these things boil down to physical processes in the human body and brain, which are well within the realm of rational, scientific explanation.

The usual line is that understanding things in such a way, or admitting that everything I am is a pile of neurochemical reactions in my skull, somehow demeans these things, or me. On the other hand, the same style of thinking tells me that while I'm a pile of neurochemistry, I'm also a pile of atoms. And all of those atoms either condensed directly out of the pure energy of the big bang, or were forged in the furnace of a star.* I am drawn up out of the matter of the Earth, to understand the Earth. I burned in the heart of stars, to understand stars. I am the congealed fury of the big bang, understanding itself. And so are you.

*Fine... some atoms are also fission products or transmutations...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 PM on August 5, 2007 [6 favorites]


Well, ROU_Xenophobe, you may be right, but one thing I know for sure: Rationality will never be fine for explaining the behaviour of certain women I have known over the years.

Now I'm gonna go bend a goddamn spoon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:46 PM on August 5, 2007


Honestly, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe that certain thread derails are actually an enrichment of conversation. Sometimes it's good to let the conversation move in the direction it will.

lazaruslong: "I suppose the difference is, I have faith that the set of things explainable by rational science will increase based on the verifiable steps we have taken throughout history to come to understand the natural world around us... Mystics and religions have faith that the set of things currently unknown (and in their view, equated as being irrational because of this state) can be explained by........religion. Miracles. Omniscient omnipresent deities with a voyeurism fetish and a lot of spare time... If we're going to be making leaps of "faith", I'd rather mine be based on the observation of a previous, testable path that scientists have been laying the foundations of for centuries, smoothing out the potholes and adding new lanes, rather than blind belief in a path made of magic and fable."

First, "leaps of faith," as you call them, aren't "based on" anything. If the world doesn't make sense at all, then all the 'evidence' available doesn't really count, unfortunately.

Second, science and rationality are two different things that I think you're confusing; science is the assumption that the true is that which can be observed through repeatable experiment, and therefore that we can make sense of the world thereby. Rationality is the basis and the medium of science, through which it functions. Once cannot be scientific without being rational; but it might be possible to be rational without being scientific.

Third, religions, the really resonant ones (judaism, christianity, islam, hinduism, taoism, buddhism, etc) do not technically claim that the world "can be explained by religion." They claim that the world cannot be explained and understood by unassisted man. "Miracles," the unexplainable consequences of incomprehensible powers, are the stuff of religion for precisely this reason. This is why the very founder of the modern scientific outlook (along with some handy things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, et cetera) struggled mightily to disprove the possibility or reality of miracles. Unfortunately, he failed. It's impossible to rationally prove that everything in the world makes perfect sense to humans.

Personally, my recourse is to believe, along with certain others, that rationality is a miracle, that the knowledge it can lead to is miraculous, and that the unseen core of the world as we know it sometimes grants to us that this happen.

"...rationality can be extended to everything, even sunsets and kittens. And will eventually be extended to even the most existential of questions, given time."

Again, rationality and science are two different things. If the world is rational, it was rational a billion years ago. (You don't see those of us who believe that mankind has existed for a good million years claiming that scientific evidence doesn't exist because rationality hadn't been invented back then.) But science, as you're understanding it and as we understand it today, was invented about five hundred years ago.

The possibility that there are other rational ways of looking at the world is important. For example, Plato, who seems more rationalist to me than to any of the scientists of the modern age (if rationality can be judged by a tendency to avoid contradiction) himself had his Athenian Stranger in his most important dialogue note that, while witches and sorcerers are a great evil and must be eradicated from the city, it's very difficult to prove that such things simply do not exist.
posted by koeselitz at 8:59 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe that certain thread derails are actually an enrichment of conversation.

Well, this thread was never railed to start with.
posted by The Deej at 9:45 PM on August 5, 2007


"Why people are so drawn to the irrational is something that has always puzzled me. I want to be, if I can, as sure of the world, the REAL world around me as is possible... I want the greatest degree of control."

