Meandering thoughts on collective consciousness, Meaningness, and Critical and Meta Rationalism

Created at: 20 Apr 2023 Last updated: 26 Apr 2023

For a few years now, I've been a dedicated listener of Christofer Lövgren's podcast Do Explain. He frequently has on Jake Orthwein to discuss ideas like meta-rationality and David Chapman's "Meaningness." After a recent episode on this topic, I felt inspired to share some (perhaps terribly misguided) thoughts that I have had fun exploring.

A lot of the episode in question focused on abstractions and ontology. Evolution and Progress were also brought up. As well as nebulosity and the vagueness of certain Critical Rationalist usages of "creativity" (e.g the 'Mind in a Vat' thought experiment is brought up a few times). So, I'm writing in regards to the tensions in those ideas.

To provide some context, I recommend reading this Twitter thread.

Essentially, I think meta-rationalism and critical rationalism are, at best, talking about the same thing from different angles. At worst I think meta-rationalism is an appeal to the supernatural through contradictions and nebulosity. I think meta-rationalist language is acting in response to intellectual, mixed media and artistic zeitgeists of recent years (postmodernism, metamodernism), while critical rationalist language is mainly in response to philosophical literary zeitgeists of Karl Popper's time (positivism, socialism, historicism and Marxism, etc.).

So, in the metarationalist context I think that both meaning and objects can be wrong about "affordances", just as observations and theories can be incorrectly mapped to "propositions" in the critical rationalist one. And similarly, for example, genes and animals can make mistakes about their niche. I think that niches and affordances are a subset of the more general proposition.

For humans, the niche/affordance/proposition is the entire universe, and we have the potential to understand and grasp anything in principle. I suspect that this may be true for evolution as well, but only on a non-individual level. A cat cannot grasp anything. When a cat grasps a mouse, it's not grasping the mouse, its genes are. Evolution necessarily grasps reality through death. Without death evolution, genes, have no agency. For evolution, animals are the expression of ideas. The only way that ideas can be tested is through death of instantiations of those ideas in individuals in it's evolutionary system.

A dog is set of ideas, but it grasps no ideas. It is grasped by them. One may argue that humans are also grasped by ideas, genetic ones, and maybe other ones (What is knowledge and why and where does it pull us? Is it like how the universe itself seems to be pulled towards an infinite something?). Perhaps it's true that we are not 'totally in control', but in the case of humans there are no ideas that grasp us that we cannot grasp back. So, a dog cannot understand genetics without ceasing to be merely a dog. In that scenario it must be then considered a non-human person.

Aside: It's worth noting that abstractions are physical things. They're are constructed of information-bearing media. Information bearing media require several counterfactual properties. One of those counterfactual properties of information is interoperability, that information must be translatable between substrates to be a valid medium. If it only can be an abstraction in a genome, it's not an abstraction. It must also be instantiatable in silicon. (see Marletto’s The Science of Can and Can’t).

Just as each time we use an abstraction it's not exactly the same, because we aren't the same, and it's not the same, so too is the case for when genes are expressed. So, is each animal is like an instantiation of an abstraction for some kind of collective-gene-brain? I'm not sure, but even if that were true, it would be terribly inefficient. Why waste all those resources constructing an entire lifeform? The important aspects of the lifeform, the genes, take up way less space and resources, why not avoid death this way? If only we could just criticize and improve those gene abstractions directly... So, perhaps in the process of trying to solve one of the many parochial problems with "collective consciousness", like say tribalism, the human genome stumbled upon consciousness (in Chapmanese: Individual consciousness was reached in the process of grasping at the edges of an affordance?).

As I write, one question that I’m pondering is whether there are any abstractions that couldn't be encoded by evolution but by consciousness and vice versa. Like, could evolution create a democracy? I'm thinking the answer is no right now, but I'm still trying to come up with tests. For example, animals don't select leaders, but that's not the point of democracy - it's the removal of one. So, given this knowledge do bees have a sort of democracy? Some bees are pre-ordained queen slayers who can rise up to kill their queen if she produces the wrong male offspring. So, we see monarchy, which relies on death to change leadership, makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, but not democracy. I can't think of an animal that tallies votes from it's constituents in support of conflicting explanations—because no animal can individually create novel explanations.

In essence, humans have negated the need to have physically embodied instantiations for abstractions each time they are enacted, and as a result, ideas can die in place of us. That's where progress happens.

By the end of the podcast I think Lulie had made this point better than I'm doing. Progress is real, and:

Bad philosophy is philosophy that denies the possibility, desirability or existence of progress. And progress is the only effective way of opposing bad philosophy. If progress cannot continue indefinitiely, bad philosophy will inevitably come again into the asendancy - for it will be true.

-David Detusch, The Beginning of Infinity, 'A Physicist's history of bad philosophy' p.324 (Penguin 2011)

Various Related Thoughts:
  • Meaningness (I guess this is related to meta-rationalism and non-dualism and stuff and these are all connected in some way) is trying to solve the problem of what scientists do (creativity). So, then, in discussing which will do it better, or what their contradictions have to reveal about how we're wrong, will get us nearer to the truth. So, at the end of the day, aren't meta-rationalism and critical-rationalism aiming at the same thing? I do think CritRat provides a more clear and interesting path, though.
  • One, admittedly pedantic, thing that just bugs me in principle about "meta-rationalism" is that epistemology is already meta! It's already the study of knowledge he have about knowledge. If meta-rationalism is a subsection of epistemology, isn't it like saying meta-meta-rationalism? Do we really need put the word meta on there? I feel like meta is a postmodern term that's used like socialist rhetoric uses the word "social" to take meaning out of a term and justify an appeal to authority.
  • The "Mind in a Vat" thought experiment is kinda boring and misleading. To me, the whole thought experiment is flawed—there's no way to create a mind in a vat so as to prevent the mind from breaking out of the vat, or else it wouldn't be a mind! So who cares about the vat!?
  • (This is mentioned above, but). How is it that the rest of the universe seems to be locked into a few universal laws, but here on Earth there is this potentially universe changing exception? What is the law behind this new universal law (knowledge)? What is knowledge? How is it created? What is creativity? Why is the universe doing something that looks like expanding, and does this relate to what knowledge is?