Friday, January 11, 2008

What reinforces passivity more, an increased understanding of the world or our response to that understanding? Is the purpose of science to reinforce the lowest common denominators of our behavior? At what level does the scientific viewpoint itself as defined by contemporary culture have that effect? Dawkins, Dennett, Belle de Jour and Quentin Tarantino again; DeLong, Economic "science;" memes and the language of fait accompli; democracy as banality, Foucault and power; history, memory and nostalgia.
Over the last few years, in the course of many parent conferences and elementary-school curriculum nights, I’ve become familiar with the concept of the “just-right book.” This, my children’s teachers patiently explain, is a book that is perfectly suited to a child’s reading ability: neither too easy, in which case he or she will grow bored, nor too difficult, which risks frustration and confusion.
I defer to the pedagogical expertise of the professionals, but something in me nonetheless rebels against the idea that the books children choose should always be safely within their developmental comfort zone.

ABSTRACT—Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.
I think logically that there's a good chance free will as such is an illusion, but I'm against any doctrine based on passivity. It's a contradiction I can live with.
Passivity in the face of "reason" is as dangerous as passivity in the face of determinism as such. Telos, thesis without antithesis, is problematic. An entire society unified around one goal and one purpose is at least banal and probably dangerous. What that goal is doesn't matter. The whole structure of the experiment described above annoys me. The underlying structure is voyeuristic and passive: talking about people rather than to them (since self-reporting is unreliable) simply reinforces moral passivity, like the news cameraman who videos a violent act rather than intervening.
This ties into the sort of discussions they're having at The Immanent Frame. It's appropriate I guess, since philosophers are basically priests anyway, but they miss the point. As I've said before, faith and secularism have the same origin in storytelling, and if philosophers are priests, actors are atheists. Absolute truths don't matter, only temporal ones and structure. Priests, more specifically theologians, and the philosophers who replace them all take themselves too seriously and miss the point.

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