It is an odd quote, I think Randi and a lot of people in this thread need to read some Karl Popper. Fundamentally, science is about understanding how incredibly limited our ability to understand the world is. Every phenomenon has a virtually infinite amount of explanations and the chance that we found have the right one is very low. However we are able to reliably tell when an explanation is false. Science is the gradual process of improving upon the least wrong explanation of how things work. However we will probably never know which is the right one. Accepting this is deep limit on our knowledge is difficult and even a lot of people that do good scientific work do not accept it, and I think it explains a lot of the staying power of religions.
posted by afu at 10:18 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suppose the difference is, I have faith that the set of things explainable by rational science will increase based on the verifiable steps we have taken throughout history to come to understand the natural world around us.

Absolutely true, we are in complete agreement here, lazaruslong. But these are the questions I am most interested in:

What is me?
Why am I here?
What are these sensations beyond me?
What should I do?
What is good?


Those questions are the really important ones (to me), and they will never be answered no matter how much SCIENCE! you throw at them. The natural world around us is a tiny subset of what conscious being is all about.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:19 AM on August 6, 2007


Arguing that rationality can explain everything is a little bit like being a kid in a playground in a bragging contest swearing blind that their penknife has an infinite number of blades. It's self-evidently absurd. Obviously rationality is great is some domains. Equally obviously it is not great in all domains, including the arts and existential philosophical questions.

And it's really funny watching the extreme proponents of rationalism get more and more irrational and come out with more and more stupidly irrational statements trying to prove that their penknife has "infinity blades".

What was that crack about music above? Rationality is fine at explaining music. Music is pressure waves in air coming in precise mathematical ratios and intervals. If there weren't rationality, music wouldn't work.

Comedy gold.

Please carry on.
posted by motty at 4:58 AM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Comedy gold.

That's a pretty irritating, content-free non-rebuttal. Please tell us more about how reason is "rubbish" at music, love, sunsets, and kittens. That doesn't even mean anything. You've made the claim "some gorgs are loy." Super, I hope that works out for you. Now what the fuck is a gorg, and what does it mean to be loy?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:28 AM on August 6, 2007


Optimus, maybe you should consider the source of your irritation. You are simply wrong, and it is your non-rebuttal which is content free, though your strawman 'gorgs and loy' thing shows pretty clearly that you have simply not understood my argument.

Among other parts of it that seem to have escaped you is this: the statement 'if there weren't rationality, music wouldn't work' is not a rational statement (or indeed a factual statement) and is as such pretty funny when used as a defence of the extreme rationalist viewpoint that rationalism can explain everything.

If you think reason is going to help you in love, by the way, you have my sincerest and strongest condolences in advance, because that attitude is going to make you miserable.
posted by motty at 8:24 AM on August 6, 2007


Music is pressure waves in air coming in precise mathematical ratios and intervals. If there weren't rationality, music wouldn't work.

If I dare poke my head back in here, the comedy factor here is that this description has practically nothing to do with the way humans compose, appreciate, or enjoy music. Music was significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting before we knew what it "was". While knowing what it "is" has certainly in some ways expanded our ability to make and enjoy it, I certainly don't get what this sentence has to do with anything here, other than to further cloud the water with piss.

For all the rebop about my rehashing human/Vulcan stereotypes, that whole comment was pretty amusing.
posted by hermitosis at 8:43 AM on August 6, 2007


If you think reason is going to help you in love, by the way, you have my sincerest and strongest condolences in advance, because that attitude is going to make you miserable.
posted by motty at 8:24 AM on August 6


Tell her yourself, genius.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2007


No one has yet said what is categorically different about music as opposed to computers (to cite two motty examples) that makes computers amenable to rational explanation but music not. It seems to me that music theory is in the business of giving rational explanations of music that help us understand how and why notes sound good in particular patterns. Though it is true that "Music was significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting" before music theory existed, as hermitosis says, music theory explains what it means to be significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting, and why some music is more significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting than other music. Music theory draws on scientific principles (or perhaps is underwritten by scientific principles is a more clear way to describe it), though it is not a strictly scientific endeavour. That's ok; Rationalist explanations need not be scientific, though they often are. Rationalist explanations exercise what Kant thought of as the human faculty of reason (though there probably is no such thing). They involve principles of coherence and logic, and arguments. They are centrally concerned with justification and knowledge.

