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The Myth of the Closed Mind, 4

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

p 60 talks about Bartley wanting to define criticism in terms of truth instead of justification. Meaning criticism doesn't try to show something is unjustified, it tries to show it's false. I agree. That's good.

It doesn't define what a criticism is though. So I will. A criticism is an explanatory idea about a flaw/mistake/error in another idea. A criticism both identifies some aspect of an idea and explains why it's bad. The explanation is necessary because one has to say *why* the thing is bad. The identification is necessary to point out what's being criticized (this is trivial in some cases where one criticizes an idea directly, but we can also criticzie meta-aspects of ideas and implications of ideas, in which case identifying the thing being criticized is less simple).

p 63 says:
In this chapter I will be arguing that the logic of the propagandist's situation impels him, on pain of failure to spread his ideas, to be -- among other things -- corrigible [open to correction]. In the next chapter, I will argue that Darwinian theory suggests that no person is incorrigible in their beliefs.
This is true. But I also think it misses the point a bit. It doesn't mean people will be corrigible. They might not care about spreading their ideas, or they might be mistaken about what methods will be effective. Error is everywhere and routine, and the mistakes people make can be arbitrary, and so they can easily confuse people on any point such as how to be an effective propagandist or whether they should want to spread their ideas or have discussions at all. But so what? There's also many different paths to solutions everywhere too. In practice, no one is totally closed to incoming information in all areas. So one way they can improve is by improving in the areas they like and listen some in. And those improvements can have implications for other areas.

This point that living irrationally makes one an ineffective propagandist does not contradict Popper's points discussed earlier about how people can live irrationally if they want to and basically good rational arguments cannot force anyone to do otherwise (which is not a bad thing!).

As to how being closed to correction makes one a poor propagandist, I think it's easy. We're all fallible. We make lots of mistakes. That means without error correction we'll be bad at absolutely anything, because we'll make lots of mistakes at it and never fix them. Anything includes being a propagandist.

As to Darwinian theory next chapter, that sounds like it's going to be more evolutionary psychology, which is false. One issue is: by what mechanism do the evolved genes control human pscyhology?

p 63 continues by bringing up Marxism and Freudianism as examples of ideologists that Popper and Bartley consider irrational. Percival takes this as meaning Popper thinks Marxists are beyond help, and takes issue with that. But I don't think Popper ever thought that, I think it's just a misunderstanding. Marxism is an irrational, closed system with general purpose ways to deflect criticism. But you can reach Marxists with meta-criticism. Popper's essay The Myth of the Framework is a good discussion of this sort of issue about how people who are very different and come at things from different perspectives can still always learn from each other and make progress.

So we get, p 64, "The propagandist who restricts his propagandistic efforts in the hope of evading criticsm and rival positions has to incur a number of costs:". Yes, indeed, irrational lifestyles have costs, and have ways out! This is just a special case.

p 77 points out that even if people use brain surgery to prevent creativity, they couldn't perpetuate a static society indefinitely b/c successfully dealing with all natural disasters that may come up requires some innovative thinking, without that they will one day fail. And if they allow any innovative thinking, the consequences are unforeseeable and can get out of hand. More generally I'd add (following The Beginning of Infinity) that *problems are inevitable* and *solving arbitrary problems requires creative thought*, and the consequences of creative thought cannot be arbitrary restricted (there is a nice sci-fi book touching on this issue, Quarantine by Greg Egan).

p 78
Martyrdom and other religious sacrifices are rational decisions of people trying to achieve their personally conceived ends by what they regard as effective and efficient means.
This is a misunderstanding of rationality. You cannot take someone's idea and just directly judge if it's rational. Rationality is an attribute of the methods by which one deals with ideas. To judge if ideas are held rationally, one must do things like suggest better ideas and offer criticisms, and see how the guy reacts to the possibility of change.

The standard and mistaken conception of rationality has to do with ideas being *good*, true, correct, legitimate, justified or having authority. It's about the quality of the idea, not the attitude to the idea. The point Percival is making is basically that even martyrdom and other apparently bad ideas can be good ideas from the perspective of the person doing them. That's true. And certainly such sacrifices can be done rationally, but also irrationally.

Rationality allows for unlimited mistakes, so trying to argue that something isn't or needn't be a mistake is missing the point. You don't have to argue that to point out something is or could be a rational decision. And you can't show something is rational just by showing it's correct. Maybe the person was thinking irrationally but got lucky. Maybe he relied on traditional knoweldge he never criticized but which had a lot of truth to it.

End of chapter 1 (there are only 4 long chapters, plus a prologue, for 275 pages).

Elliot Temple on April 23, 2012


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