Posts Tagged ‘The Thinker’

Talk, Listen, Debate

November 28, 2015

What do we need? Correct, or, at least, less erroneous thinking. How do we get there? By rejecting yesterday’s all too simple thinking. It will have to start with revisiting simple sayings, and the trite dichotomies attached to them (presenting the world as black and white conflicts of opposites). Let’s consider one of the Dalai Lama’s (trite) sayings:

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know, But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Yes, well, and then? Is that supposed to be true? Speech and listening are somehow opposed, and speech is useless? But if someone is speaking somebody else is listening, no?

The Dalai Lama makes a dichotomy, a Manichaeism, a total opposition between “speech” and listening. That’s erroneous. He compounds the mistake by telling us that speech cannot be creative. The Dalai Lama views mental exchange mostly as listening (religiously?) and then mechanically reproducing what one has listened to. In other words, be a Tibetan monk.

Speech HAS TO be creative, it’s a question of morality. First one has to talk to oneself, so one can consider what one is talking about:

I Think, Therefore I Debate With Myself. Rodin Museum, Paris

I Think, Therefore I Debate With Myself. Rodin Museum, Paris

When people talk they do this according to a method peculiar to themselves, as different individuals, handling differently different subjects, either human or theoretical. The speech spectrum has two extremities: on one end, brainless slogans repeated with the intelligence of a recording. On the other end, talk can be used to weave a meta discourse bringing together disparate elements of one’s mind never united before. So the spectrum of speech goes from brainless slogans, all the way to its exact opposite, the creation of new logic.

Thus speech can bring something new to the one proffering it. Indeed, this is what honest to goodness papers in theoretical science do. A good example there is probably Einstein’s famous paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. This paper of 1905 is generally seen as founding the Theory Of Relativity. However, I don’t think it contains one original element: not one original equation, nor even an original thought (Poincare’ and Lorentz, plus at least a dozen other lesser, yet still important. authors, had contributed before; Poincare’ demonstrated E = mcc in 1900…)

So what did Einstein do which was original? He weaved all preceding efforts in just one discourse. He repeated what he knew, and many others knew, but organized as one (apparently) simple logic (which swept under the carpet some of the difficulties Poincare’ was bothered by). None of what Einstein said was new, but the presentation was. Jean de La Bruyère‘s “Tout est dit depuis qu’il y a des hommes et qu’ils pensent”  (All is said, since there are men, and they think) is doubly false: not only there are new facts, but new ways of organizing them.

So there is an alternative to the dreary opposition of talking versus listening: DEBATING. Then the back and forth between talking and listening can bring new logic not suspected before. Even debating fools can be useful that way: the method was used by Socrates and Plato, or by Galileo Galilei (in the latter case, it made his friend the Pope furious, as it suspected that he was the fool Galileo had depicted in his “debate”).

For example debating climate deniers was useful to me: their brainless opposition helped me point out the irrefutable, and go around their irreducible single-mindedness. We went from 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 EQUIVALENTS to 450 ppm of CO2 EQUIVALENTS (CO2 + CH4 + NO + NO2 + Fluorocarbons, etc… in 200 years. Obviously not something one can brush off: these gases have physiological effects, if nothing else.

When we talk,

We should try to express

What we did not know,

That we knew, the hidden logic

Within what we knew

Helped by your interlocutor’s Objections,

Informations, And Passions,

Needed to produce

What no one knew before.

It is complexity

We want to learn from,

Not just from what others think they know.

“Knowing” and “Thinking” are much tortured, thus tortuous, concepts. 

“Debate” comes from the Old French “Debatre” (to beat down completely). The modern French usage is noble: it means a thorough exchange of ideas and emotions supposed to create the sort of mental turmoil necessary for mental progress.

We are very far from the Dalai Lama’s implicit assertion that speech is devoid of creativity and only the others know something new. Now, indeed the speech of someone leading a superstitious religion is bound to be mechanical (Tibetan Buddhism is very superstitious, Zen Buddhism is not).

Complexity of thought is characterized by meta-discourses. The usual theory of “META” involves generating new elements through Cantor Diagonalization (or something close to it). I simply say that a theory is META relative to another if it is bigger.

For example the physics we have today is bigger, than any previously, because not only it’s more correct, but it exactly explains the erroneous physics of the past, and how our unfortunate predecessors got to commit their errors We beat them up completely.

So listen, yes, but don’t forget to contradict… And to complexify. It is not enough to present a better theory, one has to demolish the preceding theory. A debate is automatically bigger. It is more meta.

I think, therefore I debate. Yes, there is an aggressive element in it. We should admit it, instead of whining about all and any violence (because if we do not violently think, physical violence will be directed at us, anyway!)

Anne, my sister-in-law, has lived all around the world. American-born, now emigrated to Australia, she just observed the following. Anglo-Saxon countries such as Australia, the USA, Canada, are young and sport obsessed. A question is why the sport obsession?

The sport obsession is not just there to fight the poor diet and general spiritual vacuity particularly marked in the USA (as if it could). It is there to teach the young to accept defeat. Sport practice, thus graciously accepted defeat, is the back door to welcoming debate, and to accepting its conclusions, however unpalatable. Thus obsessive sport practice is key to British style pragmatism.

So, paradoxically, higher thinking relates to the theory of just war. In truth, it’s not that weird, for the reasons I gave above. It suggests why, should there be another advanced intelligence out there in the universe (unlikely), it will know how to debate, to  completely beat down, and we better make sure that ours is bigger than theirs, if we joined the debate (not that we will have a choice; and you thought this was just about the Islamist State!)

We think well, because we are an aggressive species, and sometimes, all too aggressive (and that’s why Einstein quoted nobody in his famous 1905 paper).

Religiously listening to others, as the Dalai Lama proposes to do, carried to the extent he proposes, believing we cannot think anew, all by ourselves, is actually immoral. It is throwing down THE THINKER, as a parrot to himself.

We live increasingly in the shared economy: if people know how to drive, cook, or make a bed, they should be able to get compensated financially when they offer their services to someone else. And yes escorting someone is not brain surgery, and one should not have to be certified and mandated by the state to do so.

Similarly, we live in the SHARED MIND, and that should be directly connected to Direct Democracy. The Shared Mind ought to be, first of all, about debating issues, with priority given to those directly impacting the survival of the biosphere, that is the survival of all we love.

Last, and not least: debate, as I explained, involves aggressivity. But one has to learn to keep it in check, naturally, as too much aggression will kill further debate. So learning to debate is a skill. A skill which involves listening, talking, and learning to go beyond, where ideas and emotions have not gone before. And to learn to let ideas and emotions run free, before corralling them back, changed as they are by their excursion in the wilderness.

Debating is actually what the café’ culture is all about, promoting deeper thinking, and that is exactly why the Islamist State tried to kill it in Paris with bullets. That’s why it will have to be beaten down completely, starting with its terror manual.

Patrice Ayme’