So, tell me: Music is not fit for rational explanation because of ______. "I don't know" or "You wouldn't understand" don't cut it. "I can't explain it" begs the question; if you can't explain it, how do you know it exists? It's also not acceptable, by the way, to say "Music theory doesn't account for ____"; your claim must be that "Music theory can't account for _____", to support your wildly strong claim that music or certain features of music are not amenable to rationalist explanation. You have a distinct class in mind of things that are not explicable in rationalist terms. The burden of proof is on you to explain that features of that class.
posted by Kwine at 11:39 AM on August 6, 2007


What about the equally long history of "narcotic" use by scientists, philosophers, engineers, artists, and technologists, resulting in similar (and very productive) epiphanies?
posted by hermitosis

Which productive scientific epiphanies are the result of the use of "narcotics", hermitosis
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2007


Which productive scientific epiphanies are the result of the use of "narcotics"
posted by Grangousier at 11:45 AM on August 6, 2007


Grangousier,

Aha, the bullshit Crick-on-LSD tabloid hearsay story!

Where is the evidence that Crick was taking LSD before 1953 (date of the helix paper)?

And funny the drug "boost" wasn't ever mentioned by Watson in the tell-all story of the co-discovery?

C'mon!

posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:04 PM on August 6, 2007


Assuming you're talking to me, Kwine, I didn't make any such wildly strong claim that music or certain features of music are not amenable to rationalist explanation. I claimed that music is not defined or experienced according to its rational explanation. Which is really all I have to say on the matter [NOT MUSIC THEORIST].

The personal computer, Internet and "Open Source" software would not have been developed the way they were without LSD-induced inspirations. "Acid heads" laid the foundation for what we nowadays call computer revolution and information age.

"When you study natural science and the miracles of creation, if you don't turn into a mystic you are not a natural scientist."

--Albert Hofmann.
posted by hermitosis at 12:04 PM on August 6, 2007


I'm certainly not trying to put words in Optimus Chyme's mouth, but I will unequivocally state that he is not the only person in this thread that believes that rationality can be extended to everything, even sunsets and kittens. And will eventually be extended to even the most existential of questions, given time.

Well, to even understand what you mean, you have to define exactly what it is you think "rationality" refers to - but I'd recommend reading the classics of philosophy (most obviously Kant) before making too many claims here, as the limits of reason is a central question. It isn't just about kittens and sunsets. There is the question of subjective experience vs objective fact (ie what you undergo in viewing a sunset is surely represented chemically but your internal emotional consciousness is not identical to my witnessing a graph of those chemicals, for instance) and there is the question of the simple fact that there are any facts to start with - the original existence of existence (and it's simple enough to say, well, it just is, just accept it, but surely it's not rational). If you think rationality can explain the necessity of Being and the subjective experience of individual conscousness, you are not claiming that rationality will answer problems of technology, but those of philosophy. 2500 years of reasoning has not done that, and most who put serious thought into it are pretty well convinced that actually reason by its nature must be limited.

Now, I agree that jumping from an acknowledgement of the mysteries of the universe to a belief that an illusionist is doing magic is sad. I very much like what Carson did in that clip, and in general I appreciate Randi. But that quote about wanting to stick with what's "real" and wanting to stay in control was kinda short-sighted. Carl Sagan even said he thought that drug use can be a positive & enlightening experience... Basically in my opinion, trying to understand the larger questions is more interesting than just concentrating on debunking the obvious frauds. The straightforwardly irrational is silly, but the simplisticly rational is actually not that much better.
posted by mdn at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this, mdn, for one of the few comments actually worthy of being in this thread.

And for the record, I hope that in no way were any of my comments misconstrued as support for Uri Geller, Sylvia Brown, or any of their ilk.
posted by hermitosis at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2007


Music theory explains what it means to be significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting, and why some music is more significant, beautiful, complex, and interesting than other music.

Sadly, Kwine, no it doesn't.

