Reason and the First Person -- the problem with not being a million centuries old

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the fourth for chapter 18, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 18, "Atheism and the Justification of Non-Justification Ability". It also continues the fictional dialogue started in chp 17.]

(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): Let me rephrase the question. Do you perceive yourself to be an alien who has lived a million centuries?

Chase (the atheist): Your pitiful sense of humor seems to be reasserting itself...

R: I am entirely serious; and I will continue asking the question until I get an answer.

C: Fine. No, I do not perceive that I am any such thing.

R: Do you have any inclination whatsoever to consider yourself anything other than a human like myself?

C: No; and I have never said anything to that effect! I specifically said that this was a fictional example--!

R: So mutation and natural selection have also equipped your brain with a consciousness of risk and improbability suitable for creatures with a lifetime of less than one century.

C: Of course!

R: Mmm-hmmm... You say that mutation and natural selection, when they wired the early humans like this, kitted them so their perceptions were subjective; and that this has continued unto the present day, because you dismissed my perceptions of probability as being "irrelevant" thanks to that subjectivity. So, are your perceptions objective instead?

C: sigh... No, no perception is objective; the objective is the actual, and perception is the representation of the actual. You yourself have said this earlier--

R: Nevertheless, you decided that my subjective perception, despite being based on an actuality, was still irrelevant due to its subjectivity.

C: No, not just because of its subjectivity, but because the actual conditions to which it subjectively corresponds are not conditions which would produce a proper perspective on the problem at hand--

R: But those same basic primary actual conditions somehow managed to produce a properly corresponding subjective perception in you. I notice you are not talking about recent conditioning which has taken place in our individual lifetimes.

C: Of course we have been recently conditioned--

R: But it doesn't matter, because according to your own testimony, the exact same principles are in play in these recent conditionings as in the original conditionings underlying our species-behavior.

C: But different results can come from those same principles being put into play in different environmental conditions.

R: Meaning that you might possibly now have a properly corresponding perception of relative probability.

C: Right.

R: Or, my perception of the relative probability might possibly be correct despite being different from yours.

C: ... Yes... But as it happens, you have the incorrect perception.

R: So we are not talking any more about the mere possibility of this-or-that correct perception; we're talking about the certainty or probability of your perception being the better one.

C: Yes; and it is.

R: Why do you say that?

C: Because... ....

R: Yep: because a great number of non-rational reactions and counterreactions have taken place inside your head. And if I ask why those events should be considered to be more efficient than mine at representing reality, I shall get an answer from you which is also generated, just the same, by a host of non-rational reactions and counterreactions.

C: That doesn’t mean they aren’t effective at interacting, and even corresponding to, actual reality!

R: And that is the fundamental similarity between both our perceptions, yours and mine, of probability as humans today. Which is also the fundamental similarity between our perceptions of probability today (yours and mine) and human perceptions of probability back then. Isn't it?

C: ... Yes. But our... I mean my perceptions might be...

R: Better now? That's a judgment of value which (according to your theory of non-rational justification) you were non-rationally conditioned to produce. And the judgment of the value of that judgment turns out to have the same inherent problem. In point of fact, your estimate of the probability of having a better perception, requires that we already accept from the outset that it is possible and likely that you have a better perception. Yet this process, in you, can be traced back directly to those same processes in our most remote human ancestors, and indeed are the same processes merely with different environmental conditions to filter for producing our behavior. Isn't that what you said?

C: ... Yes.

R: So, what we have here is the same ability kitted up in both of us by processes which are themselves non-rational, and which thereby produce, in both of us, subjective perceptions of probability which, as you insisted, are irrelevant to what actually is a good bet probabilistically. But of course, you only insisted that when you were talking about me. So, are you in the same boat I am? Or are you not!?

C: I... I mean we...

R: If you are, then the sauce of subjective probability assessments cooks your gander along with my goose. If you're not, what's the difference? I think we're both willing to agree you are not an alien with a lifetime of a million centuries behind you.

C: I never said I--!

R: No, but you have been constantly applying, or at the very least appealing to, a perception of relative probability which according to you would be the result of that type of characteristic (having a lifespan of a million centuries): not the characteristics you and I actually have--according to your proposal of our origins. Would the long-lived alien have the correct perception of the probability?

C: Yes!!

R: How can you tell?

C: Because... I mean, my impression on this subject...

R: Your impression on this subject is an irrelevant impression, due to its instinctive subjectivity.

C: So is yours!

R: Granted!--and under your proposal, that's all that I or anyone, including you, could ever have. By contrast, I happen to maintain that you and I have access to something other than a knee-jerk automatic impression subjectively built into us for purposes of surviving long enough, as humans, to replicate. Is a purely subjective impression of your sort, on the other hand, the kind of probability estimate you yourself are actually putting into play when you estimate probabilities?

C: ... No.

R: I agree, no it isn’t. I contend that above and beyond whatever instinctively associative impression you and I might have about the probability, the existence of which I certainly don't deny either, you and I also have the active ability to transcend our automatic responses to our environment and instincts, and actively judge the probability ourselves. And for what it's worth, my rational judgment of the topic, results in a conclusion on my part that my merely instinctive rejection of super-improbabilities in gradualistic biological development is untenable.

C: ... Uh... Yeah! See?

R: Yes; but I got to this agreement with you, by presuming (even if only tacitly) that I could in fact actively add an effect over and above--really more than--my mere automatic instinctive response to non-rational causation.

C: ... Well... I got there by... uh...

R: You got there by presuming the same thing. Even when you were trying to find a way to deny that presumption and still keep the effectual result for your belief-producing processes. You can deny it if you want; but we both just saw what the result will be of that. Your estimates of probability, upon which you try to escape active claims of truth by qualifying your proposal that your behaviors might "probably" be adequately accurate, still require rational grounding on your part--or else they are subjectively irrelevant in principle. Just like you thought it most proper to dismiss my merely instinctive estimates as being irrelevant. Even though you aren't an alien with a lifetime of a million centuries either, but a human with the same human properties and species-history as me.

C: ... That doesn't mean I am active!

Next up: the unavoidable implications of reasoning (and the end of the dialogue.)


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