Perspectivism and Post-Rationalism

On her blog Darcey Riley plans to delineate postrationality. To get started, she posted a list.

Here are some other things that seem to be true of postrationalists:

  • Postrationalists are more likely to reject scientific realism.
  • Postrationalists tend to enjoy exploring new worldviews and conceptual frameworks (I am thinking here of Ribbonfarm’s “refactoring perception”).
  • Postrationalists don’t think that death, suffering, and the forces of nature are cosmic evils that need to be destroyed.
  • Postrationalists tend to be spiritual, or at least very interested in spirituality.
  • Postrationalists like (and often participate in) rituals and magick.
  • When postrationalists are trying to improve their lives/the world, they tend to focus less on easily quantified measures like income, amount of food, amount of disease, etc., and instead focus on more subjective struggles like existential angst.
  • Postrationalists enjoy surrealist art and fiction.

I think I match all the points, and perhaps this:

  • Postrationalists are playful in the face of the absurd.

In short, postrationalists dance. This is a great relief, as I had been toying with an “irrationalist” identity as rationalism annoys me in that way something does when it’s rigorous but misguided. But post-rationalist (with or without the hyphen) is in every way better.

However, the core of my post-rationality is perspectivism. I think this is very loosely Nietzsche’s perspectivism, so credit him but don’t complain if I’m not expounding him correctly:

Truth is only meaningful in the context of some perspective. Truth is a product of thinking, a feeling we get about ideas, and thinking is a human activity, not an abstract activity. Since people think in slightly different ways, which we’ll call their perspectives, they end up with different truths, and these truths can only be understood within those perspectives.

Perspectives have depth. Within a perspective one can find not just rational “beliefs”, but attitudes such as aesthetics and ethics and the like, and there isn’t necessarily a clear categorisation: all of these things are “truth”. This allows people to say this is beautiful and that is ugly, or, this is right and that is wrong, as if they were simply facts. Darcey writes, “actually, intuitions and feelings are really important, let’s see if we can work with them instead of against them”. I’ll go further: intuitions and feelings are inseparable from the texture of truth.

Perspectives have plurality. We adopt different perspectives in different contexts, even as they are part of a larger perspective. Culture is by-and-large commonality between perspectives. This is why cultural difference is so difficult and yet so interesting.

Not even “mathematical truth” can escape this subjectivity. For example, back around the early 1900s there was a debate between two camps, known as the intuitionists and the formalists, on the foundations of mathematics. There were deeper reasons to the debate as the names suggest, but the easiest approach starts with the Law of the Excluded Middle:

  • For any proposition P, either P or not P.

The formalists admitted this rule, while the intuitionists rejected it. To the latter camp, the only way to prove a proposition of the form “P or Q” was to either prove P or prove Q. So what happened? Neither camp “won”; everyone said pretty much everything that can be usefully said, and the two perspectives were transcended into a larger perspective; for example, mathematicians now study proofs themselves as objects. (In particular, proofs that don’t rely on the Law of the Excluded Middle are called constructive.)

All this is not to say that all perspectives are equal: certainly some are better than others. However, exactly which ones those are also depends on one’s perspective. There is no escape…

So if we cannot evaluate perspectives on their truth, without already having a perspective, how do we evaluate perspectives? That is to say, how do we end up with them anyway?

Well, by and large people inherit perspectives from their culture, and evolve them to suit their needs and desires. This might even be a useful approach to mental health: healthy perspectives are those that make people stronger, more effective, more attractive, more powerful, perhaps more successful at reproducing in some Darwinian sense. Really, we humans are more naturally lawyers than scientists, advocates for our interests rather than neutral seekers of truth.

Post-rationalism has space for (pagan) religion in a way that rationalism doesn’t seem to. This is important to me not because religion is “accurate”, but because it is broadly healthy. We know this because of its ubiquity: people naturally tend to be religious, though as Blake pointed out, no one particular religion is natural.

Alain de Benoist says that pagan religion is not a matter of believing in the gods, but awakening to their presence. I consider this awakening as the gaining of a new perspective, one that admits the presence of the gods. For example, the Sun is a god, known by many different names (Sunna, Helios, Saulė, Amaterasu etc.), that one can literally point to on any sunny day. A religious perspective can allow and value all of these without dissonance:

  • The Sun is a ball of hydrogen and helium plasma (per TMBG)
  • The Sun is the source of all energy and life on Earth.
  • The Sun is sacred.
  • I shall give thanks to the Sun.
  • I shall pray to the Sun, and at the right time.
  • It is said, the Sun sulked in a cave until she was lured out by a stripper with a mirror. (for example)

This may seem strange or trite to us, but the development of perspectives is a collective, social process as well as an individual process, and living in a deeply un-pagan culture it’s difficult to enter such perspectives in a genuine way (despite much effort from some quarters).

— Ashley Yakeley

10 thoughts on “Perspectivism and Post-Rationalism

  1. sigfpe

    > Truth is only meaningful in the context of some perspective

    Of course. That’s why model theory has theories and their interpretations in a model. Sentences on their own are fairly uninteresting. Beyond mathematics there are many kinds of things that can serve as interpretations.

    1. Ashley Yakeley Post author

      This reminds me of David Spivak’s ologs, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned to you before. An olog is a category representing a framework for knowledge, and the actual knowledge is a functor from that olog to Set. Functors between ologs allow knowledge in one olog to be represented in another olog.

  2. Pingback: Red Pill and Blue Pill | Immanence

  3. salamiapproximator

    “Truth is a product of thinking, a feeling we get about ideas, and thinking is a human activity, not an abstract activity.”

    What’s an example of an abstract activity? Like…. a model of thinking? Like Solomonoff induction is an abstract model for a part of thinking?

    1. Ashley Yakeley Post author

      I would say, “truth as the product of abstract logical deduction”, abstract in the sense of independent of the human activity of thinking, isn’t a useful concept of truth.

  4. Pingback: The Identity of the Gods | Immanence

  5. Pingback: Religion, counter-religion, and the weirdness of modernity – Devayasna

Leave a Reply