To claim that certain features of music are not amenable to rationalist explanation is neither a wild claim nor a strong claim. Nor is it a new claim. It is pretty much a given among musicians - theory and analysis only takes you so far - and then only into matters of technique - and thereafter you are on your own.

Matters of feeling - and this goes for pretty much all genres of music from jazz to rock, including classical, folk and other traditions - are not susceptible to rational analysis in any practical or useful way. If you have to ask, you'll never know is actually an extremely helpful practical answer when dealing with matters like this. As a musician myself, my goal is to play the best music I can, not to waste time attempting to understand rationally that which there is no reason to suppose rationality ever could fully understand. Indeed, the burden of proof for such a wildly outlandish claim is, my friend, on you.

Like most of the musicians I know, I'd rather play with someone with more feeling than technique than the other way around, though of course you cannot have too much of either. The people who think that technique alone will allow them to play well? No-one wants to play with them. They're not just boring, they are actually objectively bad. Without feeling, they can't constantly modify their playing to what everyone else is doing, they can't solo, they can't cope with surprises, and even what they can do is dull and lifeless. There's no feel. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. (Mind you, as a matter of technique, listening like a hawk to everything else at all times doesn't half help while you're faking it. But I digress.)

You cannot teach feel directly, you cannot describe it, and you cannot fully analyse it with rational tools in a particularly useful way. Yet without it you cannot move a room full of people. Take two renditions of the same piece. One has feel, the other does not. I know which I would prefer to listen to, and I really couldn't give a monkey's whether it is susceptible to rational analysis or not. But don't take it as an unsubstantiated assertion. Choose a random piano piece - anything you like - and compare a MIDI rendition taken directly from the score with a couple of live recordings of the same piece by a human.

You'll hear the difference for yourself.
posted by motty at 12:33 PM on August 6, 2007


"Carl Sagan even said he thought that drug use can be a positive & enlightening experience."

Maybe it can. Maybe not.

But acid boosters should stop floating the idea that solving the structure of DNA was due in any part to Crick tripping.

There is no evidence for it.

It's embarrassing.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2007


When you see the fork in the road, bend it.
posted by storybored at 1:06 PM on August 6, 2007


I like your comment a lot, motty. I just favorited it. And I'm happy to agree with you, as long as I get to add one word:

Matters of feeling - and this goes for pretty much all genres of music from jazz to rock, including classical, folk and other traditions - are not susceptible to rational analysis in any practical or useful way....yet.

I'm happy to agree, as I said above, that there are parts of the world that are unexplained. I'll agree that "feel" in music is one of those parts. Music involves the interaction of extremely complex systems like the human brain and senses and physical laws governing acoustics. But psychologists and biologists will tell you that we understand a lot more about the brain and emotions and senses than we did a hundred years ago, at which time we understood those things a lot better than we did a hundred years before that. And acoustic laws are basically solved, at least for things moving slowly relative to one another (where 'slowly' means "not close to the speed of light"). We will eventually understand the complex physio-biological factors that comprise "feel" with arbitrarily small error, unless we blow ourselves up. The important point is that the difference between "feel" and computers is scale and complexity, not in kind.

cf. my first comment in this thread: "There are people who think that the appropriate response to the realization that the universe is simply brimming with unexplained things is to infer that "inexplicable" follows from "unexplained"" But inexplicable doesn't follow from unexplained.

I'm happy to grant that "feel" is rationally unexplained. I won't grant that it is rationally inexplicable.
posted by Kwine at 1:59 PM on August 6, 2007


Choose a random piano piece - anything you like - and compare a MIDI rendition taken directly from the score with a couple of live recordings of the same piece by a human.

You'll hear the difference for yourself.
posted by motty at 12:33 PM on August 6


Some typographers, myself included, believe that small variations in letterforms at the very edge of perception increase the beauty of a printed page. That's why a lot of really hard-core print nerds like to get their hands dirty with old-school techniques, because that tiny bit of randomness makes it feel like the end result is the product of human hands and not a machine.

