With our plans for the rest of the year: Yesterday, Frans de Waal authored an essay in the New York Times Sunday Review.
Most recently, de Waal is the author of the 2016 Times best-seller, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? In the identity line in yesterday's paper, he was identified thusly:
"Dr. de Waal is a primatologist who studies chimps and their relations."
In yesterday's essay, de Waal mused about the emotional experiences of non-human animals, not excluding your pet dog. In line with our recent focus on "the rational animal," we were struck by his closing paragraph:
DE WAAL (3/10/19): For the longest time, science has depicted animals as stimulus-response machines while declaring their inner lives barren. This has helped us sustain our customary “anthropodenial”: the denial that we are animals. We like to see ourselves as special, but whatever the difference between humans and animals may be, it is unlikely to be found in the emotional domain.We humans "like to see ourselves as special," de Waal puckishly says. This resembles our own pronouncement, in which we've poetically claimed that we humans may perhaps be inclined to "see ourselves from afar."
We humans! At least in the west, we've tended to think that we alone possess a "soul"—even that we alone are conscious. With respect to that latter point, did Descartes really conduct vivisection experiments on live animals while assuring horrified onlookers that his subjects' (apparent) screams of pain were really just an illusion?
Brittanica.com sees to suggest that he did. Other sources seem to say that he probably didn't. But as part of our persistent attempt to "see ourselves as special," we humans, at least in the west, have tended to revel in this self-flattering claim, as translated from Aristotle:
"Man [sic] is the rational animal."
What did Aristotle actually mean by his famous translated claim? We can't tell you that! But the claim, as commonly understood, has served as part of our species' tendency to adopt the stance de Waal calls "anthropodenial."
As commonly understood, the claim says this: We're the "rational" ones over here!
At any rate, we humans! Just how "rational" do we turn out to be, setting aside our capacity for inventing technologies which actually work?
In the course of this year, we've suggested that it might be useful to adopt a skeptical stance with respect to the extent of our species' "rational" impulses and abilities. We've even dared to make this suggestion:
The irrationality isn't all located Over There, in the tents of The Others! You'll also find a lot of sub-rational conduct within our own liberal/progressive tents; at the highest ends of the upper-end press corps; and even among the most celebrated thinkers within our universities.
It's isn't just Rush and Sean, we've suggested. Given the "tribodenialism" known to all our species' tribes, this suggestion is hard to swallow for many folk Over Here.
How rational is "the rational animal?" For ourselves, we've been surprised by how instructive that question has turned out to be.
When we build a framework out of that question, can the duck start to look like a rabbit, perhaps in a bit of a paradigm shift? Again and again, we'd say that the answer is yes.
With that in mind, we plan to explore several topics in the weeks to come, even as we comment in passing on the press corps' attempts to keep us up to date 1) on who may have had consensual sex with whom, on one alleged occasion, back in 2006; 2) on the romantic behavior and marital status of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son; and 3) on the constantly shifting odds that Paul Manafort will take his last breath in prison.
That last topic has become the ghoulish focus of our tribe's favorite "cable news" show. Perhaps we're neither as moral, nor as bright, as we tend to think.
For ourselves, we don't take pleasure in dreaming about the future suffering of others. With that in mind, we'll be exploring such topics as these as the year proceeds:
Those brutal achievement gaps:
We've often claimed that nobody cares about the brutal "achievement gaps" which help define the current state of American public schools. Needless to say, every good liberal knows that this is a ludicrous claim because we so deeply care.
It doesn't look that way to us! In pursuit of this claim, we'll focus on the "Too Small to Fail" project of the much-maligned Clinton Foundation, and on the underlying question of the so-called "30 million word gap."
Is there really such a gap? If so, how can it be addressed? Truth to tell, nobody cares! Based on prevailing evidence, nobody gives a fig about that, or about much of anything else.
Mario Livio's book:
According to the leading authority, Mario Livio is an Israeli-American astrophysicist—and an author of works that popularize science and mathematics. From 1991 through 2015 he was an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope.
Stating the obvious, Livio knows a ton of physics and math. But though he's a ranking astrophysicist, he actually isn't a ranking "philosopher" or a ranking logician. We think this intriguing fact comes through loud and clear in his fascinating book for general readers, Is God A Mathematician? (It's not a religious text.)
How poorly do our leading mathematicians and physicists reason when they wander outside the confines of their specialized fields? In our view, it's important and interesting to note the fact that they tend to reason remarkably poorly. We expect to start exploring Livio's book as early as next week.
What the later Wittgenstein said:
The later Wittgenstein wrote about these remarkable gaps in logic and reasoning. He said these gaps in reasoning are especially prevalent "when doing philosophy."
Unfortunately, Wittgenstein's writing was always quite opaque. He wasn't kidding when he said the following in the preface to Philosophical Investigations:
"I should have liked to have produced a good book. This has not come about, but the time is past in which I could improve it."
In our view, that wasn't the inscrutable modesty of a "philosophical" genius. Wittgenstein's book is quite hard to interpret and apply. In line with our study of the way our species' "rational" faculty breaks down at the highest intellectual levels, we'll be showing you one way to apply the later Wittgenstein's work as the year proceeds.
By the way, what thanks did the later Wittgenstein get for providing this valuable service? As we've noted in the past, Professor Horwich claims that "professional philosophers" have largely thrown the later Wittgenstein under the bus because he claimed that the bulk of their work was built upon "mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking."
Could such claims about our leading intellectuals possibly be accurate? Anthropodenialism to the side, we plan to suggest that it could be and frequently is!
But wait—there's even more:
In the course of this exploration, we'll take you to the world of the Harvard philosophy department, circa 1969. Readers have been fascinated by Tara Westover's "Education." We think this other alternative education is worth reviewing too.
These topics should start next week. All this week, starting tomorrow, we're going to be looking at a timely topic: What Trump Actually Said.
Prediction: Your lizard is going to rise in anger at every word we write on this topic. That said, would your lizard have so much power if we humans, and we liberals, were as sharp as we've constantly said?
Last week, we wrote about Trump and Tribe. Granted, those reports were useless, but they went exactly like this:
Tuesday, March 5: Michael Cohen knew what to say! Our tribe's pursuit of Trump.Starting tomorrow, What Trump Really Said. Lizards, start your engines! Prepare for a week of wrecks!
Wednesday, March 6: Everybody knows what to say! Wallace hears a hoo.
Thursday, March 7: I know you are, but what am I? Tribal cried abound!
Friday, March 8: Mister Trump gains as Dems denounce hate! Tomasky makes war on The Others.