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10 January 2015 @ 08:05 am
Ideas one at a time  
I don't completely agree with anybody. I have been greatly influenced by people like Robert A. Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut who are RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT except when they are WRONG WRONG WRONG. Amanda Marcotte is one of those. I enjoy her blog (and frequently link to it) when she is savaging worthy targets such as Fox News and GamerGate. But sometimes not so much.

Scott Aaronson opened a can of worms by saying that, as a nerd, he feels more picked on than the supposedly oppressed groups. Laurie Penny wrote an excellent answer to that. Arthur Chu has just done an even better one. Amanda Marcotte finds that sort of thing much too merciful and did a fisking mainly demonstrating that if you find a weak, miserable member of a privileged group and hit him repeatedly in the goolies, you can think of yourself as "punching up."

Her latest post says that the atheists are being too nice. She's been acting all along as if atheism is proven scientific fact, so theists should be mocked as mercilessly as those who deny evolution or global warming.

I caught myself thinking like that, on another issue. It seems obvious to me that any reasoned denial of human exceptionalism refutes itself. We humans can do logical arguments, write poems, solve equations, control our own fertility, and do all sorts of other things the other animals can't, and if that isn't exceptional, what is? I have yielded to the temptation to take those who claim to be no smarter than the animals at their word.

I try to practice Miller's Rule: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to figure out what it could be true of. I recommend it to one and all. Amanda Marcotte might consider that intelligent people might accept areas in which the materialistic methods of science do not provide the answers, such as God and the soul. (I myself find it impossible to believe that the Universe is run by anything that meaningfully resembles a person, but I don't find such a belief nonsensical.) And I should remind myself that the distinction between entities with and without language, literature, and science is not as important to everyone as it is to me.
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A Wandering Hobbit: cognitive hazardredbird on January 10th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC)
human exceptionalism
The thing about human exceptionalism is that it seems to be an ever-moving target or definition. Not too long ago, a list of things that only humans would probably have included toolmaking and symbolic communication; now it's accepted that other animals can use symbols, and the line is drawn at grammar. I find it more useful to say that there are a set of things that, as far as we know, humans are better at any other species on this planet, but also to think about the similarities, because comparing human learning with that of other apes, or tool-making with that of crows, might give us insight into what's going on in the brain, and whether we're using the same brain areas for learning, tool-making, or communication. Just saying "we can write poetry and they can't" seems less likely to go somewhere useful.
El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on January 11th, 2015 10:05 am (UTC)
Re: human exceptionalism
The similarities are useful, but what is important to me is that each human being is exceptionally valuable.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 12th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: human exceptionalism
Heh. Then, I flash on the famous Douglas Adams bit where humans thought they were so much smarter than dolphins because they'd invented the wheel, wars, and New York, while all dolphins had done was muck about in the water and have a good time - whereas dolphins thought they were smarter than humans for the exact same reasons.