That doesn't make it fucking magic.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:03 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


what you undergo in viewing a sunset is surely represented chemically but your internal emotional consciousness is not identical to my witnessing a graph of those chemicals, for instance

Your inability to read graphs of chemical imbalances does not make emotions magic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:17 PM on August 6, 2007


Kwine, your comment is fascinating to me, even though I do not agree with you that 'feel' will one day be rationally explicable in its fullness, to the extent that a computer will one day be able to play like, say, John Coltrane. Up until reading it, I had always been broadly of the school of thought that admits strong AI as a possibility. Thinking it over, and especially in terms of the question of whether or not (entirely) computer generated music can ever approach the feel of human generated music, I realise I need to think about this all again, from scratch, and a lot. The questions are too close, and my old answers are too different.

Optimus, there's a drum machine called Hydrogen which actually has a knob in it marked something like 'Add A Little Bit Of Randomness' - you can add this to both velocity and timing as an attempt to simulate a more human feel to the drumming. I know nothing about typography, and maybe that's all you need to do there, but I can tell you that there is more to feel than 'a little randomness' in music. That knob in Hydrogen is the proof. Because it doesn't work. By adding randomness, it simulates a bad drummer very well, but not a drummer with feel.

In the end it's perhaps nothing more than something to do with communication between humans. Would an alien ever be able to play the blues? A strong AI? Would a computer that really played the blues be strong AI, somehow?
posted by motty at 5:15 PM on August 6, 2007


Seeing as how it's my field of expertise, I'm sorry to say the MIDI argument doesn't hold water.

10 years ago, sure. But now, it's another example of our understand of science increasing the domain of the rational.

Give me a piano piece, and with the right samples loaded you won't be able to tell the difference between the midi instrument I have it plugged into and a piano in the room. I promise.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2007


What motty refers to as "feel" is something that I, too, think is not completely "explainable" by "rational" analysis. Whether or not it can be, someday, is simply a matter of conjecture. But this thread has now veered into the much-discussed (but often misunderstood) terrain of AI/computer /MIDI music vs "human" music, which is a different discussion altogether.

lazaruslong's assertion that a piece of piano music "with the right samples loaded" can be indistinguishable to the average listener from an actual piano piece recorded on a piano played by a human is certainly true. But there's an all-important point he's left out: the meticulousness of programming required to make that programmed piano piece work, and be reasonably convincing as human musical expression is, in fact, a human-made recreation of "feel", of "humanness". So it's no mystery such a thing can work. A human is creating the feel. A human played the piano for that vast collection of "the right samples". That means an enormous bank of multi-samples: every note on the keyboard played at all (ha ha, yeah right) dynamic levels, at all (ha ha, yeah right) durations, etc. A human has to do that in the first place, and do it with "feel". Then a human has to tweak all the little parameters of timing, nuance, expression. The frikkin' computer doesn't do it by itself. The computer just spits back out what the human programmer put in. The computer, in other words, is just an instrument, like a violin. A human coaxes sound out of it and makes it live. This is why that whole argument about computers/humans in music is ultimately so misguided.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 PM on August 6, 2007


Also, it's worth noting that the piano is one of the very easiest choices of sampled instruments to make in "fooling the ear". It's a machine, after all: hammers hit the strings, notes don't bend, etc. It's range of expression is actually rather limited compared to many other instruments. In fact, piano is one of the very few instruments you can actually make your point with, lazaruslong. Try it with saxophone samples or trumpet. Try putting together a convincing delta blues performance with acoustic guitar samples...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 PM on August 6, 2007


What do you mean, lazarus? Of course a MIDI instrument can be as expressive as any other instrument, with the right samples, but you're saying you can plug a score in to a MIDI instrument and have it be indistiguishable from a human playing the same piece. I didn't think that was yet possible. Do you have examples?
posted by motty at 7:11 PM on August 6, 2007


oh man, I just lost a comment I wrote in response to this:

Your inability to read graphs of chemical imbalances does not make emotions magic.

I was annoyed I'd taken so long to write it to start with, so I really can't do it all over again: suffice to say, no one is talking about magic. I was trying to make a point about consciousness being just as inexplicable in itself as other forms of being which we have generally recognized as fundamental (space, time, matter - depends on the system used how things are categorized).

I am not saying that mind and matter are separate, in that obviously the chemical reactions are representative of the thoughts. But they are not the same thing as the thoughts. The thoughts are the mental experience of something and the chemicals are the material expression of it. They are two aspects of the same thing. But to dismiss one aspect as if it isn't interesting because you can see the other aspect is being blind to an important and interesting question.

Just because you think you have a clue how matter makes sense (which we hardly do, to start with, but anyway) doesn't allow mind to just be acceptable because we can see the material expression of mind. We still have to deal with the mental expression of mind.

Anyway, sorry I lost my longer comment. In case anyone's confused, I don't believe in magic :).
posted by mdn at 8:08 PM on August 6, 2007


I don't believe in magic.

Not even in a young girl's heart?
How the music can free her, whenever it starts?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:30 PM on August 6, 2007


You're right, flapjax, the piano is the easiest instrument to make this claim with.

However, the point of my argument is not that we have the ability to reproduce the human feel of music with technology with every instrument, but rather to demonstrate that this is yet another example of how science and our understanding of technology steadily encroaches upon aspects of the human experience considered "mysterious".

In ten years, you better believe it will be easy as hell for me to program a full Delta blues band. Probably easier than it is right now for me to generate a convincing MIDI piano performance.

I'll restate my thesis for clarity, with regards to the idea of rationality and irrationality, and it's relation to science (in my opinion):

Many people, both mystics and those who ponder existential questions, relegate those subjects to the realm of the irrational and claim those topics are inexplicable by science and rational logic. 1,000 years ago that domain of subjects was vast, everything from gravity to rain to orbits and famines. Today, that domain is significantly less vast. For the religious, it includes the ideas of creation, death, and so on. For the purely existential, it ponders ideas that a poster expressed above, questions like What is good and why are we here?

My contention is that the advance of science dispels the mystery surrounding natural phenomena that we create irrational explanations for due to our lack of understanding.

Science is constantly progressing and evolving, and more and more phenomena and experiences previously thought to be inexplicable and irrational are being proven to be quite rational and explainable.

For me, it makes sense to operate with the assumption that since science works in a multitude of verifiable subjects, and since it constantly is gaining new understanding of the world around us at an exponential rate, that more and more of what we consider unknowable and irrational will be understood as time progresses.


I've really enjoyed this thread, for what it's worth. I appreciate and am fascinated by the perspectives and information offered herein.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:49 PM on August 6, 2007


XKCD offers a funny take on the subject, sort of.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2007


mdn, I just finished reading a very interesting book called Descarte's Error by Antonio Damasio. He is a neuroscientist that has worked with patients with brain legions in the prefrontal cortices, much like the classic Phineas Gage case.

In the book, he illustrates a compelling model of that very thing you referred to: consciousness, both in terms of the chemicals that transfer information through our brain and bodies and the actual nerological substrates and systems that interpret information and determine which chemicals to send and where.

The book is way too complex for me to comprehend fully, much less summarize here, but for anyone interested in the question of human consciousness and how things like rationality and emotion interact, this is a must read. It's just fascinating!


I will say for the record that Descartes's Error was saying "I think, therefor I am" instead of "I feel, therefore I am". Damasio believes from his observation of patients with specific brain legions that the mechanisms for emotion and our ability to make reasonably well-informed decisions for self-preservation are inextricably tied in a complex cortical system of brain centers as well as the electrochemical impulses that allow these centers to coordinate higher brain function.

The chapter on Love is awesome too.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:57 PM on August 6, 2007


An interesting documentary called Randi in Australia.

The first 2 minutes is especially interesting when Randi discusses how giving up his (then) $10,000 award would be worth it, because it would open up his universe to being more marvelous than it already it.
posted by The Deej at 7:39 PM on August 8, 2007


I bet there are a lot of things he could have done with that money that would've had the same effect. Sitting on it and waiting for the world to come to HIM still seems pretty arrogant to me.

*ducks*
posted by hermitosis at 11:56 AM on August 9, 2007


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